Tagged in: Rams

Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Rams to open 2022 season; Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football

The NFL will open its new season where the last one kicked off — in Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium, as the Super Bowl-champion Los Angeles Rams host the Buffalo Bills on Thursday, Sept. 8, the teams revealed.

The Bills-Rams matchup features elite quarterback play between Matthew Stafford and Josh Allen, who has guided the Bills to back-to-back playoff appearances. This game highlights a challenging calendar for the Rams, whose opponents have the league’s highest winning percentage from last year (56.7%). NBC will broadcast the game.

The Monday Night Football opener offers a spicy storyline

Russell Wilson making his Denver Broncos debut against his old team, the Seattle Seahawks, in Lumen Field.

Wilson guided the Seahawks to two Super Bowl appearances and nine winning seasons over 10 years. Seattle traded Wilson to Denver in March for multiple draft picks and veteran players.

Other key Week 1 matchups include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, a rematch of last season’s Thursday night opener; the Los Angeles Chargers hosting the Las Vegas Raiders, reigniting a dramatic 2021 regular season finale with playoff implications; the Cincinnati Bengals at the Pittsburgh Steelers, a clash of fierce AFC North rivals; and the Kansas City Chiefs making the trip west to play the Arizona Cardinals, two high-powered offenses in the desert.

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The Buccaneers will face serious firepower in the first month of the campaign, with a Sept. 25 home opener versus the Green Bay Packers and a clash with the Chiefs the following week.

Other Week 1 matchups include the Jacksonville Jaguars, with new coach Doug Pederson, at the Washington Commanders, with new quarterback Carson Wentz. Pederson coached Wentz in Philadelphia and won a Super Bowl with the Eagles, although Nick Foles was behind center with Wentz injured.

Several key division matchups, meanwhile, are also on tap for Sept. 11: the New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans, New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins, and the Packers at Minnesota Vikings.

Also, it will be the Cleveland Browns at Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears, Eagles at Detroit Lions, Baltimore Ravens at New York Jets, and New York Giants at Tennessee Titans.

NFL teams started releasing information on their home openers a few hours before the 8 p.m. league-wide schedule reveal.

Teams have known their opponents since the end of last season, but the NFL builds drama around the schedule release, announcing the order, kickoff times and broadcast networks for all 272 games on one night each May.

This will be the second NFL season that follows a 17-game schedule, as agreed upon by the NFL and players union during recent labor negotiations.

The regular season runs through Jan. 8, with the Super Bowl set for kickoff Feb. 12.

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Green Bay Packers sign veteran wide receiver Sammy Watkins

The Green Bay Packers are finally adding to their receiver room by signing veteran Sammy Watkins.

The team revealed the deal on Thursday but didn’t reveal terms. A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Watkins’ contract is for one year and worth up to $4 million.

The Packers have lost three of their top receivers this offseason, headed by All-Pro Davante Adams in a trade to the Las Vegas Raiders. They also lost Marquez Valdes-Scantling (Chiefs) and Equanimeous St. Brown (Bears) in free agency.

The Packers’ top remaining receivers are Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and Amari Rodgers.

They haven’t used a first-round pick on a receiver since 2002 (Javon Walker) but have two picks in each of the first two rounds after the Adams trade, putting them in position to address that spot high in the draft.

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Packers head coach Matt LaFleur coached Watkins with the Rams in 2017, and Packers receivers coach Jason Vrable was in Buffalo when the Bills drafted him fourth overall in 2014.

Watkins, 28, has had difficulty staying healthy throughout his career.

He continued to struggle with injuries in his only season with the Baltimore Ravens in 2021, ending with career lows in receptions (27) and receiving yards (394).

He has missed 30 matches over the past seven seasons, and he hasn’t played a full season since his 2014 rookie season.

He made two of the biggest catches of the season for Baltimore, setting up winning scores versus the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, but Watkins had no catches — and just three targets — in his final four games as he fell behind Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay on the depth chart.

In his eight-year career, Watkins has totaled 348 receptions for 5,059 yards receiving and 34 touchdown catches for the Bills, Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and Ravens.

