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Dolphins’ Jakeem Grant blows past Bills for 101-yard kickoff return

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — With the game starting to get away from the Miami Dolphins, Jakeem Grant gave his team a bolt of resurgent energy taking a kickoff return 101 yards for a touchdown on Sunday.

The Buffalo Bills kicked the ball to the front corner of the end zone, Grant caught it and ran toward midfield, eluding four diving defenders and outrunning a few others en route to a touchdown along the right sideline. His Dolphins teammates mobbed him in the end zone as Grant’s touchdown trimmed the Bills’ lead to 23-14, which it remained at halftime.

Grant now has four career kick/punt-return touchdowns, most in Dolphins history. He’s also the only player in Dolphins history with multiple kickoff and punt-return touchdowns in his career. He now has two of each.

Grant signed a four-year extension in August with his returning prowess playing a notable role in the new deal. It’s his first return touchdown of the season, and it came at a crucial moment for Miami.

Grant traveled a total of 138 yards on his return TD, the most total yards run on a play by a ball carrier this season, per Next Gen Stats.



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How Rams coach Sean McVay is handling his biggest challenge yet – Los Angeles Rams Blog

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — “Hold up!” a loud voice echoed inside the Los Angeles Rams locker room, after a celebratory postgame cheer.

John Fassel, the Rams’ special teams coordinator, stepped to the middle of the room.

“When you talk about adversity, we’ve got a great leader, who always carries us through the highs and the lows,” Fassel hollered in Rams coach Sean McVay’s direction. “When it’s time to work, he keeps focused on the mission.”

Fassel handed McVay a game ball. “For everything you do,” he said.

Ten months after McVay took the Rams to Super Bowl LIII, was hailed as an offensive genius and sent teams with coaching vacancies scrambling and reaching to hire anyone remotely connected to him, the Rams’ 33-year-old coach has drifted back to reality.

The Rams are 7-5, and after winning back-to-back division titles are hoping, at best, for a wild-card playoff berth. As they prepare for a Sunday Night Football matchup against the 10-2 Seattle Seahawks (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC), the Rams have a 17.7% chance of making the postseason, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

From the outside, it’s easy to ask what has gone wrong, as McVay’s signature offense has unexpectedly and repeatedly stalled. Last season, the Rams’ offense was among the highest-scoring units in the NFL, averaging 26.5 points, but this season it has dropped to 17th, averaging 21.2. The defense, while often stout behind two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, showed gaping holes in losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens.

“I would be lying to say that this [season] hasn’t been more challenging,” McVay said. “But that’s also why there’s a motivation to make sure to do right and to use this as an opportunity to try to respond in the way that you challenge your players and everybody else to.”

McVay received a game ball after earning his first win as coach in 2017. He received a second game ball last season, after leading the Rams to their first playoff victory in 13 years.

But when Fassel stopped the celebration to acknowledge McVay, it wasn’t a historic milestone — it was merely Week 11 of the regular season, moments after the Rams delivered a gritty, much-needed win over the Chicago Bears.

That night, in front of a prime-time audience and coming off an inexplicable loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, McVay started an offensive line held together by threads, he lost receiver Robert Woods, who three hours before kickoff notified the team he would miss the game, and McVay utilized a game plan that departed from anything he’d previously shown, as they committed heavily to the run.

“The team basically gave him a game ball because he keeps pointing them in the right direction,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “He’s done a great job with that.”

Through the ups and downs, which for the first time in McVay’s career have included a plethora of injuries and personal issues that have affected the team, Rams assistants and players continue to point to what McVay is doing right.

The culture he established that helped turn around a team entrenched in mediocrity practically overnight remains intact, several players said.

“The foundation is still set,” cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said. “Our chemistry is still on point.”

Players continue to dash from the locker room to team meetings, fearing arriving even a second late could result in a fine. And attitudes throughout the locker room remain upbeat, despite sitting at five losses — tied for the most in a single season since McVay’s arrival — with four games remaining.

