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Meet the Pro Football Hall of Fame Centennial Class — Paul Tagliabue, Donnie Shell and more

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Fifteen men, some who have waited decades to hear their names called, were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday as part of its Centennial Class. The group was selected to honor the NFL’s 100th anniversary.

The members, who will be enshrined in August and September, include 10 seniors, two coaches and three contributors. Hall of Fame president David Baker said Wednesday part of the Centennial Class will be enshrined with the modern-era Class of 2020 on Aug. 8, while part of the Centennial Class will be enshrined at the centennial celebration in September.

Here’s a closer look at the class:

Players

Wide receiver Harold Carmichael (Philadelphia Eagles, 1971-1983; Dallas Cowboys, 1984)

A four-time Pro Bowl selection, the 6-foot-8 Carmichael was the league’s Man of the Year in 1980 for his work in his community. In an era when Drew Pearson once led the league in receiving yards with 877 in 1977, Carmichael was consistent in his impact, averaging over 15 yards per catch in six seasons.

Why he was elected: Carmichael was said to be one of the most difficult players to defend. Those who played against him said his numbers would be far better if he played now, when pass interference and defensive holding are called more often. He led the league in catches and receiving yards in 1973 and finished with three 1,000-yard seasons in his career. He was also among the league’s top 10 in touchdowns in eight seasons.

Tackle Jim Covert (Chicago Bears, 1983-1990)

A starter from his rookie season in 1983 to when he retired after the 1990 season. A two-time first-team All-Pro, Covert helped power a Bears offense that led the league in rushing in each of his first four seasons and finished among the top three in rushing in seven of his eight seasons. Covert played his best against the best pass-rushers of his time.

Why he was elected: A back injury ended his career in 1991. He spent that seasons on injured reserve and never returned to the field. Covert held Lawrence Taylor without a sack in his three meetings against the Hall of Famer. Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon once said Covert and Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz were the best tackles he faced.

Safety Bobby Dillon (Green Bay Packers, 1952-59)

Dillon did his best work before they became Vince Lombardi’s Packers. Green Bay had losing seasons in seven of Dillon’s eight years with the team. Dillon, like many of his era, retired before his 30th birthday and before the Packers could have enjoyed his talents on a consistent winner. Dillon also played with a glass eye because of childhood accident.

Why he was elected: Dillon retired with a staggering 52 interceptions in 94 games. In a decidedly run-first era, Dillon is tied for 26th with Hall of Famers Champ Bailey, Jack Butler, Mel Renfro and Larry Wilson on the league’s all-time list for interceptions. Dillon had three seasons with nine interceptions and five seasons with at least seven picks.

Safety Cliff Harris (Dallas Cowboys, 1970-79)

Harris made the Cowboys’ roster as an undrafted rookie in 1970, having arrived as a former college sprinter and cornerback. The Cowboys saw a future safety, and he started five games as a rookie. Harris became one of the league’s first box safeties with enough athleticism to return punts and kickoffs. Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton once said the two best safeties he faced were Harris and Hall of Famer Jake Scott.

Why he was elected: A player nicknamed “Captain Crash,” Harris was selected to six Pro Bowls. He led the Cowboys in tackles in 1976 and interceptions in 1977. He played on two Super Bowl winners, and the Cowboys were in the postseason in nine of his 10 years. Dallas won 72.9 percent of its games in the 1970s.

Tackle Winston Hill (New York Jets, 1963-76; Los Angeles Rams, 1977)

Hill is part of a group vastly underrepresented in the Hall of Fame: players who excelled in the AFL. An eight-time Pro Bowl selection, he played seven seasons with AFL’s Jets and eight more after the AFL-NFL merger. Many longtime league observers have said he so dominated in Super Bowl III he should have been the MVP.

Why he was elected: Hill was a player with remarkable footwork — he played tennis in his youth — who played with power, technique and quickness. He missed one game in his 14 seasons with the Jets — as a rookie. His career was overshadowed by the fact the Jets had three winning seasons in his 14 years, but Hall of Fame coach Weeb Ewbank said Hill should have been enshrined decades ago.

Defensive tackle Alex Karras (Detroit Lions 1958-1962, 1964-1970)

Karras was an NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion at Iowa and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting in 1957 as a defensive lineman. He still holds the Lions’ career record for sacks with 97.5. He was a dominant player during his era, but for a team that did not win a championship. Karras played in one postseason game in 1970. Karras was also suspended for gambling, along with Hall of Famer Paul Hornung, for the 1963 season.

Why he was elected: Three defensive tackles were named to the All-Decade team of the 1960s — Karras, Bob Lilly and Merlin Olsen. Lilly and Olsen were enshrined as first-ballot selections while Karras was never a finalist in his 25 years of eligibility. He was a four-time All-Pro selection. Karras’ only playoff appearance was in the last game of his career; the Lions held the Cowboys without a touchdown but still lost 5-0.

