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Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, Patriots’ Robert Kraft on their relationship, teams and more

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — With the Dallas Cowboys set to visit the New England Patriots on Sunday at Gillette Stadium (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS), the storylines are plentiful, starting right at the top.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Patriots owner Robert Kraft set the tone for their respective franchises.

They have nine Super Bowl championships — three for Jones and six for Kraft — between them.

Their teams are valued as the richest in the NFL by Forbes — the Cowboys at $6.5 billion, the Patriots at $5 billion.

And they are powerhouses when it comes to the NFL’s business — Jones known for his innovations in marketing, corporate sponsorships and stadium development; Kraft a major player in the league’s massive television deals and helping end the 2011 lockout, among other things.

In advance of their teams clashing on Sunday, both answered questions from ESPN.com about their connection with each other, their teams and how they view the NFL.

The requests to speak with Kraft and Jones were specific to their connection, and not anything relating to other league issues, such as Jon Gruden’s resignation as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders.


You came into the league five years apart (Jones in 1989, Kraft in 1994). What was the relationship like in the beginning?

Jones: “At the Atlanta Super Bowl [XXVIII], I invited him [and] he sat in the box with me at that game. I was very optimistic. Bob had come in a succession of owners that had really been challenged and I knew that he had really stepped up. He paid an amount [$175 million] that exceeded what I had paid [$140 million] for the Cowboys. I was very optimistic and positive about the future of the NFL, and I was proud to see him come in and make that kind of commitment. I felt like we were in similar shoes. I saw a lot of similarities to when I got involved with the Cowboys and so I really wanted him to have the benefit of anything I had learned in my first four, five years in the NFL. And he’s got a great personality. He’s real easy to befriend and talk to. We both had a common ground in how we were motivated and how we looked at the future of the NFL and our franchise. So it was easy to have that relationship.”

Kraft: “Jerry was one of the first owners to welcome me to the NFL. He was gracious enough to invite me to sit with him in his suite at the Super Bowl that year in Atlanta when the Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills. I was overwhelmed by the experience. I had been a 23-year season-ticket holder of the Patriots, and in that time, the Patriots had only hosted one playoff game, a game which we lost to the Houston Oilers in 1978. Just days after buying the Patriots, I was sitting in the owners suite at the Super Bowl with Jerry Jones and his guests. I had stardust in my eyes. It was a remarkable experience and certainly helped identify an organizational goal. Watching the Cowboys win that Super Bowl was an experience I wanted to share with all of New England.

“I was inheriting a team that was just a few years removed from 1-15 and 2-14 seasons. Jerry had a similar experience when he bought the Cowboys, going 1-15 his first year in the league. Yet, within five years, the Cowboys won back-to-back Super Bowls. I was facing a similar challenge of buying a franchise that had historically struggled. I wanted to turn the Patriots franchise around, and spending time with Jerry in my first few weeks as an owner in this league gave me reason to be optimistic that it could be done, and done quickly. I will always be grateful to Jerry for the way he treated me when I first came into the league. It meant a lot to me.”

How much do you communicate about league business?

Kraft: “When I bought the Patriots, I paid the highest price for a sports franchise at the time. When Jerry bought the Cowboys five years earlier, he introduced a new and aggressive way to market his team and maximize the revenue in his market. He shook the norm and changed the way NFL owners do business. The Patriots were last in the league in revenue when I bought the team. I was motivated to change that. And Jerry was blazing a trail for new owners like me to follow. I have always enjoyed talking with Jerry. He is passionate about his Cowboys and has great vision for building a brand. I have been on a number of league committees with him over the last three decades which have given us each ample opportunities to discuss league business and the future of the NFL.”

Jones: “We do a lot of communicating. We serve on committees together and through that we basically find ourselves mentally and actively working through league issues or league opportunities or league challenges. I might add to this that his son, Jon, and [Jones’ son] Stephen are uniquely acquainted and have a unique relationship. While they don’t necessarily approach it the same way, approach their contributions and activities with the franchise in the same way, they still enjoy the same — in my mind — stature with the team. That’s real productive and positive.”

Do you view each other as allies?

Jones: “We’re allies relative to the growth and future and challenges the league has. We’re more often than not aligned. You aren’t aligned on every issue, but certainly we are aligned on most issues in both visions of the team being in our families for generations to come. Now, it’s not a natural partnership to compete the way we compete, and that is there. And all the nuances that go with it — jealousies, competitiveness, all the things that you have when it’s your team and your city against the other guy’s team and the other guy’s city. Now that is alive and well with us. But to his credit, not mine, he has managed to work through the competitiveness and natural at-odds that you have; he’s managed to work through that and helped me get through it.”