McVay often has appeared as his energetic, upbeat self. For better or worse, he has kept to his way of shouldering blame for the Rams’ shortcomings, especially on offense.

“You go through those first two years with all the success in the regular season and then, you kind of think, ‘Man, what’s it going to be like if we are not riding high at all times?'” said quarterback Jared Goff, who has passed for 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. “Now, we’re not exactly doing that, but he’s been the same guy.”

“Your normal self’s a lot easier when you’re winning every game and everyone’s telling you you’re a genius,” said offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, when asked how McVay has handled the uneven season. “He’s just as much of a genius, or just as good as a football mind this year.”

In McVay’s third season, though, he has shown a vulnerability off the field that’s a reminder that despite the overwhelming success early in his career, he’s still a first-time head coach with plenty to learn.

Days after a stunning Week 4 loss to the flailing Tampa Bay Buccaneers, McVay spoke about his stress in a way he never had before. “I’m stressed because I’m always stressed out,” he said. Days before a Week 10 loss to the Steelers, McVay appeared out of character, as his voice sounded hoarse and his eyes appeared wide. “It’s been an exciting week,” McVay said. “A lot of yelling.”

Perhaps, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when the Steelers upset the Rams 17-12 two days later.

What did come as a shock was the 45-6 shellacking delivered by the Ravens on Monday Night Football. It was the worst loss of McVay’s career. “There’s not anything good to take away from this,” McVay said. “Other than the fact that I did feel that our team continued to battle.”

Six days later and amid the chaos of a short Thanksgiving week, the Rams bounced back to deliver a drubbing of their own in a 34-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals (3-8-1).

“It’s been pretty much the same approach,” running back Todd Gurley said about McVay’s demeanor throughout the year. “Just trying to stay positive and just keep taking it game by game.”

The Rams probably need to win their next four to advance to the playoffs for a third consecutive season. It won’t be easy with games against the Seahawks, at the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers before finishing at home with the Cardinals. With McVay leading the way, there’s confidence it can be done.

“That dude is steady,” Goff said. “We feed off him.”

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Bears’ Eddie Jackson honed skills covering Cowboys’ Amari Cooper at Alabama – Chicago Bears Blog

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson doesn’t need a copy of the advance scouting report on Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper.

“He’s really the one that [helped me learn] my coverage skills,” Jackson said of Cooper. “He helped me build [as a player] and got me polished.”

Both Jackson and Cooper were four-star high school football recruits who played together at Alabama. Cooper finished his career as the Crimson Tide’s all-time leading receiver. Jackson, a year younger than Cooper, got to face him every single day at practice.

“There was one time in practice he was killing me,” Jackson said. “I was a freshman. I looked back at coach [Nick] Saban, and he said, ‘Don’t look back at me, Eddie, I’m not going to take him off you.’

“Going into spring ball after my freshman year, that’s when everything came and I got him. We were going one-on-one. It used to be Amari, Amari, Amari. Then it became, like, tit for tat. Now it was Amari, Eddie, Amari, Eddie.”

Fast forward six years and Cooper is a force to be reckoned with. A three-time Pro Bowler and No. 4 overall pick by the Oakland Raiders in the 2015 NFL draft, Cooper leads the Cowboys with 64 catches for 971 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Bears (6-6) host the Cowboys (6-6) on Thursday night (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox) in a game with serious playoff ramifications.

“Cooper is definitely at the top [of the list of the league’s best receivers],” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “He’s one of the best route-runners in this game. Again, I’ve had the unfortunate familiarity of going against him for years and years in Kansas City. I’ve seen him have some good games at times, but he’s a guy that can win the one-on-one matchup. He has great hands, he’s smart and he’s a football player.”

Barring something completely unforeseen, Cooper will top 1,000 receiving yards for the fourth time in his career. Cooper was traded to Dallas last season but remains unsigned beyond 2019.

“He’s just an elite competitor,” Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said on Monday. “He’s got all the intangibles. The athleticism is there. The speed is there. The strength, his route-running ability.

