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Success, trust and burnt ends



KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Eric Bieniemy was a free-agent running back in 1999, he had some relatively lucrative contract offers with other teams. He instead signed a deal for the minimum salary with the Philadelphia Eagles so he could play for their new head coach, an obscure former assistant by the name of Andy Reid.

Reid had this way of making Bieniemy, at that point of his career mostly a special-teams player, feel on his free-agent visit that he would be a valued part of what the coach was trying to build.

“When I went on that trip and I visited the Philadelphia Eagles, I felt at home,” said Bieniemy, who would play one season for Reid and then return to coach for him years later with the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I felt a part of something. I felt a part of the building block that was necessary to help them to start it off. I was a part of a foundation that Coach wanted to lay.”

Reid has been making players feel that way for his entire career — from stars like Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce to those at the bottom of the roster, as Bieniemy was more than 20 years ago.

More than any other reason, that’s why players almost universally love working for the 62-year-old Reid.

“I can’t remember anyone who didn’t like playing for him, and I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t like playing for him,” said Geoff Schwartz, a Chiefs offensive lineman in 2013, Reid’s first season in Kansas City. “He’s everything you want in a coach.”

Indeed, it’s easy to find players who have good things to say about their experience with Reid. Pick a player, current or former, and the chances are overwhelming he’ll have a positive story or anecdote.

“It’s no secret what Coach Reid does,” Kelce said. “He puts guys in different positions on the field to succeed and maximizes their strengths, which is why he’s such an unbelievable offensive mind.

“You have fun with it.”

During the offseason, the Chiefs re-signed several top players, including Mahomes, Kelce and Chris Jones. They also retained some lesser ones, such as backup quarterback Chad Henne.

The Chiefs had much to offer, including money and the chance for additional Super Bowl championships. But Reid seemed to be an equal draw.

“He had no thoughts of retirement any time soon,” Mahomes said of Reid while discussing why he re-signed with the Chiefs. “Obviously, that’s a huge part of it.”

‘We trusted him right from the start’

It’s not surprising skill players like working for Reid. Mahomes had the NFL’s second 50-touchdown, 5,000-yard season with the Chiefs in 2018. Kelce is the first tight end in league history to have four straight 1,000-yard seasons.

But the position group that seems to inspire the most devotion toward Reid is offensive line. Reid was a lineman in college at Brigham Young.

Each Friday during the season, the linemen get to play wide receiver. They begin practice with a drill in which they get to catch passes.

“Starting off practice like that is a little bit of a reward for working our butts off for the last two days,” tackle Eric Fisher said. “It just gets us in a good mindset to polish all of the details.

“It’s a fun period for us.”

Eventually, though, play has to stop and work must begin. Schwartz said the 15-play script that Reid uses to begin games is often crafted with offensive linemen in mind.

“There were always some runs and some screens and some reverses and some bootlegs, just a lot of ways to start the game off by helping his offensive line,” Schwartz said. “I always loved that. We always started games with plays that benefited us, helped us get better, helped us get into a rhythm.”

Reid joined the Chiefs in 2013 after they had just gone through one of the most brutal stretches in team history. They had won no more than four games in four of six seasons, including a 2-14 record in 2012.

The Chiefs had some talented players, but little direction. Reid was going to need some buy-in from the players to turn the team around quickly.

“You can’t really listen to a coach or buy in to a coach unless you trust everything he’s saying,” former linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “We trusted him right from the start. Andy is a straight shooter. He did everything he told us he would do. That’s what everybody loved.”

But the players found Reid didn’t ask without giving in return. Case in point: his first Chiefs training camp in 2013.

“He told us that training camp was going to be tough,” Schwartz said. “And he was right. It was hard. We hit a lot. But he said that if we committed to him for three hours of practice in the morning, he would hook us up the rest of the day. And he did. We had walk-throughs in the afternoon, and they were literally walk-throughs. I’ve been places where that wasn’t really the case.

“The things he told us, he did for us.”

Reid said: “You can’t be in the job I’m in and not be real for as long as I’ve been doing it. I think that ends up being important to the guys. I’m not going to be all over the place with them. I’m going to try to shoot them straight with what I see, right or wrong. I’ve got a couple of years’ experience with all this gray hair.

