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Can Tyrann Mathieu’s passion drag the Kansas City Chiefs to the playoffs?

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tyrann Mathieu used the pause provided by a two-minute warning during the first half of a Week 6 win over Washington to voice his displeasure with the Kansas City Chiefs‘ defense. On the previous play, the Chiefs allowed Washington to convert on third-and-16 with a screen pass, and Mathieu used much of the ensuing break to remove his helmet and scream toward the Kansas City sideline.

Mathieu continued his tirade on the sideline later, shouting — apparently at no one individual in particular — after Washington finished the drive by scoring a touchdown when the Chiefs blew a coverage.

Even though his teammates were aware of the outbursts, some, at least, are unclear about what he said. That part didn’t matter. They saw Mathieu, as passionate a leader as the Chiefs have had in recent years, going off, and it was time for everyone to fall into line behind him.

“That’s our leader,” defensive lineman Tershawn Wharton said. “He’s going to voice his opinions and we’re going to go behind him. We’re not going to check out on him and he’s not going to check out on us.

“He’s a very emotional player. He loves what he does. He loves the game. That’s all it is. Every player voices things differently. We do love it. It’s just who he is.”

The Chiefs have been following Mathieu’s lead almost from the moment he arrived as a free agent in the spring of 2019. They followed him to the franchise’s first Super Bowl championship in 50 years that first season and to another Super Bowl last season, this one a defeat.

But if ever the Chiefs needed a leader like Mathieu, it’s now. A favorite to win the Super Bowl before the season, the Chiefs have unraveled quickly, mostly because of the consistently substandard play of their defense.

The Chiefs are at a crossroads. At 3-4, they head into Monday Night Football against the New York Giants at Arrowhead Stadium (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) badly in need of a victory. For this game and the nine others that remain on their schedule, the bigger-picture question seems to be: Can Mathieu’s considerable passion drag the Chiefs into the playoffs?

It’s a big task. The Chiefs entered Week 8 ranked 28th in the league in both points and yards allowed. The offense is last in turnovers with 17 — five more than any other NFL team — and managed to score only a field goal in last week’s lopsided loss to the Tennessee Titans.

That’s why, at this moment, it’s so crucial to have a player like Mathieu.

“When you have that energy, it’s infectious for the whole team,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “We know Tyrann loves football. He’s not mad because he’s blaming someone. He’s mad because he wants everyone to be great. I think that gets the best out of everybody. He knows how to get the best out of every single person on this team, offensively and defensively. When you see that Tyrann, usually good things happen for us.

“He holds himself accountable as much as anyone else. If he feels he’s not up to par, he’s going to step his game up and he’s going to expect everyone else to do the same. That’s why he’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around because he expects that every single play.”

Mathieu’s emotions have spilled into social media recently. Fans have been critical of the Chiefs, who were once the favorites to represent the AFC in this season’s Super Bowl. Few of the criticisms seem to have escaped the notice of Mathieu, who unlike a lot of players isn’t ignoring the comments or at least filtering his responses.

He has engaged with many of the people posting comments and went as far in a recent Instagram post to write about Chiefs fans in defending his teammates, “This might be one of the most toxic fan bases in all of sports.”

Mathieu later apologized, saying, “Obviously I’ve got to do a better job of dealing with the negativity.”

But the issue has been a distraction for the Chiefs, who need to put their energy into fixing a sizable pile of on-field problems that have so far prevented them from being the team they and their fans expected.

Coach Andy Reid rarely criticizes any player in public but this week addressed Mathieu’s comments on social media, saying Mathieu needed to do better in dealing with the fans.

The Chiefs knew they were getting an emotional and passionate player when Mathieu arrived. They signed him two years ago not just because he was a two-time first-team All-Pro and a versatile defensive back who could effectively fill a variety of roles from deep safety to nickel coverage. They also wanted a voice in their locker room for defensive players to follow, much as the offensive players have Mahomes.

The Chiefs made Mathieu the first piece of their 2019 defensive rebuild. The first thing general manager Brett Veach talked about after his signing was not his playing ability but his leadership skills.

“You can acquire as many great players, as many talented players, as you’d like,” Veach said. “But until you have a catalyst to make it go, things will never work out the way you want. [Mathieu] was the catalyst that we had to have.”

For his part, Mathieu embraced his role as one of the Chiefs’ leaders, along with Mahomes.

“I truly feel like they brought me here, obviously, to make plays, but to kind of set the tempo and set the energy in the building,” Mathieu said. “I’ve always been a team guy. I feel I can go into any locker room and fit in for the most part, really relate to most of the guys in the locker room. That’s all I tried to do here is come in, play my role, be a veteran and be a leader on the defensive side and just try my best to kind of bring the team together and keep the team together whether things are going good or bad.