Kraft: “The NFL is a funny business. Off the field, I view him as an ally. We are business partners who compete against each other in one of the most competitive industries in the world and we each have passionate fan bases. So, yes, as a business partner, he has been a great ally. He is one of the greatest salesmen I have ever known and has done a lot of great things with the revenue he has generated and reinvested in the Cowboys facilities and their brand. He is passionate about his team and that’s the kind of business partner you want. Someone who is invested in creating a brand in which we can all be proud to be associated.”

What do you appreciate the most about each other?

Kraft: “I love Jerry’s passion for the Cowboys and his overall enthusiasm in everything he does. Like I said before, he is simply one of the greatest salespeople God has put on this planet. There are times that I don’t even know what he is saying, yet he is so enthusiastic and speaks with such conviction that you end up believing whatever he is selling. He can be a real charmer and very persuasive in getting what he wants. They are characteristics that have worked very well for him and for the Cowboys his entire career.”

Jones: “Bob has unique communication skills. Very effective communication skills. He’s matter-of-fact. I had a guy tell me that at Columbia he was voted most likely to succeed. He’s very talented in that respect. And he is a very intense person with an engaging outer surface. That kind of combination is very effective.”

What are some similarities in how you operate?

Jones: “We love the game. At the end of it, we love football. And he does, too. I think that is the genesis. Secondly, we’re so passionate. We are very passionate and want to do everything we can for the Patriots, the Cowboys or the NFL. We understand that it’s the NFL that makes it possible for the Cowboys, for the Patriots, to be what they can be. Without the competition, without the other teams and the viability of the other teams, it couldn’t happen. And so he has an outstanding feel for this and makes decisions and tries to inform decisions accordingly.”

Kraft: “I am very fortunate to be able to involve my sons in my family businesses, including the Patriots. I get to see them and spend time with them every day. And they each have done tremendous work. I know Jerry feels the same way about the opportunities the Cowboys have presented him to involve Charlotte, Stephen and Jerry Jr. It is a real blessing that neither of us take for granted. It’s one more example of the things that Jerry and I have in common. Each of those examples help strengthen our relationship.”

What are your thoughts on NFL business and where it stands today?

Kraft: “The NFL is as strong as it has ever been and it continues to have a very bright future. The recent collective bargaining agreement provided us the foundation in which to negotiate long-term, record-breaking media agreements with traditional broadcasting rights as well as streaming opportunities that we know will grow our audiences, both nationally and internationally. That benefits everyone. Technology is allowing us to reach fans in new and creative ways that were never imagined before. It is an exciting time to be a part of the NFL and to explore the potential growth of the league.”

Jones: “Since I’ve been in the NFL with where we’re at, you could make a case that we’re in our finest hour. And that has to do with how, frankly, we have handled ourselves with COVID, and you can start right there since it’s front of mind. I think the interest in our game, it manifests itself in people that watch us on TV and digital and all the mediums there are out there today. When you look at years past and look at the stadiums we have, starting with the most recent ones in Los Angeles and Las Vegas; when I look at where we are with the quality of the athletes, the game itself; I haven’t been here with a better time than what we have right now.”

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From Tua Tagovailoa to Xavien Howard, big decisions await new Dolphins coach – Miami Dolphins Blog

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MIAMI — After firing Brian Flores on Monday, the Miami Dolphins are one of eight teams in the market for a new head coach this offseason.

Under owner Stephen Ross, the Dolphins have employed four head coaches, none of whom had held that position before. When asked about his hiring plans, Ross shot down the notion that he wants to hire current University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh but was noncommittal about whether he prefers an experienced head coach or another upstart assistant.

“You know, certainly having the experience always helps,” Ross said. “But if we find somebody that’s exceptional, that’s been a coordinator or some other position in football, I strongly will look at that very seriously. Our mind is open.”

No matter who stalks the sideline for the Dolphins next season, there are several big moves that need to be made between now and September.

Howard, a cornerback with a combined 15 interceptions over the past two seasons, is the Dolphins’ best player and there’s not much argument against it. He requested a trade last offseason before the team reworked his contract to give him more money in 2021, but if he’s not satisfied with his contract it’s in Miami’s best interest to work things out with him again.

