Chargers lead Pro Bowl selections with 7 players
Wednesday, December 19
NEW YORK (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers placed seven players in the Pro Bowl, including safety Derwin James, one of six rookies across the league to make the game.
James, a first-round draft choice, will be joined on the AFC squad by veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, wide receiver Keenan Allen, running back Melvin Gordon, defensive end Melvin Ingram, center Mike Pouncey and special-teamer Adrian Phillips for the game, which will be played Jan. 27 in Orlando. James and Phillips are the only starters, though.
Rivers is a backup to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, one of 29 first-time Pro Bowlers. That, of course, includes all the rookies: James, Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Seahawks punter Michael Dickson, Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay, Indianapolis guard Quenton Nelson and Cleveland cornerback Denzel Wads. Lindsay is an undrafted player.
New England’s Tom Brady is the other AFC quarterback, making it for the 14th time. Noticeably missing is the Colts’ Andrew Luck.
New Orleans, led by quarterback Drew Brees, Dallas and Chicago paced the NFC with five players each. Brees is the starter, backed up by Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and the Rams’ Jared Goff.
Buffalo, Oakland and Tampa Bay had no Pro Bowl selections.
Pittsburgh and Kansas City each had six players chosen, including such first-timers as Steelers running back James Conner and Mahomes, both having breakthrough years.
Cleveland has a first overall draft choice in the game — not Baker Mayfield, but 2017 top pick Myles Garrett at defensive end.
“Football is a team game and you can’t do it on your own,” said Garrett, who leads the Browns with 12½ sacks. “I’m happy to be able to share this experience with Denzel because this honor is really a testament to our entire defense.”
Among the perennial AFC choices returning to the game are Houston DE J.J. Watt, Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown, Baltimore guard Marshal Yanda and safety Eric Weddle, Cincinnati DT Geno Atkins and Denver LB Von Miller.
“To get recognized by your peers, the coaches and the fans, it means a lot,” Weddle said. “It’s always special to put in the hard work and to try your best and then get recognized. The Pro Bowl is something I never take for granted, and I’m pretty stoked about it. Each year you just work hard and try to play your very best. To receive recognition for what you do on the field, even if it may not show up in other areas, is awesome.”
For the NFC, frequent repeaters include Atlanta WR Julio Jones and C Alex Mack, Dallas tackle Tyron Smith, inside LBs Luke Kuechly of Carolina and Bobby Wagner of Seattle, Arizona CB Patrick Peterson, Rams DT Aaron Donald and Bears LB Khalil Mack.
One of the newcomers, Chicago DT Akiem Hicks, sounded overwhelmed by the honor.
“I have played the game of football my entire life and this is the greatest accolade I’ve ever achieved,” he said.
There will be a brother combination at center for the AFC as Maurkice Pouncey of Pittsburgh is the starter ahead of Mike Pouncey.
The Jets, despite a 4-10 record, have three Pro Bowlers in safety Jamal Adams, kicker Jason Myers and return specialist Andre Roberts — all first-timers.
Pro Bowl coaching staffs will be from the losing teams in the AFC and NFC divisional playoffs with the best regular-season records. Each player on the winning Pro Bowl team receives $67,000, while each player on the losing squad earns $34,000.
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Titans give Marcus Mariota rave reviews for punishing block
By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Pro Football Writer
Tuesday, December 18
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Derrick Henry heard Marcus Mariota throw his shoulder into Giants linebacker Alec Ogletree to clear the corner for the Titans running back.
Tennessee safety Kevin Byard saw the block from the sideline.
Watching replays sure makes the block from the Titans quarterback look even more punishing.
“Oh, that was huge man, that was huge,” Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said Tuesday. “I told Marcus that was a big-time block. You don’t normally see quarterbacks throw their bodies like that, but yeah that was big time man. Teams appreciate when your quarterback is willing to throw his body in like that. Don’t do it all the time, though, because we need him.”
Mariota has been criticized in his four-year NFL career for being too quiet or not very expressive on the field. His teammates, who also remember his block for Henry in a playoff victory last January in Kansas City, have no such questions about their quarterback.
“People question that guy, I don’t know why he continues to be an emphasis of concern,” Taylor Lewan said.
