Tagged in: no.1

Green Bay Packers clinch No. 1 seed with one week to spare

Matt LaFleur has this regular-season thing all figured out.

Three years with LaFleur as the Green Bay Packers’ coach, three times they’ve had a first-round bye in the playoffs — including the No. 1 seed each of the past two campaigns.

But he has never done this before: His team wrapped it up with a match still left in the regular season.

Before the Packers (13-3) even stepped on Lambeau Field on Sunday night, they knew that a victory would make next week’s regular-season finale at Detroit meaningless in terms of their playoff position.

They had the Arizona Cardinals, who beat the Dallas Cowboys earlier in the day, to thank for that.

They took care of the rest themselves with a 37-10 triumph over the Kirk Cousins-less Minnesota Vikings. Before LaFleur & Co. start to think about that, they’ll have to decide how to handle Week 18 versus the Lions. The past two years, they needed the final weekend of the season to secure their playoff seed.

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Now, LaFleur faces the age-old NFL debate: Play the starters in the finale to keep them sharp or give them the weekend off to preserve their health. After the Packers watch wild-card weekend, their first playoff game will be either Jan. 22 or 23 in the divisional round.

Aaron Rodgers’ fractured pinkie toe on his left foot no doubt will factor into LaFleur’s decision.

The toe didn’t seem to bother Rodgers on Sunday night even in the bitter cold. It was 11 degrees at kickoff and got colder as the night went on.

“This is a first game that my toe got through the game without any issues,” Rodgers said. “No pregame painkiller shot. I’m feeling good. I’m happy about it.

There was definitely a time a few weeks ago when I started to project out and think if we can get the 1-seed, it could be two-plus weeks of rest. I’m going to play next week, and I expect Davante to play and our guys to play. So, we’re looking forward to finishing off the season on a high note and then getting the bye.”

Rodgers, who stated this week that he likes it “the colder, the better,” threw for 211 yards in the first half, 118 of them to Davante Adams. It was Rodgers’ highest first-half total since Week 4 of last season and Adams’ highest in a first half since Week 4 of 2019.

The Packers’ halftime lead of 20-3 should have been even bigger but for three failed red zone trips (two field goals and a turnover on downs).

They even ran the ball well, with their second-highest first-half total (88 yards) of the season, thanks in large part to Aaron Jones’ runs of 27 and 28 yards — the first time in his career he has had multiple 25-plus-yard carries in the same game.

Rodgers concluded 29-of-38 for 288 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. It was his sixth straight game with multiple touchdowns and no interceptions, tying Don Meredith for the second-longest streak in NFL history. And Adams ended with 11 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown.

He’s 21 yards away from Jordy Nelson’s single-season record and half-jokingly offered that as a reason to play next week.

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Trevor Lawrence bounces back from early sack, turns in solid debut as Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback

Trevor Lawrence’s first NFL snap ended with a sack that nearly turned into a fumble, but the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback didn’t let that rattle him.

The 2021 No. 1 draft pick bounced back from that inauspicious start and turned in a solid but unspectacular performance in the Jaguars’ 23-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns at TIAA Bank Field on Saturday night.

Lawrence threw for 71 yards — including a 35-yarder to Marvin Jones Jr. to convert a third down — but failed to lead the first-team offense to any points in his two possessions and admittedly held on to the ball too long at times.

But he also made some good throws and left his head coach feeling pretty good about the former Clemson standout — though there’s a lot of improvement needed.

“I asked [passing game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] how he played, and he said he did pretty good,” coach Urban Meyer said. “I thought the ball to his left right in front of us, I think it was on third down, he really anticipated a nice out cut, scrambled and delivered a nice one to Marvin Jones.

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“He certainly wasn’t awestruck. We’ve got to execute better. We’ve got to protect him better. And we’ve got to get all our wideouts healthy and just play better.”

Lawrence went 6-for-9 and, per NFL NextGen Stats, completed 3-of-4 of those passes into tight windows, which equaled the best completion percentage on tight-window throws by a Jaguars quarterback in 2020.

The offense also was much more effective under Lawrence (74 yards) than under Gardner Minshew II, who threw for 47 yards and an interception and led the offense to 46 yards in three possessions.

“I feel like the first time out there, I felt comfortable, felt poised,” Lawrence said. “Obviously, the first play’s not kind of what you want for the first play, but after that, I thought we did a good job. We communicated well up front. They did a really good job of protection. At least one of those sacks was on me, for sure, just holding the ball too long. That’s something I’ll work on. Just maneuvering in the pocket is something I’ve always got to work on.

“Other than that, I missed an easy one to Marvin, a little quick out I wish I would have hit. But other than that, I felt good out there. I think we were seeing it, all on the same page. There’s obviously things to clean up, but I thought it was a pretty good day.”

The biggest thing for Lawrence to clean up is getting rid of the ball quicker, which he did at times on quick throws to LaViska Shenault. Meyer stated he would need to look at the film to figure out why Lawrence was hesitant to get rid of the ball, but there were times when the signal-caller had to wait for receivers to get clear.

