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Super Bowl LIII was greatest defensive performance in history

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At the end of a dour Super Bowl in Atlanta only a mother could love, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise that Bill Belichick was the one standing triumphant.

Last year, Tom Brady produced what was arguably the greatest single performance in Super Bowl history, only for Belichick’s defense to get run over by Eagles backup Nick Foles. On Sunday, with Brady struggling en route to his worst passing performance in a title game, Belichick’s defense saved the day. The Patriots delivered Belichick’s masterpiece in their 13-3 win over the Rams.

What we saw from the Patriots on Sunday night was the best defensive performance we have ever seen in a Super Bowl.

I don’t say that as hyperbole. To start, the only other time a team has allowed just three points in the Super Bowl was when the Cowboys defeated the Dolphins 24-3 in 1971. Those Dolphins scored 22.5 points per game during the regular season, while Sean McVay’s Rams were up at 32.9 points per contest. The Pats allowed the Rams just 9.1 percent of their scoring average, the best mark in Super Bowl history:

You might argue that we’re rewarding the Patriots for not allowing a late garbage-time score, as was the case when the 1985 Pats scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter to shorten Chicago’s lead to 44-10 in Super Bowl XX. That’s true. The other side of the coin, though, is that the Patriots’ defense couldn’t simply pin its ears back and rush the quarterback all game. They weren’t up against Steve Grogan.

They had to come up with stops drive after drive to win against the Rams, who were the second-best offense in the second-highest scoring season in NFL history. Scoring 13 points against the Rams, as the Patriots did Sunday, would have earned a team a 1-17 record against the Rams in the 2018 season. The only time Los Angeles failed to hit 13 points was when the Bears held them to six in Week 14, but Chicago was the much-celebrated best defense in football. The Patriots ranked 16th in defensive DVOA and had just allowed 31 points in the second half to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.

McVay, who admitted after the game that he “simply got outcoached,” never found a solution. His offense slowly suffocated throughout the game. The same Rams team that bragged about its physicality after running all over the Cowboys in the divisional round produced just two first downs on 18 rushing attempts. Jared Goff and the Los Angeles passing attack averaged just 4.7 yards per dropback, with an unsung Patriots pass rush sacking Goff four times and knocking him down on 12 occasions. An offense that made it to the red zone a league-high 80 times during the regular season failed to make it inside the Patriots’ 20-yard line even once Sunday.

To me, it topped the two most famous Belichick game plans of all time. The 2001 Greatest Show on Turf Rams managed to score 17 points and rack up 26 first downs on the Patriots, who won Super Bowl XXXVI thanks to big plays. Ty Law took an errant Kurt Warner throw to the house for a pick-six. The Pats recovered a Ricky Proehl fumble at midfield and scored their lone offensive touchdown before halftime. Jeff Wilkins missed a 52-yard field goal in the first half, and the Rams had five drives that went to or past the 50-yard line that resulted in zero points. This defensive performance was more consistently dominant.

Belichick’s game plan as the Giants’ defensive coordinator against the Bills in Super Bowl XXV resides in the Hall of Fame, but again, this showing should join it. Belichick sacrificed his run defense to stifle Jim Kelly, and Thurman Thomas subsequently ran for 135 yards and a touchdown. The Bills still managed to get into position for a 47-yard field goal that would have won the game, only for Scott Norwood to push his kick wide in a 20-19 nailbiter.

Those performances were legendary, but the win in Super Bowl LIII surpasses them in the pantheon of brilliant defensive game plans from Belichick, with credit also going to defensive coordinator and future Dolphins coach Brian Flores. So, how did the Patriots pull it off?

Jump to a section:
Inside the Pats’ game plan
How Edelman kept getting open
The play that won the game


How Belichick, Flores and Patricia stopped the Rams

You might note that one of the coaches in that subhead isn’t on the Patriots’ payroll anymore. “We had to put together something that would neutralize the running game and their big play-action passes on early downs,” Bill Belichick said to ESPN’s Steve Young after the game. “We felt like if we could make them drive it and earn it, similar to what the Lions did to them,” he added, “… we would have a chance to get them off the field on third down.”

