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Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Evans hopes to be closer to 100% against New Orleans Saints on Sunday

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TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans may have suffered a hyperextended left knee that forced him to head straight to the hospital for an MRI in Week 17, but the three-time Pro Bowler said he’s hopeful he can go into Sunday’s divisional playoff against the New Orleans Saints “closer to 100%.”

Evans gutted out a 119-yard performance in the Bucs’ wild-card win over Washington on Saturday.

“God is good,” Evans said. “I’m happy. I dodged a bullet there with the hyperextension. Training staff did a great job. Got a lot of rest. A lot of praying. And it worked out for me. I’m feeling fresher. Hopefully I can go into this game closer to 100%.”

Evans hyperextended his left knee just one play after becoming the first player in NFL history to record 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first seven seasons. Last year, Evans became just the second player to record 1,000 receiving yards in his first six seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss.

“It was painful,” Evans said. “I had a wide-open touchdown. I felt my leg slip a little bit, but I was just focused on the ball. I felt a pinch, but I was just trying to focus on catching the ball. It was tough. I didn’t make the play. And then I was upset with myself that I didn’t catch the ball, so I was just trying to walk off real fast and then I felt it, it was in pretty bad condition.”

He said quarterback Tom Brady came over to him right away, believing he knew what happened.

“He was like, ‘Did you hyperextend it?'” Evans said. “And I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what it was. But it was painful. The swelling has gone down tremendously.”

After the MRI revealed no structural damage, Evans did pool workouts. Then also used a “game-ready machine,” which combines compression and cold to help accelerate healing. He got treatment at the Bucs’ facility and Tom Brady’s TB12 Sports facility, before leading the Bucs to a franchise postseason-record 119 receiving yards against Washington. It was also the Bucs’ first playoff win since they won the Super Bowl after the 2002 season.

“It meant a lot. I haven’t been to the playoffs — it was my first time, first game in the playoffs. I was excited to play,” Evans said. “It just meant a lot to be out there and to try to make plays to help my team win. The goal is to do enough each week to play the next week, so that’s what we’re doing this week.”

None of it came as a surprise to fellow Pro Bowl wide receiver Chris Godwin, who has been a big brother and role model to Godwin since joining him in Tampa Bay in 2017.

“It was very impressive,” Godwin said. “Honestly, being here for four years now and seeing Mike work and seeing the kind of guy he is, I wasn’t particularly shocked. He’s a very tough guy, he’s a fierce competitor and I knew there wasn’t going to be much that was going to be able to stop him from playing in his first playoff game.”

While Evans didn’t have much time to soak up the achievement of making history and helping lead the Bucs to their first playoff appearance since 2007, he did hear from some eager well-wishers: NBA stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

“That’s awesome — I’ll never be too big to not appreciate that,” Evans said. “Like [those are] some of my childhood heroes and they’re paying homage and showing love to me. It means a lot.

“Randy — he didn’t reach out to me this time, [but] last year he did. He doesn’t have to. I know Randy — he’s a great guy, a hell of a player and one of the best to ever do it. It is an awesome record and I’m proud of it.”

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Everything is on table with QB spot

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears‘ never-ending search for a franchise quarterback could have another chapter after general manager Ryan Pace declined to say that the team intends to re-sign former second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky.

“As far as the plan at quarterback, to get to where we want to go, we definitely need more out of that position,” Pace said Wednesday after he and coach Matt Nagy were given a vote of confidence.

“Everything is on the table.”

Trubisky’s future in Chicago has been tenuous ever since the Bears traded for veteran Nick Foles last April and declined Trubisky’s fifth-year option a little over a month later.

Trubisky went on to win the starting job over Foles to open the season, but Nagy benched the 26-year old quarterback in favor of Foles in Week 3.

An injury to Foles — coupled with ineffective play — opened the door for Trubisky to return to the starting lineup in late November and he helped Chicago revive its playoff hopes with three straight wins versus Houston, Minnesota and Jacksonville.

The momentary spark Trubisky provided on offense proved fleeting. The Bears lost at home in Week 17 to Green Bay. Chicago backed into the playoffs and the NFC’s seventh seed courtesy of the Rams victory over the Cardinals in the regular season finale but then had a dreadful offensive performance in the playoffs versus the Saints.

Overall, the Bears dropped eight of their final 11 games after they began the year 5-1.

Chicago went 1-7 against playoff teams.

