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Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay Packers lobbied in fourth for Allen Lazard to play

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers wanted Allen Lazard on the field, and Lazard wanted Rodgers to throw him the ball.

Both moves helped save the Green Bay Packers on Monday night against the Detroit Lions.

Even with Davante Adams already out for a second straight game with turf toe and Geronimo Allison knocked out of the game with a head and chest injury, the Packers still didn’t immediately turn to Lazard.

In fact, it wasn’t until after rookie receiver Darrius Shepherd dropped a pass at the Lions’ 1-yard line — it actually ricocheted off his facemask and was intercepted — that the Packers finally went to the relatively unknown 6-foot-5 receiver.

And not until Rodgers asked for him.

“I may have put in a good word there in the fourth quarter to get him some opportunities,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers said he went to receivers coach Alvis Whitted and asked “if [No. 13] could come in for a little bit.”

Four catches, 65 yards and a touchdown later, the Packers had a new hero. Yes, Mason Crosby officially finished off the 23-22 victory with a 23-yard last-second field goal — with his wife, Molly, in the stands a mere six weeks after she underwent surgery to remove a cancerous spot in her lung.

But if not for Lazard, who before Monday night had never caught a pass in a regular-season game from Rodgers, the Packers might not be 5-1 and atop the NFC North.

Down 22-13, Rodgers first went to Lazard on deep ball that fell incomplete. One play later, Rodgers went back to him, and it turned into a 35-yard touchdown.

It was Lazard’s first catch of the season and just the second of his career.

Last season, the former undrafted free agent from Iowa State who originally signed the Jaguars and then was signed by the Packers off Jacksonville’s practice on Dec. 18 played one snap and caught one pass for 7 yards. It came in the regular-season finale against the Lions after Rodgers had left the game because of a concussion.

Before Sunday, Lazard had played just 21 snaps and his only target wasn’t even an official target because pass interference was called in the Week 4 loss to the Eagles.

Yet there was Lazard after Monday night’s game oozing confidence.

“I’m made for this s—,” Lazard said.

Lazard’s other three catches all came on the game-winning drive. Two went for first downs.

“I actually sit next to him in the team meetings, and we’ve struck up a pretty good friendship,” Rodgers said. “The thing that got me was, which you love as a quarterback, and that’s receivers coming back and telling you he wants the ball and what routes he wants to run. The big first down we had to him on the out route, that was him coming back to the huddle and telling me what play he wanted. For a young guy to do that, how can you not have confidence in that.”

Rodgers said coach Matt LaFleur had two play calls in mind.

“I said go with the first one because I’m going to throw it to Allen and we’re going to move the sticks,” Rodgers said. “And we did.”

All this for a player the Packers cut at the end of training camp in favor of Shepherd.

“I was definitely worried he was going to get picked up because the production was there in preseason,” Rodgers said.

After no one claimed Lazard off waivers, the Packers re-signed him to their practice squad immediately and then promoted him to the active roster the day before the season opener at Chicago.

“I honestly just believed in myself,” Lazard said. “I knew what my capabilities were. I know the talent that I have, I know the production that I produced before. It’s a different stage, but it’s the same to me.”

It’s unclear when Adams will return; he said last week that his toe “doesn’t feel how I want it to feel at the moment.” And Allison’s injury could potentially be serious. But it’s clear Rodgers thinks he has a new reliable weapon in Lazard.

“I think sometimes you have an injury or whatnot or for whatever reason and that’s how some guys become who they are,” LaFleur said. “He was given his opportunity and to his credit, he was ready for that opportunity.”

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Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph’s Bedlam bromance comes to AFC North

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Long before Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph became starting quarterbacks on opposites sides of one of the NFL’s most storied rivalries, the two went on spring break together.

Friendly adversaries throughout their sterling college careers, their rivalry will be rekindled Thursday night (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox) in a key AFC North showdown pitting Rudolph’s Pittsburgh Steelers against Mayfield’s Cleveland Browns.

“It’s interesting, especially because now it’s division rivals, as well, not just from college,” Mayfield said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

According to Elias Sports Bureau research, never before have quarterbacks from the Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State Cowboys started against each other in the NFL. Fittingly, it will be the two most prolific passers from each side of the Bedlam Series making that history.

“Great player, competitor,” Rudolph said of Mayfield. “Fierce competitor.”

That competition dates to 2015, when Mayfield won the starting job at Oklahoma as a walk-on transfer from Texas Tech. The year before, injuries propelled Rudolph to the starting role at Oklahoma State as a true freshman late in the season.

With Mayfield and Rudolph leading the way, Bedlam became the biggest regular-season game in the Big 12 and one of the biggest in all of college football during their three years facing off against each other.

In all three, Mayfield’s Sooners got the best of Rudolph’s Cowboys.

“Your rival games hurt more when you lose, for sure,” Rudolph said. “You wouldn’t be human if you said otherwise.”

Thursday night at Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium, Rudolph looks to return the favor. Thanks in part to his emergence, the Steelers have rallied since losing star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a season-ending injury to his throwing elbow to crawl back into the playoff picture. Pittsburgh beat the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday for its fourth straight win. Rudolph, a third-round pick in 2018, delivered perhaps the best performance of his NFL career in that victory, passing for 242 yards and a touchdown without an interception.

“Playing against Mason, you know exactly what type of player he is,” Mayfield said. “He’s a leader, his teammates love him — he’s having success for those reasons.”

