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Packers’ good vibrations: Aaron Rodgers likes ‘the vibe on this team’ – Green Bay Packers Blog

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ARLINGTON, Texas — If it wasn’t clear before this, it should be now: Aaron Rodgers likes this team.

Happy quarterback. Happy returns.

He could list the reasons, and he made a nice start after the Green Bay Packers’ three-and-a-half-hour marathon 34-21 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

“I think the first difference is our defense,” Rodgers said.

Yes, the same defense that allowed 563 yards, including 463 passing yards to Dak Prescott with 226 of those to Amari Cooper.

Forget the stats.

OK, not the three interceptions.

And not the three timely sacks — all of them by the Smiths (two for Za’Darius and one for Preston).

Rodgers gave the requisite praise to running back Aaron Jones, who beat the NFL’s highest-paid running back Ezekiel Elliott at his own game. Jones doubled Elliott’s total yardage (182 to 91) and outscored him four touchdowns to one. And credit was also due to all the players who picked up the slack while Davante Adams tried to get his turf-toe injury right for next week’s Monday Night Football game against the Detroit Lions.

Rodgers went deeper.

“I like the vibe on the team,” Rodgers said. “I think we’re having a lot of fun.”

Rodgers didn’t stop there.

“I just think we’re a more connected team this year,” Rodgers said. “We’re enjoying each other more. We like each other a little more. We hang out with each other. The locker room is a raucous environment, whether it’s a Monday or whether it’s right after a big win. I just think guys really play for each other more and we have that chemistry because of the leadership that we have that maybe we’ve been lacking the last couple years.”

That’s never more evident than on the road.

Last year, the Packers didn’t win away from Lambeau Field until Week 16. They were 0-7 before they won their road finale against the Jets.

“Is that what it was?” Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga asked as if he tried to erase it from his memory.

So far this year, they’ve won at two reigning NFC division champions — the defending North champion Bears and the defending East champion Cowboys. They’re 4-1 with home games upcoming against the Lions and Raiders that could have them at 6-1 before they hit the road next for Kansas City and the defending AFC West champion Chiefs.

“I think it’s really about encouraging guys to be themselves,” Rodgers said before he went on to praise the difference both Smiths have made not only on the field but in the locker room.

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When a reporter asks Aaron Rodgers about a Packers tight end from the 1920s, Rodgers can’t help but laugh.

“I think when you create an environment that allows the freedom of expression or you have guys like Z, who just bring it everywhere they go,” Rodgers said. “Z and Preston are like actual brothers. They love each other and hang out and love doing interviews together. It’s just a different feel. It helps those guys are playing well, too.”

The obvious change is first-year coach Matt LaFleur.

Most think he was hired for his offensive philosophies and schemes, but perhaps his command of a team and room went underrated. Of course, former coach Mike McCarthy surely would have benefited from what the Smiths brought to the team had the Packers been more willing to play the free-agency game to help prolong his tenure.

“I think it’s the whole program and adding the personnel that we did,” Rodgers said. “It’s personalities, that’s the biggest thing, and the personalities that we have, I think, are encouraging others to grow and be confident in themselves. You’ve seen the performances.”

Rodgers took that moment to single out players who gutted it out through injuries during the Cowboys game: Za’Darius Smith (who was in and out with knee issues), cornerback Kevin King (who was a last-minute upgrade) and Montravius Adams (who had missed the past two games) among them. And then there were injury replacements like center Lucas Patrick, who took over after Corey Linsley’s concussion.

“I think that’s very admirable of those guys,” Rodgers said. “That’s what playing for your teammates is all about.”

There’s no way to quantify how far that will take the Packers, but Rodgers smiled as much or more during his postgame press conference than at any in recent years. He even laughed off a question from a reporter whose shtick is pretending he’s covering sports as if this were the 1920s — something that probably would have annoyed Rodgers at various times in the past.

“It’s just our mindset,” Jones said. “I mean, last year, I don’t think we got our first road victory until the last game and that won’t get you in the playoffs.”

Having fun and on the road, however, just might.

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How to watch Monday Night Football classics: Le’Veon Bell’s walk-off TD beats Chargers – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog

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Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn’t want to go for the tie.

So he went for the win, and with running back Le’Veon Bell lined up in the Wildcat, he got it.

With Bell’s outstretched arms, the Steelers beat the San Diego Chargers 24-20 on the final play of the 2015 Monday Night Football game.

The memorable game will be shown as part of the ongoing series of Monday Night Football classics. It kicks off at 8 p.m. ET Monday on ESPN.

“It was time to go to the mattresses, if you will,” Tomlin said after the game. “We had to do what was required to win. Le’Veon gave us an opportunity to win, and we were trying to do everything we could to move the football.

