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Years after rift, Williams, Vitt say they’re friends

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Gregg Williams didn’t want to go there. Neither did Joe Vitt.

The New York Jets‘ assistant coaches, reunited seven years after they were adversaries in the New Orleans Saints‘ Bountygate scandal, bristled Thursday when asked about their relationship.

“Is this a National Enquirer question?” Vitt snapped. “I like Gregg. He’s a friend.”

Earlier, Williams offered a similar response.

“Not a question. Next question,” he said before the Jets’ final offseason practice. “He’s a great friend of mine. He’ll always be a great friend. I don’t care what you’ve written. Go ahead, somebody else [ask a question].”

Williams and Vitt were hired in February as the Jets’ defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach, respectively, but this was the first time the assistant coaches were made available to the media.

The reunion has sparked interest because Vitt testified against Williams in the Bountygate scandal when both were Saints assistants. In the hearings, conducted by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Vitt accused Williams of lying in his testimony.

Williams wound up being suspended indefinitely (then reinstated 11 months later), while Vitt received a six-game ban. Now they’re together on coach Adam Gase’s first staff.

Vitt also happens to be Gase’s father-in-law, adding another layer of intrigue.

Some also have wondered about the Gase-Williams dynamic because they’re both alpha personalities working together for the first time.

Williams spoke glowingly of Gase, saying he has admired him from afar.

“Respect and trust [are] earned, and he has earned my respect and earned my trust now that we’re working together on the same thing.

“It’s been fun, OK? He’s a very good coach, has a very good mind, has a challenging mind conceptually on what we’re doing [on defense].”

The Jets hope that Williams’ fiery coaching style will fuel a defense that finished 29th in yards allowed last season. They have high expectations after signing Pro Bowl middle linebacker CJ Mosley and drafting defensive tackle Quinnen Williams with the third overall pick.

Williams didn’t make any bold predictions for the defense, but there’s no doubting his self-confidence.

“My secrets get out,” Williams said. “The reason I keep getting hired is culture — and culture beats strategy any day of the week.”

“Attitude does come first,” he added. “I tell them, ‘Attitude is everything. Pick a good one today.'”

Williams, 60, has been coaching in the NFL since 1990, and he has no intention of retiring any time soon.

“People ask me all the time, ‘How much longer am I going to do this?’ I love what I do. I’m a competition-aholic,” he said. “When I walk into a room and nobody will pay attention anymore, it’s time to do something else.”

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Giants’ Eli Manning, uncertain of future, turns back clock for a half

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PHILADELPHIA — For a half, Eli Manning looked to be heading to another storybook ending. Then reality set in for the New York Giants and their two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback back as the starter for the first time since Week 2.

Jones was starting in place of injured rookie Daniel Jones on Monday night. He threw a pair of touchdown passes in the first half while the Giants built a 14-point halftime lead, before stalling badly in the second half of a 23-17 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

It was a disappointing ending to what could be one of Manning’s final starts with the Giants. He is a free agent at the end of the season, and Jones could return in the coming weeks from a high ankle sprain.

Manning’s wife, Abby, even broke her own rule of not attending games in Philadelphia due to the rowdy crowd for this one. Manning explained afterward why it was important for her and several others close to the quarterback (including his brother Peyton and agent Tom Condon) to be in attendance.

“Hadn’t played in a few months,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m gonna play again. So it was pretty obvious why it was important.”

Abby Manning was among a group that waited for Eli outside the locker room after his postgame news conference.

Manning had a chance late in regulation to lead his 38th career game-winning drive but didn’t get the ball in overtime. The Giants (2-11) lost their ninth straight game, tying a franchise record, and Manning saw his career record in the regular season dip below .500 at 116-117.

He claimed afterward to be unaware of his record. Manning said he would make his decision about next season and his future “next year.” The Giants’ season ends on Dec. 29 with a rematch against the Eagles.

For a while it appeared his return to the starting lineup would end differently. Manning threw for 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first half. Rookie Darius Slayton had touchdown grabs of 35 and 55 yards in his first career game with the veteran quarterback.

“I don’t think it took long for anyone to get into a rhythm at all. It’s No. 10. No. 10 was going to go out there and do what he does best,” said running back Saquon Barkley. “He’s a great player and he played lights-out for us [Monday]. But as a team overall, we’ve got to find a way to finish and win the game.”

The Giants managed just 30 total yards in the second half and never touched the ball in overtime. Manning finished 15-of-30 passing with 203 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

“I thought he battled,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “He did a lot of good things.”

Shurmur said the Giants are going to play it week-to-week with Jones. He wouldn’t commit to Manning being the starter at home one more time Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, even if it seems likely. Jones didn’t practice last week.

Manning is now 8-27 in his past 35 games as the Giants starter dating back to a playoff loss in January of 2017 to the Green Bay Packers. He hasn’t won a game in a full calendar year.

