Did Joe Maddon break Bryce Harper?

IT’S LATE MORNING in late January in the desert. Sunrise Mountain stands guard beyond the right-center-field fence, but the craggy sentry is failing to protect Harper Field from Mother Nature’s heavy breathing.

With temps in the 40s and the wind chill well below that, it’s hardly baseball weather. Nevertheless, Bryce Harper stands in the batter’s box on the same Las Vegas High School diamond where he once dominated, the diamond that now bears his name. Cut after cut after cut, he spends upward of two hours focusing on the little things. Keeping the launch angle down. Getting to the inside pitch.

Donovan Smith Limited Jersey After the Nationals sold the farm for outfielder Adam Eaton, Washington’s biggest star made a cryptic Twitter post. What did it mean?

The occasional spectator stops by — a coach or two, some current varsity players — in hopes of witnessing a tape-measure shot from one of the most powerful hitters alive.

Instead, they leave disappointed, having seen little more than tee work and soft toss. Because Bryce Harper isn’t here to do damage. He’s here to undo damage.

“I think it’s pretty common knowledge we need to pitch better,” Molitor said. “There’s different ways I can envision that happening. One scenario would be a healthy Phil Hughes [who] gives you a chance to win more times than not when he takes the mound.”

Hughes got attention on social media with his response to Adele’s performance at Sunday’s Grammy Awards.

“I wish I could have gotten an Adele do-over on 168 pitches in my career,” he said in a Tweet that garnered more than 3,000 favorites by the end of the night.

Kids Chris Myers Jersey “I was just trying to make light of the situation,” Hughes said. “Whenever you hashtag a big event, people are going to see it. But when I woke up the next morning, a bunch of people texted me that it got picked up by a national website. It must have been a slow news night.”

Berry backed a Comeback Player of the Year season in 2015 with an even better 2016

Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots linebacker

New England’s decision to trade Jones — and its later decision to shockingly trade Jamie Collins to the Browns — appeared to be a decision made in preparation for Hightower’s upcoming free agency. The stud linebacker, who has been an unsung hero in two Super Bowls, has earned a big pay day. But the Patriots will almost certainly slap him with the franchise tag if they can’t negotiate a new deal.

Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs safety

Berry has made it clear already that he doesn’t want to be tagged for the second straight season, telling the Kansas City Star “I’ll sit the season out” if the Chiefs use it on him again.

Berry backed a Comeback Player of the Year season in 2015 with an even better 2016, so there’s no reason for Kansas City not to meet Berry’s requests. Still, there’s a good chance the Chiefs will tag Berry again — and get a long-term deal worked out with him before the July 15 deadline this year.

So the secondary struggled as expected, but it wasn’t getting a ton of help. Southern fell from 59th to 122nd in Adj. Sack Rate despite tons of experience up front.

That experience is no more. Seven of last year’s top nine linemen are gone, as are the top three linebackers. There’s excellent continuity in the secondary, where eight underclassmen are now sophomores and juniors, but a surge in the back could be met with a collapse in the front.

Slot receiver Myles Campbell is back and could thrive in the right system, and Georgia Tech transfer Mike Summers Jr. knows the offense and averaged 14.8 yards per catch for Tech in 2015. Little-used pieces like junior Malik Henry and sophomores Obe Fortune and Hampton McConnell are certainly fast, and redshirt freshman Darion Anderson, the jewel of the 2016 signing class, could be ready to play a role.

The Patriots were upset 17-14 by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII

In 2013, Manning set a single-season record for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55) and the Broncos became the only 600-point team in league history. The Broncos lost the Super Bowl by 35 points to the Seattle Seahawks.

Brady was behind center for the Patriots in 2007 when the team finished the regular season 16-0 and scored 589 points. The Patriots were upset 17-14 by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

Brady’s Patriots also scored at least 500 points in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons but did not win the Super Bowl. In 2011, three teams topped the 500-point threshold — the Patriots, Saints and Green Bay Packers — and none of the three won the Super Bowl.

Ask coaches and personnel people around the league, and the theories abound about this phenomenon, but three rise to the surface.

A few days before Super Bowl LI, Dak Prescott found himself in Houston’s NRG Stadium at an event for Pepsi.

