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The Sports Xchange
    Super Bowl features matchup of 1st and 2nd team All-Pro QBs
    By JOSH DUBOW, AP Pro Football Writer | 
    1/31/23

    It's only fitting that the top two quarterbacks in the regular season based on All-Pro voting are the last two quarterbacks standing in the NFL this season.

    First-team All-Pro quarterback Patrick Mahomes will take his Kansas City Chiefs into the Super Bowl against second-team All-Pro Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles.

    This marks the seventh time since the merger that the first-team All-Pro quarterback will face the second-teamer for the championship, with it last happening in the 2016 season when second-teamer Tom Brady's Patriots beat first-teamer Matt Ryan's Falcons 34-28 in overtime.

    That's been the pattern in all six of the matchups, with the second teamer coming out victorious each time: Drew Brees over Peyton Manning in the 2009 season, Mark Rypien over Jim Kelly (1991), Joe Montana over Dan Marino (1984), Montana over Ken Anderson (1981) and Roger Staubach over Bob Griese (1971).

    Both Mahomes and Hurts are among the five finalists for the MVP award that will be announced next week. The winner of the AP NFL MVP hasn't won the Super Bowl since Kurt Warner did it for the Rams in the 1999 season. The last eight MVPs to play in the game all ended up losing.

    Mahomes will be starting in his third Super Bowl at the young age of 27 years, 148 days — 39 days younger than Brady in the 2004 season when he became the youngest QB to start in three Super Bowls.

    Hurts is set to start his first Super Bowl at age 24, joining Mahomes and six others to do that before turning 25.

    This will be the third Super Bowl with both starting QBs younger than 28, with Brett Favre (27) beating Drew Bledsoe (24) in the game following the 1996 season and Jim McMahon (26) besting Tony Eason (26) following the 1985 season.

    BLOWOUTS

    The Eagles got to the Super Bowl behind a pair of lopsided wins, which bodes well for their chances to win it all based on past history.

    Philadelphia followed up a 38-7 win over the Giants in the divisional round with a 31-7 win over the 49ers in the NFC title game.

    The Eagles became the fifth team to win their divisional round and conference championship games by at least 20 points. The other four teams all followed it up with a Super Bowl victory, with San Francisco doing it in 1988 and '89, Chicago in 1985 and Pittsburgh in 1978.

    The Eagles also became the 11th team to allow seven or fewer points in back-to-back playoff games in the season, with the 2000 Ravens the most recent to do it before Philadelphia. Seven of the previous 10 won the Super Bowl that season.

    The only team to do it three straight games in a single postseason was the Chiefs on the way to their first Super Bowl title in the 1969 season.

    OLD-MAN JOHNSON

    The well-traveled Josh Johnson finally got his first playoff opportunity in some unfortunate circumstances.

    The 36-year-old Johnson has spent time with 14 NFL organizations since being drafted by Tampa Bay in 2008 and played in three different spring leagues.

    Johnson got forced into action for San Francisco after Brock Purdy injured his elbow on the opening drive of the NFC title game.

    Johnson went 7 for 13 for 74 yards and lost a fumble before being knocked out on the first drive of the third quarter with a concussion. He became the third-oldest player at the time of his first postseason pass, with only 40-year-olds Josh McCown and Sonny Jurgensen waiting longer.

    The concussion for Johnson led to Purdy going back into the game despite not being able to throw the ball more than 5 or 10 yards.

    San Francisco threw the ball only 18 times in the 31-7 loss, marking only the fifth time in NFL history a team lost a playoff game by at least 20 points while throwing fewer than 20 passes.

    STREAKS SNAPPED

    The Bengals and 49ers each came into the conference title games on impressive streaks, with San Francisco having won 12 in a row and Cincinnati 10 straight.

    Both got snapped on Sunday.

    Before this year, 10 teams had taken winning streaks of at least 10 games into the conference title game, with eight coming out victorious.

    The only teams to lose before the Bengals and 49ers were the 2004 Steelers (15 straight) and the 1976 Steelers (10 straight).

    ___

    AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

    Tom Brady retires at 45, insisting this time it's 'for good'
    By FRED GOODALL, AP Sports Writer | 
    1/31/23

    TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — This time, Tom Brady says he's done for good.

