Tagged in: New England

Lions, Browns both desperate for wins entering Sunday’s game

The starting quarterback is injured and won’t be close to 100% — if he even plays. The passing game isn’t producing nearly enough big plays or points and the season has grown desperate.

The Cleveland Browns have similar complications.

Shaken by an embarrassing, humbling 38-point loss at New England last week, when Patriots coach Bill Belichick seemed to enjoy toying with his former team, the Browns (5-5) head into Sunday’s matchup versus the Lions (0-8-1) without any more wiggle room in a season going sideways.

Their hopes of winning the AFC North, making the playoffs and perhaps a Super Bowl title run seem a bit far-fetched at the moment. But in a nonsensical season in which elite teams are few and far between, anything seems possible.

“We’re within striking distance,” said Browns left guard Joel Bitonio, who has been on more than a few roller-coaster rides in Cleveland since 2014. “We’re not where we want to be, but we have everything left. There’s a lot less room for error now, but we’re good.”

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Actually, it’s hard to figure out the Browns — one of the NFL’s most talented yet unpredictable teams.

Two weeks ago, they overpowered Cincinnati 41-16 while playing their most complete match this season.

A week later, it was just the opposite as the Browns couldn’t do anything right.

The past few days have been filled with corrections and reflection.

“It’s a humbling process,” said quarterback Baker Mayfield, who expects to face the Lions despite shoulder, foot and knee injuries. “It’s very easy to look around and try to find excuses, but when it comes down to it we have seven more games right now to be able to figure out how to make it work.

“And we have a lot of division games in front of us, and that’s the most important part.”

The Browns aren’t good enough to take anyone lightly, especially the Lions, who managed a 16-16 tie last week at Pittsburgh and were within a missed field goal in overtime of shocking the Steelers.

Detroit returned from its bye week emphasizing the run on offense and playing with the same intensity on defense that has kept the Lions in most games.

Bitonio played on Cleveland’s 0-16 team in 2017, when the Browns lost twice in OT and lost four other games by four points or less.

He said the Lions will not be overlooked.

“They play as hard as anybody,” said Bitonio, who has warned his younger teammates about the pitfalls of overconfidence. “It’s not like you’re at Alabama, just walk in and beat a team. Records don’t mean anything. You come out, you have to perform. “You just have these games where it’s like, ‘Oh, this team should win.’ But it’s the NFL, so anything can happen.”

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Veteran WR Chris Hogan opts to retire from NFL, ending 10-year career

After a brief return to the NFL this season with the New Orleans Saints, wide receiver Chris Hogan decided to retire.

The 10-year veteran, who collected two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, was placed on the reserve/retired list Saturday.

Hogan had flirted with retirement earlier this year, when he switched careers and joined the Premier Lacrosse League. But the Saints lured him back in late July, and he earned a roster spot with the team — catching four passes for 41 yards and a touchdown in five matches.

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It’s unclear exactly why Hogan decided to retire.

He was not dealing with any known injuries. But the Saints have added depth to their wide receiver corps in recent weeks.

They signed veteran Kenny Stills last month and designated veteran Tre’Quan Smith to return from injured reserve this week. All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas could also return soon, though he has not started practicing after having ankle surgery in June.

Hogan began his career as an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 and bounced around from San Francisco to the New York Giants to the Buffalo Bills before finally making his NFL debut in December 2012 and catching his first pass in 2013.

He then played for the Bills until 2015 before spending three seasons in New England from 2016 to 2018 and winning two championships. He also spent one year each with the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

He caught a total of 220 passes for 2,836 yards and 19 touchdowns in the regular season, plus another 34 catches for 542 yards and four touchdowns in the playoffs.

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New England Patriots trade CB Stephon Gilmore to Carolina Panthers for draft pick

A trade for New England Patriots Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore and the return of Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey helped the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday get over their first loss of the campaign.

Both happened almost simultaneously as players made their way to the practice field.

The Gilmore trade in particular brightened the mood.

“That’s pretty dope, man,” cornerback Donte Jackson said.

Carolina general manager Scott Fitterer sent a 2023 sixth-round pick to New England for Gilmore, who had been set to be released later in the day. The 31-year-old from nearby Rock Hill, South Carolina, is expected to come off the physically unable to perform list after Week 6.

