Tom Brady falters in first half, helps put Patriots in huge hole

Limited Kids Johnny Hekker Jersey Tom Brady’s first half in Super Bowl 51 was a bust. As a result, he’ll need to lead a historic rally to win a fifth championship.

Brady’s first-half stats — 15 for 25 (60 percent), 179 yards — look decent on the surface, but he missed open receivers and, most importantly, threw a pick-six to Robert Alford that gave the Falcons a 21-0 lead. He also was sacked twice and was often jittery in the pocket.

The biggest question for the Steelers moving forward is what to do with Le’Veon Bell. When he’s healthy, Bell is the best running back in the NFL, and his impact on the Steelers is gigantic.

When Bell was injured early in the AFC championship game, the Steelers’ offense simply did not function the same. But Bell also has massive red flags surrounding him. He already has had two knee injuries in a four-year career. He is ridden into the ground by the coaching staff. He has been dinged for drug test failure. That combination generally is a disaster once a running back is signed to a long-term contract.

The Steelers will have two options. They can use the franchise tag on Bell and commit around $12.5 million on the cap to him for 2017 … or they can sign him to a long-term contract with a much lower cap charge.
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Because of the way the Steelers do contracts, which contain only signing bonuses as guarantees, their protection levels in the event of drug suspensions or even injury are much lower than other teams. That can make any contract risky. The NFL market for runners has shrunk in recent years, but Bell should command around $10 million a season and close to a $20 million signing bonus.

Chicago literally has more outside linebackers than it knows what to do with

Kaepernick started off his season playing behind Blaine Gabbert and wound up piloting a 2-14 team, but his performance — especially given his supporting cast — was significantly better than his numbers suggest. While he only completed 59 percent of his passes, he limited turnovers and avoided mistakes, cutting his interception rate to a career-low 1.2 percent in the process. His 16:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio was one of the league’s top 10 performances last fall.

Chicago literally has more outside linebackers than it knows what to do with, which leads some to believe Lamarr Houston, a former 4-3 defensive end, might not stick on the roster. With Pernell McPhee, Leonard Floyd, Willie Young, Sam Acho and Dan Skuta, the Bears may have the most talented collective group of 3-4 edge rushers in the league.

Game Kids Louis Lipps Jersey Big things are expected out of McPhee and Floyd, specifically. New outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley already has praised McPhee, and Fangio has set the bar high for a healthy Floyd in 2017.

Considering draft picks and guaranteed money, no team in the NFL has more invested at quarterback with less evidence to justify its spending. For both Glennon and Trubisky, upside is the word used to validate the employment.

While the veteran is viewed as and paid like a stopgap starter, the Bears would be fools not to at least give the rookie a chance in an open competition for the job this year. Trubisky was drafted so high because the Bears believe he can and will be their longtime starter — no need to delay the inevitable if he proves immediately capable.

The good news for whoever starts at quarterback: A strong running game should take away some of the production burden.
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U.S. Senator Dick Durbin has known Schakowsky for decades.

“The fact that this explosion came out of that, was one: not the outcome that Republicans wanted; and two: not even close to what Jan expected,” an aide to a Democratic lawmaker says.

Since the day she got the NFL to publicly acknowledge the connection between CTE and their sport, Schakowsky has spent the past year leading the legislative fight to protect player health. This despite the fact that she counts herself as nominal NFL fan, a U.S. Representative who had no real interest in the topic of CTE until being confronted with the facts that day last March.

“Time and again, Jan didn’t have to put her finger in the wind to understand what was right,” Jon Samuels, one of Schakowsky’s top staffers from 1999 to 2007, says. “She just knows and goes off running.”

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin has known Schakowsky for decades. They usually speak weekly. But the day Schakowsky confronted the NFL, Durbin was in the Senate and hadn’t heard from his longtime colleague. When he found out what she did, however, it made sense.

With the changes, players can now use the ball as a prop, celebrate on the ground, and have group demonstrations. Things like twerking and hip thrusting, however, are still outlawed.

Roger Goodell, who has been a stiff in his own ways, didn’t defend Lewis when asked about the comments on Tuesday afternoon.

“I think the players will prove him wrong on that,” the NFL commissioner said. “I think the players will do this in a way that will be responsible, show good sportsmanship, and do it in a way that, I think, is entertaining but also respectful.”

They can’t readily add reinforcements.

Dominic Smith, 1B. The Mets drafted the smooth-fielding Smith in the first round in 2013. Smith, 21, added power to his line-drive stroke last year, the last big piece in his development. His work around the bag figures to be even better now that he has lost weight. Lucas Duda can become a free agent in the offseason; New York has a ready-made replacement, one who’s slashing .319/.376/.476 at Triple-A.