Safety Donnie Shell (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1974-87)

Shell was physical enough to play the run like a linebacker with the athleticism and savvy to have 51 career interceptions. He covered tight ends like Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome in man-to-man situations and was also a feared hitter along the line of scrimmage. Shell played on four Super Bowl winners and was voted the team MVP of the 1980 Steelers, a team that included nine Hall of Famers (Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham and Mel Blount).

Why he was elected: He was a five-time Pro Bowl and three-time first-team All-Pro selection. Couple Shell’s 51 career interceptions with 19 career fumble recoveries and those 70 career takeaways are Canton-worthy. He had a six-year stretch — 1979-1984 — with at least five interceptions in a season, including seven in 1980 and 1984.

Tackle Duke Slater (Milwaukee Badgers, 1922; Rock Island Independents, 1922-25; Chicago Cardinals, 1926-31)

Slater is considered the first African-American player in professional football in the first half of the 20th century. At a time when most players played for one or two seasons before injuries or the need for more income pushed them out of the league, Slater was good enough to play for a decade. A two-way player, Slater had a four-year stretch in Rock Island when he played every minute of each game. He continued to play both ways through the final years of his career with the Cardinals.

Why he was elected: Slater started 96 of 99 career games and, when he retired, his 10 seasons were the third-most of any professional player. He was a six-time All-Pro, and Slater did all of it while battling racism. The only game Slater missed in his career was in 1924 due to an agreement that prevented African-American players from playing in Missouri. His teammates wanted to forfeit the game, but Slater said he would fake an injury because his teammates would not be paid if they didn’t play.

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Rob Gronkowski of Tampa Bay Buccaneers marvels at Tom Brady’s play

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski doesn’t believe father time has caught up with longtime teammate Tom Brady.

In fact, he doesn’t think it has come close to affecting the 43-year-old signal caller, who tossed three first-half touchdowns in the Bucs’ 28-10 win over the Broncos on Sunday in Denver. Gronkowski also believes Tampa Bay’s offense is just starting to scratch the surface of what it can do.

“There are people that have talked garbage about him since I started playing with him 10 years ago, saying he didn’t have anything left in the tank — that is simply not true,” Gronkowski said. “Just the way that he can air the ball out and put a dime where he needs to … I just feel like he can do it. It is like he isn’t even 43 years old.”

Brady completed passes to eight different receiving targets Sunday, going 25-of-38 for 297 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions — his first Bucs game without a pick. When asked if this was Brady’s best performance so far as a Buccaneer, coach Bruce Arians said, “I think so far for sure. We put a lot on him today, and he delivered.”

Two particular passes stood out as evidence against Brady critics who believe he has lost his touch and can’t throw the deep ball. One was a 33-yard pass (26.6 air yards) to tight end O.J. Howard, and the other was a 47-yarder (42 air yards) to receiver Scotty Miller.

On the dime to Howard, there were just 0.53 yards of separation between him and the nearest defender, Josey Jewell, when the pass arrived, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Since the NFL began tracking separation in 2017, Brady has had only one other completion of 25-plus air yards with 0.5 yards or less of separation, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

On the pass to Miller, there were just 0.83 yards of separation between him and the nearest defender, Justin Simmons. That was the first time in Next Gen tracking that Brady completed a pass of 40-plus air yards with less than 1 yard of separation. The last time Brady completed a pass of 40 or more air yards was in Week 1 of last season, and he was 0-for-5 on such passes entering Sunday.

“Just the way he prepares, week in and week out, the way he takes care of himself, the way he goes out to the practice field to make sure that he’s on-point — seeing what I see, from day in and day out, coming to practice, coming to games prepared, mentally and physically, and just doing everything he needs to do so he can make those [tight-window] passes,” Gronkowski said. “And those passes are incredible. Just the way that he puts them in there, there’s not even any separation … he just lays it there so only the receiver can make a play — it’s just unbelievable. I think he has a lot left, even more, in the tank.”

Brady acknowledged that some of that risk-taking is due to his increasing level of confidence running Arians’ offense and improving chemistry and trust with teammates. They didn’t have an offseason together and spent training camp trying to play catch-up, although members of the coaching staff think the private workouts Brady hosted with teammates at Tampa’s Berkeley Prep helped enormously.

“We’re getting there. It’s a long process,” Brady said. “This would have been our third preseason game. Still a lot to learn, there’s a lot to grow, there’s a lot of room for improvement. I know everyone feels that way. We’ve gotta get to know each other. We’ve gotta understand kinda what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to accomplish, and then make it happen. We’re only gonna, I think, make improvements as we keep going.”

Brady wasn’t the only one who managed to defy some critics.

After managing just two catches for 11 receiving yards in Weeks 1 and 2 combined, Gronkowski went 6-of-7 on his targets from Brady for 48 receiving yards against the Broncos.

“Not every week you’re gonna get targets your way because you never know how the game’s gonna go, but today, it went that way, where I had a lot of targets, and it just felt good to get involved,” said Gronkowski, who called himself a “blocking tight entering” in the days leading up to Sunday’s game. “I just knew that if I kept week in, week out just practicing hard, doing what we need to do, it was going to click. I’ve been in the league for a while, and there are some games where you just don’t get any looks, and then there are some games where you get a lot of looks. There’s some games where I’m just not clicking and everything’s just not clicking.