Fitterer stated he expects Gilmore, who is arranged to be in Charlotte for a physical on Thursday, to be ready for an Oct. 24 game versus the New York Giants

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McCaffrey could be available to play on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles after missing a 36-28 loss at Dallas with a hamstring injury.

Coach Matt Rhule said his star back looked good in practice Wednesday despite being limited and likely would be a game-time decision.

The Panthers got wind that Gilmore might be available on Tuesday night. That turned to reality on Wednesday morning when it was announced the Patriots planned to release the four-time Pro Bowl corner, who is recovering from offseason surgery to repair a partially torn quad.

Gilmore became available because the Patriots were unable to get the corner to agree to a restructured deal. The Panthers beat out several other teams that showed interest in trading for Gilmore.

They will be responsible for $5.8 million of Gilmore’s 2021 contract. Fitterer said Gilmore agreed to play the remainder of the season without an extension, but he’s open to one after the year.

Much depends on how Gilmore plays. Coach Matt Rhule said he can’t wait to get Gilmore on the field.

“I think anytime you can get a [former] All-Pro player for a future sixth, we’re going to do it, right?” he said. “… This was just one of those things where it was too good to pass up. He’s too good of a player and he’s from here. Football character-wise, he just adds to the core of what we are.”

The need for a cover corner stated when Carolina lost first-round pick Jaycee Horn to a broken foot in a Sept. 23 win at Houston. Fitterer traded last week for Jacksonville’s C.J. Henderson, a first-round pick in 2020.

Henderson remains somewhat of a project.

“C.J. is for the future,” Fitterer said. “Stephon is to win now.”

Fitterer also didn’t rule out that Horn could return late in the season or possibly the playoffs, if Carolina qualifies, after undergoing surgery. But he made it clear the goal is to make the playoffs.

Gilmore gives the Panthers a veteran who can have a positive impact on a young secondary until then and one who can be an asset if Carolina makes the playoffs.

He also happens to live three doors down from Fitterer in a neighborhood south of Charlotte. Fitterer called Gilmore a “quality guy” who will be a “great presence for the younger guys.”

Gilmore and Patriots coach Bill Belichick had both offered public goodbyes before the announced trade.

Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold faced Gilmore twice when he was with the New York Jets, so he’s glad he won’t have to face Gilmore when the Patriots come to town. Gilmore had two interceptions against him.

“Dang good player,” Darnold said. “I had two of my toughest games against him.”

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Demetrius Andrade-Jason Quigley middleweight title fight headlines Nov. 19 tripleheader

Demetrius Andrade and Jason Quigley have agreed to terms for a middleweight title fight that will headline a DAZN-streamed championship tripleheader on Nov. 19 in New England, sources told ESPN.

Murodjon Akhmadaliev will defend his unified 122-pound championship versus Ronny Rios in the co-feature, sources said. Julio Cesar Martinez puts his 112-pound title on the line vs. McWilliams Arroyo in the opening fight.

All three fights pit champions promoted by Matchroom Sport’s Eddie Hearn against challengers aligned with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions. The promotions have yet to lock down a site for the card, but sources said it will be held in New England.

Andrade (30-0, 18 KOs), ESPN’s No. 3 boxer at 160 pounds, made the fourth defense of his title in April with a unanimous-decision triumph over Liam Williams. The 33-year-old from Providence, Rhode Island, has been dominant during his 160-pound title reign but has yet to face a formidable foe. That won’t change with this fight.

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The slick southpaw will be a heavy favorite to turn back the challenge of Quigley (19-1, 14 KOs), a hard-nosed fighter coming off the biggest vicory of his career. The 30-year-old Irishman scored a majority-decision win over Shane Mosley Jr. in May and will now step up to the elite level for the first time.

The other two title fights on the card figure to be far more competitive.

Akhmadaliev, a 26-year-old from Uzbekistan, is ESPN’s No. 1 boxer at 122 pounds. He won the unified championship from Daniel Roman in January 2020 and successfully defended it in April with a stoppage win over Ryosuke Iwasa.

An Olympic bronze medalist, Akhmadaliev (9-0, 7 KOs) is considered one of the brightest young talents in boxing.