“We have to run the football. We have Le’Veon Bell. We had an opportunity to win the game. We’re on the road in a hostile environment. We’ve got to play to win, and that’s what we did.”

With five seconds left, the Steelers lined up at the 1-inch line, thanks to a big play by quarterback Michael Vick and tight end Heath Miller and an unnecessary roughness penalty against the Chargers.

The Steelers had one timeout to set up for a tying field goal, but they went with a gutsy, winning playcall instead: Bell lined up 7 yards deep to take the direct snap.

He gathered the ball and sprinted to the goal line, muscling his way forward to fight for the final inch needed to score the touchdown. Diving, he broke the plane as his knee landed on a defender’s arm and time expired.

“I got to get it in,” Bell said in 2015. “We still had a timeout left. I was thinking we still have a timeout left, so I’m thinking, ‘OK, maybe if I get stopped, maybe run like 4 seconds off and get a timeout, and we could kick a field goal.’ I wanted to end the game right there.”

The touchdown gave the Steelers a win over the Chargers — and they did it with Ben Roethlisberger on the sideline.

While Roethlisberger worked through a left knee injury sustained in the third quarter of a Week 3 win against the Rams, Vick took over quarterback duties. His first three quarters were dismal, but a 24-yard scramble — his first rush of the night — on the final drive of the game helped set up Bell’s winning touchdown. Vick also had a 72-yard touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton with 7:42 left in the quarter to tie it at 17.

“It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish,” Vick said then. He completed just 13 of 26 attempts for 203 yards with one touchdown and one interception and was sacked three times.

The game also featured the return of Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, playing in his first game of the season following a four-week suspension for PEDs. He scored his 100th and 101st career touchdowns that night, with the second coming in the high-octane fourth quarter.

The Monday night game marked the Steelers’ first trip to San Diego since 2006 and their final game in Qualcomm Stadium before the Chargers’ relocation to Los Angeles.

With the win, the Steelers moved to 3-2 on the season, and the Chargers dropped to 2-3.

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Tiger Woods’ game, Tom Brady’s wild ride, Phil Mickelson’s antics and Peyton Manning’s interest made for a fun day of golf

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The weather did not cooperate, but that was about the only thing that went wrong Sunday during The Match: Champions for Charity. As Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods held an oversized cardboard check with a total of $20 million written in, they were soaking wet but smiling.

It was a soaked, but successful day at The Medalist in Hobe Sound, Florida, where the legends of golf and football sped around in their own carts, raised considerable funds for coronavirus relief, filled the airwaves with banter and played some good golf, too.

Here are a few takeaways:

Tiger’s game

For the first time in 98 days, we got to see Woods in action. And the last time we saw him, he didn’t look good. Woods shot 77 at Riviera Country Club on Feb. 16 and finished last among those who made the cut at the Genesis Invitational. And he complained that his back was stiff.

When he then skipped the WGC-Mexico Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational, there was cause for concern. And when he then skipped the Players Championship, it was easy to wonder if he would be ready for his Masters title defense.

All of it became moot when the Players was canceled after one round and the coronavirus pandemic shut down the PGA Tour. Woods hasn’t played since but neither has anyone else. And the time off has done him some good.

Woods didn’t miss a fairway. His swing looked smooth and in rhythm. He hit some deft pitch shots and a really nice long bunker shot. And all of this in difficult, rainy conditions.

It was just a charity match, but he looked pretty good. Who knows when Woods will resume his schedule when the PGA Tour returns next month, but his game looks good to go.

Phil being Phil

Mickelson did his best to hype the match and went out of his way to say he’d be taking down Tiger — again — in the second of their made-for-TV match encounters. While that didn’t happen, it wasn’t without Lefty doing all he could to make it happen.

Mickelson gave a vintage description of how he would play a pitch shot early in the match when on-course reporter Justin Thomas asked him about it; was clearly on-brand when he gave a shoutout to one of his sponsors on a long-drive hole, then promptly airmailed his tee shot left into the trees; seemed to take great joy in zipping around in his golf cart; then launched a tee shot onto the par-4 11th to set up an eagle putt by Brady; and generally seemed to enjoy himself.

Mickelson hasn’t made it official, but he is expected to play the first event back next month at the Charles Schwab Championship.

Brady’s bounce back

The new Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback started out as if he were playing golf in the old Bucs creamsicle jerseys, a comedy of errors at every turn. The weather didn’t help, and Brady got off to a shaky start.

Charles Barkley was giving him grief, and offered up a $50,000 donation to COVID-19 relief if Brady could hit a par-3 green. He missed badly. “I should have said if you could hit it on the planet,” Barkley bellowed.

But as Brady has been known to do, he gathered himself. Even after taking a penalty stroke on the par-5 seventh hole, he holed a 100-yard wedge shot — while his pants split and his microphone broke — to earn a $100,000 donation from Brooks Koepka, who wondered if Brady could even make a par.