What Belichick said shouldn’t be a surprise. If you read my preview on the game, I suggested that the Patriots were going to focus on stopping the outside zone and taking away play-action, just as Lions head coach (and former Patriots defensive coordinator) Matt Patricia emphasized in Week 13 against the Rams. Goff finished 5-of-9 for 68 yards on play-action passes, with Belichick forcing him to try to win the Super Bowl as a conventional dropback passer.

Where I was surprised, though, was with how the Patriots built their coverages. The Lions played more zone against the Rams than they had in their prior games, particularly by using more quarters (or Cover 4) shells. I figured that the Patriots, who have much better cornerbacks than Detroit, would still rely heavily on man coverage to try to stop the Rams and their endless series of stacks and bunches.

I was wrong. As McVay noted after the game, the Patriots played plenty of zone coverage throughout the game, including quarters looks on early downs. Quarters helped the Patriots keep the intentions and depths of their safeties disguised before the snaps, while simultaneously allowing New England to flood the box with defenders to stop the run. The Pats used what amounted to a 5-1 over front with Patrick Chung as a strongside linebacker to try to penetrate into the backfield against outside zone. Here’s a play — animation courtesy of NFL Next Gen Stats — where we see both the over front and quarters coverage behind, with Dont’a Hightower dropping into coverage and knocking away the dig route to Josh Reynolds:

Things got more complicated when Chung went down with an arm injury in the third quarter, which cost the Patriots both a veteran communicator and a versatile starting safety. Duron Harmon took Chung’s place, and the Patriots subsequently were forced to play more conservative coverage concepts. When they did play man, the Pats again surprised by generally sticking Stephon Gilmore one-on-one against Brandin Cooks, with Robert Woods doubled by Jonathan Jones and a safety.

On third down, the Patriots tormented Goff and McVay with stunts and twists to throw off their pass blocking while preventing Goff, McVay and center John Sullivan from diagnosing where pressure was going to come from before the snap. Teams that load up on twists often struggle to keep contain or leave an obvious running lane open for the opposing quarterback, but the Patriots did an excellent job of getting pressure against the interior of the Rams’ line (particularly guard Austin Blythe) while simultaneously closing down Goff when he bootlegged out of the pocket. Goff was 2-of-3 passing for 2 yards and two sacks when he waggled to the sidelines.

Overall, the Patriots were wildly productive when they threw extra defensive backs on the field. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the Pats posted a 45 percent success rate on defense with four or five defensive backs on the field. Their dime package, though, had a dominant game. On 20 snaps, the Pats racked up three sacks and held Goff to a dismal line: 6-of-16 for 60 yards and an interception. Fifteen of those 20 snaps were regarded as successful plays for the Patriots’ defense in terms of keeping the Rams from getting on schedule, good for a 75 percent success rate.

McVay took the blame after the loss for not adapting or adjusting his playcalling, and you can certainly wonder whether the Rams should have tried different things. It seems like they could have used late motion before the snap to try to take advantage of a static Patriots defense and thrown bubble screens to try to gain a numbers advantage and/or force the Pats out of quarters. The Falcons, who shared some similarities under Kyle Shanahan to these Rams in terms of their outside zone emphasis, had success running the crack toss against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and the Rams could have used that to set up screens.

At some point, the Rams might have been better off force-feeding Todd Gurley II; they ran the ball just once on 20 snaps against the Pats’ dime personnel grouping, which New England was comfortable running on first-and-10 and third-and-2. The Rams went with 11 personnel on more than 78 percent of their dropbacks, but for the second week in a row, they were more effective getting a second tight end on the field with 12 personnel. The Rams posted a 40 percent success rate with their traditional three-wideout set, but that jumped to 54 percent with Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee on the field.

The Rams eventually got some offense going in the third quarter. Goff made two great throws, including a picture-perfect 18-yard pass to Woods on third-and-7, to get into field goal range. The Rams got their one big chance of the game when the Patriots badly blew a coverage and left Cooks wide open running up the seam on a Yankee concept, only for Goff to belatedly recognize his good fortune and give Jason McCourty, who played every snap on Sunday, enough time to find work and knock away the pass.

