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Joe Judge accepts blame for New York Giants’ struggles, says ‘the fish stinks from the head down’



EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Giants coach Joe Judge isn’t putting the blame elsewhere for his team’s 1-5 start — he’s looking right in the mirror.

“There’s your answer. I’m the head coach. It’s my responsibility, point blank,” Judge said Thursday. “Every player on this field, every position group, the execution, it all comes down to me. The fish stinks from the head down.

“I’ve been taught that from great guys who I worked for, played for. There are no excuses, no exceptions. You demand it from your coaches to make sure that the player are playing the right way. You demand it of the players to know what to do and then go out there to do it.

“But it starts with me and ends with me.”

The Giants have dropped their last two games and are coming off a 38-11 demolition last Sunday at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams. They’ve lost all three of their home games this season by a combined score of 82-38.

Judge, who is 7-15 since taking over as head coach, insists he’s not feeling the pressure.

“To me, the only time you really feel any kind of pressure and nerves is when you’re unprepared,” he said. “If you’re prepared and you go through the tasks and process at hand and you’re consistent with it, then you go in with confidence.

“That is what we preach to our guys. We come out here and practice every week, prepare a certain way every week. We have to go out there better and execute better to have the results that we want.”

Judge has vowed that the Giants, who spent big in free agency to upgrade the roster this offseason, will turn it around.

“This is definitely going to get better, so there you go,” Judge said earlier this week. “I don’t know what kind of guarantee [the fans] want, but I can assure everyone out there that’s a Giants fan and they want to know when it’s going to turn, I can tell them right now we’re working tirelessly to make sure we get this thing turned around in the right direction, not just for short-term results, but for long-term success.”

Turning around their season will not be easy for the banged-up Giants heading into their home matchup Sunday with the Carolina Panthers. Star running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) and wide receivers Kenny Golladay (knee) and Kadarius Toney (ankle) were not at practice again Thursday, while starting left tackle Andrew Thomas (foot/ankle) went on injured reserve earlier this week.

Judge said Barkley, Golladay and Toney “all made progress” on Wednesday, and the team would see if they can get on the field by Friday. It still seems highly unlikely any of Barkley, Golladay or Toney would play against the Panthers. Sources told ESPN earlier in the week it was “doubtful” that Barkley and Golladay, who both were out against the Rams, would be return this week.

Judge has refused to use the injuries as an excuse and has been adamant about focusing on the process and daily grind. It seems to have been well-received in the building.

“Joe’s our leader. We all look to our leader for strength. He’s done a hell of a job I think of keeping the team moving forward,” special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said.

McGaughey later added: “Joe is a tough guy. Joe is mentally tough and he’s doing a great job with our team as far as the leadership part of it. Keeps expressing to focus on the task at hand, and that is to win today. You don’t have a chance on Sunday if you don’t win today. So we’re focusing on right now being where our feet are.”

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Pittsburgh Steelers activate T.J. Watt off COVID-19 list ahead of Baltimore Ravens matchup



PITTSBURGH — Less than a week after he tested positive for COVID-19, Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list ahead of Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Watt tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday and exited the protocols with a second negative test Saturday morning.

Watt’s return is critical for a reeling defense that will already be without cornerback Joe Haden (foot). Defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs (ankle) and inside linebacker Robert Spillane (COVID-19) are also out, while defensive linemen Cam Heyward and Isaiahh Loudermilk missed practice Friday due to illness. Neither was given an injury designation in the final practice report, but the Steelers are monitoring each throughout the weekend.

Watt has 12.5 sacks on the season, second in the NFL behind only the Cleveland BrownsMyles Garrett (14.0).

Because he was isolated due to the league’s protocols, Watt wasn’t able to practice with the Steelers during the week, but he remained involved virtually and defensive coordinator Keith Butler said he prepared as if they would have Watt against the Ravens.