Gavin Cecchini, INF. The Mets’ first pick in 2012 could become Rosario’s long-term keystone partner in New York. He needs to pick it up at the plate in Vegas (.238/.292/.331), but his minor league numbers the past two years, including a big 2016 season at Triple-A, indicate that will happen. Cecchini, 23, could then become the successor to second baseman Neil Walker, who can walk after the season.
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Brandon Nimmo, OF. The 2011 first-rounder is off to a slow start at Vegas after suffering a hamstring injury in the World Baseball Classic, and at 24 he’s more suspect than prospect. Still, he’s in line to replace Curtis Granderson or Jay Bruce in the Mets’ outfield. Both men are in the last year of their contracts.
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Likewise, Eppler can’t really beef up the pitching to compensate for the weakened offense. A Jose Quintana or an Alex Cobb doesn’t seem realistic, absent a highly creative swap that might need a third team.

The bottom line is the Angels are in a very bad spot beyond the obvious of Trout being possibly gone through the All-Star break. They can’t readily add reinforcements. They will have to rely on players who thus far haven’t been productive. A third consecutive season without the playoffs suddenly appears likely.

Dan Quinn and 2 Chainz taking a picture at the airport warms the Atlanta soul

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn took a picture with 2 Chainz at the airport. Two of Atlanta’s finest in one photo, at a place that isn’t surprising they’d run into each other at when you consider the subjects.

It’s a photo that captures Atlanta sports and music well. Sports and music are two things the city takes great pride in. Even if the sports hurt sometimes.

Look at 2 Chainz’s outfit, y’all. He has on a Supreme outfit, complemented by a crisp pair of white Air Jordan 4s, and an icy ring and watch.

Offensive linemen usually don’t score touchdowns, but Brown certainly does. He was tied for second in the league last year with 12 receiving scores, so he had plenty of opportunities to dance in the end zone.

Brown’s celebration dances were flagged and fined because they were deemed sexually suggestive.

Kurt Warner Authentic Jersey Unfortunately, Brown’s twerking — though entertaining — would still draw a penalty, even after the NFL eased up on celebrations. Celebrating with teammates is legal now, so Brown won’t get in any trouble for bringing his offensive linemen into the mix.

Authentic Mens Pierre Garcon Jersey Brown got some pushback from Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers about his sensual celebrations last season.

He knows, we all know, Coach Tomlin brought it up yesterday, that is a huge penalty that we can’t do, Roethlisberger said on Sportsradio 93.7 The Fan in November. We put our kick coverage team in a bad situation and we can’t have it, and AB knows that.

But if Brown plans to celebrate with his offensive line and skip the pelvic thrusting, he should be just fine from now on.

Nine rising MLB stars who could break out in 2017

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The calendar has finally flipped to 2017, but we all started thinking about the 2017 baseball season long ago.

Martin Brodeur Authentic Jersey Which teams will surprise? Which teams will disappoint? Which youngsters will, to use overused words, break out in 2017? Alex Reyes is almost certainly going to be a star for the Cardinals in 2016. Same with Andrew Benintendi (Red Sox) and Dansby Swanson (Braves) and Yoan Moncada (White Sox). But we’re not going to talk about those youngsters here, though, because they all still own their rookie status for 2017.

No, we’re going to talk about another crop of rising stars who could very well wind up making their first All-Star teams soon. These guys have big-league experience but have yet to experience full-season success in the majors, and the combination of talent and opportunity should give them that shot in 2017. Think about what guys like Adam Duvall (from eight total career homers to 33 last year) and Jonathan Villar — whom improved from a career-high 18 stolen bases to NL-best 62 — did in 2016, for the Reds and Brewers, respectively.

Despite the demand for David Ortiz to come out of retirement and return to the contending Red Sox, it isn’t going to happen.

Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski did everything in his power to persuade Ortiz to change his mind by acquiring ace Chris Sale from the White Sox, solid set-up man Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers and Gold Glove first baseman Mitch Moreland in free agency.

Switzer snagged it. And he paid the price.

Switzer says he’s his own player. But he also acknowledges that those guys helped open gates for his NFL shot.

“The last 10 years there have been guys my size or smaller doing incredible things in college and the NFL,” Switzer said. “So I think that they’ve done the work, they’ve paved the way for guys like me to have success.”

Ask Switzer which play best sums up his play, and you won’t get a show-stopping touchdown grab or an electrifying punt return, despite the many he has to choose from.

Instead, it’s a simple first down from a regular-season game in 2014 against Virginia Tech.

Switzer was running across the middle of the field, briefly open. Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams saw him and threw across his body. The throw was going to leave Switzer vulnerable.

Switzer snagged it. And he paid the price.

“I took the hardest hit that I have ever taken in my career. It was something, wow, I can still feel it,” Switzer said. “But I completed the catch, I stood back up. I think that just shows the resilience that I have, the toughness.”