    The seven-time Super Bowl winner with New England and Tampa Bay announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday, exactly one year after first saying his playing days were over, by posting a brief video lasting just under one minute on social media.

    Unlike last winter, though, the most successful quarterback in league history, as well as one of the greatest athletes in team sports, said his decision was final.

    “Good morning guys. I'll get to the point right away," Brady says as the message begins. “I'm retiring. For good."

    He briefly retired after the 2021 season but wound up coming back for one more year with the Buccaneers. He retires at age 45, the owner of virtually every meaningful NFL passing record in an unprecedented 23-year career.

    A year ago when he retired, it was in the form of a long Instagram post. But about six weeks later, he decided to return for one more run, citing “unfinished business” after an early playoff exit.

    The Buccaneers — with whom he won a Super Bowl two seasons ago — made the playoffs again this season, losing in their playoff opener. And at the time, it begged the question about whether Brady would play again.

    Only a couple of weeks later, he has given the answer.

    “I know the process was a pretty big deal last time, so when I woke up this morning, I figured I’d just press record and let you guys know first," Brady says in the video. “I won’t be long-winded. You only get one super emotional retirement essay and I used mine up last year.

    “I really thank you guys so much, to every single one of you for supporting me. My family, my friends, teammates, my competitors. I could go on forever. There’s too many. Thank you guys for allowing me to live my absolute dream. I wouldn’t change a thing. Love you all."

    Brady is the NFL’s career leader in yards passing (89,214) and touchdowns (649). He is the only player to win more than five Super Bowls and has been MVP of the game five times. He also holds marks for regular-season wins (251), Super Bowl appearances (10), playoff games and wins (48, 35), as well as playoff yards (13,400) and TDs (88).

    “Tom’s legacy is unmatched in the history of this game. All the Super Bowl titles and statistical records speak for themselves, but the impact he had on so many people through the years is what I appreciate the most,” Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said.

    “His imprint on this organization helped take us to the mountaintop. We will certainly miss him as our quarterback, but I will also miss him as a leader and friend,” Licht added. "Our entire organization is indebted to him for what he provided us over the past three years. We won’t ever forget the wins or the accolades, and his influence will be felt for years to come.”

    Brady announced his retirement one day after attending the premiere of “80 for Brady" — which comes out Friday — in Los Angeles. The movie tells the story of four lifelong friends, played by Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and Sally Field, who went to a Super Bowl to see Brady play.

    He was asked Tuesday night whether he felt a connection working with women — the four stars range in age from 76 to 91 — who don’t want to retire.

    “They’re working hard and they love it. So good for them," Brady told The Associated Press. “You know, it’s just that’s what life is about. You got to, you know, wake up every day with a purpose. And when you find something you love to do, you know, it’s hard to stop. You really enjoy it. And there’s a lot of aspects that you do enjoy. So they still bring it at this age. It’s really unbelievable to watch them on set and how much energy they have. And I certainly was inspired by them and learned a lot of lessons on this whole experience.”

    Famously underrated coming into the NFL — he was picked 199th in the 2000 draft by the Patriots, behind six other quarterbacks, three kickers and a punter — Brady certainly wasn’t expected to become synonymous with greatness. He played in one game as a rookie, completing one of three passes for six yards.

    The next year, it all changed.

    Brady took over as the Patriots’ starter, the team beat the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl that capped the 2001 season and he and New England coach Bill Belichick were well on their way to becoming the most successful coach-QB duo in football history.

    More Super Bowl wins came after the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The Patriots returned to football’s mountaintop for a fourth time in Brady’s era a decade later to cap the 2014 season, the start of three more titles in a span of five years.

    He signed with Tampa Bay in free agency in 2020 and added a seventh Super Bowl ring to his collection in his first season with his new team. The Bucs and won 37 games (including postseason) with Brady at quarterback — third most in the league over the past three seasons behind Kansas City (46) and Buffalo (41).

    “I think I’ve been on the record dozens of times saying there’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady, and I still feel that way," Belichick said in 2021 — shortly before Tampa Bay, with Brady, came to New England and beat the Patriots in a game dubbed “The Return." “I was very lucky to have Tom as the quarterback, to coach him, and he was as good as any coach could ever ask for."