“… He’s well-coached, I know that. He’s got strong hands. He runs great routes. He’s very, very precise. He understands coverage. He knows how to get open. And he’s going to win a bunch of 50-50 balls, and him and the quarterback have great chemistry.”

Jackson describes Cooper’s versatility as the veteran receiver’s greatest strength.

“Oh, man, he can do a lot of different things,” Jackson said. “Route running. He’s fast. He can stretch the field vertically. Good release guy. Knows how to drop his weight and shift in-and-out of routes pretty good.”

In the mind of Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, the head coach of perennial powerhouse Oregon when Cooper dominated at Alabama, the 25-year-old receiver is, “a dynamic, dynamic guy.”

“He’s a fabulous player,” Helfrich added.

But something has to give Thursday night. The Bears enter Week 14 with the league’s ninth-ranked passing defense. Two members of the Bears’ defensive backfield were voted to the Pro Bowl last year (Kyle Fuller and Jackson). This season, Chicago has allowed only four players to reach 100-plus receiving yards in a game (Stefon Diggs, Michael Thomas, Zach Ertz and Kenny Golladay).

But Jackson knows if the Bears aren’t careful, Cooper can easily become the fifth player to inflict heavy damage on Chicago’s secondary, which features another former Alabama player in safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

“[Amari] is a guy we’ve got to bring it [against] every play,” Jackson said.

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Foot injury? For hundreds of NFL players, that means a trip to Green Bay

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — All Davante Adams had to do was cross the street.

Cam Newton, Saquon Barkley and more than 200 other NFL players had to cross the country.

Look for the tubing hill — even go down it if you’re like Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport — across from Lambeau Field, and you’ll find the sports world’s most famous foot and ankle specialist, Dr. Robert Anderson, at Bellin Health Titletown Sports Medicine and Orthopedics.

If Bellin Health built it, they believed Anderson would come. And because of him, 403 VIP clients, including 269 NFL players and a head coach, have come through the doors at the state-of-the-art facility since it opened in August 2017 in the NFL’s smallest city.

For years, professional athletes from all walks of sports visited Anderson at his practice in Charlotte, North Carolina, and they’ve followed him to Green Bay.

“Before I took this job, I made some phone calls to some agents and other team physicians and head trainers asking what they think: ‘Do you think guys will come to Green Bay to see me?’ ” Anderson said. “And I’ll never forget one very well-known agent said: ‘Well, they’re not coming to Charlotte because you’ve got a nice airport.’ “

But there are certainly more direct flights to Charlotte than Green Bay.

“That’s not an issue for me as long as I’m going to see the right guy,” said Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, who saw Anderson in Green Bay early in the 2018 season because of a bruised foot. “It’s your livelihood, especially if you get the wrong opinion, you could do something to worsen your condition. So I think it’s important to go see somebody.

“I had already traveled to Houston to see a doctor, so when it comes down to your career, it’s not really a pain in the ass.”

Adams didn’t need to board a flight to see Anderson. He merely crossed Ridge Road, which bisects Lambeau Field and the Packers’ growing Titletown District that also includes a park with outdoor games, fitness activities, a winter skating rink, tubing hill, the four-diamond hotel Lodge Kohler and Hinterland Restaurant and Brewery.

But he would have gone anywhere to see the most renowned foot specialist after his turf toe injury on Sept. 26.

“It’s great having that resource right here,” Adams said. “I know Saquon came to see him right before I did, but obviously I didn’t have to travel. I’m not sure why he’s in Green Bay of all places, given the guy he is, but it helps a lot.”

The Bellin facility has a VIP entrance at the back of the building for the athletes who come from around the country — and in some cases from other countries. Athletes from 37 states and five countries have visited Anderson since he has been in Green Bay.


‘Who fixed that turf toe?’

To understand why Anderson is in Green Bay, it’s necessary to understand how he became the foot and ankle guy.

It happened almost by accident.

Anderson, 62, studied under an orthopedic surgeon in Charlotte, Dr. Angus McBryde, who worked with the U.S. Olympic track athletes. At that time, the New York Giants sent a player with a foot injury to see McBryde. He and Anderson determined it was an injury to his sesamoid, a tiny bone beneath the joint in the big toe.