Authentic Kids Michael Schofield Jersey He looked around, taking mental notes, thinking one day he would be in a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys.
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“It just ignites a little fire in me and makes me want to get back to work faster,” Prescott said.

Dak Prescott said his touchdown pass to Jason Witten to beat the Eagles in overtime on Oct. 30, was his favorite moment of the 2016 season. Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Fifty weeks ago, the Cowboys introduced themselves to Prescott for the first time at the Senior Bowl. He was one of the South team’s quarterbacks. The Cowboys’ staff was coaching the North. As much as the coaches liked Prescott, he was still their seventh-rated quarterback in the draft.

The Bears also need help at quarterback, though, so they might not be inclined to let him go without at least getting something in return.

Ryan solidified his name among the circle of elite quarterbacks

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On that game-winning drive ¡ª the 49th of his career, and 10th in the postseason ¡ª Tom Brady was 5-for-6 for 50 yards. Four different receivers caught passes ¡ª James White (twice), Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman. Not only that, but Martellus Bennett was targeted on the lone incompletion, and on an incomplete pass that was whistled for pass interference.

After being a double-digit underdog the previous year, Denver was a 7.5-point favorite the next year against Atlanta. Denver dominated most of the game, but the total came down to the final minutes. The teams combined for 23 points in the first three quarters before scoring 30 in the fourth quarter. A Chris Chandler touchdown pass in the final minutes cut the Broncos lead to 15. But instead of going for the extra point to put the game over the total (and cut the lead to 14), Atlanta went for the two-point conversion. The pass fell incomplete, so the over/under ended in a push for the first and only time in Super Bowl history.

Ryan found an even better version of himself, particularly after throwing two costly interceptions in a 29-28 home loss to Kansas City on Dec. 4. That turned out to be the Falcons’ only defeat over their last six regular-season games. Ryan’s focus was the same mentality he brought into the regular season: Cut down on turnovers and maintain a high level of efficiency in Year 2 of Shanahan’s scheme.

Game Womens Travis Dermott Jersey Ryan solidified his name among the circle of elite quarterbacks, even if his accomplishments were somewhat overshadowed contending with Brady in the Super Bowl. His remarkable regular season, which included franchise records in passing yards (4,944), touchdowns (38), passer rating (117.1), completion percentage (69.9) and passes of 25-plus yards (42), was the primary reason the Falcons earned a first-round playoff bye. His elevated play in the first two playoff games — seven TDs against no interceptions — was the driving force behind the Falcons’ run to the Super Bowl.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is 2-5 against Bill Belichick and the Patriots since he became coach in 2007

Quinn has to coach this game against the Packers with a specific scoring environment in mind. The Falcons-Packers game has a Vegas point total of 61, projecting it to be the highest-scoring playoff game and the second-highest scoring NFL game since 1978. With that in mind, Quinn can’t settle for field goals, and he can’t be excessively concerned about field position. In a game in which teams should be able to move the ball 30 yards in the blink of an eye, possession (not field position) is king.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is 2-5 against Bill Belichick and the Patriots since he became coach in 2007.

The right word to describe Tomlin’s in-game management is “inscrutable.” Tomlin seemingly has no pattern to when or why he decides to get aggressive, which doesn’t mean that there isn’t a pattern, but merely that it is beyond my purview. And no, I’m not talking about Chris Boswell’s totally defensible rabona attempt at an onside kick.

The right word to describe Tomlin’s in-game management is “inscrutable.” Tomlin seemingly has no pattern to when or why he decides to get aggressive, which doesn’t mean that there isn’t a pattern, but merely that it is beyond my purview. And no, I’m not talking about Chris Boswell’s totally defensible rabona attempt at an onside kick.

It’s more the fake punts when there doesn’t really seem to be any rhyme or reason for one. And Tomlin’s two-point logic remains confoundingly weird. He’s right to think the Steelers have a great offense, and blessed with Le’veon Bell and a dominant offensive line, Pittsburgh should be going for two more often than just about any other team in the league. And over the past two years, they have. During the first three quarters of games — before most teams are willing to consider going for two — the Steelers have gone for two 15 times, converting on 10 of those tries. No other team has attempted more than five.

