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Ex-Browns coach Freddie Kitchens joins Giants as tight ends coach, source says

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Former Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens is joining the New York Giants as their tight ends coach, a source confirmed to ESPN.

Kitchens’ hiring is a move that has been in the works for several weeks, ever since he was fired after a 6-10 season and the Giants named Joe Judge their head coach. In 2004 and ’05, Judge and Kitchens were together at Mississippi State, where Judge was first a player and then a graduate assistant.

Kitchens was the Bulldogs’ tight ends coach in 2004.

“Ultimately, you want to work with guys you have relationships with, professionally and personally,” Judge said last week. “You know what to expect.”

The news of Kitchens joining the Giants was first reported by Fox Sports.

Kitchens is the latest addition to the staff to have head-coaching experience. This could prove valuable considering Judge has never been a head coach at any level.

Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and Kitchens have been head coaches in the NFL. Garrett had a nine-year stint with the Dallas Cowboys that ended after this season. Kitchens spent one turbulent season in charge of the Browns but has a long history of working with tight ends. He coached tight ends at Mississippi State and for the Cowboys (2006) and the Arizona Cardinals (2007-12).

Outside linebackers coach Bret Bielema and offensive assistant Derek Dooley have also been head coaches, at the college level; Bielema at Wisconsin and Arkansas and Dooley at Louisiana Tech and Tennessee.

Kitchens, who originally came to Cleveland as a running backs coach, took over as offensive coordinator midway through the 2018 season after head coach Hue Jackson was fired. With Kitchens calling plays, quarterback Baker Mayfield thrived and went on to break the NFL rookie record with 27 touchdown passes.

The offensive surge in the second half, propelling the Browns to a 7-8-1 finish, prompted former Browns general manager John Dorsey to make Kitchens his first head-coaching hire in Cleveland, even though Kitchens had never been a head coach at any level. Although the Browns hadn’t won their division in 30 years, expectations for Cleveland ballooned even higher when Dorsey traded for All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from the Giants in the spring.

But with Kitchens still calling plays, the offense never found a groove. Mayfield threw 21 interceptions, the offensive line struggled to protect him, and star wideouts Beckham and Jarvis Landry battled nagging hip injuries.

Cleveland ranked just 22nd in offensive efficiency and scored more than 30 points only twice all season. Meanwhile, without suspended star edge rusher Myles Garrett, the Browns’ defense crumbled down the stretch, surrendering at least 30 points in each of the final three games.

After a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals to close out the year, Kitchens admitted this season failed to meet expectations.

“Six and 10 is not even remotely good enough,” he said. “We’re not running an operation here to try to be 6-10.”

ESPN’s Jake Trotter contributed to this report.

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49ers dominate Giants despite missing 10 projected starters – San Francisco 49ers Blog

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Don’t go kicking crumbs of rubber on the San Francisco 49ers‘ season just yet.

The injury-ravaged Niners entered Sunday’s game against the New York Giants with 10 projected starters out because of injury. And they were returning to the artificial surface of MetLife Stadium, where many of those injuries occurred.

No matter, the 49ers dominated the struggling Giants from beginning to end, surging to a 36-9 victory and improving to 2-1. Yes, it was just another win against another lowly New York team, but that shouldn’t mean the Niners get any less credit for what they did on their two-game New York swing.

On Sunday, the Niners were missing starters in defensive end Dee Ford (back), quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle), linebacker Dre Greenlaw (quadriceps), tight end George Kittle (knee), running back Raheem Mostert (knee), receiver Deebo Samuel (foot), center Weston Richburg (patellar tendon), cornerback Richard Sherman (calf) and defensive linemen Nick Bosa (ACL) and Solomon Thomas (ACL). They were also without running back Tevin Coleman (knee) and receivers Jalen Hurd (ACL) and Richie James Jr. (hamstring).

For as long and daunting as that list looks, the only players who have been ruled out for the year are Bosa, Thomas and Hurd. While those are important losses, especially Bosa, the Niners should be getting most everybody else back at some point in the near future. After Week 6, center Weston Richburg, defensive end Ronald Blair III and defensive lineman Jullian Taylor can return from the physically unable to perform list.

With winnable games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins the next two weeks at Levi’s Stadium, the Niners have every reason to believe they can be 4-1 when the Los Angeles Rams come calling on Oct. 18. By then, they could be back closer to full strength and ready to prove they are still a legitimate contender.

Count them out at your own peril.

QB breakdown: Backup quarterback Nick Mullens looked right at home stepping in for Garoppolo, completing 25 of 36 passes for 343 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. His passer rating was 108.9 and the Niners did not punt or have a turnover. You can’t ask for much more from your backup, and the Niners have to feel good about him starting again if Garoppolo’s ankle doesn’t allow him to return next week.

Buy Brandon Aiyuk‘s breakout performance: Perhaps it’s an overstatement to call Aiyuk’s day a “breakout” but there were some encouraging signs that the rookie receiver is starting to get comfortable. On a second-half drive to put the game away, Aiyuk had three catches for 39 yards and a 19-yard touchdown run. He finished with 70 yards on five catches and three carries for 31 yards with that score.

With reinforcements on the way, Aiyuk’s target share probably will remain about the same, but he’s earned the right to remain a prominent part of the offense moving forward.

Troubling trend: Long-snappers don’t often get more reliable than the Niners’ Kyle Nelson but he had a day to forget. Nelson’s snaps were all over the place on field goals and extra points. Holder Mitch Wishnowsky did well to give kicker Robbie Gould the chance to get most of his kicks off, but Nelson had several that were either too high or too low. One of those resulted in a missed field goal for Gould. Another meant a missed extra point. Backup offensive lineman Justin Skule replaced Nelson as the snapper on the team’s final extra point.

The good news is that Nelson’s woes didn’t hurt the team. But whatever the issue, it’s something the 49ers will have to take a look at this week to figure out if Nelson can return to form.

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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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