Mayfield is coming off his defining moment of this season as well, leading the Browns on a late winning touchdown drive to defeat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

The winner of Thursday’s game will take a big step forward in keeping their playoff hopes alive. And the game will be closely followed in Oklahoma, where Mayfield and Rudolph remain immensely popular.

“There’s some excitement here,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who coached Rudolph and called Mayfield the best Oklahoma quarterback he ever coached against. “A pretty cool deal for both schools.”



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Is Carson Wentz an elite QB? A dive into the numbers – Philadelphia Eagles Blog

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PHILADELPHIA — Quarterback Carson Wentz will square off against Tom Brady for the first time in his career when the Philadelphia Eagles host the New England Patriots on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS).

“It’s always cool to play a competitor like him, arguably one of the best ever,” Wentz said Wednesday. “Ton of respect for him and what he has done.”

Wentz missed the last matchup, of course, as a torn ACL and LCL late in the 2017 season sidelined him for the Eagles’ postseason run, which culminated in a 41-33 win against New England in Super Bowl LII.

Before that injury, Wentz was on an MVP charge and looked to be leading the next generation of great quarterback play. But Sunday’s game has no baton-handing feel to it. Injuries slowed Wentz’s ascension. He’s healthy now, and while there have been some solid performances and “wow” moments over the first nine games of the 2019 season, there hasn’t been the same current of electricity flowing from Wentz and the offense as there was during the 2017 title season.

So where is Wentz in his development? What factors need to be considered when evaluating him? And are there signs that he remains on track to becoming one of football’s best signal-callers? Here’s what the next-level statistics tell us:

29.9: The percentage of blitzes faced per dropback this season, which ranks 20th in the NFL. Defenses brought the heat at about the same clip last season — 28.7%, which ranked 19th. During Wentz’s career season in ’17, it was a much different story. He was blitzed more than any QB in the NFL at 38.9%, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. And he made defenses pay, tossing 14 touchdowns to one interception for a 99.6 rating. He remains effective against the blitz (65% completion rate, 3 TDs) but just doesn’t have as many opportunities against it. In other words, defenses have adjusted, limiting one of Wentz’s strengths.

26: The number of first downs Wentz picked up with his legs in ’17 over 13 games, compared to 14 so far this season. He’s behind pace in that department while also down in rushing attempts per game (4.9 to 4.1) and rushing average per attempt (4.7 to 3.9). Wentz had three rushes of 20-plus yards in ’17 and none so far this season. This tells us a few things: Wentz is operating within the system more and freelancing less; he’s being more judicious about racing into traffic; and there has been a defensive adjustment on this front.

“There’s usually a spy, someone that’s kind of keying the quarterback,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said, when asked how the defensive approach has changed against Wentz. “The type of blitzes that teams [are using]. He’s a right-handed quarterback, so a lot of times they don’t want to let you escape to your hand side or your right, they might pressure you to the back side. There are all kind of ways that they can affect your quarterback and particularly Carson, but one of the things he’s great at and has done a really good job this year of is just getting the ball out, understanding our offense better, spreading the ball around.”

5.0: Percent of drops per pass attempt by Eagles receivers this season, the worst clip in the NFL. They have 15 drops in all, tied for second highest in the league. It’s a real issue that has held Wentz and the offense back. Wentz ranks 24th in the NFL this season in completion percentage at 62.7. His expected completion percentage, though, is 65.1, per NFL Next Gen Stats, which moves him up to 13th among QBs.

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Ex-Seahawk Malik McDowell sentenced 11 months in jail

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Former Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Malik McDowell has been sentenced to 11 months in jail and three years of probation after pleading guilty last month to a series of crimes earlier this year in Michigan, court records show.

As part of McDowell’s sentencing Wednesday in Oakland County (Michigan) Circuit Court, a judge also ordered him to write four essays within the next 90 days.

The 23-year-old McDowell never played a down for Seattle after injuring his head in an ATV accident in July of 2017, three months after the Seahawks drafted him 35th overall out of Michigan State. He was arrested in February and charged with assault, resisting arrest and operating a vehicle while intoxicated after an incident in which he fought with two officers after a DUI stop. In April he was found in possession of a stolen Ford F-150 Raptor, leading to a charge of receiving and concealing stolen property.

McDowell was sentenced to 153 days in jail over the incident with police and his second drunken driving offense, with credit for 66 days served, and another 244 days in jail for the stolen property offense.

According to the Oakland Press, McDowell apologized to his victims and others on Wednesday while vowing to abide by the law going forward.

“I’m doing everything I need to do, seeing all the doctors I need to, working out … doing everything I can to get back to where I was, back to the NFL,” McDowell said, according to the newspaper, and added that he’s “very remorseful.”

Judge Michael Warren ordered McDowell to write essays ranging from 750 to 1000 words on: finding meaning in life other than committing crimes, the importance of respecting the rule of law, the principles of the Declaration of Independence and how your behavior undermines them, and the importance of respecting property rights.

McDowell was previously sentenced to 12 months of probation from a 2017 drunken driving incident in Royal Oak, Mich. He was also arrested in December of that year on a disorderly conduct charge stemming from an incident at an Atlanta-area nightclub.

McDowell spent two seasons on the Seahawks’ non-football injury list before being waived with an injury designation in March. The team filed a lawsuit against McDowell in May, seeking the repayment of nearly $800,000 in forfeited signing-bonus money.

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