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Frustrated Mike Tomlin calls Pittsburgh Steelers’ effort in matinee win ‘really junior varsity’

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PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin’s assessment of the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ performance in the Wednesday matinee win against the Baltimore Ravens was blunt.

“It was really junior varsity, to be quite honest with you,” Tomlin said after the Steelers’ 19-14 victory. “It was in all three phases. We couldn’t run the ball effectively when we needed to. We dropped too many significant passes, very catchable, makeable passes. We didn’t make significant plays in the special teams game. Our kickoff coverage unit wasn’t good enough. We turned the ball over. We gave up big plays in critical moments on defense. Can’t have it.”

Tomlin continued, excoriating his undefeated team.

“[The Ravens] converted a long run on a possession down before the half,” he said. “Unacceptable. They had a 70-yard touchdown late in the game. Unacceptable. We’re fortunate tonight. It’s good to proceed with the victory. I acknowledge that. But not a lot happened tonight to be proud of or to be excited about other than that.”

The Steelers (11-0) put together a sloppy and error-riddled performance in the close win against their short-handed AFC North rival. The offense had five dropped passes, matching the most in the past 15 seasons — in 2019 versus the Rams and 2007 versus the Browns.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had an interception in the end zone along with a touchdown, took the blame for the drops.

“I need to be more accurate with my passes,” Roethlisberger said. “I need to give them better chances to make the plays. There weren’t some plays made today when they needed to be.”

The Steelers were also ineffective in the red zone, especially in the first half. Three of their drops came in the red zone in the first half — the most of any team in an NFL game over the past three seasons.

They also failed to score a touchdown on their first three trips to the red zone, matching their most in a game this season. On the season, the Steelers entered the game scoring a touchdown on 69% of red zone drives, good for seventh in the NFL.

To explain his team’s failures in the red zone and the receiver drops, Tomlin offered a clipped explanation: “Us sucking.”

Tomlin refused to blame the poor performance on the roller-coaster week leading up to the game that saw three postponements and an unconventional 3:40 ET kickoff on a Wednesday afternoon.

“We make no excuses,” he said. “We seek no comfort. We didn’t play well, coach well tonight.”

Like his coach, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said his team played down to the Ravens (6-5), at a level the Steelers should’ve been above.

“We played like the JV,” Smith-Schuster said. “You know, we played down to their level. They came out with a JV squad and we were playing JV and we didn’t come out and execute and play the way we wanted to play. And as you could see, it was a close game, which shouldn’t have happened.”

The Steelers play again in just five days, taking on the Washington Football Team on Monday evening in a game rescheduled to accommodate Wednesday’s delayed contest. It’s a short week, but Tomlin said he believes that despite his frustrations, his team can turn it around.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “It’s not some transformational thing that needs to transpire. We got to coach better and play better when we get inside the bowl. I expect our group to do that Monday night, Monday evening, whenever it is that we play.”

At the end of his raw news conference, Tomlin was asked if he’s ever been more frustrated after a win. He stopped for a beat and pondered the question.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I know this one’s pretty frustrating.”

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Source — Tom Brady to make $1M in incentives if Tampa Bay Buccaneers win Super Bowl

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Tom Brady would continue to build on his legacy — and his fortune — if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win the Super Bowl.

Brady will cash in on a $500,000 contract incentive if the Bucs beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday and win the NFC Championship Game, a source told ESPN. The star quarterback will make another $500,000 if the Bucs win Super Bowl LV, according to the source.

Brady already has collected $1.25 million in incentives during Tampa Bay’s postseason run — $500,000 for making it to the playoffs, $250,000 for the Bucs wild-card win at Washington, and another $500,000 for last Sunday’s divisional playoff win against the New Orleans Saints, according to the source.

With a victory Sunday in Green Bay, the 43-year-old Brady will reach the Super Bowl for the 10th time in his storied career. He is trying to join Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning and Craig Morton as the only quarterbacks to lead two separate franchises to a Super Bowl.

Brady, who won six Super Bowls and played in nine total with the New England Patriots, passed for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns this season — his first with the Buccaneers. The three-time league MVP is trying to lead the Bucs to their first Super Bowl berth since their 2002 championship season.

“It’s been fun just being here, and I had a great time in New England, as well,” Brady said Friday. “I’ve had a great 21 years. I’m a very blessed and lucky guy. The fact that I’m still playing football, for me, is a blessing.”