Lawrence accepted to having a bit of nerves, but he stated those went away quickly, as he felt more comfortable on his second drive than on his first.

“The first play you’re a little bit, especially first game here in the NFL, you’re a little bit nervous; but after that, you’re just playing ball,” Lawrence said. “Definitely felt that [comfort] setting in.

“I usually typically get nervous before the first game of any season anyway, so that’s pretty standard. I was excited. I was ready to get out there. It’s been a long time coming. It’s been my dream.”

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Jacksonville Jaguars select former Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence with No. 1 overall pick in NFL draft

The wait is over. Trevor Lawrence is finally the Jacksonville Jaguars’ quarterback, as the club selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night.

The pick ended a process that started last December when the New York Jets’ Week 16 upset of the Cleveland Browns gave the top selection to Jacksonville.

“Pretty surreal,” Lawrence told ESPN’s Marty Smith on the draft telecast from Seneca, South Carolina, shortly after being picked. “Obviously this has been the dream for the past few years. And like I’ve said, I didn’t even dream this as a kid, so [it’s] really special and just having all the people that I care about here watching, it’s really hard to explain.

“I was super nervous before and just am so excited to be a part of the Jacksonville community. … I’m super excited to be coming to Jacksonville and play for you guys and can’t wait to go to work.”

Make no mistake: There’s a ton of work to do. The Jaguars were 1-15 last campaign, have lost 10 or more matches in nine of the last 10 seasons, and made the playoffs just once since 2007.

The offense has been one of the worst in the NFL in the last decade: They’ve ranked 30th or worse in points scored, yards per game, red zone efficiency, third-down conversion percentage, completion percentage and passer rating over that 10-year stretch.

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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has no doubt Lawrence can handle it the pressure of turning the franchise around.

Lawrence was the No. 1 recruit in the nation, followed Deshaun Watson at Clemson, and won a national title as a freshman. He’s also lost just four games as a starting quarterback since he entered high school.

“This’ll be a very easy transition,” Swinney said. “He’s well prepared. What he’s stepping into, the expectations, all those things, that’s his normal and it has been for a long time. He’s built the right way. … He is the epitome of consistency and if you know anything about Urban Meyer he values consistency and toughness.”

Lawrence was 34-2 as a starter for the Tigers — the fifth-best winning percentage by a quarterback with at least 30 starts in FBS history. He never lost a regular-season game and threw for 10,098 yards and 90 touchdowns with only 17 interceptions, and he ran for 231 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Owner Shad Khan hired head coach Urban Meyer, who won national championships at Florida and Ohio State, in January to fix the mess. The hope is that the selection of Lawrence, along with Meyer’s hiring, will end the franchise’s prolonged struggles and culminate with the Jaguars’ first Super Bowl appearance.

The Jaguars have drafted three previous quarterbacks in the first round: Byron Leftwich (seventh overall in 2003), Blaine Gabbert (No. 10, 2011) and Blake Bortles (No. 3, 2014), the only one of those three to win a playoff game.

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Kansas City Chiefs clinch No. 1 seed in AFC as Travis Kelce sets records

Earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC hasn’t resulted in Super Bowl success for the Kansas City Chiefs in the past, but they hope it puts them on the path to a championship this time around.

The Chiefs clinched the AFC’s top seed Sunday by defeating the Atlanta Falcons 17-14 at Arrowhead Stadium. The 14-1 Chiefs, who have won 10 consecutive games, will receive the AFC’s only first-round playoff bye and will play their divisional-round game at Arrowhead.

“It’s one of your goals when you go into the season,” said quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson with 1:55 left to rally the Chiefs to a surprisingly difficult win over the 4-11 Falcons. “If you look at the history of that bye week, usually it’s a good thing for teams trying to make a championship run.”

In the victory, Travis Kelce became the first tight end to have two 100-catch seasons. Kelce caught seven passes, giving him 105. Kelce also set the single-season yardage record for a tight end. He had 98 yards, giving him 1,467. The San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle held the previous record with 1,377 yards, set in 2018.

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“To get a week of preparation, a week of really locking in and getting the body right that late in the season is so key, and it’s much needed if you want to make that playoff push,” Kelce said. “That’s what you work your tail off for all season. I’m just proud to be a part of this team and be able to do it again this year.”

The AFC’s No. 1 seed hasn’t represented the conference in the Super Bowl in either of the past two campaigns.

The Chiefs have been the AFC’s top playoff seed three times but failed to reach the Super Bowl in any of those seasons. In 1995 and 1997, they lost their divisional-round playoff game at home. In 2018, they lost the AFC Championship Game at home in overtime to the New England Patriots.

The Chiefs were the No. 2 seed last year on their way to a Super Bowl LIV championship. The Chiefs concluded the regular season next Sunday versus the Los Angeles Chargers at Arrowhead. Since the game will be meaningless with regard to the standings and their playoff seed, they are likely to rest some of their top players, including Mahomes and Kelce.

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