    Brady set league single-season records for completions (490) and pass attempts (733) while throwing for 4,643 yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions in his final season. The Bucs, however ranked dead last in rushing offense and, forced to rely almost solely of Brady’s arm, struggled to get the ball into the end zone.

    After scoring 61 touchdowns in 2021, Tampa Bay slipped to 31 last season and averaged just 18.4 points per game — down from over 30 in Brady’s first two seasons with the Bucs.

    At 8-9, Brady’s only losing season in over two decades as a NFL starter, the Bucs became just the fourth team in league history to earn a postseason berth with a losing mark in a non-strike year. The offensive struggles continued during a lopsided loss to Dallas in the NFC wild-card round.

    Brady won three NFL MVP awards, was a first-team All-Pro three times and was selected to the Pro Bowl 15 times.

    Brady and model Gisele Bündchen finalized their divorce this past fall, during the Bucs' season. It ended a 13-year marriage between two superstars who respectively reached the pinnacles of football and fashion.

    It was announced last year that when Brady retires from playing, he would join Fox Sports as a television analyst in a 10-year, $375 million deal.

    ___

    AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://apnews.com/hub/pro-32 and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

    Brady's unprecedented career filled with highlight moments
    By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Pro Football Writer | 
    1/31/23

    Nobody drove Tom Brady harder than the record-setting quarterback himself, even if his 23rd and final season after a brief retirement didn't end with him lifting yet another Lombardi Trophy.

    He leaves the NFL with more wins, yards passing and touchdowns than any other quarterback. He even set a pair of single-season passing records at the age of 45. And yes, nobody has more Super Bowl rings than Brady with seven.

    Brady competed so hard that he pulled his teammates along with him.

    Tampa Bay center Ryan Jensen, the nine-year pro who hurt his left knee on the second day of training camp, came off injured reserve to snap to Brady in the Buccaneers' wild-card loss to Dallas — the quarterback's final game.

    “Thanks for pushing me everyday this season mentally and physically to get back on the field," Jensen wrote on social media Wednesday. “I’m glad I was able to take the field with you one last time! Enjoy retirement, don’t dog me too much in the booth. Love ya man!”

    Brady did more than his part to fill the video vaults at NFL Films. Here are just a few of his greatest moments:

    FINAL FINAL SEASON

    Brady didn't finish his career with a winning record in his last season. He did, however, make his mark.

    He set a pair of NFL single-season records, completing 490 passes on 733 attempts, and wound up ranking third in the NFL with 4,694 yards passing. And yes, he led the Bucs to a second straight NFC South title even with a losing record.

    SUPER BOWL COMEBACK

    Of course, the first Super Bowl decided in overtime featured Brady leading one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.

    Trailing Atlanta 28-3 in the third quarter, Brady threw two TDs and then drove the Patriots 91 yards by completing six passes to set up the tying score inside the final minute. Once New England won the coin toss, Brady completed his first five passes as the Patriots won 34-28 for their fifth Super Bowl on Feb. 7, 2017.

    OVERTIME DRIVE FOR SUPER BOWL

    Already the oldest quarterback to play in a Super Bowl, Brady outdueled the NFL’s young MVP in Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City on Jan. 20, 2019, with another Super Bowl berth on the line. Brady answered each big drive by Mahomes, especially in a thrilling fourth quarter in which the lead was swapped four times.

    Once the Chiefs forced overtime, Brady took over after the Patriots won the coin toss. He converted on a trio of third-and-10s with a pair of passes to Julian Edelman and a third to Rob Gronkowsk to set up the clinching TD run by Rex Burkhead.

    SEVENTH RING

    Even coming close to Brady’s record in Super Bowls will be very challenging after he won No. 7 in his first season in Tampa Bay. He threw two touchdowns to Gronkowski and a third to Antonio Brown as the Bucs routed Mahomes and the Chiefs 31-9.

    And yes, Brady helped the Bucs become the first franchise ever to win the Super Bowl on its home field.

    GIVE HIM SIX

    Brady helped the Patriots put an end to Tebowmania in spectacular fashion. Brady tied a playoff record set first by Daryle Lamonica, then matched by Steve Young by throwing six TD passes in a divisional game against Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos on Jan. 14, 2012.

    He threw the first within the first two minutes to Wes Welker and wound up with all six in the Patriots’ first nine drives. Brady threw three passes to Gronkowski. And two of Brady’s six TDs came in the final two minutes of the first half.