Still, Trubisky expressed a willingness to return to Chicago next season, telling reporters in the aftermath of the season-ending loss to New Orleans that he had, “unfinished business” with the team.

That may be so, but the Bears made no promises on Wednesday to extend Trubisky, or apply the franchise tag. Instead, Pace and Nagy spoke at length about the importance of improving the position that has been a problem for the Bears since Hall of Famer Sid Luckman retired in the 1940’s.

In recent times, Pace infamously traded up to draft Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in 2017. Mere weeks prior to obtaining Trubisky, the Bears signed free-agent quarterback Mike Glennon to a deal that included $18.5 million in guarantees. The Bears pulled the plug on Glennon after just four starts and were forced to prematurely usher in the Trubisky era.

“Why do we feel strong about getting that position right?” Pace said. “It goes back to the connected vision I share with Matt.

“I just have a lot of confidence in the unity we have as coaching staff and personnel department, but mainly that Matt and I have at attacking that together.”

Foles is the only Bears quarterback under contract for next year. The 31-year old veteran will count approximately $6.6 million against the 2021 salary cap.

In other news:

–Pace said star pass rusher Khalil Mack is unlikely to require offseason surgery to repair the shoulder injury that bothered him much of the year. Mack still led the Bears with nine sacks.

–The Bears are hopeful veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn can have a bounce back season in 2021. Quinn, who signed a deal last offseason that contained $30 million in guarantees, recorded just two sacks for the Bears. Pace all but conceded that Quinn will return in 2021 — largely because his salary next year is fully guaranteed.

“We expect him to rebound,” Pace said. “I think having an offseason being with us, I think that will bode well for him. Together with him and with us and our plan, we have to find a way to help him get more production and I believe that he will.”

–Nagy announced that the search to replace retiring defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will begin in earnest. Nagy does not believe Chicago’s current predicament will prevent outside parties from having interest in the position. Nagy has two years left on the five-year contract he received to coach the Bears. Pace has one year left on the three-year extension he signed in 2018. Bears CEO and president Ted Philips said neither Nagy nor Pace received any additional years on their contracts following Chicago’s 8-9 finish.

–Pace remained non-committal about the future of wide receiver Allen Robinson, who will be a free agent unless the Bears use the franchise tag. The Bears and Robinson’s agent were unable to come to terms on a long-term deal during the season and talks eventually broke off. Robinson, 27, led the team with 102 catches for 1,250 yards.

“You know how we feel about Allen, how respected he is in the building,” Pace said. “But to get into specifics on his contract, you guys also know I’m not going to get into that. In regard to the franchise tag, I would just say everything is on the table. The league gives us tools for a reason but right now we’re just going to keep all those talks internal out of respect to Allen, out of respect to his agent. I just think those are best handled in a private manner.”

–Nagy punted when asked whether he intended to reclaim offensive play-calling duties next season. Nagy insisted that offensive coordinator Bill Lazor served as the team’s primary play caller for the final eight games. Nagy, however, declined to say if he plans to carry over the arrangement into next year.

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Baltimore Ravens won’t back down from blitz against Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens don’t intend to change their blitz-heavy ways against Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who was among the best at handling pressure this season.

Heading into Saturday’s AFC divisional game, the Ravens have blitzed an NFL-high 41% of the time. Allen has thrived against the blitz, throwing a league-high 19 touchdown passes against pressure.

For some defenses, this could be cause for concern — but apparently not for Baltimore.

“He knows that there is going to be pressure, that’s for sure,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said Wednesday. “That’s who we are. That’s what we’ve done.”

Allen was named to his first Pro Bowl this season after becoming the first quarterback to surpass 4,500 yards passing, 35 touchdown passes and five rushing touchdowns in a single season. At 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, Allen has the ability to shake off pass-rushers and beat defenses with deep downfield passes.

In discussing Allen with his defensive coaching staff, Martindale described the challenge of facing the quarterback like this: “He’s a young Ben Roethlisberger because of his size and how he extends plays with [Dan] Marino’s arm.”

Allen had one of the worst games of his three-year career against Baltimore in December 2019, when the Bills lost to the Ravens 24-17. He was held to the second-lowest completion rate of his career (43.6%) on 17-of-39 passing and was sacked six times.

But Martindale raved about Allen’s improvement since that last matchup. Allen increased his accuracy dramatically this season, going from a 58.8% completion rate in 2019 to 69.2% this season.