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Pro Bowl LB Bobby Wagner reaches five-year deal with Los Angeles Rams; worth $50M

Pro Bowl linebacker Bobby Wagner will be staying in the NFC West next season despite his release by the Seattle Seahawks earlier this month.

Wagner agreed to terms on a five-year contract with the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, the team revealed Thursday.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter the deal is for $50 million and can be worth up to $65 million if Wagner reaches incentives.

It will mark a homecoming for Wagner, who was born in Los Angeles and attended high school in Ontario, California, about 35 miles east of the city.

Wagner becomes the latest big-name player to join a star-studded Rams defense that already involves defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Donald (five), Wagner (four) and Ramsey (three) have all earned at least three first-team All-Pro selections over the past five seasons. Only six defensive players in the NFL have achieved that feat over that time period, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

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The Rams had a need at one of their inside linebacker spots after they declined to tender Troy Reeder as a restricted free agent.

The Baltimore Ravens also were in the mix to sign Wagner before he decided to sign with the Rams. The Dallas Cowboys also had interest in Wagner.

Wagner publicly and privately voiced his unhappiness over how the Seahawks handled his release earlier this month. Seahawks general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll expressed their regret over how they communicated those plans to Wagner.

Wagner, 31, was the last remaining member of the star-studded defenses that led Seattle to its lone world championship and a return trip to Super Bowl XLIX after the 2014 season.

Wagner, the Seahawks’ all-time tackles leader with 1,383, is coming off a 170-tackle season that earned him his eighth Pro Bowl nod in 10 seasons. He posted that personal best despite missing all but one snap of the final two matches with a knee sprain.

While Wagner didn’t make as many impact plays as in some of his best seasons, he recorded an interception, a sack, a forced fumble and five passes defended in 2021 en route to a second-team All-Pro selection.

In 2020, Wagner was one of 22 defenders named by the Pro Football Hall of Fame to the All-Decade Team for the 2010s. His Hall of Fame-worthy résumé also includes six first-team All-Pro selections, two second-team All-Pro selections and eight Pro Bowls nods, tied for second most in franchise history.

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Los Angeles Rams lock up QB Matthew Stafford with $160M extension

The Rams and Matthew Stafford have reached agreement on a four-year, $160 million extension that includes $135 million guaranteed and should allow the veteran quarterback to concluded his career in Los Angeles, sources tell ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Stafford is cashing in on his spectacular debut season with the Rams after 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions, who traded the 2009 No. 1 overall pick to Los Angeles a year ago. Stafford would be 38 years old in the final season of the extension.

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Stafford is headed into the final year of his previous five-year, $135 million deal signed in Detroit, but he repeatedly stated he had no interest in going anywhere.

His new deal also is clearly calculated to allow the Rams to retain more of their championship core while adding new pieces, since Stafford almost certainly could have received more money at the top of the quarterback market. Aaron Rodgers’ new deal with the Packers is essentially a three-year, $150 million contract.

Stafford never won a playoff game in 12 seasons with the Lions, but he realized the enormous potential of winning a Super Bowl immediately after joining coach Sean McVay and a talented offense including Cooper Kupp, who became the NFL’s receiving leader in the first year of their partnership.

Stafford set a franchise record with 4,886 yards passing in the 17-game regular season, and he tied Kurt Warner’s team mark with 41 touchdown passes while leading the Rams to the NFC West title.

He then excelled in the first four playoff victories of his career, passing for 1,188 yards and nine touchdowns with just three interceptions. He led game-winning drives in the fourth quarter of the Rams’ final three postseason games, including their Super Bowl victory over Cincinnati at SoFi Stadium.

The Rams also are working on a contract extension for All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Stafford’s deal will alter the amount of room under the salary cap for the Rams, who have already lost several free agents this month. But Los Angeles signed talented veteran receiver Allen Robinson this past week, and the team is hoping to keep Odell Beckham Jr. as well.

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Las Vegas Raiders releasing LB Cory Littleton after 2 seasons

The Las Vegas Raiders are releasing high-priced linebacker Cory Littleton after two underwhelming seasons, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

The Raiders are expected to designate the move with a post-June 1 designation, according to the source.

