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Arizona Cardinals DE Jordan Phillips won’t miss time after dad’s funeral



TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Jordan Phillips was able to attend his father’s funeral on Saturday morning, not miss any mandatory COVID-19 tests and still be back in Arizona in time to fly with the team to Dallas for Monday night’s game against the Cowboys.

But he initially didn’t think it would happen.

Phillips tweeted Wednesday, “The @NFL is wanting me to pick between playing in my Monday night game this week or going to my dads funeral with the new covid protocols can’t do both these rules crazy @ShannonSharpe” but later deleted the message. A day later, Phillips tweeted: “Appreciate the front office for finding a solution to the problem. Thanks Michael Bidwill. Top notch organization.”

Bidwill, the Cardinals’ owner, arranged for Phillips to take a private plane to and from his father’s funeral in Wichita, Kansas, so the first-year Cardinal wouldn’t have to miss any of the required tests. And it would put Phillips, who missed Saturday’s practice, back in Arizona in time to fly with the Cardinals to Texas on Sunday.

Phillips’s father, George, died on Oct. 12 at 56 years old.

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Saints receiver Michael Thomas (hamstring) doesn’t practice; status for Sunday iffy



METAIRIE, La — Michael Thomas’ status is in doubt yet again in Week 7 — for yet another reason.

The New Orleans Saints receiver did not practice Thursday after being limited on Wednesday with a new hamstring injury that crept up for the first time on this week’s injury report.

Saints coach Sean Payton has not offered any specifics on Thomas’ injury status. But it’s possible that the star receiver could miss his fifth straight game after suffering a high ankle sprain in Week 1, then being benched for a team disciplinary action in Week 5.

Thomas was punished in Week 5 for an altercation in practice that included him punching teammate C.J. Gardner-Johnson. However, Payton said Thomas’ punishment lasted only one game.

Thomas appeared as though he was going to return from the ankle injury before that incident occurred. So he was definitely expected to return after the Week 6 bye. But the new injury might put a wrinkle in those plans.

The Saints (3-2) have struggled to find a consistent rhythm in their passing game without the NFL’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year. But Drew Brees started to really develop a connection in recent weeks with receivers Emmanuel Sanders (who caught a career-high 12 passes in Week 5) and Tre’Quan Smith.

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Ron Rivera cites ‘gut feelings’ for Washington Football Team quarterback change



ASHBURN, Va. — It wasn’t just quarterbacks that Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera changed recently; for many, it was his message that also took multiple turns. Fans and some media criticized Rivera for mixed messages. But Rivera said that’s just the way he coaches, going by instincts and switching plans when needed.

“It does look a little inconsistent, but the consistency is that I’m going to make them based on what I know, on my gut feeling on things,” Rivera said. “Hopefully, they’re good decisions. If they’re not, we’ll know and I’ll take responsibility, that’s for doggone sure.”

In the past couple of weeks, Rivera was criticized for changing his message — from supporting quarterback Dwayne Haskins after his three-interception game in Week 3, vowing to endure his growing pains, to benching him a week later.

In truth, multiple sources say there had been concerns before the benching and some in the organization predicted it would happen soon — if Haskins didn’t improve in certain areas, from on-field production to off-field preparation during the week. Those concerns, sources say, had been communicated previously. As Rivera later told NBC Sports Washington, it was an 11-week evaluation, not a four-game one. But to the fan base and some media, based on his comments, the move seemed rash.

Part of the switch, too, Rivera said, was seeing a chance to contend in a weakened NFC East. Prior to that change, Washington was perceived as strictly rebuilding and willing to be patient with Haskins. And before benching Haskins, Rivera said there was a cutoff point at which he’d know a move was necessary. When asked Wednesday whether there was a cutoff point for Kyle Allen, Rivera said there wasn’t — and that there wasn’t one for Haskins, either.

“Can they change? Absolutely,” Rivera said of his thinking. “That’s part of my prerogative as a head coach is that I can change my mind because if I’m wrong, I’ll admit it. That’s one thing I’ve told you guys is that I’ll take the responsibility because I’m the one making the decisions.”

Rivera said that Hall of Fame coach and former broadcaster John Madden influenced his way of coaching. In his first two seasons with Carolina, Rivera was 5-13 in games decided by eight points or less. He said that after talking with Madden he reviewed why the team had a poor record in close games. Rivera said that oftentimes he went against his gut. Madden told him to rely on those instincts, honed by having played and coached in the NFL.

“I went back and looked at them and there were some decisions that, now, I wouldn’t have made,” Rivera said. “But I learned. Those are hard knocks. They were things that I had to get and understand and learn as a head coach. I think that’s part of what drives my decision-making now.”