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Return of Jets owner adds another wrinkle to Texans’ Deshaun Watson drama – New York Jets Blog

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Impatient boss? A lot of folks might be wondering how Woody Johnson’s return to the team will impact the product on the field. Fair question. During his first 17 years as acting owner (2000-16), a period in which the Jets made the playoffs in six of the first 10 years, Johnson developed an affinity for making splashy moves.

Brett Favre. Tim Tebow. Darrelle Revis 2.0.

(P.S.: None of them worked out, but they sure generated plenty of buzz.)

People who have worked for Johnson say he loves big names, especially at the quarterback position. There’s a pretty big name who could become available via trade this offseason, if he’s not already — Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans. I could see Johnson, 73, who missed the past four seasons while serving as former president Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, wanting to deliver a “statement” move to raise the franchise’s visibility.

The Jets should absolutely make a run at the disgruntled star, but this isn’t a simple case of see-quarterback, get-quarterback. The competition will be fierce, although the Jets have the most draft capital to offer. Watson would have to waive his no-trade clause to play for the Jets, but he reportedly is a Robert Saleh fan. So maybe there’s hope. Watson’s preferred destination is the Jets, according to a Miami Herald report that says the Jets are his top choice because of Saleh.

Presumably, Johnson will let his football people make the decision, but his return to the role of principal owner with final say on all matters certainly adds another wrinkle to what should be a fascinating storyline this offseason.

2. Darnold in limbo: Saleh’s effusive praise of Sam Darnold might lead some to believe Darnold is a lock to be back as the starting quarterback. While I know Saleh’s feelings are genuine — he thinks he can win with him — it’s premature to draw that conclusion.

Frankly, it would be foolish for the Jets to tip their hand at this point, considering the number of factors that will be considered — Darnold’s contract (one year left), the 2021 NFL draft (No. 2 pick) and perhaps the Watson situation. ‘Tis the season for posturing. We might not know the truth until April 29, the first night of the draft.

3. Bells and whistles: Whether it’s Darnold or another quarterback, fans won’t recognize the offense in 2021. New offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will employ the Kyle Shanahan version of the West Coast offense, which means a lot of pre-snap motion and play-action — a radical departure from the Adam Gase system.

In 2020, the San Francisco 49ers used some form of motion on a league-high 739 plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Jets used motion on 369 plays (26th). The 49ers called play-action passes on 154 plays (ninth), while the Jets did it 99 times (30th).

It will be a welcome-to-the-21st-century season.

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Stephen A. Smith likes the Urban Meyer hire by the Jaguars because of the former Ohio State coach’s elite résumé.

4. Armed and ready: The Jets have three quarterbacks under contract — Darnold, James Morgan and Mike White. There’s another talented passer in the QB room.

New position coach Rob Calabrese, who played sparingly at Central Florida from 2008 to 2012, is only 30 years old. His previous team, the Denver Broncos, where he was offensive quality control coach, tried to activate him for a game against the New Orleans Saints when their quarterback depth chart was wiped out by COVID-19. In the end, the Broncos’ request was denied by the league.

This is a homecoming for Calabrese, who played at Long Island’s East Islip High School, Boomer Esiason’s alma mater.

5. Long-overdue move: The Jets made the right move by reorganizing their power structure. Instead of having the coach and general manager report directly to ownership, the setup since 2015, they reverted to the traditional chain of command. Saleh will report to general manager Joe Douglas, who reports to ownership.

The other way can work if all parties are well-established in their positions, but it got clumsy because the Jets tried it with neophytes — a first-time coach (Todd Bowles), first-time GMs (Mike Maccagnan and Douglas) and a first-time owner (Christopher Johnson, who subbed for big brother Woody).

Christopher Johnson downplayed the change, claiming the old system worked fine. Huh? Did he forget how Gase exerted his power to get Maccagnan ousted in 2019?

The new structure is a win for Douglas, who gets more power after nearly two years on the job. Clearly, he has captured the trust of the Johnson family. It’s a pivotal year for Douglas. He picked the coach, and now he has to pick the quarterback. What happens this offseason will ultimately determine his legacy.

6. Coach Brick: New defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich comes to the Jets with playcalling experience. In 2019, he was a de facto coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons when coach Dan Quinn ceded the playcalling duties to him at midseason. Actually, Ulbrich called first and second down, Raheem Morris handled third down. The defense played well over the second half of the ’19 season.