    Brady finished with 363 yards passing in the Patriots’ 45-10 victory.

    HEY PEYTON

    Brady dominated his rivalry with five-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning, winning 11 of their 17 meetings and their first playoff showdown.

    With the Patriots and Colts facing off in the AFC championship game on Brady’s home turf on Jan. 18, 2004, Brady set the tone from the start. He capped an opening drive with a TD pass to David Givens and had the Patriots up 15-0 at halftime on the way to a 24-14 victory and another Super Bowl berth.

    TUCK RULE

    Brady gave a preview of postseason success to come on Jan. 19, 2002, in his only playoff game at old Foxboro Stadium, with a big assist from a replay review.

    Trailing the Oakland Raiders 13-10 with 1:50 left, former Michigan teammate Charles Woodson knocked the ball out of Brady’s hand. The Raiders recovered the fumble and celebrated only to have the call reversed on replay by referee Walt Coleman because of the little-known Tuck Rule. The rule was later eliminated.

    Brady found David Patten on the next play for a 13-yard pass, setting up Adam Vinatieri’s tying field goal. In overtime, Brady completed eight straight passes to position Vinatieri for the winning field goal that launched Brady and the Patriots on the way to their first Super Bowl title.

    ___

    AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

    AP source: Rhule files $5M arbitration suit vs. Panthers
    By STEVE REED, AP Sports Writer | 
    1/31/23

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Nebraska football coach Matt Rhule has filed an arbitration suit with the NFL against the Carolina Panthers seeking about $5 million in offset severance compensation, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

    Rhule was fired as Panthers head coach on Oct. 10. He has since hired high-profile New York City litigator John Singer of Singer Deutsch LLP to handle the lawsuit, according to the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the arbitration suit has not been made public.

    A Panthers spokesman would not confirm the suit and declined to comment to the AP. Rhule, reached by text, also declined to comment.

    CBS Sports was first to report the arbitration suit.

    Rhule was fired after Week 5 of the NFL season, less than three years into a seven-year, $62 million contract. He was 11-27 as head coach with the Panthers. He was owed approximately $34 million at the time he was fired by billionaire David Tepper, the NFL's second-wealthiest owner.

    Rhule returned to college coaching in November when he was hired by Nebraska, receiving a reported eight-year, $72 million contract that seemingly offset what the Panthers owed him. But the arbitration suit alleges the Panthers still owe him about $5 million because of how the contract with Carolina was structured.

    The Panthers introduced Frank Reich as their new head coach at a news conference on Tuesday.

    Tepper said he made a “mistake” hiring Rhule, whom he described as a "CEO-type head coach.” Tepper added that it is “preferable to have a coach that is really extraordinary on one side of the ball or the other side of the ball.”

    “Listen, I’ll self-admit — we could have run a better process last time,” Tepper said. “And I am learning. ... With all humility, I could have done better, OK? I’m not saying that Rhule wasn’t a good coach. I’m not saying that. Please don’t interpret it that way. I’m saying I could have run a better process last time. I do believe that. I think this time we were very thorough. I was in every single interview.”

    ___

    AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

    Reaction to Tom Brady announcing his retirement for 2nd time
    By The Associated Press | 
    1/31/23

    Reaction from social media and elsewhere poured in after Tom Brady announced his retirement on Wednesday for the second time. Brady won seven Super Bowls and set numerous passing records in an unprecedented 23-year NFL career. He made his announcement in a short social media post. The 45-year-old Brady goes out after leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the NFC South title. He finished his final season with an 8-10 record. Brady and the Bucs were routed in the wild-card round on their own field. Brady helped Tampa Bay win a Super Bowl title in 2020 and consecutive NFC South championships over his last two seasons.

    ___

    "For all the rings.

    For all the touchdowns.

    For all the memories.

    Thank you for everything, @TomBrady (heart emoji)" — the NFL on Twitter.