“At an early age I ended up becoming a guru about a bone this big,” Anderson said, holding his thumb and index finger less than an inch apart.

But it’s also the bone closest to where turf toe injuries occur.

“People, probably erroneously, made the relationship between my knowledge of the sesamoid issue with turf toe,” Anderson said.

Shortly after Dr. Pat McKenzie joined the Packers’ medical staff in 1991, he sent a player with turf toe, or sprained ligaments at the base of the big toe, to see Anderson and, according to Anderson, the player “came back and did very well, so the word got out that there’s a guy who can fix turf toe and other foot and ankle injuries in athletes.”

“From there, it was word of mouth,” Anderson said. “It was trainer talking to trainer, [asking] ‘Who fixed that turf toe?’ “

When the NFL put a team in Charlotte for the 1995 season, Anderson became their foot and ankle consultant and later an assistant team physician. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue asked him to head up a foot and ankle study in 2003. He now chairs an NFL committee on muscular-skeletal studies.


Why Green Bay?

Anderson grew up in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and went to school with McKenzie at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“Dr. McKenzie has been working on me for about 15 years,” Anderson said. “He finally broke me down. I had been talking to him for years about coming up to Green Bay, but it was just never right.”

Anderson retired as one of the Panthers’ team physicians after the 2016 season but planned to keep his private practice in Charlotte until he listened to the recruiting pitch from McKenzie and Bellin, whose Titletown clinic was in the works.

And the athletes followed him.

Earlier this season, Newton was photographed walking through the Austin Straubel International Airport, and someone posted the picture on Twitter, asking why Newton would be in Green Bay more than a week in advance of the Panthers game against the Packers.

The answer, of course, was Anderson. Just days after he saw Anderson, Newton was placed on injured reserve because of his Lisfranc injury.

In November 2017, Richard Sherman posted a video on the eve of his Achilles surgery from Lodge Kohler.

Privacy laws prevent Anderson and Bellin from discussing specific clients, but Anderson described one player’s visit to see him for surgery after last season.

“We had a first-round draft choice from one of the teams that came for surgery,” Anderson said. “Surgery was planned for the next day, and that night he and his significant other were on the tubing hill multiple times. He’s from the South, he’s never seen tubing before. He bought the unlimited pass.”

“Obviously it’s not as convenient as flying to Charlotte or the other hubs. We tell the guys, just get here and it’ll be stress-free.”

Dr. Robert Anderson

That player, Davenport admitted, was him during his visit in February.

“I went tubing right before because it just so happened to be right outside of the hotel,” Davenport said. “Did it over and over again. But it was cold.”

Said Anderson: “We had another guy come in for a second surgery and he and his significant other came a few days early just to enjoy the spa at Lodge Kohler because they liked it so much from the first visit. Obviously, it’s not as convenient as flying to Charlotte or the other hubs. We tell the guys, just get here and it’ll be stress-free.”

Anderson is available to see amateur athletes, as well; that was one of his goals when he came to Green Bay.

“I bet it’s two-thirds regional patients and one-third professional/VIP,” Anderson said. “That’s what we strived for. I’d love to be 90 percent regional, 10 percent professional just because the professional guys, you know, they’re visible and these visits are oftentimes publicized. But really, there’s so many young athletes out there — young guys, the weekend warrior — that really need access to quality care for their sport-related injuries as well, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”


It’s got to be the shoes

Of the 403 VIP visits, 167 of them resulted in surgery. Among Packers, Adams did not require surgery but coach Matt LaFleur did when he ruptured his Achilles tendon in June.

The nonsurgical visits to Anderson include a wide array of consulting tools to help him determine the proper course of healing. Among them is the “FitStation Powered by HP.” All 32 NFL teams have them at their facilities, but when players come to Green Bay, they go through it with Anderson’s help.

The device takes a 3D scan of a player’s foot — width, height, length and girth — and then comes up with the proper shoe match for the player.

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