After spending his first four campaigns with the Los Angeles Rams, Littleton, 28, signed a three-year, $35.25 million free-agent deal with $22 million guaranteed with the Raiders in 2020 and was expected to help in sideline-to-sideline pass coverage. Instead, he lost his starting job to rookie Divine Deablo late last season.

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The post-June 1 designation will save Las Vegas $11.75 million against the cap after that date but will cost the Raiders $4 million in dead money this year and $10 million in 2023.

Earlier Thursday, the Raiders restructured the contracts of foundation left tackle Kolton Miller and versatile running back Kenyan Drake to save $14.525 million in cap space.

They also informed fullback Alec Ingold they were not tendering his contract.

Littleton started 27 of 31 games for the Raiders and had just 0.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. He did not have an interception among his four passes defended. He also had six tackles for a loss among his combined 180 tackles.

The Raiders have a new regime with general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels, who came over from the New England Patriots.

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Sean McVay says he’s committed to coaching Los Angeles Rams

Coach Sean McVay is not pursuing any television opportunities and is committed to helping the Los Angeles Rams defend their Super Bowl title, he told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday.

The New York Post, citing sources, reported Friday that McVay was set to meet with Amazon next week, with Amazon possibly willing to offer him as much as five years and $100 million.

Amazon will stream “Thursday Night Football” exclusively on Prime Video beginning this fall.

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, the 36-year-old McVay spoke introspectively about eventually attaining a healthier work-life balance, telling reporters, “I know I love football and I’m so invested in this thing and I’m in the moment right now. But at some point, too, if you said what do you want to be able to do? I want to be able to have a family and I want to be able to spend time with them.”

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He sparked further speculation regarding his coaching future a day after the Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 in Super Bowl LVI, responding to a question about returning in 2022 with, “We’ll see.”

Two days later, however, McVay appeared to telegraph his intentions at the Rams’ Super Bowl parade, initiating a chant of “Run it back!” and playfully trying to coax three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald out of a potential retirement.

McVay’s comments on family — he is set to marry fiancée Veronika Khomyn this summer after their nuptials were twice postponed for pandemic-related reasons — and his coaching future came against the backdrop of multiple sources telling ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry in the past and again recently that McVay has considered working as a television analyst as an alternative to coaching.

In January, several league executives suggested to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that McVay could follow a similar coaching/broadcasting path to Jon Gruden, whom McVay coached under in Tampa Bay in 2008, and take a break from coaching for a lucrative TV job.

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Minnesota Vikings hiring Los Angeles Rams’ Wes Phillips as offensive coordinator

The Vikings are hiring Wes Phillips to join Kevin O’Connell’s staff as the team’s offensive coordinator.

Phillips has been with the Rams since the 2019 season and was the passing game coordinator and tight ends coach during the team’s Super Bowl run in 2021.

During his first two campaigns in Los Angeles, the 43-year-old coached tight ends, including Tyler Higbee, who set single-season franchise records in receptions (69) and receiving yards (734) by a tight end in 2019. Higbee was also the first tight end since 1970 to record four straight games of seven or more receptions.

Phillips started his NFL coaching career with the Cowboys in 2007 as a quality control coach/offensive assistant before serving as Dallas’ assistant offensive line coach (2011-12) and tight ends coach (2013).

Phillips then spent four seasons with Washington as the tight ends coach, where he overlapped with O’Connell during the 2017 and ’18 seasons.

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O’Connell stated during his introductory news conference on Thursday that he plans to call offensive plays during the 2022 season.

The role Phillips will hold in Minnesota is expected to be similar to the one O’Connell had as offensive coordinator in Los Angeles in 2020 and ’21.

While head coach Sean McVay served as the team’s playcaller, O’Connell helped build and develop the team’s game plan, which in Minnesota will mirror many of the concepts utilized in the Rams’ offense.

“We’re doing a lot of things that are simple for us, but maybe a little bit more difficult for a defense to defend,” O’Connell said last week. “Simple as things starting out looking the same but are different … things that people have seen our offense do in L.A. that they will absolutely see our offense do here in Minnesota.”