    ___

    “Tom's impact on our franchise these past three years has been immense and we are appreciative of the time we had him here in Tampa Bay. He set an exceptional standard that elevated our entire organization to new heights and created some of the most iconic moments in our history. Tom's impact will be felt within our community for many years to come and we will forever be grateful for these unforgettable memories that he provided during these final seasons of his legendary career. We wish him the best in this next chapter of life and are confident he will find similar success in his future endeavors.” — the Glazer family, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    ___

    “Tom's legacy is unmatched in the history of this game. All the Super Bowl titles and statistical records speak for themselves, but the impact he had on so many people through the years is what I appreciate the most. His imprint on this organization helped take us to the mountaintop. We will certianly miss him as our quarterback, but I will also miss him as a leader and friend. Our entire organization is indebted to him for what he provided us over the past three years. We won't ever forget the wins or the accolades and his influence will be felt for years to come.” — Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht.

    ___

    "Thanks for pushing me everyday this season mentally and physically to get back on the field. I’m glad I was able to take the field with you one last time! Enjoy retirement, don’t dog me too much in the booth. Love ya man! @TomBrady" — Tampa Bay center Ryan Jensen.

    ___

    “Congratulations again Tom on a amazing career! You have been a great ambassador for the game of football, and the greatest champion it has seen. All the best in the next life challenges you decide to pursue! Your gold jacket is waiting for you.” — Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon.

    ___

    “Say it isn’t so!!” — Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, 47.

    ___

    “I got to witness greatness daily for years and I’m thankful for that (goat emoji) @TomBrady." — Cornerback Logan Ryan, who played with Brady both in New England and Tampa Bay.

    ___

    Tom Brady was the ultimate winner. He entered the NFL with little to no fanfare and leaves as the most successful player in league history. His relentless pursuit of excellence drove him on a daily basis. His work ethic and desire to win were both motivational and inspirational to teammates and coaches alike. Tom was a true professional who carried himself with class and integrity throughout his career. I thank Tom for the positive impact he had on me and on the Patriots and congratulate him on his amazing career.” — Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

    ___

    “I am so proud of Tommy. He has accomplished everything there is to achieve in this game, and so much more. No player in NFL history has done it as well for as long as Tom Brady. He is the fiercest competitor I have ever known and the ultimate champion. He led the Patriots to two decades of unprecedented dominance. He is truly the greatest of all-time. Words cannot adequately express the gratitude my family, the New England Patriots and our fans have for everything he has done. It’s been a blessing for me to watch him grow, first as a young professional on the field, but most importantly, as a person off it. He is one of the most loving, caring and passionate players I have ever known and I will always consider him a part of our family.” — Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

    ___

    “I have always had the utmost respect for Tom Brady as a football player, as a winner and as a person. It wasn’t until he joined us three years ago that I was able to truly appreciate him as a teammate. Even before I became head coach, we communicated often and had a strong relationship built on mutual respect and a desire to win. That connection only grew over this past season as we fought to get the most out of our football team. I greatly appreciate the leadership he provided and am thankful our time together.” — Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles.

    ___

    AP NFL: https://apnews.com//hub/nfl and https://apnews.com/hub/pro-32 and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

    Eagles reserve lineman accused of rape ahead of Super Bowl
    1/31/23

    CAMBRIDGE, Ohio (AP) — Josh Sills, a reserve offensive lineman for the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles, has been indicted on rape and kidnapping charges that stem from an incident in Ohio just over three years ago, authorities said Wednesday.

    Sills, an undrafted free agent who appeared in just one game this season, was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. That means he can’t practice, play or travel with the team as it prepares for the Super Bowl.

    The NFL announced the move Wednesday and said the issue is being reviewed under the league's personal conduct policy.

    The rookie, who played at West Virginia and Oklahoma State, was indicted Tuesday by a Guernsey County grand jury in Ohio and ordered to appear in court on Feb. 16, four days after the Eagles are to play the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

    His attorney, Michael Connick, said the allegations are false and that Sills will be aggressively defended.

    Sills was listed as a backup guard and played just four snaps on special teams against the Cardinals on Oct. 9, the one game he played. He was on the inactive list for most of the year, including this past Sunday in Philadelphia’s conference title victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

    “The organization is aware of the legal matter involving Josh Sills. We have been in communication with the league office and are in the process of gathering more information. We have no further comment at this time,” the Eagles said in a statement.

    The indictment accuses Sills, who is from Sarahsville, Ohio, of engaging in sexual activity that was not consensual and holding a woman against her will on Dec. 5, 2019.

    A statement issued by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said the incident was immediately reported, and that the county sheriff’s office conducted a detailed investigation.