He figures to face a stern challenge in Rios (33-3, 16 KOs). The 31-year-old from Southern California is ESPN’s No. 8 junior featherweight. Since suffering a sixth-round knockout to Azat Hovhannisyan in February 2018, Rios has reeled off four consecutive wins, most recently outpointing Oscar Negrete in February.

Martinez, ESPN’s No. 1 flyweight, has torn through the competition at 112 pounds under the guidance of reigning trainer of the year Eddy Reynoso. The 26-year-old Mexican is coming off a sixth-round TKO of Joel Cordova, and like Akhmadaliev, Martinez (18-1, 14 KOs) is on the cusp of pound-for-pound recognition.

Arroyo (21-4, 16 KOs) is a 35-year-old from Puerto Rico who has faced some of the best fighters in the sport. Among those: decision defeats to Roman Gonzalez and Kazuto Ioka. He has won four consecutive since the loss to Ioka, his latest outing a TKO victory over Abraham Rodriguez in February.

The DAZN card comes one day before Terence Crawford and Shawn Porter meet for a welterweight title on ESPN+ PPV.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE Rob Gronkowski could miss weeks with fractured ribs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski has fractured ribs that threaten to sideline him for weeks, sources told ESPN on Saturday.

Gronkowski did not travel with the Buccaneers to Foxborough, Massachusetts, for Sunday’s game versus the New England Patriots because of the effect that flying could have on his injury.

“We held out hope all week that Gronk would be ready,” a team source told ESPN. “He’s a different breed.”

Gronkowski suffered the injury during Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams but returned to finish the match. Initially, the Buccaneers and Gronkowski did not think the injury was as severe as it turned out to be, and X-rays of Gronkowski’s ribs taken after the game came back negative.

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But further MRI testing during the week revealed the fractures not found on the X-rays, which do not show hairline fractures.

Gronkowski did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and was spotted only stretching during Friday’s practice. The Buccaneers had listed him as doubtful on Friday before downgrading him to out Saturday.

“He made progress but not enough,” coach Bruce Arians told ESPN’s Jenna Laine on Saturday.

After traveling to New England this weekend, the Buccaneers host Miami, play at Philadelphia on a Thursday night and then return home for Chicago before a road game at New Orleans and their Nov. 7 bye.

However, the four-time All-Pro isn’t the only one injured in the Bucs squad.

As along with him, linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul has sustained a shoulder injury and RB Giovani Bernard and CB Jamel Dean both can be seen on the Bucs sidelines with knee injuries.

Although due to Rob’s absence, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate will have more time on the field. The duo has caught a combined seven of eight targets for 75 yards this campaign.

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Brady, Buccaneers begin defense of title against Cowboys

Lofty, maybe even gargantuan, expectations don’t faze Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The reigning Super Bowl champions open the 2021 NFL season versus the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night, confident they have what it takes — at least on paper — to become the first team to collect back-to-back titles since Brady led the 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots to consecutive crowns.

No one knows what it’s like to have a target on your back every week more than Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl winner who turned 44 during training camp — a few days after reminding teammates the first order of business is leaving last season behind.

The Bucs return all 22 starters from a top 10 offense and defense, however Brady and coach Bruce Arians stress talent alone doesn’t guarantee continued success.

“In one way, you’re not really defending it much, it’s kind of in the books. They can’t take away what we’ve done. It’s really just a whole other year and experience,” Brady said.

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“We have a lot of continuity. We have a lot of things to build on and a lot more experience together,” Brady added. “That’s really all you can ask for as players is to be in the position that we’re in. I’d just like us to go out and take advantage of that.”

With Brady entering his second season working with a bevy of playmakers that includes receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, tight ends Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, the Bucs think they can be even more potent on offense.

The defense returns intact, too, with linebackers Devin White, Lavonte David, Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett leading the way and a youthful group of cornerbacks and safeties looking to make names for themselves.

“As good as we played with the same group of guys, I’d love to see where we can get this year,” Brady stated.

“Again, all of it is earned. There’s nothing given. It’s not about a bunch of hype or a bunch of buildup. We have to go do it,” Brady added. “I think that’s about a bunch of guys that are really mature and see ourselves as professional athletes. We want to go out there and put our best out there.”

The Cowboys are coming off a 6-10 finish in which they played most of the season without quarterback Dak Prescott.

Prescott returns Thursday night for the first time since suffering the severe ankle injury that ended his year last October. He didn’t play in the preseason, either, after straining his right shoulder early in training camp.