Phillips is the son of former Rams defensive coordinator and longtime NFL head coach Wade Phillips and the grandson of former Oilers and Saints coach Bum Phillips.

The Vikings already announced nine additions to O’Connell’s staff: assistant head coach Mike Pettine, defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, defensive line coach Chris Rumph, quarterbacks coach Chris O’Hara, assistant quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson, tight ends/passing game coordinator Brian Angelichio, offensive line coach Chris Kuper, assistant offensive line coach Justin Rascati and running backs/run game coordinator Curtis Modkins.

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Minnesota Vikings officially hire ‘innovative’ Kevin O’Connell as new head coach

The Vikings formally hired Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell as the 10th head coach in franchise history Wednesday.

Vikings co-owner and president Mark Wilf called O’Connell “a strong leader, an innovative coach and an excellent communicator” in a statement issued from the team.

“Kevin played the game at all levels, which gives him a unique connection to players, and he is highly respected throughout the league,” he said.

Co-owner and chairman Zygi Wilf lauded O’Connell for his “football IQ” and said he “is passionate about preparing, developing and communicating with his players.”

“Beyond the Xs and Os, everyone we spoke with throughout this search process spoke highly of Kevin’s ability to motivate players, coaches and staff,” he said.

The Vikings plan to hold a news conference to introduce O’Connell as their new coach Thursday.

O’Connell, 36, becomes the second-youngest current NFL head coach, behind his now-former boss, Sean McVay, also 36 but eight months younger.

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Minnesota had not been permitted to revealed that it was hiring O’Connell while the Rams were still playing in the postseason.

Los Angeles’ season ended Sunday, culminating with its Super Bowl LVI triumph.

O’Connell was one of four candidates to receive a second interview with the Vikings, along with Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, then-Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.

“As I spent time with Kevin during the interview process, it became immediately clear he will be a great partner in building this football team for long-term success,” Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said in the statement. “He understands what is critical to leading a team that wins at the highest level, and he has an ability to simplify the complex, which will help us in problem-solving in all football areas. He is a genuinely positive person who will help create a high-energy internal environment.”

O’Connell is expected to take Rams tight ends coach and passing game coordinator Wes Phillips with him to Minnesota as his offensive coordinator or passing game coordinator, league sources have told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Rams running backs coach Thomas Brown also will interview with the Vikings for their offensive coordinator job, per Schefter.

The Vikings also have their defensive coordinator for O’Connell’s staff, officially hiring Ed Donatell on Thursday. In addition, veteran defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has been added as assistant head coach.

O’Connell becomes the second coordinator in two years on Sean McVay’s staff to land a head-coaching job, joining former Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who was hired by the Chargers last year. He is the fourth current NFL head coach who worked under McVay. The Bengals’ Zac Taylor and Packers’ Matt LaFleur are the others.

O’Connell replaces Mike Zimmer, who was fired last month after eight seasons. The Vikings finished with an 8-9 record and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

O’Connell finished his second season as the Rams’ offensive coordinator since joining the franchise in 2020. Before that, he was with Washington for three seasons, as offensive coordinator in 2019, passing game coordinator in 2018 and quarterbacks coach in 2017 when he supervised current Vikings starter Kirk Cousins.

After dabbling in broadcasting, his first NFL coaching job came with the Browns in 2015 as their quarterbacks coach. The following year, he worked on special projects for the 49ers, when he befriended Adofo-Mensah, the recently appointed GM of the Vikings who was in research and development for San Francisco.

O’Connell was a quarterback in the NFL, taken by the Patriots in the third round of the 2008 draft and also spending time with the Lions, Jets, Dolphins and Chargers in five seasons through 2012.

He attempted only six passes for the Patriots as a rookie, the only regular-season attempts of his career, and he was released the following year.

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Super Bowl preview: Rams-Bengals

When you think of a classic Super Bowl matchup, you think of two teams that have dominated their competition and run rampant through the playoffs. 

Rams vs. Bengals is not that matchup.