“For me, it’s about obviously embracing the guys around me and believing in them, but knowing that there’s a certain direction we want to go in and everybody can’t lead you in that direction so a lot of the guys on our side of the ball, we have to really follow somebody in the right direction. Hopefully, I can lead those guys in that direction.”

Mathieu’s emotions haven’t often spilled onto the game-day field as they did in Washington. But it wasn’t the first time. He put his hands on his head in frustration during a couple of plays earlier this season on which the Chiefs got beat for a big pass play.

“You have guys who wear their hearts on their sleeves and just show it all,” safety Juan Thornhill said. “That’s the type of guy Tyrann is. No one looks at him like, ‘You need to calm down’ or anything like that.

“The dude just wants more out of the defense.”

Mathieu has said his emotions in Washington weren’t aimed at defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, his playcalling or a teammate, but were the result of general frustration over giving up a big play.

“Me and him, we’ve got a great relationship,” Mathieu said of Spagnuolo. “He knows me. He knows I’m never mad at my teammates or him. It’s more so the expectations. I want us to play how we practice.”

Mathieu and Spagnuolo had a conversation on the sideline after Washington’s touchdown, and Mathieu seemed to calm down after that.

Spagnuolo said having a player with Mathieu’s passion and willingness to lead was valuable in helping the Chiefs to their two Super Bowl berths and remains valuable at a time like this, when little is working well for the defense.

“He’s the glue,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s the guy that can get in the huddle in practice and say, ‘Hey, we need to step it up.’ You need guys like that. That stuff, I value as a coordinator. It makes my job a lot easier. When you’re a coach and you have a player like that, that helps.

“To get anything out of that kind of passion on game day, a lot of respect has to be built before that. Tyrann has that kind of respect from the rest of the guys. He knows exactly when he makes a mistake so I don’t really need to correct him. If you’re ever around him on Tuesday — that’s the day when we watch the film — he’s as hard on himself as he is anybody else. He might not crack a smile all day Tuesday if he made one mistake the previous Sunday. Sometimes I have to pull him out of that to get him ready for the next game. He’s like that. He’s hard on himself. He wants to be the best. He wants to be the greatest.”

And Mathieu isn’t going to back off now, with the Chiefs’ goals for the season seemingly hanging by a thread.

“They love it when I go crazy,” he said of his teammates. “I don’t know why but they love it. My coaches like it.

“A lot of guys, they feed off me. … I’m extremely prideful in what I do. I think a lot of guys take heed of that. They look up to that.”



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San Francisco 49ers WR Deebo Samuel, LB Fred Warner out 1-2 weeks, coach Kyle Shanahan says

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers breathed a collective sigh of relief Monday after receiving important injury news on two of their best players.

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday that receiver Deebo Samuel and linebacker Fred Warner suffered groin and hamstring strains, respectively, in San Francisco’s 34-26 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Vikings.

The bad news is that both will miss at least Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks. But Shanahan was more pleased by the fact that both players aren’t expected to miss more than a game or two as the 6-5 Niners make their push for an NFC playoff spot.

“That’s what I was kind of telling you guys last night that I hope for that it was just a strain,” Shanahan said. “And strains usually [last] anywhere from one to two weeks. I think it was very good news considering what it could have been.”

According to Shanahan, both Samuel and Warner could return as soon as the Dec. 12 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Barring a setback, both would be expected back in time for a Dec. 19 home game against the Atlanta Falcons.

While the Niners got relatively good news in the big picture, the loss of Samuel and Warner even for one week is significant.

Samuel has been the team’s most productive offensive player, establishing himself as the league’s premier multidimensional weapon.

On Sunday, Samuel became just the third player in NFL history to record 1,000 receiving yards, five rushing touchdowns and five receiving scores in the same season.

Without Samuel, the Niners will look to second-year receiver Brandon Aiyuk to continue building on his recent surge, as well as the likes of tight end George Kittle, wideout Jauan Jennings and a burgeoning running game.

“He’s been a big part of our offense,” Shanahan said. “But I think we’re in a spot right now that we can overcome that.”

Replacing Warner also won’t be easy, especially since it’s something the Niners haven’t had to do at any point in his three-plus seasons. When he misses Sunday’s game against the Seahawks, it will be the first contest Warner has missed since he came into the league in 2018, snapping a streak of 59 consecutive regular-season starts.

When Warner departed in the third quarter against the Vikings, the Niners turned to Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles to step in at middle linebacker with Azeez Al-Shaair remaining at weakside linebacker.