A beautiful Pats pass rush subsequently limited the Rams to a field goal when Hightower got inside Blythe for a sack. It was a critical play, given that Goff wasn’t able to find a wide-open C.J. Anderson for a checkdown that would have moved the chains:

The Rams had to punt on their next drive after a questionable holding call on Sullivan wiped out a 13-yard Gurley run, but after the Patriots scored a touchdown, the Rams drove down the field with a screen to Cooks and a pick play that freed up Reynolds to convert third-and-9 over the middle. On the next play, Goff dropped a perfect ball over Gilmore for what could have been a touchdown pass to Cooks, only for Harmon to jar the ball loose with a hit.

On the next play, Flores dared Goff to do it again by sending a six-man blitz against six Rams blockers with Hightower as an underneath robber and the four defensive backs in quarters behind. A panicked Goff rushed his dropback and made another throw toward Cooks, but while Goff’s pass needed to be deep and toward the sideline to give Cooks a chance, his throw was badly short and amounted to a fair catch for Gilmore.

It’s worth noting that Belichick and Flores didn’t pull this off with a bunch of superstars in their prime outside of Gilmore, who had an inconsistent game before his interception. Hightower, Trey Flowers and Devin McCourty are homegrown talents, but Belichick the executive has also found useful talent on the cheap. Jason McCourty was acquired for a swap of sixth- and seventh-round picks when the Browns were about to cut him. Kyle Van Noy, who had a monster game with a sack and three knockdowns, was the product of a nearly identical swap with the Lions. Jones and J.C. Jackson were undrafted free agents. There was no Lawrence Taylor or Ty Law on the field for the Pats. No matter. This was the signature defensive performance from the greatest defensive coach in the history of football.

Of course, the guy on the opposite sideline nearly had his own signature performance. Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips dialed up a brilliant game plan, as Aaron Donald & Co. flummoxed Brady for most of the game. The nonexistent folks who supposedly were counting out Brady throughout the season nearly got to raise their straw hands in the air and celebrate their victory, only for the Rams’ pass rush to finally tire just as Josh McDaniels found a way to unlock the defense.

As Tony Romo described on the CBS broadcast, Phillips did an excellent job of building his coverages to show man coverage to Brady before the snap before playing like zone afterward, or vice versa. It’s difficult to confuse Brady at age 41, but he was absolutely flummoxed on a number of snaps. One trick came on the interception that ended the opening drive, when Brady read man coverage before the snap, then found out just as he threw that the Rams were in zone and playing a form of trap coverage, with Aqib Talib over the top and Nickell Robey-Coleman underneath. The slot corner broke outside on the throw to Chris Hogan and tipped away the ball, with Cory Littleton catching the tip for an interception.

During the first half, Brady simply didn’t look comfortable with the pressure or looks he saw, especially on third downs. The Pats ran the ball on third-and-8 to set up Stephen Gostkowski‘s missed field goal. Brady threw away a third-and-5 pass under pressure from Donald. Early checkdowns to Gronkowski and James White didn’t give those receivers much of a chance of turning upfield for a first down. Cordarrelle Patterson came up a yard short of the sticks on third-and-10, and when the Pats went for it on fourth-and-1, excellent coverage from the Rams forced Brady to try to hit an impossible window to a diving Gronk.

The one thing the Patriots did have working in the first half was Julian Edelman. My preview identified covering the slot as the biggest point of weakness for the Rams before the game, and for much of this contest, it ended up as their only point of weakness. The Rams surprisingly started the game with Talib traveling across the formation and into the slot to cover Edelman, but Edelman eventually just went over to Talib’s side of the field and tortured him out of a reduced split. In the first half, Brady was 7-of-8 for 93 yards on throws to Edelman (with the one incompletion essentially an uncatchable throwaway) and 8-of-17 for 67 yards throwing to everyone else.

The Rams eventually started moving Marcus Peters around the formation to try to cover Edelman, and while he got away with a couple of holding or illegal contact calls, it was a better solution than Talib. The Pats tried to target Peters’ propensity for jumping routes with fades and his struggles tackling by isolating him in space, but the former Chiefs star generally held his own on deeper throws. With Donald & Co. getting steady pressure on Brady, the Patriots had six drives in the first half break into Los Angeles’ side of the field with only three points to show for it.