Both teams trailed in their respective conference championship matches as the fourth quarter started.

The Bengals needed a dramatic comeback and a spectacular self-destruction from the Chiefs to move on. The Rams blew a 24-point lead in the divisional round versus the Bucs and needed Jaquiski Tartt to drop a gift-wrapped interception to spur their win over the 49ers.

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And yet, both teams are here because their stars did star things. Cooper Kupp and Ja’Marr Chase made huge catches to set up game-winning field goals. 

Jessie Bates started the Titans game with an interception and sent the Chiefs’ offense to the sideline for the winter by creating another. Aaron Donald finished Jimmy Garoppolo’s 49ers career with a pressure to force a pick. Joe Burrow ducked through a sure sack to scramble for a critical first down.

These two teams have weapons on both sides of the ball that can single-handedly decide games. Winning this game, then, might come down to whichever team can diminish or even eliminate as many of those mismatches as possible.

The Bengals, helpless for most of the first half in the AFC title game, shut down Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and the entire Chiefs offense after the break.

The Rams limited the vaunted 49ers rushing attack to 50 yards on 20 carries. We know what these teams and their stars are capable of doing.

Whichever team stops more of those stars wins this game.

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Bucs beat Panthers 41-17, earn No. 2 playoff seeding in NFC

Once the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took care of their own business, the defending Super Bowl champions permitted themselves to become scoreboard watchers.

Sunday’s 41-17 rout of the Carolina Panthers set a franchise record for regular-season victories, and the win — coupled with the Rams losing to the 49ers in overtime — also gave the Bucs (13-4) the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC.

Tampa Bay will host Philadelphia in the wild-card round next week. Earning the No. 2 seed ensures a second home game in two weeks if the Bucs beat the Eagles.

Tom Brady’s not looking ahead, though.

“It just felt good to win today. Whatever happened with other teams, you can’t ever control any of those things. Even for the next game. … you’re worrying about two games from now. I’m not worried about two games from now, I’m worried about one game from now, which is the Eagles,” Brady said.

“I don’t care if the Rams would’ve won … that’s alright, we’ve still got the Eagles and that’s going to be the biggest game of our season,” Brady added.

“If we win, whoever we play, wherever we play, we’re still going, and that’s what we want to do.” Brady topped 5,000 yards passing for the second time in his career, joining Drew Brees as the only players in NFL history with multiple 5,000-yard seasons.

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“We had to do what we had to do,” said tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had seven receptions for 137 yards.

“That’s what really matters,” Gronkowski added. “We did what we had to do, and the rest took care of itself.”

Brady completed 29 of 37 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns before taking the last half of the fourth quarter off, finishing with a career-best 5,316 yards passing and a Bucs single-season record 43 TD passes for the defending Super Bowl champions.

Mike Evans caught two of Brady’s TD passes, giving him a club-record 14 scoring receptions this year.

He also became the first player in NFL history to start a career with eight consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving.

Tampa Bay broke the club record for victories in a regular season set in 2002, when the Bucs went on to win the Super Bowl for the first time.

Carolina (5-12) finished on a seven-game losing streak that leaves coach Matt Rhule’s future in question. The Panthers are 10-23 in two seasons under the former Temple and Baylor coach, who signed a seven-year contract to move to the NFL in 2020.

The Panthers wasted a chance to go up by double digits, turning the ball over on downs at the Tampa Bay 1 before the Brady turned the game around with an eight-play, 92-yard touchdown drive in the final minute of the first half.

Completions of 37 yards to Evans, 19 yards to Gronkowski and 24 yards to Breshad Perriman helped Brady move into position to give his team a 10-7 halftime lead with a 1-yard TD pass to Le’Veon Bell.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s 2-yard TD run early in the third quarter built the lead to 17-7. Evans caught TD passes of 3 and 20 yards, and receiver Scotty Miller scored on a 33-yard run in the fourth quarter for the Bucs.

Darnold completed 29 of 42 passes for 219 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the Panthers, who fell to 0-4 against Tampa Bay under Rhule and have been outscored 150-63 by their NFC South rival in those matches.

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