And on the back nine, as he and Mickelson attempted to rally, Brady was solid, helping keep his team in the match.

Manning’s enthusiasm

The retired NFL quarterback brought a lot to the second edition of The Match. He was fun and engaging and self-deprecating. He admitted how difficult it was afterward to step into that arena with Tiger and Phil and play a sport for which he is not known. And he hit some great shots, making an early birdie putt to put his team 2-up and hitting a great iron approach shot late to help keep the team 1-up. The Augusta National member acquitted himself quite nicely.

Justin Thomas, announcer

The fourth-ranked player in the world has a lot of golf ahead of him, but the friend of Tiger proved his worth in a cameo TV role. He had no problem dishing on Woods and Mickelson — and Barkley — and he brought some excellent insight as a Medalist member. He came across smooth but is no doubt looking forward to getting back to his day job.

Modified alternate shot

The back-nine format was fun, and it helped keep the Match moving on the back nine as weather and darkness threatened. It also brought strategy to the competition, and allowed for some good drama when Mickelson drove the green at the par-4 11th and Brady drained the putt for an eagle. One scary thought: Imagine if there had been true alternate shot, meaning they could not pick the best drive.

The Match III

It’s almost inevitable. The first match, won by Mickelson in Las Vegas in 2018, came with a $9 million payday. It also had numerous technical glitches, and with just Woods and Mickelson involved, lacked the banter we saw Sunday. The second iteration was a marked improvement, and it was probably livelier and more fun because the players were competing for bragging rights and charity.

Woods and Mickelson formed this partnership a few years ago with an eye on these type of matches.

Next time, put Tiger and Phil together. How about taking on Rory McIlroy and Thomas? The young guys might be favored, but with a big payout on the line, who is to say the veterans won’t prevail?

The real thing

Two weeks. Two made-for-TV, sports-starved-viewer-filling events. All for charity.

Last week it was McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff at Seminole, and raising more than $10 million for relief efforts.

This time, Tiger, Phil, Manning and Brady doubled that amount in a similar event.

To criticize either would miss the point. Both served a great purpose, a welcome diversion while also offering a huge monetary boost to fight the pandemic.

But now the real thing beckons. Assuming all goes well, the PGA Tour returns in Texas in a little over two weeks. We expect Phil to be there. Tiger’s return is more of a mystery.

The golf will count, however, and a busy season beckons with plenty of obstacles in trying circumstances but plenty of cautious optimism.



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Rodney Smith well-seasoned to compete for RB job with Panthers – Carolina Panthers Blog

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Rodney Smith was looking for a three-peat. The new Carolina Panthers running back tweaked his recipe for success from the previous two years, knowing you don’t improve without putting in the extra time and practice to get better. He thought he’d spiced things up with just the right blend of new with the old to remain on top.

But he lost. It wasn’t on the football field, where the former University of Minnesota running back had overcome two ACL injuries. It was the “Running Backs Top Chef Cook Off” held annually by Gophers running backs coach Kenni Burns.

“I rigged it,” Burns said with a laugh. “He couldn’t go out three years in a row as a winner.”

But the qualities that allowed Smith to overcome adversity in football are the same ones that make him a success grilling ribs. He adapts and doesn’t settle. He’s always looking for an edge that will take his game to the next level.

“I’m resilient,” Smith said from his home in Mundy’s Mill, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. “Anytime you get injured and have to bounce back, it’s tough. The unknown variables. Will I play football again?

“I can’t let the circumstance keep me down. That helped me grow into the young man I am now.”

Smith has no illusion of beating out Christian McCaffrey as Carolina’s starting running back. He understands that McCaffrey, who last season became the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season, is special.

But Smith does have a chance to be the back who gives McCaffrey an occasional break and perhaps holds down the position in case of injury.

None of the players ahead of him on the depth chart are established — Reggie Bonnafon, Mike Davis and 2019 fifth-round pick Jordan Scarlett, who is coming off knee and ankle injuries.

Burns believes Smith’s style, which is not much different than McCaffrey’s in terms of being an all-purpose back, gives him a chance.

“They both can do things outside. They both are great in space. They both have great top-end speed,” he said. “Christian is a little more refined than Rodney, but Rodney can get there for sure.”

The journey

Smith suffered his first ACL injury in his junior year of high school, a critical time for college recruits. Despite recovering to rush for more than 2,200 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior, his college options were limited to Minnesota, East Carolina and a few smaller schools.

“If you ask anyone I grew up with, I told them I wanted to go the farthest place away I could go,” Smith said.

That was Minnesota and a cold climate far from what he was accustomed to in the barbecue-friendly South. He was enjoying a stellar college career, too, before suffering his second ACL tear during his redshirt senior year.



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