Rose Bowl won’t be a temporary home for NFL team

Mens Luis Gonzalez Jersey The Rose Bowl will not be a temporary venue for an NFL team that relocates to Los Angeles, according to Sam Farmer of the LA Times. The Rose Bowl Operating Company decided by unanimous vote not to respond to the request the league sent along last month as part of its investigation into a potential home for one or more NFL teams which want to relocate to the market sooner rather than later.

In addition to the Rose Bowl, the NFL sent along requests to the Coliseum, Dodger Stadium, Angel Stadium and the StubHub Center. The move was a big one for the NFL, as it s the first time in the entire Los Angeles saga that they’ve investigated such venues as feasible places to play.

As far as the Rose Bowl goes, there are currently plans to try and get a music and arts festival in place going forward, and the NFL’s proposal would be a massive distraction from those plans. There’s an environmental impact report being prepared for the festival, and NFL games being played there, even if they don’t overlap, would surely affect that report.

Mens Ernie Stautner Jersey McDonald was released by the 49ers back in December, and later signed with the Chicago Bears in the offseason. The Bears released McDonald shortly after his May 25 arrest. The Bears had gotten some heat for signing McDonald, and they did not help matters when owner George McCaskey said there needed to be some discounting of an alleged victim’s comments because of certain biases. Considering McDonald had his own biases in the situation, McCaskey’s comments were completely absurd.

Against the Timberwolves, Kawhi Leonard tied a Spurs record with his fourth consecutive 30-plus point game

“I don’t know. We didn’t play well in the first half, very unusual,” Spurs reserve Manu Ginobili said. “Seventy-one points in the half, 30 free throws, I think it was the first time ever it happened to us. We were not as sharp. We sent them to the line too many times. Then, we were able to correct it in the second half; much better defense, less fouls, more aggressiveness.”

Popovich called the Spurs back in December a B-plus to C-minus squad. Now, Popovich’s grade probably hasn’t improved much, if at all, considering the team’s 5-3 record this month. In each of the team’s last three losses, it held leads of 10 point or more, including Saturday’s 108-105 defeat to the Phoenix Suns in Mexico City.

The Spurs now own a record of 27-3 in games they lead after three quarters.

“Again, as we’ve done very often, a tale of two halves where we gave up 71, and then we gave up 44,” Popovich said. “We gave up 30 free throws in the first half and nine in the second half. That’s what it’s about — being physical, playing smart — and we did it for the second half. So we played a great 24 minutes.”
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Is it just a matter of maturing and being in a comfortable place in your life at 30, or did you change anything in your training or add anything to your game?

I always try to continue to get better at shooting the ball and places where I am going to get good shots and working on that during the summertime, coming off screens a certain way knowing that I am going to get these certain type of shots. There is always that, in your summertime, in your work and preparation. Just going out there and understanding what is needed and where my shots are going to be and where they are going to come from and taking the right ones.

Take me back to the night when you went back onto the Air Canada Centre court to get shots up after losing Game 1 in overtime in the 2016 Eastern Conference semifinals against Miami.

Authentic Womens Josh Bailey Jersey [I was] just frustrated with the shots that I felt like I was getting and I was missing. Man, if the cameras weren’t there, no one would have known. I probably would have done it after upstairs [on the Raptors’ practice court], but I’m sure other All-Star and starting guys do it and try to get themselves some rhythm. It was more a matter of going out there and like, ‘OK, you are not playing well. What are you going to do?’ What happens when you aren’t playing that well? You go out and figure it out and make sure you get back to your techniques and make sure you are comfortable in doing what you do, no matter what.

Packers tight end Jared Cook made the catch of the season to set up the winning field goal in Dallas

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I hit you with some knowledge last week within minutes of confirming the NFL’s divisional playoff matchups. The Green Bay Packers’ game at the Dallas Cowboys was going to be “the game of the year,” I told you. More: “The last team with the ball is going to win.”

Authentic Brandon Flowers Jersey Final: Packers 34, Cowboys 31 on Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal on the game’s last play.

With that in mind, and after casually disregarding the few (hundred) missed projections I’ve had over the years, I consider it imperative for you to absorb and propagate this first look at the 2016 NFC and AFC Championship Games.