The play that won the Super Bowl … three times in a row

The eventual breakthrough for the Patriots came with another concept I wrote about extensively in my preview: using James Develin to dictate mismatches in the slot against Los Angeles’ base defense. The Pats came out in their 21 personnel (2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE) with Edelman in the slot on the first play of the game and got a 13-yard run out of Sony Michel for a first down, but the run defense that swallowed up the Cowboys and Saints showed up and bullied the Patriots at the line of scrimmage for most of this one.

The game-winning drive, though, required McDaniels to get even heavier. He dialed up a creative play-action look to start the drive out of 21 personnel, with Gronkowski blocking for a moment before turning upfield on a wheel route past a leveraged Samson Ebukam for a first down.

The Pats then brought in Dwayne Allen and ran three consecutive plays out of 22 personnel, with two backs and two tight ends on the field. On each of the plays, they split out wide Develin and a halfback (either Michel or Rex Burkhead), where they were covered by Peters and Talib, L.A.’s two best cover corners. That left Gronkowski, Allen and Edelman matched up on the interior against linebackers and safeties and allowed the Patriots to run one of their favorite plays.

Hoss Y-Juke has been a staple of the Patriots going back through the early days of this dynasty, so it’s not exactly a secret that Phillips wouldn’t have been prepared to see. You can see a breakdown of Hoss Y-Juke here, but it’s remarkably simple. The “Hoss” call means you’re getting hitch routes from the outside receivers, while the slot receivers run seam routes. Y-Juke calls for the third receiver from the outside, who is almost always Edelman, to run an option route against an overmatched linebacker.

The Patriots ran Hoss Y-Juke three times in a row. The Rams stayed in their base defense all three times, and the Patriots ripped them apart. On the first of the three plays, with Edelman matched up in the slot against Littleton, he ran the juke route for 13 yards and a first down.

The Patriots came back to the line and motioned out Burkhead before throwing him a hitch against Peters for 7 yards. On the third snap, the Rams must have known what was coming, but it didn’t matter. They tried to disguise where their five-man pressure was coming from by sending Littleton toward Gronk in coverage at the snap, but Brady lofted in a perfect pass for a 29-yard catch. One play later, Michel plunged in for the only touchdown of the game.

It takes a unique set of circumstances for Hoss Y-Juke to thrive, but it’s the perfect play for the Patriots. You need running backs who are viable threats to catch the ball. You need tight ends with the athleticism to stretch the field vertically and make plays out of the slot. You also need a quarterback capable of making a smart decision quickly out of an empty backfield.

I’m surprised the Patriots didn’t motion Develin out wide more frequently. One first-half snap with him split out yielded a rep for Edelman in the slot against Ebukam and an easy completion, although two other short throws were quickly closed down or dropped. The Patriots did rack up 67 yards on 15 rushing attempts out of 21 personnel before the fourth quarter, so the running game with Develin in had been competent. It’s possible that the Patriots didn’t think Brady would have enough time to make his reads and get the ball out in an empty set before the Rams’ pass rush tired, and indeed, Donald & Co. didn’t deter the Pats from running Hoss Y-Juke three times in a row.

After the Gilmore interception, the Pats took over with 4:17 left and a chance to seal the game. The Rams had a reputation during the season for indiscipline within their run defense in an attempt to make plays, and while they were structurally sound for the vast majority of the Super Bowl, they finally cracked.

On the second play, Ndamukong Suh fired across the face of a guard to make a play but ran himself out of the action. The Pats briefly doubled Donald, moved him off the ball, and ran right into his gap, with a pulling Joe Thuney kicking out Mark Barron. Marcus Cannon essentially helped block three Rams, as he chipped Donald, blocked Littleton at the second level, and shielded an overly aggressive John Johnson in the process. Michel rode this beautiful blocking for a 26-yard gain.