“I’m here just getting better week in, week out and fix the problems when there [are] problems and things aren’t going right. That’s the grind of the football season. I did definitely have the faith that I was going to get involved in the passing game, and it happened today. I truly believe that we can keep getting better.”

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Cleveland Browns have first winning record in six years

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CLEVELAND — Finally, the Cleveland Browns have a winning record again.

With a 34-20 victory over Washington on Sunday, the Browns moved to 2-1, giving them a record above .500 for the first time in six years.

Cleveland had gone 90 consecutive weeks without a winning record, which was by far the longest active streak in the NFL. The Browns were last above .500 going into Week 15 of the 2014 season, when they were 7-6, then lost their final three games.

Over the next three seasons, Cleveland would win just four games combined.

“First and foremost, this is a football town,” Baker Mayfield said. “They deserve to have a great franchise and a great team, but we are worried about right now. Like I said before the season started, it is about building that culture, bringing the right guys in and pushing this thing in the right direction, which is what we have been doing and we are trying to do. We have to build on this momentum and keep going one game at a time.”

On Sunday, the Browns trailed Washington 20-17 in the fourth quarter until Mayfield found rookie tight end Harrison Bryant for a go-ahead 3-yard touchdown pass with 11:19 to play. Cleveland intercepted Dwayne Haskins for a third time on Washington’s ensuing series, then running back Nick Chubb put the Browns back in command for good with a 20-yard touchdown run, his second score of the day.

The New York Giants now hold the longest streak without a winning record at 55 weeks.

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Indianapolis Colts’ Philip Rivers 6th QB with 400 TD throws, 60K passing yards

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INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers joined elite company during Sunday’s 36-7 win against the New York Jets, becoming the sixth quarterback in NFL history to throw 400 career touchdown passes and top 60,000 passing yards for a career.

“The milestones are meaningful. I’m not going to sit here and tell you they don’t matter. I do care about them,” said Rivers, who already had received a number of text messages about his feat. “They are meaningful. I dreamed of playing quarterback in this league since I was a little kid.”

Rivers reached the career touchdown mark on the second play of the second quarter, when he completed a 1-yard pass to tight end Mo Alie-Cox. He joined Drew Brees (550), Tom Brady (544), Peyton Manning (539), Brett Favre (508) and Dan Marino (420) as the only quarterbacks to reach 400 TDs.

Favre and Marino are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Manning will be a first-ballot inductee in 2021, while Brees and Brady are also expected to be first-ballot picks once they retire.

Rivers threw the first 397 touchdown passes of his career during his 16 seasons with the Chargers. He threw at least 30 touchdown passes in six of those seasons.

He joined that same group of quarterbacks with at least 60,000 yards passing in the second half of a game the Colts never were really threatened in after the first quarter.

“There are still guys who are far, far and away on that list in yards and touchdowns,” Rivers said. “Some of those guys when I grew up I was fans of, posters on the wall. Some of them I’ve been able to compete against. Certainly is special. Certainly thankful. There’s always been a guy on the receiving ends of those passes. Always been five guys, backs and tight ends blocking like crazy to allow you to throw. All the guys have been a part of those.”

Nobody knew what to expect from Rivers when the Colts signed him, at age 38, to a one-year, $25 million contract to replace Jacoby Brissett as the starter. He was coming off a 2019 season in which he committed 23 turnovers, including 20 interceptions.

But Colts coach Frank Reich had belief in Rivers after the two spent three seasons together with the Chargers. Reich has been on staff with Rivers for 95 of his 400 touchdown passes.

“We felt this (belief) from the start, in the offseason when (general manager) Chris (Ballard) and I were talking about bringing Philip here,” Reich said. “The opportunity to bring him here, it was a very unique situation. We talked through that, and having been with the guy, I know what kind of guy he is, know the type of teammate he is, type of leader he is and he’s an elite quarterback. He’s so accurate, so smart, so tough and has a knack for making plays. So not surprised. He’s made a lot of coaches look good with the way he plays. I’m sure glad he’s a Colt. I’m just excited at how he’s leading our offense, how he leads our team.”

Rivers hasn’t been flawless (two interceptions in a Week 1 loss at Jacksonville Jaguars), but Sunday was the type of performance the Colts expected out of him. He was an efficient 17-of-21 for 217 yards and the one touchdown. Indianapolis didn’t need Rivers to lead the way because the defense accounted for 16 of its 36 points.

The Colts dominated the Jets so much that Rivers had a towel draped over his right shoulder on the sideline, as Brissett took over for the final nine minutes of the game.

“Philip played unreal football (Sunday),” Reich said. “I really think he’s played good football for three games besides one or two mistakes. So accurate with the football, so many good decisions. The knack to make big plays to be able to hang in the pocket.”

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