Asked before the season finale how he feels about his future with the organization, Howard said: “Until somebody says something, I’m a Miami Dolphin.”

Byron Jones will have the third-highest base salary ($14.4 million) of any cornerback in the NFL next season according to Spotrac and gives Miami a good starter to anchor the secondary if it can’t keep Howard, but the team’s new coach must decide just how important Howard, a three-time Pro Bowler, is to his defensive scheme.

The same logic goes for Ogbah, a defensive end who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and has 18 sacks in two seasons with the Dolphins. Spotrac estimates his market value at $10 million a year, which the Dolphins can easily afford with roughly $70 million in salary-cap space.

Gesicki, a tight end, seems like a no-brainer to keep as the second best pass-catching option on an offense starving for playmakers behind rookie receiver Jaylen Waddle (104 catches). Gesicki’s production slowed a bit down the stretch, but he still recorded career highs in receptions (73), targets (112) and receiving yards (780) in 2021.

Miami could also turn to Durham Smythe, who is an unrestricted free agent and would come at a much lower price point, or see what it has in 2021 third-round pick Hunter Long. But Gesicki is the best option of the three and pass-catchers are at a premium on this roster.

Figure out an offensive identity

It begins with putting together an offensive staff. This was Flores’ Achilles’ heel during his three-year tenure as he had four offensive coordinators, four offensive line coaches and three quarterback coaches. The coaching turnover contributed to offense ranked 27th overall (’19), 22nd (’20) and 25th (’21), respectively.

If Ross and general manager Chris Grier hire an offensive-minded head coach, that task gets a little easier. If they opt for someone with a defensive background, that coach must hire someone experienced as an offensive coordinator. Miami’s defense, which ranked 15th overall after dominating down the stretch, is playoff-caliber. The other side of the ball needs to catch up while the window is open.

From there, Miami’s new coach must work with Grier to add an influx of talent on offense.

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Paul Finebaum and Keyshawn Johnson break down why the Dolphins will move on from Tua Tagovailoa if a better option at quarterback comes up.

Ross insisted that Tagovailoa “played no role” in his decision to fire Flores, but made an interesting comment when asked what he expects from Miami’s next coach.

“I have a lot of confidence in Tua and I think you know, the next head coach will work with him or whoever else,” Ross said. “But I have a lot of confidence in [Tagovailoa]. I watched him grow. I think he’s a fine young man and he is right now the quarterback and that will be dependent upon the new head coach.”

Right now.

Seems like a hollow endorsement for the former No. 5 overall pick. Tagovailoa’s 2021 season was inconsistent — he was 7-5 as a starter with 16 TD passes and 10 interceptions — and marred by injuries, but he flashed enough to warrant another year of evaluation. The Dolphins’ new coach must figure out if Tagovailoa fits into his future plans.

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Steadiness of Andy Reid righted the Kansas City Chiefs’ season

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The losses were piling up early in the season for the Kansas City Chiefs in a way they shouldn’t for a two-time defending AFC champion with a reasonable preseason goal of playing in a third straight Super Bowl.

The Chiefs lost to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2 after leading by 11 points in the fourth quarter. They lost to the Los Angeles Chargers the next week after committing four turnovers. They lost to the Buffalo Bills by 18 points in Week 5. They lost to the Tennessee Titans in Week 7 after scoring three points, their lowest total since Patrick Mahomes became their starting quarterback in 2018.

If there was ever a time for panic, for serious intervention by the head coach, for change for change’s sake, this was it. The Chiefs were 3-4 and merely making the playoffs — much less winning a few games once there — looked unlikely.

But every day at the Chiefs’ practice facility was much like the one before it, much like the ones from years past. They gather to practice and meet and work out solutions to their many on-field issues.

There was no yelling, screaming or drama of any kind coming from the office of coach Andy Reid. He didn’t cut any of the Chiefs’ several underperforming players. He didn’t even threaten it. He didn’t order the Chiefs to put on the pads and hit at practice.

The decisions he made weren’t ones of emotion or filled with drama. They were executed after some thought, because win or lose, that is Reid’s way.

Reid’s steady approach seems vindicated. After that 3-4 start, the Chiefs rallied to win eight straight games and claim their sixth consecutive AFC West championship. They finished the regular season at 12-5 and will open the playoffs as the AFC’s No. 2 seed on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC).

“He knows exactly what he wants to do and where he wants to go and how he wants to get there,” said Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, an assistant to Reid for 11 years. “He’s known that from the beginning. He’s rock solid. That’s the best term I can use. Rock solid. Always has been, remarkably so.