“I hope we have him, but we have to plan that we don’t have him,” Butler said Thursday. “We always have to do that. If we get him, it’s a benefit for us.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh also told reporters that he was planning for the Steelers to have Watt available.

The timing gave Watt an opportunity to further rest the knee and hip injuries suffered in a tie with the Detroit Lions on Nov. 14. Watt missed the loss to the Los Angeles Chargers with the injuries but returned the next week against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed one game after he tested positive for COVID-19, returning after seven days in the protocol. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ray-Ray McCloud also missed time on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and the Steelers still have two players — Spillane and offensive lineman Joe Haeg — in the protocol.

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Up three games, Tampa Bay Buccaneers in rare driver’s seat in NFC South but have ‘long way to go’ – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Blog



TAMPA, Fla. — With their road win over the Indianapolis Colts last week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers improved to 8-3 and grabbed a three-game lead in the NFC South for the first time since Week 13 in the 2007 season.

The Bucs have one remaining game against the Atlanta Falcons (Sunday), one against the New Orleans Saints (Dec. 19) and two against the Carolina Panthers (Dec. 26 and Jan. 9), but barring a meltdown, they should clinch the division, and maybe more, as they are currently the No. 3 seed in the NFC and tied for the second-best record in the NFL.

“I mean it’s either going to [be] you can lock it up or be in a dogfight all the way to the end,” coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday, while implying that this race isn’t over.

“The Saints have had a ton of injuries. We’ve had some injuries also. But there’s still a long way to go. The Saints are a hell of a football team. That defense — I’ll never cross them out. Carolina has played good and bad, and Atlanta is a game out of the playoffs. Three-game lead right now — we’ve got a long way to go.”

Here’s a closer look at what has happened in the division, starting with the Falcons, whom the Bucs defeated 48-25 in Week 2.

Atlanta Falcons (5-6)

The Bucs’ goal against Atlanta is to make them one dimensional, and that starts with stopping Cordarrelle Patterson, who’s enjoying a breakout season at age 30, averaging 91.1 yards from scrimmage per game — which is tied for 12th in the NFL through 12 weeks.

It’s also limiting rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, who has become a focal point of the Falcons’ offense since their first meeting in Week 2. His 661 receiving yards ranked third among tight ends through Week 12.

Quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown five interceptions in his past three games. On the season, he is averaging just 237.9 passing yards per game, his lowest since 2010. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who stepped away from the team to focus on his mental health, has not returned, so they’ve had to lean more heavily on Russell Gage as a No. 1 receiver. He scored his first touchdown since Week 7 last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Defensively, they’re still struggling to disrupt the quarterback. Dante Fowler leads the team with 3.5 sacks. Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones also missed the last game with a shoulder injury. Cornerback A.J. Terrell has shown growth from Year 1 to Year 2, but as a whole, the Falcons’ defense is giving up 27.5 points per game — second most in the NFL. Overall, they need more pieces.

New Orleans Saints (5-7)

While quarterback Trevor Siemian beat the Bucs in Week 8 after Jameis Winston went down with a torn ACL, he has been unable to replicate that magic since, going 0-4. His replacement, Taysom Hill, had a disastrous outing against the Dallas Cowboys during a Thursday Night Football loss, 27-17, when he threw four interceptions.

But it’s not just the quarterback position ravaged by injuries. The Saints were without defensive end Marcus Davenport, running back Alvin Kamara, left tackle Terron Armstead and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk on Thursday night, in addition to having wide receiver Michael Thomas and cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson on injured reserve.

Their defense — once considered one of the better defenses in the league — has taken a tumble, too. In the four games heading into Thursday, they had given up an average of 30.25 points per game, fifth most in the league, whereas in Weeks 1-8, they were surrendering 18.29 points per game, fourth best. Still, they’ve had the Bucs’ number, even with quarterback Tom Brady, outscoring them 128-83 in four games over the past two seasons (including the 2020 divisional playoff), which means they can never be counted out.