    Commanders talk to 49ers' Lynn for offensive coordinator job
    By STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Sports Writer | 
    1/31/23

    The Washington Commanders are interviewing Anthony Lynn for their offensive coordinator vacancy.

    The team confirmed the interview Wednesday. Lynn, the San Francisco 49ers assistant head coach/running backs coach, is the sixth candidate the Commanders have spoken to about the job.

    Coach Ron Rivera interviewed Lynn in person in California days after the 49ers flew home following their loss at Philadelphia in the NFC championship game. Rivera was criticized on social media Tuesday by Washington radio broadcasters for golfing at Pebble Beach before hiring an offensive coordinator.

    That process has been ongoing since Rivera fired Scott Turner on Jan. 10, less than 48 hours after the Commanders missed the playoffs with the NFL's 20th ranked offense. Turner's at times curious play-calling and underwhelming results with multiple quarterbacks contributed to derailing their postseason hopes.

    Lynn, 54, offers a deep resume after coaching the Los Angeles Chargers from 2017-20 and serving as offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions in 2021 before joining San Francisco. The 49ers have already lost defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who was hired by the Houston Texans as their next coach.

    Before Lynn, the Commanders interviewed former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, current Washington quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, Atlanta Falcons QB coach Charles London, Miami Dolphins associate head coach/RBs coach Eric Studesville and Los Angeles Rams assistant head coach/tight ends coach Thomas Brown.

    Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew in their season-ending news conference said they preferred a run-first style of offense.

    “I think it's a philosophical belief,” Rivera said hours before firing Turner. "If you look at a lot of the teams that do end up at the end where they are, most of them rush for well over 1,000 (yards). They control the tempo of the game, and I think that’s what we need to do to win football games.”

    Whoever gets the job could also inherit QB Sam Howell going into his second pro season. Howell made his NFL debut in the season finale, throwing and rushing for a touchdown in beating the playoff-bound Dallas Cowboys.

    “He was impressive,” Mayhew said. "He got off to a really good start, and it’s going to be a lot of evaluation process for him, as well. We’ll see where it all shakes out.”

    ___

    AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

    Unheralded group of Chiefs get redemption in Super Bowl hunt
    By DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer | 
    1/31/23

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs have some of the biggest names in the NFL, from Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce to Chris Jones and JuJu Smith-Schuster, yet they're playing in their third Super Bowl in four years largely because they refused to give up on players only their most-passionate fans know about.

    There’s the quartet of rookie defensive backs that were picked on all season, but who largely shut down Ja’Marr Chase and the Bengals' other talented wide receivers while picking off Joe Burrow twice in the AFC championship game.

    There's Skyy Moore, their fumble-prone rookie punt returner whose fumble cost them a win in Indianapolis in Week 3, but whose big return in the waning seconds Sunday night helped to set up the winning field goal in the 23-20 victory.

    And there's their kicker, Harrison Butker, whose sprained ankle in the regular-season opener in Arizona led to the most inaccurate season of his career, yet who drilled the 45-yarder with 3 seconds left that ultimately sent the Chiefs back to the desert.

    “Really, those are the redemption stories that you get into,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “It was quite a deal to watch.”

    Indeed, Reid has been around long enough to understand the unforgiving nature of the NFL, where players' careers are often measured in weeks rather than years. He's seen hundreds with promise flame out, their chances at making it big done in by fumble problems, blown blocking assignments, missed tackles or other seemingly minor miscues.

    He likes to say that the line between success and failure is so small that it's almost imperceptible.

    His players understand that, too.

    “With the circumstances so high,” Chiefs offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. admitted, “the margin of error is so slim.”

    So nobody would have batted an eye had the Chiefs relegated Moore to the mothballs earlier in the season, when the first-year wide receiver couldn't even make a fair catch. To be fair, Moore had never really been put in that position, but that did not stop fans from groaning every time he fumbled a punt.

    The Chiefs finally pulled him from return duties, at least during games. But Moore continued to work in practice, and it wound up paying off. Their new returner, Kadarius Toney, hurt his ankle against the Bengals, and his backup Justin Watson already was inactive with an illness. So, the Chiefs sent Moore back to fetch the biggest punt of the season.

    He not only fielded it cleanly but raced up the sideline to give Kansas City a chance to win the AFC title in regulation.