“I mean he obviously puts 100 percent in the game every single game, and I’ve said I’d do anything for that guy. I think this whole line would. So proud that he’s our quarterback, and he is so humble I asked him about the play and he’s like no I was just trying to get in the way. He smacked him too, and that’s a linebacker, which is pretty cool.”
The Titans (8-6) need their quarterback as they chase a second straight playoff berth. They’ve won three straight and need to win out with their next game Saturday hosting Washington (7-7).
Mariota, with a record of 26-28, has had eight of his 12 game-winning drives since the start of the 2017 season.
Mariota has used his arm and legs this season. He has a career-high 350 yards rushing on 63 attempts this season with two touchdowns rushing. Despite being sacked a career-high 40 times, Mariota has a 91.9 passer rating, completing 68.6 percent of his passes for 2,418 yards with 11 TDs and eight interceptions.
“The guy’s a highlight reel,” Lewan said of his quarterback.
Mariota trotted out far left near the Titans’ sideline on first-and-10 while Henry lined up in the wildcat. After the snap, Henry ran toward the line, then bounced out left. As Henry ran toward him, Mariota put his shoulder into Ogletree and knocked the linebacker to the ground as Henry turned up the sideline for a 22-yard run with 12:29 left in the second quarter.
The quarterback says he noticed teammates were pretty fired up by his block, something he didn’t think much about.
“I was just trying to help my guy out and give him a chance to go make a run,” Mariota said.
None of the Titans’ coaches asked the quarterback to be a little more cautious next time. Coach Mike Vrabel called Mariota’s block something they can teach from because the hit was clean with good form as the quarterback kept his head out of the way while avoiding a hit to Ogletree’s head or neck.
“It sends a message that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win,” Vrabel said.
Notes: Orakpo, who snapped a 61-game playing streak when an injured elbow kept him out of the previous game, said he’s feeling better but following the plan from the trainers who are looking at the “bigger picture.” … The Titans placed CB Logan Ryan on injured reserve and filled the roster spot by promoting CB Kenneth Durden from the practice squad. They added OLB Gimel President to the practice squad.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
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NFL could come calling for Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley
By CLIFF BRUNT
AP Sports Writer
Tuesday, December 18
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Watch any NFL telecast that involves a struggling team, and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley likely will be mentioned as a potential candidate for that coaching job.
It makes sense. In just 18 months since replacing Bob Stoops, Riley’s high-powered offenses have produced Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield and led the way to two College Football Playoff berths. Riley’s Sooners face Alabama on Dec. 29 in a national semifinal at the Cotton Bowl.
If he somehow wins the national title at age 35, an already high price tag might go through the roof if the Sooners want to keep him in Norman.
Right after the Cleveland Browns fired Hue Jackson in late October, Riley said his heart remains at the college level.
“You sit here and answer these questions and . I always want to be truthful,” he said. “And the truth for me is I love Oklahoma. I love coaching here. I love college football. I certainly don’t have that itch right now. I don’t know if I ever will. I’m never going to be a guy that’s going to stand up here and say no way, no how will any of these things ever happen. I don’t know that. I know right now I could (not) care less about the NFL.”
The NFL sure seems to care about him. It might be mere coincidence that Browns general manager John Dorsey has attended Oklahoma’s past two games , but it’s just one more nugget to fuel speculation.
Mayfield, who is having a strong rookie season for the Browns, said Riley is ready to make the leap to the pros.
“Lincoln’s been ready, it’s just who he is and how he coaches and the respect level he’s had from all of his players, how detailed he is,” Mayfield said. “Yeah, he’s ready, but that’s his decision, and you know what? He’s got something special there, so I don’t think anybody is going to blame him if he stays there for the next 20 years.”
Riley already has received major raises in the past two years. In May 2017, his salary as offensive coordinator increased to $1.3 million, making him one of the highest-paid coordinators in the nation. The next month, when he became head coach, it jumped to $3.1 million. This past June, it went up again, to $4.8 million.
More might be in order. This season, Riley fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops after a loss to Texas. The Sooners haven’t lost since.
The speed of his ascent might be as impressive as the success itself — in 2014, Riley was the offensive coordinator at East Carolina. Oklahoma hired him for that same role in 2015, and he won the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach that year. In his second year as offensive coordinator, the Sooners won the Sugar Bowl.
Riley maintained his play-calling duties when he became head coach. In his first year, Oklahoma led the nation in total offense and was third in scoring offense.