“When it’s all said and done, players want to be coached. They want to maximize their ability. I’ve learned that from some great players. They just wanted you to give them one more thing to make them better.”

Reid established a players’ leadership committee consisting of one member from each position group as a way for players to air their concerns.

“Whenever we started that meeting, the first thing he would say is, ‘All right, what gripes do you have?'” Johnson said. “He doesn’t want guys complaining in the locker room about this and that, like practices being too long or the food in the cafeteria not being good. So he would say, ‘Tell me all the stuff like that and I’ll fix it.’ He doesn’t want us to have any excuses for not getting it right on Sunday. He wants to eliminate all the distractions.”

One time, Johnson said, the players complained they were hitting too much in practice.

“Andy likes long practices,” Johnson said. “He’s old-school. He runs a lot of plays. But we talked to him one time about wanting to take the pads off a lot at practice. We felt we didn’t need to wear them as often as we did or do as much hitting as we did. He said, ‘OK, got it. Anything else?’ It was that quick.

“Most of the things we brought to him, he trusted just like that.”

‘You treat people like they’re people’

Reid is a players’ coach for other reasons. He’s rarely critical of a player in public, instead usually taking the blame himself for putting players in a bad spot.

That’s ironic because players say one of the reasons they like working for Reid is he plays to their strengths.

“Coach Reid puts guys in position to be successful and do what they do well rather than trying to fit everybody into a box,” said Greg Lewis, who played for Reid with the Eagles and is now the Chiefs’ wide receivers coach. “He gives you opportunities. If your strength is speed, he puts you in position to utilize your speed. If your strength is blocking or doing something of that nature, he puts you in those positions rather than try to fit you into a box of something you’re not. He’s able to mesh all those different types of skill sets together so seamlessly.”

By all accounts, Reid isn’t a yeller or screamer. Former players remember him rarely getting angry, perhaps once per season.

“He’d make faces, groan, maybe bite his lip, say ‘Gosh darn it,'” former offensive lineman Jeff Allen said. “That’s when you knew he wasn’t happy. But that’s about as far as he would go, and it took a lot for him to get to that edge.”

Johnson said: “Andy is usually a calm speaker. When he starts talking fast, that’s when you know it’s time to pick it up. If you don’t, the next time he’s not going to be calm or talking fast. He’s going to be yelling.”

That doesn’t mean discipline is unimportant to Reid. He just finds a different way.

“Human nature says if you keep yelling at somebody, [he’s] going to turn you off,” Reid said. “The old saying, ‘Do unto others as you want done to you,’ I kind of do that. But at the same time I’m in a position where if your biorhythms are down, I’m going to crank them back up for you. There’s a time and a place for everything. I think staying positive and being real and honest with the guys is probably most important. I think it is with most humans.

“I believe in discipline. There are certain things you just need in this sport. … But at the same time, I believe you treat people like they’re people. I’ve done that since I’ve been in the business. That part hasn’t changed.”

Schwartz said: “He does a good job of connecting with players. He treats you like an adult. You put the work in, and he treats you with respect. He expects you do to your job, and he treats you as though you can do that. He’s not going to micromanage your whole day. He definitely micromanages how he teaches the offense. But he’s just not in your business the whole day.

“Before the game, we didn’t see the coaches in the locker room. They come in right before the game to talk to us, but we might get to the stadium two or three hours before the game and he’s not in your way, no other coaches are in your way. I’ve had teams with coaches that come in an hour before the game and they’ll be, ‘Hey, now, I was watching film last night and I saw this weird play [from the day’s opponent] on film from seven years ago, so just be on the lookout for that.’ Well, it’s game day. We had all week to get ready for that. We just wanted to be left alone to prepare for the game.

“He gave us space when we needed it. That plays into why everyone likes Andy Reid and how easy it is to play for a guy like that. Because you respect him and he respects you, you don’t want to let him down.”

Reid ‘undefeated’ when it comes to food



Chiefs coach Andy Reid reveals how a cheeseburger and a water cooler helped him celebrate winning his first Super Bowl in style.

Schwartz and others described their relationships with Reid more as peer-to-peer than player-to-coach. Players occasionally go to Reid for personal advice. One player once asked Reid which type of car he should buy.