    “I just had to remind myself who I was and why I was here,” Moore said. "I was doing something new, and I was going to take my bumps and bruises. I just kept working at it. I didn’t think I was ever going to get a punt return again this season. But I didn’t stop catching punts. I was prepared for that moment and it paid off.”

    So did the decision by the Chiefs to keep putting rookie cornerbacks Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson and Josh Williams on the field together, often with rookie safety Bryan Cook, even as wily wide receivers kept beating them and flags kept flying for pass interference. Much like Moore, they took their lumps early in the season so they would be ready later.

    In the AFC title game, Watson and Williams both picked off passes, one of them after Cook batted the ball in the air.

    “They told us we were going to be a big part of this defense. They threw us in the fire," Williams said. "They definitely gave us every piece of information and every detail to prepare us to play well in tight situations. They didn’t just tell us to go out there and play. They gave us a game plan and showed us how to execute. We did that and we bought in.”

    Butker was a slightly different case. His ankle injury in the opener in Arizona not only caused him to miss three weeks, it also forced him to alter his approach to kickoffs and field goals. The result was a shaky season in which the veteran kicker with the big leg missed a career-worst six field-goal attempts and blew three extra points.

    Yet when Moore's punt return gave Patrick Mahomes and Co. the ball, and the All-Pro quarterback scrambled into field-goal range on his own sprained ankle, the Chiefs had confidence enough in Butker to send him trotting onto the field.

    It was frigid. The wind was swirling. The ball probably felt like a rock. And yet Butker managed to get just enough oomph on the 45-yarder that it squeaked over the crossbar and gave the Chiefs their third AFC title in four years.

    “You dream about the big kicks. That’s what people remember," Butker pointed out in the jubilant Kansas City locker room afterward. "They don’t remember your field-goal percentage during the year.”

    Nor do folks remember the adversity that players such as Moore, Butker and the Chiefs' rookie defensive backfield have faced when they suddenly find themselves playing in the Super Bowl.

    “Everybody pushed through and made it work," Reid said, “so I'm very proud for our guys.”

    ___

    AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

    New OC Riley looks to push Clemson offense into next gear
    By PETE IACOBELLI, AP Sports Writer | 
    1/31/23

    CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Garrett Riley is almost familiar with his new facility at Clemson — emphasis on almost.

    Riley, who led TCU's offense on its run to the national title game this past season, took over as the Tigers' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach a few days after the Horned Frogs lost the CFP championship to Georgia last month.

    Ever since, he warns recruits when taking them around Clemson's massive operations center, “better not ask me where something is," Riley said Wednesday at his formal introduction.

    Clemson signed all of its 27-member class in December before the offensive change. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said the program was celebrating its newest members on national signing day, no newcomer more essential than Riley.

    Riley, 33, is the reigning Broyles Award winner as the game's top assistant for what he did at TCU, which went from five victories in 2021 to the College Football Playoff.

    Things happened so quickly — Swinney and Riley spoke for the first time the night after TCU's defeat — that Riley hasn't had the chance to fully celebrate his accomplishments last season.

    “It's been a whirlwind,” he said. “It was a great run (at TCU), just like it will be at Clemson.”

    Swinney praised his previous coordinator, Brandon Streeter, who led an attack that improved in yards and points from 2021 to 2022 and won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in his only season in charge.

    “I just felt like it was the right time,” Swinney said. “We weren't quite where we needed to be."

    Swinney talked to Riley's brother, Southern Cal coach Lincoln Riley, about Garrett before talking to him directly. Garrett Riley was the only person he talked with about the job, Swinney said.

    Garrett Riley played quarterback for Texas Tech and was groomed in the “Air Raid” offense of the late Mike Leach.

    Riley said Leach, who died two months ago while he was Mississippi State's head coach, had a profound impact on his coaching career — and not necessarily for the X’s and O’s.

    Leach and his “out of the box thinking were very appealing to me,” Riley said.

    More to Swinney's liking was Riley's use of the run. TCU finished 31st nationally at nearly 194 yards rushing per game. Riley is still learning new personnel but believes the base for success is there with Tigers runners Will Shipley and Phil Mafah.

    Shipley, a first-time All-ACC selection, gained 1,182 yards and 15 touchdowns. Mafah had 515 yards and four TDs.