Three plays later, it was Develin’s turn. The Pats brought in Burkhead and ran directly at Dante Fowler Jr., who tried to stunt inside and was subsequently helped into the trash by Trent Brown. Lamarcus Joyner came down from safety and got into a three-point stance before blitzing into the backfield at the snap, but a motioning Gronkowski dispatched him with ease. The Rams scraped Barron over the top to try to seal the edge, but Develin laid him out at the point of attack. Talib was the unblocked defender, but Burkhead’s cutback and the aftermath of Develin’s ferocious block took the cornerback totally out of the play. The former Bengals backup cut upfield and outran Robey-Coleman before Peters made a touchdown-saving tackle. The 26-yard run put the Patriots in field goal range, and while they failed to convert a subsequent third-and-1, Gostkowski hit a 41-yarder to start the celebrations for a sixth time in New England.



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Sources — Colts won’t recoup money from Luck

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Despite the fact that they could have recouped $24.8 million from their former quarterback, the Indianapolis Colts have reached a financial settlement with Andrew Luck and will not take back any of the money they are owed, league sources tell ESPN.

The Colts essentially are telling Luck to keep it all, even though it is within their rights to reclaim the money.

The settlement was reached late last week, according to a source familiar with the talks.

Luck could have owed the Colts $12.8 million as a pro-rated portion of the $32 million signing bonus the Colts gave him when he signed his five-year extension in 2016, and another $12 million in roster bonuses he was paid in March. But Indianapolis waived its right to recoup the money and is allowing Luck to keep it all, after the poundings he’s taken and all he’s given to the franchise. It is, in an official way, his parting gift.

Shortly after the news of Luck’s retirement broke Saturday night, Colts owner Jim Irsay estimated Luck might be losing out on a half-billion dollars in potential NFL wages by retiring now.

“It’s a tough thing, look it, he’s leaving $450 million on the table potentially,” Irsay said. “I mean, a half a billion dollars, and he’s saying, ‘You know what, I want to have my integrity. I have to be able to look (wide receiver) T.Y. (Hilton) in the eye, look my teammates, look coach, look (GM) Chris (Ballard) and say, I’m all in,’ and he just didn’t feel he could do that.”

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Los Angeles Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth trying to keep his career alive at nearly 8,000 feet

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WOLCOTT, Colo. — Daddy is sweating and it’s hot, but Andrew Whitworth‘s boys don’t notice. It’s time for a ride, in what’s become an annual offseason tradition, and it’s time for dad to provide the push.

Whitworth removes a couple of bags of golf clubs from the end of the golf cart in an effort to lighten the load, as sweat continuously drops from his graying goatee. The Los Angeles Rams’ 37-year-old left tackle pauses, trying to gather his breath, then leans over and finds his grip.

His 7-year-old son, Michael, yells from the passenger’s seat, “We’re ready!” and the 6-foot-7, 330-pound Whitworth begins to push. The cart inches forward, and 8-year-old son Drew hollers from the driver’s side, “What a ride!”

It’s the last Monday in June. Four days into the Whitworth family’s retreat to their offseason home high in the mountains of Colorado. Whitworth’s wife, Melissa, and two daughters remain in their hometown in Louisiana for a few extra days, as Whitworth takes on the challenge of starting his offseason workout regimen with Michael and Drew in tow. His boys are old enough to shadow dad as he plows through his grueling workout routine, but young enough to still get a kick out of the wild physical feats that he can pull off.

As Whitworth pushes the 900-pound golf cart, carrying his two 50-plus-pound kids across the driveway, his calf muscles flex and veins begin to pop. After exhausting his strength, Whitworth retreats to the shade inside his three-car garage, which has been partially converted into a home gym.

“Want to go again?” Drew hollers, before he puts the cart in reverse.

With Whitworth, who went through a 30-minute strength circuit prior to the push, trying to catch his breath in the thin mountain air, this portion of the day’s workout is over. Drew and Michael won’t get another free ride.

It’s Day 1 of Whitworth’s offseason program, one he must ease into at an altitude well more than a mile high — where your heart rate races even at a standstill, a satisfying breath is challenging to find, and the air is so dry that lip balm must remain a fixture in your pocket.

“I feel pretty good,” Whitworth says through a heavy breath, nearly 10 minutes after the great golf cart push. “Most of the time after these workouts, you feel pretty alive just because of the altitude.”

Training at altitude forces muscles to work harder due to the lack of oxygen in the air. It can also produce more red blood cells. It’s yet another way Whitworth is trying to extend his NFL career.