This season, with a new quarterback and star running back Rodney Anderson getting injured in the second game of the season, Oklahoma leads the nation with 49.5 points and 577.9 yards per game. The Sooners rank eighth nationally in passing offense and 11th in rushing. Oklahoma’s offense has been so explosive that the Sooners beat Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas and West Virginia four straight weeks, despite allowing at least 40 points in all four games.
He has Alabama coach Nick Saban’s attention.
“They’ve had some great games this year, high-scoring games where their defense has come through when they’ve needed to, but I do think this is one of the most dynamic teams that I’ve seen for a long, long time in terms of the way they play offense,” Saban said. “I think Lincoln does a great job with their players.”
AP Sports Writers Tom Withers and John Zenor contributed to this report.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP
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Ramos had grip on Mets from first handshake
By RONALD BLUM
AP Baseball Writer
Tuesday, December 18
NEW YORK (AP) — Wilson Ramos had a grip on the New York Mets from the moment he walked into their winter meetings suite in Las Vegas last week.
“It was his handshake,” new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen recalled Tuesday at the catcher’s introductory news conference. “As some of you may get to know, this guy has really big, strong, strong mitts here for hands.”
Ramos agreed to a $19 million, two-year contract, the fourth All-Star to join the Mets since Van Wagenen was hired in late October. New York acquired second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz from Seattle and brought back former closer Jeurys Familia as a setup man.
“Internally, we would argue that we’re the favorites in the division right now,” Van Wagenen told the team’s SNY network.
Ramos commanded the room, according to Van Wagenen, when he met with the GM, manager Mickey Callaway and other New York executives. Ramos looked at home during the Citi Field news conference, wearing a sports shirt and sneakers as he slipped on a Mets jersey with his No. 40 — pitcher Jason Vargas agreed to switch to No. 44. Ramos maintained he has completely recovered from a tore right ACL in September 2016, which delayed his first game of the following season until late June.
“Right now I feel 100 percent,” he said. “I’ve been working really hard, training really good in Florida. That made me feel confident to work in every part of my body, not only my knee.”
Ramos has a lengthy injury history. His 2012 season ended May 12 when he tore the medial meniscus in his right knee while running after a passed ball. He went on the disabled list twice the following year after straining his left hamstring while running out a grounder. He broke the hamate bone in his left hand when hit by a foul tip on opening day in 2014, which sidelined him until May 7, then missed two weeks that June due to a strained right hamstring.
He tore his ACL in 2016 when he landed awkwardly while catching a throw. He missed another month last summer after straining his right hamstring while running on a grounder.
“We did a lot of research on his medical file,” Van Wagenen said. “We obviously did a physical examination of him, and we were able to get really good detailed video of some of his workouts that he was doing this offseason.”
Ramos’ arrival could lead New York to giving Travis d’Arnaud some time at first or third base or in left field. New York also may carry three catchers — Kevin Plawecki is out of options.
Ramos’ deal includes a $2 million signing bonus payable next July 1, $6.25 million in 2019 and $9.25 million in 2020. The Mets have a $10 million option for 2021 with a $1.5 million buyout. Ramos would earn a $500,000 bonus in each season he has 100 starts at catcher.
New York was seeking offense from the right side of the plate in the absence of Yoenis Cespedes, expected to be sidelined for a significant part of the season while recovering from surgery on both heels. Van Wagenen called the 31-year-old Ramos a “guy that can keep us a little bit above water on that side of the plate until Cespedes comes back.”
Ramos hit .306 with 15 home runs and an .845 OPS last season for Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.
While back in his home nation of Venezuela, Ramos was kidnapped in November 2011 and rescued after two days. He sidestepped a question about whether he and his family needed special security.
“I feel comfortable living here in the States,” he said. “My family’s happy and I’m not putting too much attention on that because. … I want to concentrate on my game, on my job.”
Van Wagenen said New York still had the flexibility to add payroll. He made an effort to project confidence, reading from prepared remarks.
“We haven’t been shy and we haven’t been bashful,” he said. “And this action rather than our inaction should demonstrate to the fans that we say what we do and we do what we say.”
Notes: OF Brandon Nimmo attended the news conference. Nimmo, who was in New York for a meeting, said he wasn’t bothered by his name being mentioned as trade bait and didn’t call the Mets to inquire. “There’s so many scenarios that come up in the trade talks that it’s really hard to know what’s fact and what’s fiction,” he said.