Another way Reid reaches his players is through his love of food. That resonates with his players, particularly the larger ones.

Reid, in his first year with the Chiefs, returned to Philadelphia to coach his new team against his former one. After coaching the Eagles for 14 seasons, Reid knew a little about the local cuisine. He ordered out for the whole team the night before the game, the spread including local delicacies like cheesesteaks and crab fries.

“You could always get a Kansas City restaurant recommendation from him,” Allen said. “Any time. And they were good ones. He was undefeated there.”

Reid would occasionally offer the players advice about what time of day was best at various Kansas City barbecue restaurants to get burnt ends, a delicacy around town despite their unappetizing name.

“He was like, ‘4 o’clock at Jack Stack, 5 o’clock at Joe’s,'” said Schwartz, naming a couple of popular places in Kansas City. “He liked to eat. It was part of his way to relate to us. But it didn’t come off as fake. He didn’t come off as something other than who he was, and that’s something we all appreciated.

“Most coaches, it’s hard to have conversations with them. It just felt like you can always have a conversation with Andy.”

“He was like ‘4 o’clock at Jack Stack, 5 o’clock at Joe’s.’ He liked to eat. It was part of his way to relate to us. But it didn’t come off as fake. He didn’t come off as something other than who he was and that’s something we all appreciated.”

Geoff Schwartz on Andy Reid’s ability to find burnt ends and relate to his players

Reid’s relationships sometimes extend beyond a player’s time with the Chiefs. Allen played three seasons for Reid with the Chiefs before signing a free-agent contract with Houston.

Allen said the first person he heard from after an injury knocked him out of the Texans’ lineup was Reid.

Allen later returned to play with the Chiefs in parts of two seasons before retiring.

“We had conversations that were outside of football, about where I was personally,” Allen said. “Before I decided to retire, we had a conversation about it. We sat down and talked about what was best for me, and he supported me on that. I felt I could still play, but there were things in my life — injuries, life at home, my future.

“You don’t get his reputation just by being a good football coach. You also get it by being a good person.”

Allen then finished by summing up what many players feel about Reid.

“You don’t feel like you’re playing for Andy Reid,” he said. “You feel like you’re playing with him.”

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Chiefs without Patrick Mahomes still in capable hands of Chad Henne — just don’t ask about hashtags



KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Chiefs players Tyrann Mathieu and Chad Henne generally arrive early for work each day. During some of those mornings, the veteran defensive back got to know the backup quarterback well enough to come to the opinion that the Chiefs would be OK if they ever needed Henne’s help to win a game.

“There’s nothing for us to do but sit around and kind of shoot it,” Mathieu said of his early mornings with Henne. “He’s a great guy. One of the things I’ve really noticed about him is that he’s a true professional. He’s one of those guys that’s a true veteran that’s always ready. If you’re able to watch this guy every single day Monday through Saturday, he does the same routine as if he’s going to play that week.

“If you were able to kind of watch him in the last game of the regular season against the Chargers, you saw a guy that understood the offense. You saw a guy that knew where the ball was supposed to go, and he got it there.”

The game against the Chargers was meaningless, though, with the AFC’s No. 1 seed already locked up. Henne got a chance to prove himself with the Chiefs’ season on the line during Sunday’s divisional-round playoff game against the Cleveland Browns — and he delivered. With starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes ruled out because of a concussion, Henne gave the Chiefs clutch plays on back-to-back snaps that allowed his team to continue the game’s final drive and hold off the Browns 22-17.

Henne first scrambled for 13 yards on a third down, finishing with a headfirst dive in an effort to pick up a first down. He landed a yard short, but on fourth down he threw to Tyreek Hill for 5 yards to allow the Chiefs to convert and run out the clock.

After the game, Mahomes fired off a tweet that included the hashtag #HenneThingIsPossible, and that hashtag began trending. Another hashtag, #HenneGivenSunday, was also making the rounds.

Henne’s social media accounts don’t include Twitter, so he might not have known any of this if he hadn’t been told.

“I don’t think #HenneGivenSunday or #HenneThingIsPossible is going to show up on LinkedIn,” Henne said. “It’s great for [Mahomes] to have confidence. …

“Once I got in that huddle, everybody had confidence in me. They were pushing for me, had my back, and this is a great team. It’s a great opportunity to go out there and play with this team and come out with the victory.”