In 2020, Ulbrich became the full-time playcaller in Week 6, when Morris was elevated to replace Quinn. The Falcons didn’t have much talent on defense, but they played well for Ulbrich, whose unit allowed more than 27 points in two of 11 games — both to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Wisely, Saleh will let Ulbrich call the plays, which will allow him to focus on the big picture.

7. Free-agent target: Remember this name — Keanu Neal. I’d be surprised if the Jets don’t show interest in the Falcons’ safety, a 2016 first-round pick who knows Ulbrich and knows the system. He’d be the ideal complement to Marcus Maye (also a free agent). In fact, Neal and Maye were a college safety tandem at Florida.

Asked about Maye, Saleh said he hasn’t had a chance to study him closely, but he has heard nothing but good things about him from Douglas.

8. Q factor: Saleh is very high on defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, who should thrive in his 4-3 front.

“I absolutely love Quinnen,” Saleh said. “[I’m] really excited to get the seat belt off his harness and let him go. … His mindset, his athleticism, his power, his love for football, I’m really, really excited to see him in our system, especially up front and the way we design with that attack style.”

In Saleh’s system, the defensive linemen are asked to play vertically, meaning their job is to get upfield as quickly as possible — ideal for Williams’ skill set. He could become the Jets’ version of DeForest Buckner or, going back to Saleh’s Seattle Seahawks days, Michael Bennett.

9. Did you know? Saleh and his wife, Sanaa, have six children. Their ages are 10, 8, 7, 5, 3 and 1. A seventh child is due in April.

9a. Did you know, part II? Since 2000, four quarterbacks drafted in the first seven picks made a conference championship game within his first three seasons — Mark Sanchez (Jets), Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts), Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams) and Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills), who plays Sunday.

Only one did it twice — Sanchez.

10. The last word: “It could flip tomorrow. It could flip whenever. One thing I know is, we’re going to win championships.” — Saleh on how long it will take for the Jets to contend (via The Michael Kay Show on ESPN New York 98.7 FM).



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Sources — Super Bowl teams not allowed in Tampa until 2 days before game

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In a season unlike any other, Super Bowl week also will not be like any other.

Super Bowl teams always arrive in the city of the game one week in advance, but this season’s participants are not allowed to arrive in Tampa any earlier than the Friday before Super Bowl LV, league sources tell ESPN.

If the Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers win their conference championship games Sunday, they have tentative plans to arrive in Tampa on Friday, Feb. 5, two days before the Super Bowl, according to sources.

If the Kansas City Chiefs advance to the Super Bowl, they do not plan to arrive in Tampa until the day before the Super Bowl on Feb. 6, according to sources.

The fourth team involved in Sunday’s conference championship games is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who spent the week practicing opposite Raymond James Stadium, in clear sight of the Super Bowl LV banners now hanging on the stadium.

All these changes and adaptations are being done to keep teams in the COVID-19 prevention routines they have adhered to all season rather than having to do it in another city. Teams now will be approaching the Super Bowl like it’s any other road trip during the season — rather than a trip to the biggest game of the season.

This also means that Super Bowl Media Day, the Monday night event that has become a staple of previous Super Bowls, will be done virtually. Press conferences that have been held with players and coaches on each team also will be done virtually.

Many of the other events associated with Super Bowl week also will go virtual or be canceled, according to a source. Even the post Super-Bowl parties for the winning and losing teams are not certain. Teams have the option of flying home immediately after the game.

Had the Los Angeles Rams beaten the Packers last weekend in the divisional round and advanced to play the higher-seeded Bucs on the road, the NFL would have encountered a situation it never has in its history: Sunday’s conference championship game would have been the first to ever be played on the same Super Bowl grass field that already had been installed in advance of the big game.

Fortunately for the NFL, the Packers beat the Rams, averting an issue the NFL hasn’t had to face before — with a team from the Super Bowl host city advancing as far as the conference championship game.

The NFL installs the Super Bowl field weeks before the actual game itself, and did so in Tampa. The grass for the Super Bowl field is grown months in advance, planned to be unveiled during the big game, but an NFC Championship Game in Tampa would have changed that.

That was not the only change in and around Raymond James Stadium. The league also began transforming the Buccaneers’ parking lot and converting it into fenced-off areas. Many of the Buccaneers banners that surround Raymond James Stadium also have come down in favor of more neutral NFL celebrator banners.

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