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Pope Francis gifted custom Ravens jersey signed by Lamar Jackson

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Lamar Jackson bandwagon now includes the Pope.

Representatives from the Archdiocese of Baltimore gave a Ravens No. 8 jersey to Pope Francis during a visit in Rome on Tuesday. The jersey, which features Jackson’s number, has “Francis” on the back and was autographed by coach John Harbaugh and the NFL Most Valuable Player front-runner.

“It’s great,” Harbaugh said Wednesday. “Baltimore is the home of the Catholic Church, Roman Catholic Church. It first started here in the New World, here in Baltimore. So, it’s an honor to have Pope Francis here, obviously, especially as a Catholic. I appreciate that. And it’s kind of neat.”

Harbaugh added, “We’ll see if he’s wearing his jersey any time soon.”

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, who presented Pope Francis with the jersey, said, “The Pope, of course, he’s a big soccer fan, but the Pope gave us a thumbs-up. [It] got a big smile out of him … it was a really happy moment.”

Jackson’s popularity has exploded in his first full season as an NFL starting quarterback. He currently leads all players in Pro Bowl voting, receiving 83,000 more votes than second-place Russell Wilson. On the biggest shopping day of the year, Cyber Monday, Jackson outsold every other athlete in total merchandise on Fanatics, per a company official.

Jackson has led the Ravens (10-2) to the best start in franchise history, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to produce 2,500 yards passing and 950 yards rushing.

Now, Pope Francis could have a decision to make on who to root for if the top two seeds meet in the Super Bowl: the Ravens vs. the Saints.



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Cowboys’ Antwaun Woods arrested on marijuana, tampering charges

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Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Antwaun Woods was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and tampering with evidence on Tuesday in Frisco, Texas, police have confirmed.

In addition, Woods was also cited for possession of drug paraphernalia. Woods was found with over 2 ounces of but less than 4 ounces of marijuana.

He is the second Cowboys player to be arrested for possession of marijuana in the last two months. Defensive lineman Daniel Ross, who has been on injured reserve all season following shoulder surgery, was also arrested in early November for the marijuana charge and for unlawful carrying of a weapon.

Woods will miss his second straight game Thursday night against the Chicago Bears because of a sprained knee suffered against the New England Patriots. It will be the fifth game he has missed this season because of injury.

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Crunchy mouthpieces, frozen gloves: Cowboys’ 2013 trip to Chicago – Dallas Cowboys Blog

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Center Travis Frederick grew up in Wisconsin, not far from the Illinois border. He played football at the University of Wisconsin. He has gone ice fishing. He knows cold.

At least he thought he did until Dec. 9, 2013 when the Dallas Cowboys played the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

“I think that’s the coldest game I’ve ever played in,” Frederick said, thinking back to his rookie season.

As a Cowboy, it certainly was.

The only game colder in franchise history is one of the most iconic games in NFL history: the Ice Bowl. The 1967 NFL Championship Game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay was minus-13 degrees at kickoff.

In 2013, the temperature at kickoff was 8 degrees with a minus-9 degree wind-chill, making it the coldest regular-season game in Cowboys’ history. The Cowboys lost, 45-28, but the score was not indicative of the type of game it was for Dallas.

“When you’re ice fishing, you can bundle up, right?” Frederick said. “In football, you can’t.”

When the Cowboys (6-6) take on the Bears (6-6) on Thursday at Soldier Field (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox), the temperature at kickoff is expected to be in the 30s, which would be relatively balmy compared to that Monday night almost six years ago. For the first time this season, the Cowboys practiced outside all three days in a nod to the conditions. The temperatures weren’t too bad for practice in Texas, but it was windy and coach Jason Garrett wanted his guys practicing on grass with the team set to play on the grass at Soldier Field.

“Obviously, it’s hard for us to recreate the weather conditions in Dallas that you’re going to get in Chicago,” Garrett said, “but dealing with the grass is something we can do. So, hopefully we can take advantage of that.”

Seven players and six coaches who were there on Dec. 9, 2013, remain with the Cowboys. Here are some of their stories:

Pregame: ‘Kicking a brick’

It was only a short walk from the team’s downtown Chicago hotel to the buses parked out on the street, but players knew then it was going to be a miserable experience.

Safety Jeff Heath: “Walking out of the hotel to the bus, walking off the bus, man, that was terrible. I remember thinking, ‘Man, this is going to be rough.’ It was that cold.”

Long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur: “From the bus to the locker room, just in that breezeway or hallway, whatever it was, it was just cold. Then I get on the field and I tried to run around and said, ‘That ain’t gonna happen,’ so we went back inside. We went and kicked in the pregame. Our normal set is kick about 20-25 balls, then we do about 20-25 punts. We ended up cutting that to about five or six each side, went back inside and waited until the whole team went out.”