Budda Baker, DB, Washington: Baker offers some versatility in the secondary with the ability to cover and tackle. He’s explosive and quick, though undersized at 5-10, 195. He can be a free safety or a nickel corner thanks to a high-motor work ethic, instincts and excellent ball skills that all led to a team-high 71 tackles, 10 for loss, with two interceptions and six passes defensed last year. nike_cardinals_1944

It was really a blessing to play behind those guys because they’re elite

Former NFL receiver Maurice Stovall has been putting Hopper through workouts at IMG and said Hopper’s biggest hindrance will be not having any game tape from last season. That said, Stovall hasn’t seen any dropoff in Hopper’s ability since his final season at Clemson.
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He looks sharp, healthy and polished, said Stovall, who spent five of his seven NFL seasons with the Buccaneers. From a coaching standpoint, he hasn’t lost a step at all. … If he does everything he did when he was training at IMG at his pro day, I can’t see that do anything but help him get invited to a minicamp.

Hopper, whose ideal position is as a slot receiver, said he learned a lot at Clemson playing alongside the likes of DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams.

It was really a blessing to play behind those guys because they’re elite, Hopper said. There are just a lot of small things, like where to put your hands, just little stuff you wouldn’t see on TV.

Game Sheldon Richardson Jersey After playing in Clemson’s national championship loss to Alabama, Hopper said it was tough but satisfying to watch his former teammates beat the Crimson Tide in January.

Kaepernick at one point looked like he and Russell Wilson would have many epic duels as strong-armed, mobile passers with championships on the line. It’s hard to believe the 49ers-Seahawks classic NFC title game was played only three years ago, given what all has happened since.

Wilson led Seattle to a ring after the 2013 season, something Kaepernick fell just short of the season before. While Wilson and the ‘Hawks have remained a conference contender, Kaepernick faded hard right along with the Niners’ post-Jim Harbaugh freefall.

It’s OK to celebrate, NFL clarifies, but watch the video anyway

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Apparently, Troy Vincent saw his Twitter mentions Wednesday night — including those from Martellus Bennett.
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On Thursday, though, Vincent stood behind the video and its premise — while emphasizing that liberating players was the goal, not further restricting them.

As for the Brady heist, Glazer said NFL security, Patriots security and the FBI collaborated and have zeroed in on a person of interest. He revealed the suspect somehow snuck into the team’s locker room after the game.

He actually, from what I’m told, they have him going into the locker room right behind Bill Belichick as if he’s with the team, Glazer said. Goes in there, loiters around a little while and is seen leaving the locker room — this is the video they’re trying to look at right now — seen leaving a little bit later with something under his arm.

From Glazer’s comments, it doesn’t sound like they could tell what was under their arm but it’s suspicious that they came in with nothing and left with something.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told FOX26 they found the suspect in Mexico.

The HPD criminal intelligence division detectives identified a suspect in Mexico, Acevedo said. I’m proud to say as a result of their hard work, and with the assistance of the FBI and Mexican authorities, we believe we’ve recovered the jersey. Further authentication is in process (of being completed).

Acevedo added federal charges are pending against the suspect. The NFL described the suspect as a credentialed member of the international media. Glazer claimed this person posed as a member of the media, and was not actually affiliated with anyone.

Orioles closer Zach Britton dealing with possible oblique injury

Being drafted by the White Sox 26th overall in 2016 was pretty cool for Burdi. He’s from Downers Grove, a Chicago suburb that’s roughly 26 miles from the White Sox’s home ballpark (now called Guaranteed Rate Field).

His older brother, Nick, was a closer at Louisville, too. Nick was a second-round pick by the Twins in the 2014 draft, and he’s at Double-A Chattanooga right now. In his 91 1/3 career inning in the minors, Nick has 129 strikeouts. So, yeah, it runs in the family.
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Orioles closer Zach Britton will be held out of an intrasquad game Wednesday after experiencing oblique soreness, manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday.

Britton, 29, instead will be allowed to rest as spring training ramps up. The extent of a possible injury should become more clear later this week.
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Oblique injuries can be problematic, especially for pitchers, as some players have missed several weeks. The Orioles will be overly cautious with their bullpen stud with over a month left until opening day. Baltimore begins its spring training schedule Friday against the Tigers.

The left-hander was phenomenal in 2016, converting all 47 of his save chances while gaining Cy Young consideration. He also finished the season with a miniscule 0.54 ERA and 0.83 WHIP.

Through all their struggles, the Rockies are going to field a very potent offense in 2017. While Ian Desmond fell off after a hot start to his 2016 renaissance, playing in the thin air at Coors Field will only help his numbers. Arguably the biggest acquisition of Colorado’s offseason is the hiring of manager Bud Black, one of the most respected baseball men in the game. If Colorado and MVP-candidate Nolan Arenado can get it going offensively in 2017, they’re going to give a lot of pitchers problems.