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Sabathia gets $500,000 bonus despite ejection
By RONALD BLUM
AP Baseball Writer
Tuesday, December 18
NEW YORK (AP) — Plunking an opponent paid off for CC Sabathia.
The New York Yankees gave Sabathia a $500,000 performance bonus, even though the 38-year-old left-hander was ejected from his final regular-season start six outs shy of the 155 innings specified in his contract for the payment.
Sabathia hit Tampa Bay’s Jesus Sucre starting the sixth inning on Sept. 27 with his 55th pitch of the night, retaliation for Andrew Kittredge throwing a pitch behind Austin Romine in the top half.
“We thought it was a very nice gesture by the Yankees,” Sabathia’s agent, Kyle Thousand of Roc Nation Sports, told The Associated Press on Monday. “CC was very appreciative and is really excited to come back next year and, hopefully, win a championship.”
Neither side announced the decision, which became evident when the $500,000 was included in the Yankees’ final luxury tax payroll.
“It was something that we did very private and weren’t looking to publicize, and I’ll just leave it at that,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.
Sabathia hit Jake Bauers on the knuckles of his right hand with an 88 mph fastball with two outs in the fifth inning. Kittredge threw a 93 mph fastball behind Romine’s neck with his initial pitch in the sixth, and plate umpire Vic Carapazza issued a warning to both benches. Sabathia started out of the Yankees dugout and had to be intercepted by manager Aaron Boone.
After New York opened an 11-0 lead, Sabathia hit Sucre the lower left leg with a 93 mph cutter on his first pitch in the bottom half, causing Carapazza to eject the pitcher and Boone.
“I don’t really make decisions based on money, I guess,” Sabathia said after the game. “I just felt like it was the right thing to do.”
Sabathia was suspended for five games by Joe Torre, chief baseball officer in the commissioner’s office, and Kittredge for three.
Sabathia had a $10 million base salary last year. He re-signed with the Yankees for an $8 million salary and said 2019 will be his final season.
The 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner with Cleveland, Sabathia is 246-153 with a 3.70 ERA and 2,986 strikeouts in 18 major league seasons. He was 9-7 with a 3.65 ERA in 29 starts last season.
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Sweden selected to host the 2021 Special Olympics World Winter Games
WASHINGTON, DC – December 17, 2018: Sweden has been granted the opportunity to host Special Olympics’ flagship sporting event, the World Winter Games in 2021.
“We are proud that Sweden will host the Special Olympics World Winter Games 2021. For us the Games is an investment in sport and health for people with intellectual disabilities — and an important platform to raise awareness, get people involved, and spread knowledge about Special Olympics,” said Johan Strid, National Director, Special Olympics Sweden.
The Special Olympics World Games is one of the largest sporting events on the planet, and inspires, promotes and advances a world of full inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities. Taking place every two years and alternating between Summer and Winter Games, the World Games are broadcast globally in more than 150 countries attracting more than 2,500 journalists.
The 2021 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Sweden are expected to host 2,000 athletes and Unified Sports Partners from 105 nations who will participate in nine various sport disciplines. Unified Sports is an inclusive sports program that combines an equal number of individuals with intellectual disabilities and individuals without intellectual disabilities. They will be joined by more than 3,000 volunteers as well as 5,000 family members.
A signature aspect of the Swedish bid was its focus on investment in public health for people with intellectual disabilities. Other features of the bid were a drive for more people with and without intellectual disabilities in organized sports; more people with intellectual disabilities active in sports at school; changing attitudes about people with intellectual disabilities; and an increased knowledge in society about people with intellectual disabilities and the way they are treated.
“Well done Sweden. The 2021 World Winter Games not only represent the best in inclusive sports but also are a compelling ‘snapshot’ of the fully inclusive world we want to create — where discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities has completely ended and has been replaced by freedom, justice and equality for all,” said Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics.
As Sweden celebrates the winning bid, the final countdown to the 2019 Special Olympics World Games has begun. The Games will take place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, March 14–21, 2019.
About Special Olympics
Special Olympics is a global inclusion movement using sport, health, education and leadership programs every day around the world to end discrimination against and empower people with intellectual disabilities. Click here for a full list of partners. Engage with us on: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and our blog on Medium. Learn more at www.SpecialOlympics.org