The start of Whitworth’s 14th NFL training camp remains five weeks away. The four-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro has gone to great lengths to find new ways to motivate his mind and move his body. Over the span of his career, his workouts have ranged from prototypical Olympic weightlifting to carrying stones up the mountainside. Some of his workouts seem outside the box, if not unprecedented for an NFL player. But for all the crazy, as he describes it, it continues to pay off.

“I almost, in some ways, feel better now than I ever did,” Whitworth says. “I think I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been in.”

But at age 37, Whitworth is the oldest lineman in the NFL, and how much longer he can hold the title remains the biggest question.

“I still feel really good,” he says, though he acknowledges there are some bumps and bruises from football — swollen ankles and knees, battered hip labrums — that will never quite feel the same. “If I feel like I can’t go out and perform the way that I think I should be, then I just won’t be able to do it.”

So onward Whitworth goes into another Colorado summer, training to keep his mind sharp, his body energized and his career alive at 7,880 feet.


Inside the weight room at West Monroe High School in West Monroe, Louisiana, a wall features a distinguished list of the top weight lifters to pass through the Rebels’ powerhouse program.

The top spot in any category — bench, squat and power clean — is a proud accomplishment. But, according to Casey Sanders, West Monroe’s strength coach for the last 30 years, there’s one category that means the most.

“In the history of West Monroe,” Sanders says, “Normally our best power cleaners are our best football players. [Players] kind of know that.”

Whitworth set the standard when he cleaned 390 pounds before his senior season. For good measure, he set the record in the bench press, too, when he pressed 350 pounds. But it was the power clean mark that stood for 13 years until future Alabama and Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Cam Robinson beat it by 10 pounds.

Whitworth, however, still left a lasting legacy. “His work ethic was great,” Sanders says. “He just loved football and he loved training … that’s one of the biggest keys that he had going for him.”

Whitorth says Sanders became the biggest factor in his success. “He was the baseline and the foundation,” he says, and Whitworth took that knowledge with him to LSU, then on to Cincinnati, after the Bengals selected him in the second round of the 2006 draft.

Through 11 seasons with the Bengals, Whitworth developed an annual routine that former Bengals strength coach Chip Morton fondly looks back on. Whitworth would walk into Morton’s office, fold into a chair and rest his hands on his knees as a mischievous grin grew across his face.

“I knew what was coming,” Morton says through laughter, as he launches into a detailed explanation of Whitworth’s postseason routine.

“He would come in and sit down and say, ‘Okay, it’s that time of the year, what are we going to do?’ ” Morton says. “We would just discuss things and I would give him leads and ideas and he would just dive in and pursue it.”

After his five-year career at LSU, Whitworth arrived in Cincinnati well-versed in weightlifting, and really anything that required brute strength.

“I think he’d tell ya,” Morton says, “when he came to us, he was a certified meathead.”

But together with Morton, Whitworth diversified his strength.

One offseason, he was interested in becoming more fluid in his movements, so he took up yoga. At another point, he wanted to find a low-impact cardio solution, so Morton suggested Whitworth purchase a 95-pound chain to haul across the field. Days later, Whitworth showed up with his new purchase on display.

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Rams LT Andrew Whitworth takes his training to the next level at his offseason home in Colorado. Go inside Whitworth’s workouts, and his mindset, as he prepares for his 14th season in the NFL. Video by Lindsey Thiry

“It’s one thing to say it, or to understand the concept of taking care of your body or getting into training,” Morton says. “It’s another thing to commit to it, and invest your own personal capital into it and your own personal time and all that. That’s what set Andrew apart.”

Whitworth trained in Muay Thai fighting, MMA and CrossFit. He also took private training in Jiu Jitsu. “I had to call in someone big enough to fight him,” says Jon Stutzman, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt, who trains at a gym in Ohio, but stood no match for the amateur Whitworth. “He was gargantuan.”

As Whitworth grew older, and inspired by Morton, he became a big fan of weighted carries — simply walking with heavy weights. The exercises increased his stamina, and became an alternative to cardiovascular fitness that wouldn’t require as much running and pounding on his body.

“I think it was as much to save his body and find different ways to train his body to prolong things and not just be a slave to barbell training only,” Morton says.