That also leads him to change his mind when he deems it necessary, whether in games or during the week. Or to fit the situation. In Washington’s first six games, he was aggressive going for it on fourth down 10 times and converting eight; both are tied for third most in the NFL. He went for a two-point conversion in the final minute vs. the New York Giants, but Washington failed to convert and lost 20-19.

In two-score losses to Arizona and Baltimore, Rivera declined to use his timeouts late, saying he did not want to extend the game for fear of players getting hurt after a summer with no preseason games. On social media and talk radio, Rivera was criticized for failing to try to win — pointing to fourth-down calls as proof of inconsistency. In his mind, the situations were not the same: Washington had a legitimate chance to win vs. the Giants; it would have needed two touchdowns in the final few minutes against both Arizona and Baltimore.

“One thing that I’ve learned is you have to treat everybody fairly, but you’re not going to be able to treat everybody the same,” said Rivera, who played nine years in the NFL and has coached in the league since 1997. “Well, it’s the same thing with our situations. You treat each situation as it comes along, and that’s kind of where we are. So, when I get into those situations, I will go by my gut. I will go by the feel. I’m going to draw on my experience … my fiduciary responsibility is to do things that are best for this organization that I believe is going to help us going forward. That’s why I make the decisions that I make.”

But Rivera also said the message he gives his players is different from the one he delivers to the media.

“There are certain things that shouldn’t be said to you guys. There are certain things that shouldn’t be said to the players,” Rivera said. “So, as I go through this, it’s a balancing act and it’s a delicate balancing act sometimes. That’s part of the responsibility is that making sure the right message is out there.”

Right tackle Morgan Moses echoed what other players have said, calling Rivera a breath of fresh air because of what they say is his transparency and penchant for “shooting straight.”

“He listens to us on things we see and want to do as a team,” Moses said last week. “There is no decision he makes and just blatantly makes it and doesn’t include us in it. … When he told us about Dwayne’s situation, he sat in front of the team and said some things would be changing. …When a coach like that is honest and upfront about it, obviously it’s a hard pill to swallow when someone is telling you you’re not doing this. But you respect that person; instead of someone else telling you he’s telling you to your face. It’s important to have a coach like that. We can talk to him and he can talk to us and we can get feedback so we can move forward.”

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New York Jets’ Sam Darnold



FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — In 2017, Sam Darnold was the college player who intrigued the New York Jets‘ quarterback-starved fan base. Now Darnold is experiencing that phenomenon from the other side.

As the only winless team, the Jets could be in position to select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft. The speculation among fans and media already is rampant, putting Darnold in an awkward position.

“Yeah, you know, I mean, I have social media,” Darnold said Thursday, addressing the Lawrence hype for the first time. “I’ve seen some of the things, but … Yeah, we’ve got a game to win this week and that’s all we’re worried about.”

Darnold is battling to get back in the lineup after missing two games with a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder. He appears to be trending toward a return to the lineup Sunday against the Buffalo Bills (4-2), as both he and coach Adam Gase seemed encouraged by his progress.

Darnold admitted “there’s a little bit of pain, but it’s nothing crazy. I feel like I’m capable of dealing with it.”

For the Jets (0-6), the game is meaningless in the standings, but Gase is fighting for his job and the organization would like to use the remainder of the schedule to evaluate Darnold for a possible quarterback decision in the offseason.

Darnold, drafted third overall in 2018, did his best to deflect the Lawrence speculation, trying to focus on the Bills.

“For me, it’s out of my control,” he said. “I’m here to do my best and help this team win games.”

Darnold has struggled in his third season; he ranks 29th out of 30 qualifying quarterbacks in Total QBR (46.3). His inconsistency could be blamed, in part, on injuries to his wide receiving corps.

Rookie Denzel Mims is poised to make his NFL debut on Sunday, which means they could have their starting three intact for the first time. But now leading receiver Jamison Crowder is a question mark; he didn’t practice because of a groin injury that occurred Wednesday.

“I don’t think I’ve played well enough to win, that’s just shooting it straight,” Darnold said. “We haven’t won any games, so obviously I haven’t played well enough.”

Gase always is fiercely defensive of Darnold, perhaps because his job security hinges on Darnold’s performance. Gase said “it’s unfair to judge” the former first-round pick because he’s had to play with a patchwork group of receivers.

“Some of those games have been hard to put on him and evaluate him,” Gase said. “It’s survival mode because of what’s going on injury-wise. How many games has he had with the group we put together at the start of the season? We haven’t seen what it looks like with the group we drafted and signed.”

Darnold’s career record is only 11-19, but the Jets are 0-8 without him — which shows his value to the team.

For now, his goal is to get ready for Sunday.

“I feel good,” he said. “The last two days have gone really well. I’m throwing the ball and I’ve recovered pretty quickly. Obviously, it’s still to be determined what’s going to happen Sunday as far as who’s starting, but I’ve felt really good the last couple of days.”

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