Utecht won a grievance against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013 after claiming that they had released him with improper cause in 2009. Utecht spent four months on injured reserve that year after sustaining a concussion during training camp (the play was seen on HBO’s Hard Knocks). In November, the Bengals felt that he was healthy enough to return to the field. Utecht disagreed and, as a result, was released.

Utech’s book netted him a “substantial six-figure advance” and will be co-written by former New York Times bestselling author Mark Tabb, according to Deadline. The book is scheduled for release in the fall of 2016. According to the announcement, Utecht will write about “the lessons he’s learned about living a life of love, faith and meaning when you know your memory may have an expiration date.”

Utecht’s memoir is the latest example of media companies telling the story of what football does to the brain. In December, the film Concussion, starring Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu — a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who discovers Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of two NFL players who later commit suicide — will be released in theaters nationwide.

Buccaneers RT Demar Dotson leaves Vikings game with knee injury

Tampa Bay Buccaneers right tackle Demar Dotson left Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings with a left knee injury. Dotson went down and had to be helped to the sideline just before halftime.

He appeared to be in significant pain, and was taken from the sideline to the locker room. There’s no official word on what exactly happened, but we’ll update when there’s more information. He needs to get an MRI to reveal the extent of the knee injury, according to Tom Pelissero of USA Today. He’s “believed” to have a sprained MCL, though it could be more serious.

Dotson has been the starting right tackle for the Buccaneers since 2012, when he beat Jeremy Trueblood for the spot. He signed a three-year contract extension in 2013, and was contemplating a holdout in training camp this offseason while campaigning for a new deal. He is one of the top right tackles in the league, and if he has to miss any time it would be significant for the Buccaneers.

Though Winston struggled in the first quarter, he still threw the ball downfield on a couple of occasions. Perhaps Winston’s best toss of the night was a 40-yard completion to Vincent Jackson on the Bucs’ third drive, which came on 3rd-and-14. He finished the night 9-for-19 for 131 yards.

It has been an up-and-down training camp so far for Winston, who was named the Bucs’ starter at the end of July. He threw three interceptions in a practice earlier this month, and has been picked off eight times in practice. Winston recently told ESPN’s Ron Jaworski he’s struggled to adjust to certain aspects of the professional game.

So when a guy scores a touchdown, gets a sack, an interception, makes a big run on third-and-1 or makes any other kind of play, why in the fuck wouldn’t he be emotional about it?!

Otherwise, I just figured nose tackle was a much better fit for him. But the Minnesota Vikings drafted him in the first round to be a three technique in a fast-flow 4-3 defense, and to my surprise, he is actually getting pretty good at it.

Tyreek Hill talks to reporters during the Chiefs’ rookie minicamp this past May

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In August, Hill, whose original lawyer had dropped his case, citing his inability to pay, pleaded guilty to domestic abuse. He signed a statement admitting he had put Espinal in a headlock during a physical fight and received a deferred prison sentence of three years. He agreed to sign up for an anger management course and a batterers program, and promised that he’d enroll in school or work a full-time job.

In court, Hill told the judge that he regretted his actions. “I did something I shouldn’t have done,” he said. “I let my feelings take control of me.”

Tyreek Hill talks to reporters during the Chiefs’ rookie minicamp this past May.
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Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy kicked Tyreek Hill off the team after his domestic violence arrest.

The Ravens’ 2016 draft class ranked sixth in total offensive or defensive snaps played, led by first-round left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Fourth-rounders Tavon Young and Alex Lewis also played extensively, and fifth-rounder Matt Judon made positive contributions to the defensive line rotation. That production made it easier to overlook underwhelming first seasons from Kamalei Correa (second round) and Bronson Kaufusi (third round).

Rutenberg was the Jaguars’ assistant defensive backs coach from 2013 to ’15. He assisted Wash with third-down defense last season.

Linebackers coach Robert Saleh, defensive backs coach DeWayne Walker, Daniel Bullocks (assistant defensive backs coach), Scottie Hazelton (assistant linebackers coach) and Aaron Whitecotton (assistant defensive line coach) were all under contract through the 2017 season.

Information from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter contributed to this report.