“Drew, keep your arms straight — your left arm, keep it straight the whole time,” Whitworth says, as he lines up next to his boys at the driving range. Drew takes his dad’s advice, then hits a clean shot, straight ahead. “Yessir, real clean ball, dude.”

Whitworth pulls his own customized clubs — everything two inches longer — out of the bag. After he places a few chip shots on the green, he pulls out his driver.

“I can hit it a long way,” he says, as his stoic face hints at a grin. “But it’s not controlled.”

A loud whoosh sends a drive 315 yards from the tee.

“Wow!” Michael says. “It’s going to be really hard to beat that.”

For Whitworth, even while downing sliders with his kids at the snack shack, golf counts as workout. On any given day in Colorado, he will play 18 to 36 holes after his morning workout.

“It gives me an opportunity to reset mentally and physically to get out and sweat and just move the body and keep things working the way they should,” Whitworth says. “It just a great balance to being an athlete to play golf and to have an opportunity to have something else to work at that’s totally just not anything like football.”

It also provides time to spend with his family. Michael and Drew have taken to it, and they’re days away from competing in a father-son tournament. Whitworth’s wife, Melissa, his daughters and their long-time family nanny, Krista Howard, will play in a family scramble.

But on this day, it’s just the boys. And Whitworth, appearing slightly fatigued, plays coach, chauffeur and referee as things get chippy from hole to hole.

“Great job, Mike, keeping that arm out in front of you,” Whitworth hollers from the cart path to the random spot where he told the boys to tee off. “There you go! Good job, buddy!”

After playing nine holes, more or less, in no particular order but rather to avoid any other patrons, Whitworth navigates a return to the house, parks the cart and makes his way to sit on the outdoor couch on the back deck.

He stares out at an expansive view of the Rocky Mountain range. Steamboat Springs is far in the distance. He has something of a thousand-mile stare, as he ponders his football mortality. He’s put his mind and body through pain, whether it be in an offseason workout or playing last season through two sprained ankles. He admits he’s a glutton for punishment when it comes to training so that he can enjoy other life moments without feeling an ounce of guilt.

Whitworth, who is in the final season of a three-year, $36 million contract, talks through all the reasons why he’ll continue to play — and why he never actually considered retiring last season despite the overwhelming assumption — both inside and outside of his circle — that he would.

There’s the pursuit of a return trip to the Super Bowl and the chance to build an organization that not long ago was mired in mediocrity into a three-time division winner. There’s also the years of hard work that have kept his body moving, an investment he’s not ready to forfeit.

“It’s going to come down to being able to still play at a level that … if I feel like I can’t go out and perform the way that I think I should be, then I just won’t be able to do it,” Whitworth says. “I’m not going to go out there and struggle and be okay with it.

“So if I don’t feel like I can go out there and play, then that’s when it’s going to be done for me.”

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Source — Pack to cut 2017 2nd-round pick Jones

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The Green Bay Packers will release safety Josh Jones on Sunday, and the former second-round pick is likely to get claimed on waivers, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Jones, the 61st overall pick in the 2017 draft, has been in and out of the lineup during his two years in Green Bay, starting 12 games over two years. He skipped the Packers’ voluntary offseason workouts this year, unhappy with his role on the team.

The Packers opened last season with former undrafted rookie Kentrell Brice and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety. Even after Clinton-Dix was traded midway through last season, Jones was bypassed for a starting job when the Packers moved Tramon Williams from cornerback to safety. It wasn’t until after Brice sustained an ankle injury in Week 10 that Jones finally got his first start of the season in Week 11.

Since then, the Packers signed former Chicago Bears safety Adrian Amos to a four-year, $36 million contract in free agency and drafted safety Darnell Savage Jr. at No. 21 overall.

Jones was one of just three Packers rookies to appear in every game during the 2017 season, starting in seven of them. He posted 71 tackles with two sacks plus an interception and seven pass breakups. In his first career start (Week 3 of 2017 against the Bengals), Jones posted a career-high 11 tackles (10 solo) and became the first rookie defensive back in team history to record two sacks in a game.

ESPN’s Rob Demovsky contributed to this report.

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