“Usually when you evaluate a quarterback and he’s not accurate, it’s hard for them to shed that tag,” Martindale said. “What he’s done in the offseason and what he’s done this year is amazing to see. It’s accuracy on the move. It’s accuracy out of the pocket. Everything he’s done, he’s become more accurate with it.”

The difficulty with Allen is he can beat you with his legs and his arm. Allen has led the Bills in rushing in both of his playoff games. The only quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to lead their teams in rushing in three straight postseason games are Steve Young and Lamar Jackson.

A week after holding rushing champion Derrick Henry to a season-low 40 yards, Martindale said it is going to take a similar physical effort to slow down Allen.

“To me, tackling him … you better throw big bodies at him because he’s a big body,” Martindale said. “I told the defense earlier: ‘We need to tackle him like you tackle Henry because that’s the way he runs.’ He’s a tough challenge that we have.”

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Denver Broncos reach deal with Minnesota Vikings’ George Paton to be GM

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — John Elway and the Denver Broncos wanted George Paton to be the team’s new general manager so much, Paton was given a longer deal than Elway ever had in the same job.

Paton, who has spent the last 13 years with the Minnesota Vikings, has agreed to a six-year deal to be the Broncos’ general manager, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The Broncos announced Paton’s hiring but did not disclose terms.

Paton had spent most of Tuesday in Denver for what was a second interview for him with team officials, and had returned to Minnesota Tuesday night.

Elway had promised to find the “best candidate, the best person” for the job. The Broncos also interviewed New Orleans Saints assistant general manager Terry Fotenot, Chicago Bears assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly, the New England Patriots‘ Dave Ziegler and the Broncos’ director of college scouting Brian Stark.

“Early in this process, it became clear why George has been such a coveted GM candidate for so many years. He is a proven evaluator who knows every detail of leading football operations. With his experience in all aspects of the job — the college and pro sides, salary cap, trades, working with the head coach and bringing the staff together — George is more than ready to succeed in this role,” Elway said in a statement. “George has waited and worked for the right opportunity, which shows that he is smart and serious about winning. We’re thrilled to name George Paton as general manager of the Denver Broncos.”

Paton and Fotenot, who did his interview virtually because the Saints are still in the playoffs, were each interviewed a second time Tuesday.

Elway, who has been the Broncos’ top football decision maker since 2011, announced last week he was stepping away from the day-to-day personal operations, but would remain as president of football operations at least through the final year of his current contract.

Elway also said last week he didn’t think the team’s current ownership battle between Pat Bowlen’s children would impact the Broncos’ ability to secure what he believed would be a top candidate. Paton’s six-year deal would likely bridge any potential change in the team’s ownership in the coming years.

Paton has control over the team’s roster, free agency and the draft. The Broncos have missed the playoffs in five consecutive seasons since the Super Bowl 50 win and finished this past season 5-11.

The team faces contract option decisions on linebacker Von Miller and Kareem Jackson and Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons is scheduled to be among the team’s unrestricted free agents. A decision about the plan at quarterback also is among the front-burner issues for the Broncos.

The team has one of the youngest rosters in the league, enough salary cap room to participate in the open market and Elway and team president and CEO Joe Ellis each promised in recent days the new general manager would have “the resources” to make improvements.

“In many ways, I feel like this team is a sleeping giant. For me, it is the right place and the right time for this opportunity,” Paton said in a statement. “… While it is difficult to leave the Vikings, the relationships I enjoyed in Minnesota are for life.

Paton added: “… Drafting and developing players is the No. 1 priority. We will be aggressive — but not reckless — in adding talent to our roster.”

Paton has been particularly selective with general manager openings over the years. Last year following Kevin Stefanski’s departure for Cleveland, Paton was a finalist for the Cleveland Browns‘ general manager position but pulled his name from contention on Jan. 24, 2020, two days after he visited for an in-person interview.

Paton was also sought after for openings with Detroit — this cycle and previously when the Detroit Lions hired former GM Bob Quinn — Green Bay, San Francisco, the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Jets.

Paton is widely considered among the top talent evaluators on the Vikings’ personnel staff and his exit leaves Minnesota with a big void in the front office. Ryan Monnens, the current director of pro scouting, could be in line to replace Paton this offseason.

ESPN’s Courtney Cronin contributed to this report.

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