    Riley gets dubbed with the “Air Raid” tag because of his background, Swinney said. “But if you study him, he runs the football,” the head coach continued. “I have no doubt he’s going to make us better offensively.”

    Riley had recruited expected Clemson starting quarterback Cade Klubnik to SMU when he worked there a few years back and believes they'll have a solid, productive partnership going forward.

    Every aspect of Clemson's program gives Riley confidence that the Tigers can land back where TCU was this year in the CFP semifinals, which Clemson has missed the past two seasons after making six straight from 2015 through 2020.

    Klubnik became starter late in the season, supplanting DJ Uiagalelei early in the ACC title game, and led the Tigers to a 39-10 victory over North Carolina. Klubnik and the Tigers struggled in their Orange Bowl loss to Tennessee, 31-14.

    Riley sees the potential ahead for his new group and sees Klubnik as a driving force.

    “I know that kid's foaming at the mouth just like the rest of our players, and trust me, us coaches are ready to get going, too,” Riley said.

    Riley, who was born and raised in Texas, said he and his family were happy at TCU. He wasn't looking to leave, particularly after the Horned Frogs' landmark season. But Clemson offered a prime opportunity for Riley to advance his career. He received a three-year contract worth $1.75 million per year.

    “It had to be something that was going to check the box in all areas,” Riley said.

    ___

    AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap_top25

    Kellen Moore excited to get to work with Chargers, Herbert
    By JOE REEDY, AP Sports Writer | 
    1/31/23

    Kellen Moore worked with Justin Herbert on a commercial last year.

    The two will now try to see if they can get the Los Angeles Chargers’ offense to the next level.

    Moore was introduced as the Chargers offensive coordinator Wednesday after the two sides agreed to a deal on Monday.

    “It’s amazing how life can come full circle on you,” said Moore of the commercial shoot with Herbert for a Pacific Northwest auto group. “We laugh about those commercials, but we did get a chance to spend a few days this summer together as we went through that. He’s an awesome, awesome person, an awesome player. Certainly, we know all the physical talent, but I’m just really, really excited to work with him.”

    Moore said he has spent little time with Herbert besides the commercial. That will change, though, as the two try to get the Chargers to the next level.

    Los Angeles reached the playoffs for the first time since 2018, but the offense was inconsistent throughout the season. It was ranked ninth in total offense, but 20th in scrimmage yards per play, and had the third-worst rushing attack in the league.

    Moore comes to the Chargers after eight seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, including the past four as offensive coordinator.

    After interviewing with the Carolina Panthers for their head coach opening last week, Moore talked with Dallas coach Mike McCarthy late last week about his future and then interviewed with the Chargers last Sunday.

    Monday’s announcement came less than 24 hours after Dallas said Moore would not return. He was the last of five candidates to interview for the opening. Joe Lombardi, LA’s coordinator for two seasons under coach Brandon Staley, was fired on Jan. 17.

    “I’ve been fortunate to have been at one spot for eight years — three years as a player and five years as a coach. It’s certainly a very special place to me,” Moore said. “As we went through the process, sometimes change can be really good for all of us, and I felt like I was in that space. It works for both sides. I think that it’s an awesome opportunity for Dallas and an awesome opportunity for me. I’m certainly really, really excited about how this thing all played out.”

    Moore worked with Staley last year in helping to organize the two days of practices between the Cowboys and Chargers. The two exchanged text messages throughout the season.

    In Moore’s four seasons as offensive coordinator, the Cowboys were second in the league in total offense (391.0 yards per game) and scoring (27.7 points per game).

    Staley said one important thing he is looking for from the offense is better balance. Los Angeles had the NFL’s second-biggest discrepancy between passing and running plays (65% pass to 35% run).

    Under Moore, Dallas was 53% pass to 47% run last season, tied for the ninth-highest rate of run plays.

    “As we build this thing, certainly, the run game and the play-action pass and the movements on first and second down, when those two are in sync, and the presentations are similar, it puts defenses in conflict,” Moore said.

    “It will allow you to be more aggressive, to get the ball downfield. It certainly doesn’t mean that you go crazy with it, but you can build those marriages. We all know that the top offenses in this league, the beauty is when those two things are in sync. It’s a beautiful thing.”

    ___

    AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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