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy is excited to get Prescott back on the field and spoke to his team about the opportunity to face a seemingly ageless Brady and the defending champs in the season opener for the entire NFL.

“We talked about … just how fortunate we are to be part of it on whatever level, most importantly the players,” McCarthy said. “There’s definitely a youthfulness that has to exist to be successful, and I think (Brady’s) a good example if there ever was one that has played the game, or any sport, of the way you need to go about it,” McCarthy said.

“He exudes with that every time he lines up. Very consistent. I think it’s a big part of his continued success.”

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Miami Dolphins OL Austin Jackson, TE Adam Shaheen hit reserve/COVID-19 list

The Miami Dolphins placed offensive lineman Austin Jackson and tight end Adam Shaheen on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday, sources told ESPN’s Field Yates, potentially leaving them short-handed as the team prepares for its Week 1 match versus the New England Patriots.

The Dolphins confirmed the moves Monday and also elevated cornerback Jamal Perry as a COVID-19 replacement.

“We think he can help us,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. “At the end of the day we’re going to do what we feel is best for the team and bring guys up who can help us. We felt that way about him so we brought him up.”

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The NFL Network reported that Shaheen tested positive for COVID-19, which means he’ll miss Sunday’s game as he is unvaccinated and must quarantine for 10 days, according to NFL policy. It is not yet clear whether Jackson is on the reserve/COVID-19 list as a result of contact tracing or a positive test.

Jackson started 12 games as a rookie in 2020 after being selected 18th overall by the Dolphins.

He was slated to once again start at left tackle for Miami this season.

For Shaheen, who came to Miami via trade last offseason, this marks a second stint on the reserve/COVID-19 list in as many months after he was deemed a close contact in August.

Shaheen has also vocally opposed getting the vaccine, calling his decision “bigger than just COVID.”

“For me, it’s a personal choice, and it’s bigger than just COVID,” he said. “The NFL is trying to push it. … I’m going to continue to go through the protocols of the unvaccinated that they make me do. I’m not going to get fined.

“But they’re not going to strong-arm me into doing something for more freedom when this is such a changing atmosphere, and they’re already taking away freedoms of the unvaccinated guys.”

“I would never question Adam’s commitment to the team,” Flores stated. As for Jackson, if he is unable to meet the requirements to move off the reserve/COVID list, Flores said, “We’ve got a few different options.”

The Dolphins plan to work different combinations of linemen in practice this week and Flores called potential replacement Greg Little a “hard-working kid” who has “had some bright moments in the couple weeks that he’s been here.”

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Cam Newton returns to New England Patriots from COVID protocol

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton returned to the team facility Thursday and practiced after missing three consecutive days due to a COVID-19 protocol “misunderstanding,” with coach Bill Belichick saying Newton “didn’t violate team rules.”

Belichick mostly referred to the team’s statement — which said that the club approved Newton leaving the New England region for a medical appointment — when asked about how the “misunderstanding” occurred.

“I don’t really have anything to add. We released a statement, and I think that covered it as thoroughly as we can without getting into a lengthy thing. So we’ll just leave it at that,” Belichick said.

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Newton’s absence opened the door for rookie quarterback Mac Jones to take No. 1 repetitions each of the past three days, and he seemed to take advantage of the opportunity Wednesday versus the New York Giants, capping off his practice by leading the offense to an 80-yard touchdown drive.

With Newton back Thursday, Belichick said, “All the quarterbacks will get work.”

Thursday marks the Patriots’ final practice of training camp, and then the team will visit the Giants in the preseason finale on Sunday (6 p.m. ET).

The quarterback competition between Newton and Jones remains a top storyline, with Belichick having consistently stated that Newton is the starter but that, like players at any position, he has to reestablish that standing throughout the preseason.

Belichick has also said there could be a change at any position if someone performs better than the starter or the starter isn’t available.

Asked at what point he needs to transition from a spirited quarterback competition to having a starter and giving that player the majority of repetitions to get him prepared for the season opener Sept. 12 against the Miami Dolphins, Belichick said: “I don’t have a timetable on that. … I’m not sure.”

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Los Angeles Rams acquire RB Sony Michel from New England Patriots

The Los Angeles Rams have acquired Sony Michel from the New England Patriots to add some much-needed depth at the running back position.