“Andy never stopped trusting in us: myself, the other assistant coaches, the scheme. Did he come in with suggestions? Sure. Always. That’s what a head coach does. But he’s not forcing anything on you. He believes in the people he has around him and then he lets us do our job, players and coaches.”

Reid doesn’t scream

It’s not the first time Reid’s patient approach has helped the Chiefs turn a season in the right direction. In 2015, the Chiefs were 1-5 and seemingly headed nowhere.

They won their final 10 games to make the postseason and then added an 11th straight victory as the Chiefs won in the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.

Reid coached the Eagles for 14 seasons and his calming approach in Philadelphia was one reason Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt brought him to Kansas City nine years ago. When Reid arrived, the Chiefs had a recent history of volatile head coaches, including one, Todd Haley, who fired an offensive coordinator during the preseason.

“Andy, regardless of how the prior week has gone, is always the same coach,” Hunt said recently. “I think that consistency is very important to the team, particularly when you’re going through a difficult period. As I reflected on it, I thought about the long career that Andy’s had and he’s certainly had seasons where his teams had struggled early in the season and then been able to turn it around.

“It reminded me how lucky we are to have Andy and his experience in a situation like that.”

Reid said that in 23 seasons as an NFL head coach, he must have made an emotional decision during a down time at some point. But he couldn’t recall a specific instance, not even this year. He said he couldn’t remember so much as yelling at an underachieving team or player.

“Human nature says if you keep yelling at somebody, [he’s] going to turn you off,” Reid said. “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.

“I’ve tried to be real, as honest with the guys as best I can. If you’re not consistent with how you go about it, players aren’t going to trust you. … I’m not going to be all over the place with them.”

Many players, including former offensive lineman Jeff Allen, said they couldn’t remember Reid ever raising his voice.

“He’d make faces, groan, maybe bite his lip, say, ‘Gosh darn it,'” 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.”

‘Coach has gone through some really hard times’

Reid began this season bearing the strain of how the previous one ended and perhaps his steadiness has never been more important. Three days before the Chiefs were to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV last year, Reid’s son, Britt — then-Chiefs linebackers coach — was involved in a car crash that critically injured a young girl not far from the team’s facility.

Britt Reid was later charged with driving while intoxicated, a felony. The Jackson County, Missouri, prosecutor’s office said the younger Reid “operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, and acted with criminal negligence by driving at an excessive rate of speed.”

The Chiefs lost the Super Bowl 31-9, the 22-point margin their largest with Mahomes as their quarterback at the time.

Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said since then he’s had hours-long conversations with Reid in which the subjects of football, the Chiefs or their roster never surfaced.

“He’s human, too,” Veach said. “It’s not like he’s this cartoon character who never flinches. There are days when you’ll know that he needs a phone call, when he wants to talk about stuff other than football.

“He’s had his good days and his bad days, but he’s super-resilient. He never changed who he is and what he’s about to appease anybody. He’s always been real and authentic. He is who he is every day.”

Reid has faced family tragedy before. In 2012, Reid’s last season with the Eagles, his son Garrett died of an accidental drug overdose. He was 29.

“Let’s face it, Coach has gone through some really hard times going back to when he was in Philly,” Spagnuolo said. “Yet you can’t see that in him. I don’t know how he does it. But it’s a calming and reinforcing and encouraging aspect to players and coaches because you can always bank on that. It’s hard to do this job when you’re dealing with moody people, when you don’t know what you’re going to get every day. That’s not Andy.”

‘It’s the way he interacts with players’

If Reid had been looking early in the season to make an example of a player, he had the perfect target in safety Daniel Sorensen. Sorensen began the season as a starter but was hurting the Chiefs by missing tackles and allowing big pass plays.

Reid stuck with Sorensen as a starter until Week 6, when he was replaced by Juan Thornhill. But Sorensen kept a lot of playing time in passing situations and eventually made several big plays that helped the Chiefs turn their season around.

Since becoming a part-timer, Sorensen has a pair of interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. He broke up a pass at the goal line at the end of the first half to prevent a touchdown during a Week 14 overtime win over the Chargers, a victory that gave the Chiefs a big advantage in the AFC West race.

“He’s a good player and he has a role on that defense,” Reid said on why he wouldn’t give up on Sorensen earlier in the season. “Everything’s not going to go perfect. We understand that.

