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Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur said decision to kick FG late ‘felt like right decision’

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Matt LaFleur said that while he did end up regretting his decision to take the ball out of Aaron Rodgers‘ hands and kick a field goal with 2:09 left in the Green Bay Packers‘ 31-26 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game, he trusted the thinking behind the move.

Down eight points (31-23) at the time and facing fourth-and-goal at the 8-yard line, LaFleur sent Mason Crosby in for a 26-yard field goal instead of giving Rodgers one more shot at the end zone (and then a two-point conversation attempt) to tie the game.

Rodgers never got the ball back thanks to Tom Brady and a pass interference call on Packers cornerback Kevin King that allowed the Bucs to run out the clock.

“Yeah anytime it doesn’t work out, you always regret it, right?” LaFleur said after the game. “It was just the circumstances of having three shots and coming away with no yards and knowing that you not only need the touchdown but you need the two-point [conversion]. The way I was looking at it was, we essentially had four timeouts with the 2-minute warning.

“We knew we needed to get a stop, and I thought we were going to have a stop there at the end but we got called for [defensive pass interference] and it didn’t work out. I think anytime something doesn’t work out, do you regret it? Sure, but we’re always going to be process-driven here and the way our defense was battling, the way our defense was playing, it felt like it was the right decision to do. It just didn’t work out.”

Rodgers understood the thinking but said “it wasn’t my decision” after the game. He said LaFleur gave him the option to call the previous play on third down — a play that resulted in a scramble and a throwaway where Rodgers might have been able to run it.

Rodgers said he might have called a different play if he knew LaFleur was going to opt for a field goal.

“I thought maybe we were gonna have four chances to go,” Rodgers said.

According to ESPN’s Win Probability model, the Packers had a 10% chance of winning by going for it on fourth down and a 9.5% chance of winning by kicking a field goal.

The model also suggested the Packers needed a 21% chance of converting to justify going for the touchdown there, with a league-average conversion rate in that spot at 23%. The Packers were the No. 1 scoring offense this season.

Earlier, LaFleur opted for a two-point conversation after Rodgers’ 2-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 24 seconds left in the fourth quarterback made it 28-23. Packers receiver Equanimeous St. Brown dropped Rodgers’ pass in the end zone. According to Walder, the failed 2-point try was the correct decision from an analytics standpoint.

However, by losing out on the one point they would have gotten for a made extra point, the Packers later found themselves in the position of being down 8 and thus needing a touchdown and a two-point conversation in the final minutes before their last field goal.

Although LaFleur wasn’t necessarily talking about the field goal decision, he said near the end of his news conference that he wasn’t on top of his game.

“I felt like we had plenty of opportunities tonight to take advantage of and get the job done,” LaFleur said. “We didn’t do it, and that falls on me, and that’s a tough pill to swallow when you’re responsible for everybody in this organization to make sure that you’re on your A-game, and I don’t feel like I was tonight. I’m just pretty disappointed that [I] let a lot of people down.”

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Ravens coach John Harbaugh pays the bill for entire seafood restaurant during a Baltimore charity event

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BALTIMORE — Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh scored big with fans, and the NFL season doesn’t kick off for another seven months.

Harbaugh quietly paid for everyone’s dinner at Jimmy’s Seafood Restaurant on Tuesday night. While Harbaugh wouldn’t reveal the exact amount, WJZ-TV in Baltimore reported the total bill was at least $2,000.

Harbaugh said the credit for paying for the meals goes to his wife. “It was 100 percent Ingrid’s idea,” Harbaugh told ESPN.

The winningest NFL coach in Baltimore football history, Harbaugh went to the popular seafood restaurant for a charity fundraiser. He took photos with every fan who asked him as well as the restaurant staff.

Before leaving, he secretly picked up the bill for all seven families eating there.

“[Restaurant owner] John Minadakis is the hero for the fun he’s doing for local businesses hit by the pandemic,” Harbaugh said.

Jimmy’s Seafood has raised more than $430,000 in an effort save Baltimore bars and restaurants struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Dez Bryant plans to play two more years, but it won’t be with Ravens after his six-game stint in Baltimore

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dez Bryant wants to play two more seasons but it apparently won’t be with the Baltimore Ravens.

In a series of tweets Tuesday night, Bryant explained why he never broke out of a limited role with the Ravens last season.

“I realized quick Baltimore wasn’t the place for me,” Bryant wrote. “No bad blood. That’s their way of doing things so you gotta respect it.”

Bryant, 32, returned after sitting out two seasons and totaled six catches for 47 yards and two touchdowns in six games with Baltimore.

A three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver during his time with the Dallas Cowboys, Bryant lacked explosiveness with Baltimore and never got consistently open. He finished as the No. 4 wide receiver for the league’s worst passing attack, ranking below Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin and Willie Snead on the depth chart. He managed a total of 129 snaps, or 21.5 per game.

Responding to a fan’s comment that he should’ve been given a better opportunity, Bryant wrote: “It’s hard. I’ve been off almost three years. I flashed my abilities to the point [Ravens coach John] Harbaugh asked was I ready to play because he thought I was ready …You have to learn the playbook …chemistry with the QB have to be on point.”

Asked if his chemistry was off with quarterback Lamar Jackson, “Our chemistry was good on and off the field. But it was guys there before me who understood the offensive concepts better than me. You can’t jeopardize that.”

Bryant became the second Pro Bowl wide receiver to miss two full seasons and return to the NFL since the 1970 merger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Josh Gordon was the first.

The Ravens first worked out Bryant in August, but he left without a contract because he was told to improve his conditioning. Baltimore brought him back and signed him to the practice squad on Oct. 28.

After being elevated off the practice squad twice, Bryant was signed to the 53-man roster on Nov. 28. He never eclipsed more than 28 yards receiving in a game and was held without a catch in the Ravens’ two playoff games.