How that plays out this week will depend on the status of fellow linebacker Dre Greenlaw. Greenlaw also left Sunday’s game with what Shanahan described as an “irritation” of the core muscle injury that had kept him out since Week 1. Greenlaw is considered day-to-day this week.

And with strongside linebacker Marcell Harris in the concussion protocol, the 49ers figure to enter the Seattle game woefully thin at linebacker. That puts even more onus on Al-Shaair, who had an interception and a fumble recovery in the win against Minnesota.

“Azeez has been ready for anything we’ve asked him to do,” Shanahan said. “He always runs around and plays like his hair is on fire and he loves playing the football game. That’s not changing, but he’s just getting more and more confident of where to be, what to anticipate … He’s been playing at a high level all year and whether he’s inside or outside, I expect it to continue, we need it to continue, because he’s one of the reasons we’re playing pretty good right now.”

Elsewhere on the injury front, running back Trey Sermon suffered an ankle sprain that Shanahan said will keep him out “for a little while” and makes him a candidate to head to injured reserve with a chance to return later in the season.

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Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers not expected to have surgery to repair broken toe during bye week

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are expected to use rest — not surgery — to help the quarterback’s fractured pinkie toe heal.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Monday that Rodgers is “gathering other opinions, so we’ll see where that goes,” but a source said those opinions are not expected to lead to surgery during this week’s bye.

The Packers (9-3) are off until Dec. 12, when they’ll face the Chicago Bears in a Sunday night prime-time game.

“The most important thing is healing and taking care of my toe,” Rodgers said Sunday when asked about his bye-week plans.

NFL Network reported earlier on Monday that Rodgers does not plan to have surgery.

Rodgers said he fractured the toe during his COVID-19 quarantine earlier this month, and he has played in the past three games since with almost no on-field practice preparations.

The only full-fledged practice he took part in during that stretch was on Nov. 19, two days before the Packers’ loss at Minnesota. He said he received a pain-killing injection at halftime of the game against the Vikings but did not need one to play in Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Rams.

“The difference is I didn’t have to get shot up again at halftime, so definitely the healing this week not practicing [helped],” Rodgers said after he threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 36-28 win over the Rams.

“Last week, I tried to do some stuff on Friday, felt like we needed maybe a little jolt and that kind of impacted Sunday a little bit from a pain standpoint. This week, I just did a walk-through on Saturday and obviously all the walk-throughs during the week, but no practice time, I think really helped. It definitely helped looking at the scans. The healing, kind of get to a better spot, so I’ve definitely felt better, but third quarter, late third, early fourth and I got stepped on early in the game, there was definitely some pain I was dealing with.”

Rodgers even had a rushing touchdown on Sunday, beating Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey around the edge for a 1-yard score. In the past two games combined, Rodgers has thrown for 692 yards and six touchdowns without an interception.

He said after Sunday’s game that he would make a decision about surgery after additional tests on Monday.

“The toe felt good most of the game,” Rodgers said. “Was just actually in talking with the docs. Not sure at this point; we’re going to do some more testing in the morning and get a better view of what’s going on in there, and then make a decision at that time.”

LaFleur said previously that he would leave the decision up to Rodgers and the medical staff.

“I’m not involved in any of those decisions, so I just take any information and hear it,” LaFleur said. “I don’t have ‘M.D.’ after my name. So I’ll let them handle that.”

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Dallas Cowboys DT Trysten Hill suspended two games for punching Las Vegas Raiders OG John Simpson

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The NFL suspended Cowboys defensive tackle Trysten Hill without pay for two games on Monday for punching Raiders guard John Simpson following Dallas’ Thanksgiving Day loss to Las Vegas.

The suspension was issued by NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan for violations of unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct rules.

“After the Las Vegas Raiders-Dallas Cowboys game on November 25, you engaged in conduct that this office considers unnecessary roughness and displays a lack of sportsmanship. Specifically, as both teams were shaking hands, you waited more than 50 seconds for your opponent at the 50-yard line. When you located him, you then walked toward him in the opposite direction of your locker room. You both engaged in a verbal chest-to-chest confrontation which you escalated by throwing an open hand punch to his facemask, forcible enough to cause your opponent’s helmet to come off,” Runyan wrote in the letter to Hill.

Hill is appealing the suspension, a source told ESPN’s Todd Archer. Derrick Brooks or James Thrash, who are jointly appointed and paid by the NFL and the NFLPA, will issue a ruling on the appeal.

If Hill’s suspension stands, he would be eligible to return to the Cowboys’ active roster on Monday, Dec. 13. He would miss games against the New Orleans Saints this Thursday and against the Washington Football Team on Dec. 12.

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