Carolina Panthers (5-7)

The Panthers started off 3-0 before a four-game losing streak. They did manage to upset the team with the best record (9-2) in the NFL in the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10.

Quarterback Sam Darnold went on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury after Week 9. The Panthers then started P.J. Walker against the Cardinals, before re-signing Cam Newton. Newton took over as the starter in Weeks 11 and 12, but he was then benched during the Week 12 loss to Washington after a poor start with Walker stepping in.

Their offensive line continues to struggle, giving up 31 sacks so far this season, tied for sixth most in the NFL. Running back Christian McCaffrey — the focal point of Carolina’s offense, even with all the speed they have at wide receiver — is out for the season with an ankle injury. The Panthers are 4-3 with him and 1-4 without him this year.

Defensively, they are giving up 21.08 yards per game — eighth in the league. But they did surrender 198 yards on the ground to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6, 190 against Washington in Week 11 and 151 to the New England Patriots in Week 9. They’ve also gotten to a point where coach Matt Rhule is benching healthy players, like defensive tackle Derrick Brown, their 2020 first-round draft pick, and an irate Brian Burns blew up at teammates on the sideline against Miami.

Cornerback Donte Jackson was also just placed on injured reserve because of a groin injury. They are using Stephon Gilmore — acquired midseason from the Patriots to help fill the shoes of injured first-round pick Jaycee Horn — more, but he’s working his way back from a quadriceps injury and has been primarily used on third downs.

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Eagles’ Jalen Hurts champions women empowerment for ‘My Cause, My Cleats’ – Philadelphia Eagles Blog



PHILADELPHIA — Inspired by the women in his life, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts is using the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative to advocate for women in sports and beyond.

“Women Empowerment” is written on one of the designer cleats for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, while the other shines a light on the Women’s Sports Foundation, which was created by Billie Jean King in 1974 “to advance the lives of women and girls through sports and physical activity.”

“I thought that was very important to show my support and play a role in equaling out the playing field for women in sports and women all around the world, really, when you talk about them being empowered to truly have equality in whatever field they choose to strive for,” Hurts said.

“My mom [Pamela], she raised me with high character and to do things the right way. She’s a counselor back home [in Houston, Texas] and that’s a perfect platform to impact the people around you, to impact kids around you. I have a sister [Kynnedy] that’s going to be a senior in high school next year and I know she has dreams and aspirations to do special things in her life, whatever it is. And I want her to know that she can do anything she puts her mind to, and know that her brother has her back.”

Hurts also noted that he has a female agent, Nicole Lynn, and marketing agent, Rachel Everett, when explaining why this was an important area of focus for him. It was Lynn who first informed the Women’s Sports Foundation that Hurts was planning on supporting their cause while at ESPN’s Women + Sports Summit. ESPN is a sponsor of the Women’s Sports Foundation.

“Having a male player put WSF on the cleats as part of this amazing initiative is pretty cool,” said WSF chief strategy and impact officer Olga Harvey.

This isn’t the first time the Women’s Sports Foundation has been featured during “My Cause, My Cleats” week. Washington Football Team assistant running backs coach Jennifer King wore them last year. King was the recipient of WSF’s Scott Pioli & Family Fund Grant in 2019 while she was a quality control coach at Dartmouth College, which helped to supplement her income as she climbed the coaching ladder.

“She benefitted directly from our advocacy for more women in the NFL,” Harvey said. “[Hurts wearing the cleats] in a way is an even bigger statement, and just really shows that male athletes are here to support women fight for equality and create opportunities.

“Just the fact that he has Nicole Lynn as his agent is a statement as well. For us, it shows that the rules society has created can be truly reimagined if everyone changed them one person at a time. That’s how you push for progress and ultimately inspire others. … And while it’s important for the Women’s Sports Foundation to advocate for girls and women, when male allies do so, fans take notice, brands take notice, media takes notice, and it creates a conversation that ultimately leads to progress that is so overdue.”

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