“He trusted himself. He trusted the coaches. He trusted the scheme and the guys around him. That’s not always the case.”

Spagnuolo wouldn’t go into detail on his discussions with Reid about Sorensen other than to say that the coach never pressured him to bench any player.

“If you make a decision about which players to put in the lineup, you can’t panic at the first sign of trouble,” Spagnuolo said. “If you believe in who you have and what you’re doing, you’ve got to let it play itself out. Now there comes a point where you’ve got to do something different if things don’t change. But I don’t think it comes after game one or game two or mistake one or mistake two, and Andy is in agreement on that.

“You don’t hear Andy ever say, ‘We’ve got to make some changes because what we’re doing isn’t working.’ What does he say? Usually it comes back to fundamentals. Even when we had the tough stretch here this season it was all about the fundamentals and taking care of the little things. Once we do that, the big things would follow.”

Reid’s steady approach has taken some by surprise. Katie Sowers worked as an assistant coach for the Chiefs last summer at training camp through an NFL diversity program after working for the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers.

Sowers tweeted shortly before her time with the Chiefs ended that she was “learning from the best to ever do it.”

“There’s not one thing he does specifically,” Sowers said later in an interview. “It’s the way he interacts with players on a daily basis and the consistency you see in the way he communicates with all of his players. It’s in the everyday things, the small things. It’s the tone of his voice. It’s the way he looks at you. It’s just those things that let you know this is a true leader that knows how to lead people.

“I always got the idea that he felt that there’s more to life than just a score at the end of a game, the win and the loss. Obviously, winning is extremely important but you can tell the way he coaches he puts purpose behind these young men. One day, their careers are going to end and he knows how valuable their life is after the NFL.”

Wide receiver Josh Gordon‘s first game with the Chiefs was the 18-point loss to the Bills, a defeat that dropped them to 2-3. The Chiefs are Gordon’s fourth NFL team and he said he was surprised by the relaxed atmosphere when things weren’t going well.

“I’ve noticed Coach Reid has allowed the players to act in ways that are very genuine,” said Gordon, who has gotten a chance with the Chiefs after serving eight suspensions for offenses related to drugs and alcohol. “He always talks about us showing our character. [In] other places, that’s not always the case. So I definitely appreciate him for that because it allows players to be their best selves.”

Reid has always been that way, win or lose. Nothing changes regardless of his team’s record, and while disappointed, he didn’t appear discouraged by the Chiefs’ unexpectedly slow start to the season.

In fact, during his weekly meetings with Hunt, he predicted the Chiefs would turn their season around.

“He kept reminding me that we were not that far off, whether it was the offensive side of the ball or the defensive side of the ball and that the team was working really hard during the week, which he was encouraged by,” Hunt said. “He saw the guys wanting to get better, wanting to get it turned around and felt that they would.”



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Los Angeles Rams QB Matthew Stafford say toe OK; not feeling pressure to win first playoff game

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Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford says his toe is doing OK and shouldn’t impact him in Monday night’s wild-card playoff game against the visiting Arizona Cardinals.

And no, you can’t see it.

Stafford took a friendly dig at Aaron Rodgers during his weekly media session Thursday, a moment of levity amid weightier questions about the quarterback trying to win a playoff game for the first time in his 13-year NFL career.

Stafford said his toe was landed on awkwardly late last Sunday as the NFC West champion Rams lost 27-24 to the San Francisco 49ers.

“But it’s doing OK,” he said. “I’ll be out there. I’ll be good to go.”

The Rodgers joke came when Stafford was asked whether his toe will impact how he steps into throws. The Green Bay Packers quarterback presented his bare foot to reporters during a Zoom session in November as proof he didn’t have “COVID toe” but a fracture instead.

“No, I don’t think so,” Stafford said. “I think I should be feeling really good on Monday. I’d show it to you but I don’t want to do that. That’s for other guys to do. I’ll keep my toes to myself in this one. But it’s doing good. I should be all right.”

The Rams listed Stafford as a full participant on Thursday, though that was an estimation as they held a walk-through.

Stafford was asked how much he feels as though he needs to prove himself, having not won a playoff game yet. He lost in all three of his appearances while with the Detroit Lions.

“Every time I step on the field I’m proving myself, whether it’s a preseason game or a regular-season game, practice, a playoff game,” he said. “I want to go out there and play well. This is just another opportunity to do that.”