The pass to Hill wasn’t extraordinary. Henne took the shotgun snap, moved a few quick steps to his right and threw to an uncovered Hill in the flat. What was extraordinary is that coach Andy Reid had enough trust in a seldom-used backup quarterback to try to convert in such a situation, with less than two minutes left in the game.

“When you’re around him you just know,” Reid said when asked why he had that kind of trust in Henne. “Everybody has full confidence in him.

“I think we’ll all remember that, that run and the dive and then the throw.”

Henne hadn’t been asked by the Chiefs or any team to be a hero in a long time. Drafted in the second round in 2008 by the Miami Dolphins out of Michigan, his only start since 2014 — when he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars — had come in the meaningless Week 17 game this season. Sunday’s win was the first playoff appearance for the 35-year-old Henne in his 13 NFL seasons.

“I’m always a competitor, and throughout the years, if it went my way or didn’t go my way, I just felt like I loved the game still, loved being around the locker room, and especially coming here just enlightened me,” Henne said when asked why after all these years he has still chased the quarterback dream.

“Coach Reid and his staff and the players here just brought out a lot of me and especially Patrick. … He’s helped me out more than I felt like I helped him. It’s just a pleasure to be here, and this is why I play and I prepare each and every week to be the best me and just have fun with the guys.”

Tight end Travis Kelce said that, like Mathieu, he saw signs that Henne would come through when the Chiefs needed him.

“First of all, he’s a professional,” Kelce said. “He comes to work every single day knowing he’s just a snap away from calling plays and being out there leading us to victory. Second, he’s a competitor. That guy no matter what it is, he’s ready, he’s fired up and ready to go, and we love him for it.

“Sure enough, when he came in the game, nothing really changed. We still had the fire in us. We knew we could score points with Chad and we could move the ball down the field with Chad. The third down was obviously a gutsy play by [Henne]. Everybody knew he had that in him, to be able to put his body on the line for the team.”

Henne will be back on the bench for next Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Buffalo Bills if Mahomes clears the concussion protocols. But he’ll start the game if Mahomes isn’t ready.

Either way, he already has a place in his team’s success.

“To see Chad Henne scramble, try to get that first down, that’s all heart,” Mathieu said. “Those are the moments that lift teams. Those are the moments that build confidence.”

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Baker Mayfield’s ‘We’ll be back’ should be Browns’ offseason mantra – Cleveland Browns Blog



BEREA, Ohio – Baker Mayfield said it. Then his teammates began to tweet it.

“We will be back.”

Sunday in Kansas City, Cleveland’s magical run finally came to an end with a 22-17 loss to the defending Super Bowl champs. The Browns nearly pulled off the biggest postseason comeback in franchise history. But Cleveland couldn’t get one final stop to give Mayfield a last chance at a game-winning drive.

“It sucks because so many people have sacrificed so much during this process and this very strange season and overcome adversity,” Mayfield said. “But trying to find the positive out of it, we’re setting a new standard here. Everybody was saying it in the locker room. … That we will be back.”

Cleveland’s breakthrough 2020 season will be memorable for many reasons. The Browns finally snapped the NFL’s longest playoff drought, punching their ticket to the postseason for the first time in 18 years. Cleveland then won its first playoff game since 1994, while also snapping a 17-game losing streak in Pittsburgh, despite playing — and coaching — short-handed. And though the Browns couldn’t deliver the upset Sunday against top-seeded Kansas City, they proved they belonged.

Given what they have coming back, the Browns are not going anywhere anytime soon, either.

“Y’all have seen that we have a hell of a team all around,” defensive end Myles Garrett said. “We showed that we can go to the AFC Championship [Game]; we were just one play away. We just have to make that play. They were able to get it done. But I like our odds next year, just because we have a lot of guys here that are young — and we can keep getting better.”

Indeed, the contending window for these Browns appears to be wide open for the foreseeable future, with former No. 1 overall picks Mayfield and Garrett anchoring an enviable young core that’s now playoff-tested.

“It sucks when you come up short, but you get that taste of it and realize you learned lessons,” Mayfield said. “This is going to leave a bad taste. … But we’ve come a long way since I first got here. We’re not done yet, either, and that’s the best part.”