“He made some terrific throws,” said veteran receiver Golden Tate, who also played his first career game with Manning after he served a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. “His knowledge of the game is one of the best out there. But at the same time, he can’t do it by himself. We all have to do a little bit better. There were times he was pressured. There was times when we were slow out of our routes or didn’t get open. We all just had to help him.”

But these are the 2019 Giants. And this is Manning finishing the back nine of his illustrious career with the organization.

“It’s tough. It’s frustrating because we work hard and practice hard,” Manning said. “We’ve been in a bunch of close games. For whatever reason, we can’t put the game away. [Monday] I think that’s on us as an offense. We had a lot of opportunities to extend the lead and put it out of reach. We just have to have some longer drives, even if we’re getting field goals to give our defense a break. We kept them on the field too long.”

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Patriots say video crew filmed sideline during Bengals-Browns game

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The New England Patriots acknowledged that their production crew inappropriately filmed the field and sideline during Sunday’s game between the Bengals and Browns in Cleveland and accepted full responsibility in a statement released Monday night.

The crew was credentialed by the Browns to shoot video for a Patriots web series called “Do Your Job,” but the Patriots did not inform the Bengals or the NFL, which they called “an unintended oversight.”

“The sole purpose of the filming was to provide an illustration of an advance scout at work on the road,” the Patriots statement read. “There was no intention of using footage for any other purpose.”

The Patriots also said the production crew, which included independent contractors who shot the video, is not part of New England’s football operation.

The NFL has not yet issued a comment, but a source told ESPN’s Dan Graziano that the league has a copy of the video and is investigating the incident.

News of the incident first broke when, at Bengals coach Zac Taylor’s news conference Monday, longtime Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham asked the coach about rumors that the Patriots had a videographer in the press box who was taping the sideline. Taylor said he was aware of the incident and that the league was investigating.

Sources told ESPN’s Dianna Russini that a Bengals employee flagged media relations and Bengals security staff after observing a videographer shooting the sidelines.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick told WEEI earlier Monday that the team’s football operations has nothing to do with the production side and that their scouts know the rules about what you can’t film at games.

“They 100% know. All of our scouts, all of our video people and everything, they know what that is,” Belichick said. “Again, I have nothing to do with the TV production shows and stuff like that. I have no idea what they do. Or what their projects are and everything else.

“As I understand it, they were videotaping him, trying to show kind of what an advance scout does, or something Iike that, I don’t know. You’ll have to wait to see the show I guess and see how it’s presented.”

In 2007, the Patriots were punished by the NFL for videotaping the New York Jets’ defensive playcalls on the sideline during a 2007 game at Giants Stadium, won by New England 38-14. The Patriots were forced to forfeit their first-round draft pick in 2008, and coach Bill Belichick was fined the maximum amount of $500,000. The Patriots also were ordered to pay $250,000 for the scandal, which was dubbed “Spygate” by the media.

The Patriots (10-3) visit the Bengals (1-12) on Sunday.



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Eagles’ Alshon Jeffery (foot), Lane Johnson (ankle) injured vs. Giants

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PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Lane Johnson and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery left Monday’s 23-17 overtime win over the New York Giants with injuries and did not return.

Coach Doug Pederson said he would have a better idea of how serious the injuries are on Monday.

Jeffery was taken to the locker room on a cart after suffering what the team called a foot injury. Jeffery was not contacted on the play but left the field limping before throwing his helmet down and entering the medical tent. He then sat in the front seat of a cart that headed down the tunnel.

Jeffery entered Monday with 43 catches for 430 yards and four touchdowns.

The Eagles were already without injured wide receiver Nelson Agholor. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward were the only wide receivers left for the Eagles.

Quarterback Carson Wentz was still able to orchestrate two touchdown drives in the second half to erase a 14-point deficit, and threw a game-winning TD to tight end Zach Ertz in overtime to pull the Eagles (6-7) even with the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East.

“It’s not easy when you have that many new faces out there playing in a must-win game against a division opponent,” Pederson said. “Carson does get a lot of credit, but at the same time, we made some plays on defense that kept us in there and we were able to pull it out.”

Johnson went down when Wentz was knocked into him in the second quarter. Johnson, an All-Pro in 2017, suffered an injured left ankle and was also carted off the field. Halapoulivaati Vaitai took his place at right tackle.

Rookie running back Miles Sanders was hampered by a leg injury in the second half but said afterward that he’d be fine. Boston Scott received a bigger workload as a result and finished with 156 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.

The Eagles face the prospect of being down two of their top offensive players in Johnson and Jeffery as they begin a final push toward the postseason, beginning Sunday in Washington.

“If that’s the case, the confidence that each of these guys gained tonight with our backs against the wall was huge for us,” Wentz said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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