The Patriots obtained a sixth-round pick in 2022 and a fourth-rounder in 2023 in the deal.

Michel fills an immediate need for the Rams, who will play the season without rising star Cam Akers after he tore his right Achilles tendon while working out before training camp.

In Akers’ absence, Darrell Henderson Jr. has taken over as starter, but the Rams lack depth behind the third-year pro.

“We identified Sony for many reasons,” Rams general manager Les Snead said Wednesday. “Number one, being his experience, and experience meaning like a player who has carried the ball in big games and in those big games, where there have been big moments, big drives, big series.”

Second-year pro Xavier Jones, an undrafted free agent in 2020, and rookie seventh-round pick Jake Funk have competed throughout the preseason with the hope of proving they could fill the position.

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At the outset of training camp, coach Sean McVay stated the Rams would give their young backs ample opportunity to compete for the job but left open the possibility that the team could look for outside help when the season opener approached.

Asked this week whether Jones and Funk had proved through two preseason games that they could be ready for Week 1 versus the Chicago Bears on Sept. 12, McVay said the Rams were in the process of figuring that out.

“We got a little bit of time,” McVay said. “Darrell is a guy that’s been established and done some good things. But I was pleased with both those guys.”

Henderson suffered a mild thumb sprain in practice Monday but returned to practice Tuesday with a cast or brace protecting his left hand.

A fourth-year pro, Michel has rushed for 2,292 yards and 14 touchdowns in 28 starts for the Patriots, who drafted him in the first round with the 31st pick in 2018.

“What he does bring is this element of make a cut, get north and south and get north and south with some force,” Snead said. “The physics that he brings to the table — let’s call it a flavor or genre that we felt like complemented our group.”

In a 13-3 triumph over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, Michel rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

Michel is due to earn a base salary of $1.79 million in the final year of his contract in 2021 after the Patriots previously elected not to exercise his fifth-year option for 2022. He had drawn rave reviews from Patriots running back coach Ivan Fears this preseason, with Fears saying he had “upped his total game.”

Last season, Michel missed six games when he was placed on injured reserve after Week 3 because of a quadriceps injury. In nine games he rushed for 449 yards and a touchdown on 79 carries. In a 24-3 loss to the Rams, Michel rushed for 22 yards on seven carries.

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New England Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore reports to training camp

New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who had skipped June’s mandatory minicamp, reported to the team on Thursday, a source told ESPN’s Field Yates. Gilmore was subsequently placed on the active/physically unable to perform list due to a partially torn quad sustained in December.

While the majority of Patriots players report for training camp on Tuesday, quarterbacks and players recovering from injuries were booked to arrive Thursday.

There was a question whether Gilmore, the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, would report. He had stayed away from voluntary practices in the spring, as well as mandatory minicamp, while publicly expressing a desire for the team to upgrade his contract.

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Gilmore is scheduled to earn a base salary of $7 million in 2021.

The Patriots had advanced him $4.5 million of his 2021 salary last year, contributing to the under-market wage for this season.

Gilmore, who turns 31 in September, is in the final year of the five-year, $65 million contract he signed with the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent in 2017. The deal included $40 million in injury guarantees and $31 million fully guaranteed at signing.

At the time, a contract with those guarantees and an average of $13 million per season was viewed as a strong deal. The cornerback market has since exploded, with Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams topping it with a contract averaging $20 million per season.

“I just want what I’m worth, however that plays out. Every player should be paid what they’re worth. That’s just how it is,” Gilmore told longtime NFL reporter Josina Anderson earlier in July.

Of his quad injury, Gilmore told Anderson: “I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt since the surgery. I’ve been running a lot, building full speed.”

Gilmore was one of eight players placed on the PUP list on Thursday, with quarterback Jarrett Stidham another notable player on the list.

Outside linebacker Chase Winovich, defensive tackle Byron Cowart, linebacker Terez Hall, tight end Dalton Keene, core special-teamer Brandon King and wide receiver Devin Smith were the other players placed on the PUP list.

Running back Rhamondre Stevenson (fourth round, Oklahoma), linebacker Cameron McGrone (fifth round, Michigan) and safety Joshuah Bledsoe (sixth round, Missouri) were rookies previously placed on the active/non-football injury list.

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