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How Saints’ Michael Thomas is wired like ‘ultimate competitor’ Michael Jordan – New Orleans Saints Blog



METAIRIE, La. — Yes, of course. New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas said he has “most definitely” been inspired by ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” the 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan that aired the past five weeks. A lot of people have been.

But Thomas is viewing it through the lens of a kindred spirit.

If you have spent any time around the NFL’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year, it’s impossible to not be struck by his similarities to Jordan in their approach and intensity.

Quarterback Drew Brees has called Thomas perhaps the most competitive teammate he has ever had. Coaches and teammates describe an almost maniacal level of passion on the practice field. Saints coach Sean Payton once told that he felt like he got hit by a car when he made the mistake of standing in as the defensive back across from Thomas during a walk-through session.

All you need is a social media account to appreciate the way Thomas is fueled by any perceived slight, as he showed during his recent war of words with Miami Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker.

“I feel like there’s not many things not to like about Jordan if you’re the ultimate competitor, if you want to win, if you want to be the best,” said Thomas, who said his dad was a “huge fan” of Jordan’s and instilled some of the same characteristics and habits in him. “And there’s a lot that comes with that, so there’s not that many people that you can relate to at that level.

“When you get a person like that, at the highest level, to pretty much open up about the whole thing, it allows you to stay honest and realize who you are. Because I feel like the level Jordan played at is not for everyone …. And you need examples like that. I’ve been studying a lot of great documentaries and movies and reading and just studying how they prepared their craft back in the days and testing it against how I prepare and stuff like that. Because I feel like if you study those guys and you line ‘em all up, you see a lot of key characteristics that they have that others don’t.”

Thomas shared his appreciation for Jordan on social media throughout “The Last Dance” series, including his belief in the value of trash talk and the way Jordan notoriously kept a mental list of players he either wanted to pay back or prove something against.

Other media members have made Thomas-Jordan comparisons in recent weeks. Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead backed up the assessment by tweeting, “Mike T has the same edge as MJ, and that’s facts!”

Thomas has also performed at a ridiculously high level on the field throughout his career. He shattered the NFL record with 149 receptions in a season last year, and his 470 career catches are by far the most by any player in league history through his first four seasons.

Thomas, who is the nephew of former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson, was also a huge fan of NBA star Allen Iverson growing up. Thomas has always carried a chip on his shoulder, developed through years of being a late bloomer in high school, being redshirted in his second season at Ohio State and falling to the second round of the 2016 NFL draft. He gave himself the famous “Can’t Guard Mike” nickname in high school, saying that he wanted to invite the challenge that came with such a bold declaration.

But as ESPN’s Hallie Grossman described in this 2018 profile of Thomas, he has also continued to almost manufacture doubters now that he has received so much acclaim as a two-time first-team All-Pro selection.

Thomas got into it on Twitter with Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman after a game in 2018. Earlier this year, he trolled the Minnesota Vikings during their playoff loss after the Vikings previously eliminated the Saints. Thomas has had strong words for media members and analysts when he has felt slighted. And he is never shy about sharing his displeasure with a ranking or statistic.

When asked about his competitive edge and his comments to Parker this week, Thomas said, “At the end of the day, you just want your respect. I value respect. And when you put in the work, I feel like you deserve to think like that and be like that — keep everybody honest.”

“I’ve always been taught to keep everybody honest,” he continued. “At the end of the day, we’ll find out who was right and who was wrong. So just keep everybody honest around you — and that doesn’t just mean the people that’s talking. That’s also yourself, too. So if you’re gonna talk it, you’ve gotta definitely walk it, too.

“And I like that type of pressure. I’ve been doing it my whole life, so it’s pretty much whatever for me. I like to see how people feel. Then I like coming out and doing my thing and seeing how they feel after that. And then if they still feel the same way, something’s wrong.”

Thomas said he has been working out diligently throughout the pandemic, and he didn’t want to give away any of his secrets about his training methods or location. But he promised that he’ll be “more than ready” when the NFL returns.

“You’ll be able to tell,” he said. “Everyone will be able to tell.”

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



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



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



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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