The best part, moving forward, is what the Browns now have at quarterback and head coach.

For two-plus decades, Cleveland meandered through losing seasons without long-term answers for either. Until Mayfield, the Browns cycled through 29 different starting quarterbacks since rejoining the NFL in 1999. They also tore through 11 different head coaches, including three in Mayfield’s first two seasons in the league.

Cleveland, however, finally hit a home run in hiring first-time head coach Kevin Stefanski, who could very well win NFL Coach of the Year after navigating the Browns to their best season in 26 years despite facing unprecedented obstacles related to COVID-19.

Under Stefanski, Mayfield enjoyed a resurgent season, while emphatically quashing any lingering doubt about whether he’s Cleveland’s franchise quarterback of the future. Mayfield finished the regular season ranked in the top 10 in the league QBR, then shined in his first two playoff appearances. In fact, from the first-quarter play Odell Beckham Jr. was injured on in Week 7 through the Browns’ two playoff games, Mayfield tossed 20 touchdown passes with just two interceptions.

“He fought like he always does. He rallied,” Stefanski said of Mayfield’s performance in Kansas City, which wasn’t perfect, but definitely valiant. “That’s what he has done all season long steering this ship, being out in front and leading this group.”

General manager Andrew Berry is likely to rubber-stamp Mayfield’s fifth-year option this offseason, and all signs point to Berry attempting to lock up Mayfield long-term, a year after doing the same with Garrett. Keeping Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb and cornerback Denzel Ward, also both extension-eligible this offseason, in Cleveland should be paramount for the Browns as well.

Though Cleveland has the goods to bring back the entire offense that started against Kansas City and ranked sixth in efficiency, the Browns will have decisions to make on a defense that struggled at times, even with Garrett and Ward.

Getting their last two second-round picks, cornerback Greedy Williams (shoulder) and safety Grant Delpit (Achilles), back to form after season-ending injuries suffered in training camp would help. But really, Cleveland could use a boost of talent at every level of the defense.

The Browns will enter the offseason with more than $20 million in cap space. And they’ll have the No. 26 overall pick in the NFL draft — to take place in Cleveland — to add another piece defensively.

“Each year is unique and different. Even among the best teams, there is turnover. There is high turnover year over year in the NFL,” Berry said last week. “But we think that we do have a pretty strong foundation in place with young players. That is something that we are looking forward to talking about and fortifying as we get into the offseason.”

Of course, whether that foundation includes Beckham will be the elephant in the room. There’s no avoiding how the Browns’ offense – and more to the point, Mayfield — excelled after Beckham’s season-ending knee injury Oct. 25. Then again, trading Beckham while he’s still rehabilitating could prove to be impracticable, especially with his $12.79 million base salary set to become fully guaranteed in March.

OBJ is still a fabulous talent, underscored by his three-touchdown performance in the Week 4 win over the Dallas Cowboys. But ultimately, Berry will have to decide if that talent — and contract — is a fit on this team going forward.

Either way, the Browns have many reasons to be bullish about the future. Mayfield, Garrett, Ward, Chubb, rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. and running back Kareem Hunt are all 25 or younger. The offensive line, which dominated the opposition this season, should return intact. Berry has cap flexibility to maneuver, as well.

The Browns should be back and primed to go even further.

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Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson urges fans not to protest on his behalf



HOUSTON — Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson on Monday asked fans who planned a protest on his behalf to cancel the event “for the sake of public safety.”

“Although I am humbled I ask that whoever is organizing the march cancel for the sake of public safety,” Watson said in a tweet. “Covid is spreading at a high rate & I don’t want any fans to unnecessarily expose themselves to infection.”

The protest appears to be related to Watson’s unhappiness with the team after the process it used to hire general manager Nick Caserio.

The event was organized on Saturday night by a Texans fan who tweeted, “I’m off Monday, I’m down to protest in front of NRG. If we get enough people to do these things change could happen.”

The event, first marketed as a protest but later changed to a “rally,” was planned for Monday at 11 a.m. local time. The plan was for Texans fans to eat at Lefty’s, the cheesesteak franchise of which Watson is a minority owner, and then walk a half-mile to NRG Stadium for a “peaceful protest.”

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