Stafford said the pressure isn’t any different in Los Angeles compared to Detroit. The expectations might be greater, however, given how much the Rams have loaded up their roster in a bid to win Super Bowl LVI on their home field.

That included last offseason’s trade for Stafford, who delivered a typically prolific regular season with 4,886 yards (third in the NFL) and a career-high-tying 41 touchdown passes (second) over 17 games. His 17 interceptions were tied for most in the league with rookie Trevor Lawrence, however. He tossed seven interceptions over the final three games and lost a fumble in that stretch.

“I love the competitiveness, the way we win that division, win 12 games with him, the standards that he has for himself,” coach Sean McVay said. “One of the best things I love the most about this guy is the first thing he’s going to do is take extreme ownership and accountability for the things he can do better. I think there’s an occupational hazard with some of the turnovers as a competitor. They certainly don’t all fall on him. But the answer is yes, I’m very pleased with him.

“Looking forward to playing very clean ball in the postseason, trusting his teammates, playing the way that he’s capable of, and if he just plays within himself, I trust really good things will happen for this team.”

McVay said he doesn’t think the 33-year-old Stafford needs to prove he can win a playoff game.

“I think that he’s got an established résumé,” McVay said. “I think that’s something you want to be able to do. He was instrumental in leading us to our first divisional title that we’ve had since ’18 and that’s a big deal, but now it’s the next step. But I think his body of work speaks for itself and I don’t think you can just confine it into, ‘Oh he hasn’t won a playoff game.'”

Stafford’s playoff losses came after the 2011 (at New Orleans), 2014 (at Dallas) and 2016 (at Seattle) seasons. McVay noted that the Cowboys game might have gone differently if not for a controversial call. Detroit was ahead by three points midway through the fourth quarter when officials flagged Dallas for pass interference on third down only to reverse the call, leading to a Detroit punt and an eventual blown lead.

“It was a bad call that I’m probably going to get fined for even mentioning,” McVay said. “In all seriousness, here’s what’s crazy about this game — the narrative is that, but more than likely, if that call isn’t made, he probably has won a playoff game and it’s like, did he really play any differently as a result of that?”

McVay said cornerback Darious Williams will be good to go Monday night despite his shoulder injury. The team listed its starter opposite Jalen Ramsey as a full participant Thursday. Safety Taylor Rapp is making good progress, per McVay, but remains sidelined while in concussion protocol.

Rapp’s concussion and fellow safety Jordan Fuller’s season-ending ankle injury led the Rams to bring 37-year-old Eric Weddle out of his two-year retirement this week and sign him to their practice squad. McVay said his exact role is still to be determined, but Weddle left no doubt that he expects to play Monday and said he wouldn’t be here otherwise.

“Once you play as long as I did, football becomes who are,” he said. “So even though I haven’t been playing football, I still train like I’m playing football even though it was never even a remote possibility ever over the last year and a half because I was pretty much set in my decision and very happy. This is by no means me having an itch or anything like that; it was just an opportunity of a lifetime, quite honestly.”

Weddle has remained close with McVay and is a longtime friend of Raheem Morris, who is in his first season as the Rams’ defensive coordinator. When Weddle saw a text from Morris earlier this week, he thought the DC was hitting him up for intel on the Cardinals.

“Then the conversation started to happen and he’s like, ‘You’re not fat and out of shape, are ya?'” Weddle said. “As soon as he said that, I knew what was coming next.”

Weddle, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, last played in the Rams’ 2019 regular-season finale. Monday will mark 750 days since then. He acknowledged that his timing and tackling could be rusty but said he feels “amazing” physically.

“Obviously training for an NFL season is unlike anything else,” he said. “You can’t get that outside by yourself. And I’m not saying I’m on that level, but I have done things both training-wise and playing five-on-five once or twice a week. I love basketball and that change of direction, jumping, start and stop. I came out yesterday and ran and lifted and it was as if I had been here all season. I’m not going to say I’m at that level. That discredits every NFL player that’s spent the time and effort. But if I didn’t feel like I can go out there and be what I’m expected to be, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”

Running back Cam Akers was not listed on the Rams’ practice report, indicating he was a full participant. Akers played 13 snaps last week in his first game back from the Achilles tear he suffered over the summer. He gained 13 yards on eight touches against the 49ers.

“I do feel like I’m 100 percent, but me saying that probably don’t make you believe it,” he said. “I’d just rather go play ball, just go show people that you’re 100 percent. Not show myself because I already know. Just go out there and make plays.”

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