“I wasn’t bothered about playing time,” Bryant wrote. “I enjoyed myself. I met some great teammates, guys I feel like I will be keeping in contact for a long time. I’m thankful for the opportunity Baltimore gave me.”

The Ravens weren’t expected to bring back Bryant. Upgrading the wide receiver group in free agency and the draft was considered one of Baltimore’s priorities.

Bryant, the No. 24 overall pick of the 2010 draft, played eight seasons for the Cowboys. In 113 games, he caught 531 passes for 7,459 yards and a Cowboys-record 73 touchdown catches before his release after the 2017 season.

When asked if he plans to play in 2021, Bryant wrote: “I plan on playing two more years and that’s it for me.”

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Alex Smith says his return put ‘wrench’ into Washington Football Team’s plans at QB

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Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith said his comeback threw a “wrench” into the team’s plans this season and that he didn’t feel wanted by the organization this summer.

Smith, the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year, told GQ Magazine that he surprised the organization by being able to play.

“They didn’t see it, didn’t want me there, didn’t want me to be a part of it, didn’t want me to be on the team, the roster, didn’t want to give me a chance,” Smith told the magazine. “Mind you, it was a whole new regime, they came in; I’m like the leftovers and I’m hurt and I’m this liability.

“Heck no, they didn’t want me there. At that point, as you can imagine, everything I’d been through, I couldn’t have cared less about all that. Whether you like it or not, I’m giving this a go at this point.”

Smith’s words call into question his desire to remain with the organization and how much frustration he still harbors. Washington is open to retaining Smith and building up more of the offense, but the team is also exploring other options at quarterback because of the question of whether Smith can remain healthy for a full season.

Smith has a $24.4 million cap hit and Washington would save $13.8 million if it released him.

“We’re still in a situation where we are looking at all of our options,” coach Ron Rivera said earlier this month.

Smith has not said for certain that he’s going to return, but sources told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that he wanted to continue playing. And Smith’s own words in multiple interviews strongly suggest that’s the case. He and Rivera had multiple conversations earlier this month, although neither has said much about them.

“I got more left,” Smith said in the GQ interview. “I got more to get there, too. So I really do really wanna get in the meat of this offseason and see where I’m at and push it. I want to push my body harder. I want to push my leg harder. The harder I push it, it does respond. At some point, I’m obviously going to have to sit down with my wife and have a very real conversation, and do we want to do this? She deserves a ton of input. So we’ll see.”

The team declined to respond to Smith’s comments.

In training camp, Rivera said he was going by what doctors told him about Smith’s recovery. Also, Washington was entering what it thought was going to be a rebuilding year and a 35-year-old quarterback in Smith’s situation, coming off a broken right tibia and fibula, did not mesh with trying to plan for the future. Rivera inherited a 3-13 team and wanted to see if second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins could develop into a long-term starter.

Washington wanted to place Smith on injured reserve before final cuts, which would have ended his season. That week, Smith and Rivera had a long meeting, and then Smith met the next day with Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner to convince them he should be on the roster.

The doubts were widespread. Smith admitted there was a “very small group” of people that thought he could do this. Multiple sources in the organization said after watching his documentary on ESPN that they didn’t think a doctor would clear him for contact.

Smith opened camp on the physically unable to perform list, although his personal doctors had cleared him to return. One of those doctors, Robin West, serves as Washington’s head orthopedist.

Slowly, their minds changed. Smith stayed on the PUP list until Aug. 16 as he was showing coaches that he was no longer injured and simply needed to test himself on the field. Still, there were sources close to him at the time who also wondered if Smith would be able to play — or to what level. His injury left him with drop foot, which cause his foot to drag at times. It also required special orthotics in his cleats.

Washington gradually had him do more in practices, but did not put him in 11-on-11 full-padded workouts until late in training camp — after he pressed the coaches to give him a chance.

“I felt like I still hadn’t had my fair shake at that point,” Smith told GQ. “I wanted to see if I could play quarterback and play football, and I feel like I hadn’t been given that opportunity yet to find that out. It’s like getting this close to the end line of a marathon and they’re telling you that you can’t finish the race. It’s like, f— that. I’m finishing this thing. At least I’m going to see if I can. So, I’m thankful we worked through all that stuff but no, it wasn’t like open arms coming back after two years.”

Smith was the No. 3 quarterback for the first four games but was elevated to No. 2 when Rivera benched Dwayne Haskins. Smith returned to the field after Kyle Allen suffered a concussion against the Los Angeles Rams and was sacked six times. Allen suffered a season-ending ankle injury three weeks later against the New York Giants, forcing Smith into the starting lineup the next week against the Detroit Lions.

Washington went 5-1 in games started by Smith. His stats were modest — he threw five touchdowns to five interceptions as a starter. It was six and eight, respectively, overall. But his impact was evident to a young team in need of on-field guidance. Smith was a near unanimous pick as the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.

Smith suffered a bone bruise on Dec. 13 and played only one more game, a division-title clinching win over Philadelphia in the regular-season finale. He lobbied hard to play in the wild-card playoff game against Tampa Bay, but Rivera opted for Taylor Heinicke, fearing that Smith’s lack of mobility with the lingering leg issue would result in problems vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ defense.

Whatever the coaches felt about Smith in August, their thoughts evolved as the season unfolded.

“When you see what Alex has gone through and just his desire and drive to get back and the joy and thrill he gets from playing, it’s been very inspirational for me to watch him,” Rivera said in December.

He also praised Smith’s leadership.

“There’s an intangible that some guys have and possess,” Rivera said. “Alex has it. Can it be replaced? Well, you’re going to have to find a guy that has those same types of intangibles. Those guys are special. They only come around every once in a while.”

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