Frederick: “That was the first time [veteran tackle] Doug Free told us that we could wear sleeves during the game. I remember specifically that everybody was trying to figure out what we were going to do. … I think there was an ask. We went out for pregame without [sleeves] as well and then we made the decision after that.”

Punter Chris Jones: “It was bruise-on-the-top-of-my-foot cold. I think we only punted like two or three times in the game, but just from the pregame and halftime, all that stuff, I mean it was literally like you’re kicking a brick. And I bruised my foot.”

Tight end Jason Witten: “I think mental toughness is Line 1 for me when you play pro football, and weather kind of falls into that. You can’t allow that to say, ‘Well, we didn’t win the game because of that.’ That’s the biggest excuse. Get your mind right, practice in it, do those different things that are going to allow you to, do wet ball drills, all that kind of stuff, and go find a way to win. But that was not a good night in Chicago.”

The game: ‘Long as I don’t get out, I’m OK’

It was a bad night for the Cowboys. A defense that finished among the worst in franchise history allowed Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown to throw four touchdown passes and saw the Chicago offense gain 490 total yards.

But the on-field performance is not what players remembered.

Linebacker Sean Lee: “I’d take my mouth guard out, call the huddle and put it back in and it was crunchy. It was that cold. That’s part of playing football. That’s what makes football fun, playing in different environments.”

Heath: “I would spit out of my out of my helmet, and it’d hit the mask and freeze within 10 seconds.”

Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli: “Warm socks. Deodorant. The spray. It keeps your feet dry. It works. I just wear one pair of socks.”

Ladouceur: “I usually warm up on our sideline, get in one or two snaps before we go in. I literally went from the bench, which was heated, with the coat on and I just threw everything off, ran on the field, snapped, come back and sat in the exact same spot. Chris did the same thing. We didn’t kick in the net. It was just a miserable experience.”

Witten: “I always kind of lick my gloves or spit on them … and I remember I did that and they kind of froze up. I said, ‘Oh, this is pretty cold.”

Frederick: “I’m trying to think what a normal person would go through and it’s like if you’re going swimming and the pool’s not heated. It’s cold. You jump in and it’s cold for a minute and then you’re like, ‘OK, as long as I don’t get out, I’m OK.’ So as long as you don’t get out, you’re not thinking about it because you’re thinking about football.”

The heaters: ‘There was nothing you could do’

For cold-weather games, the Cowboys’ equipment staff packs approximately 17,000 pounds of gear with full-length jackets, gloves, hats and all the accouterments.

While the benches were heated, the most popular spot was next to the heaters blowing at each end of the benches.

Lee: “Some of the guys that weren’t playing would be around it, and it’s like, ‘You need to rotate out.’ Some of the guys were trying to get their legs warm going out there. We kind of had an etiquette, a code. It usually stays that way. Sometimes you had to remind guys to get out of the way.”

Heath: “I’m not sure the heaters even worked. There was nothing you could do [to stay warm]. I mean nothing.”

Halftime: ‘Remember seeing chicken broth’

Chicago scored 10 points in the final 1:33 of the second quarter to go up 24-14 at halftime. The locker room was an interesting scene.

Frederick: “I remember there being chicken broth. I thought that was weird. I’ve only seen that one other time, because it’s always like coffee and hot chocolate for the coaches. And I remember seeing chicken broth, and I’d never heard of people just drinking chicken broth. Turns out that’s a thing.”

Heath: “I didn’t have any. Just wanted to stay in there at halftime.”

Witten: “Never done the chicken broth. That wasn’t going to help in 2013, I can damn sure tell you that.”

Coach Jason Garrett: “I might have [had some]. We were trying everything.”

Marinelli: “I’m a hot coffee guy.”

Frederick: “You go back in for halftime, and you’ve gotten out of the pool. Now you have to jump back into the pool knowing it’s cold.”

TV timeouts: ‘Come on, let’s go’

By the end of the third quarter, the score was 35-14 and would expand to 42-14 in the first minute of the fourth quarter. Since the game was on Monday Night Football, that didn’t help.

Heath: “They have extra-long TV timeouts, and for the TV timeouts you have to be on the field. So you can’t be on the bench during a TV timeout. We would run out there, and it’d be like a two-minute TV timeout and we’re all just sitting there, like, ‘Come on. Let’s go.'”

Frederick: “I thought it was unfair how many times we ended up out there vs. the other team. But I remember some of the skill guys hanging out a little bit more by the sidelines and the heaters, then coming out instead of everybody being out there during that TV timeout.”

Witten: “We had it timed up. It’s one thing where everybody was standing [on the sideline] for the TV timeout. I don’t think coach was too happy about that.”

Final thought: ‘Nothing but respect’

Players from the Ice Bowl say they still have numbness and frostbite, an aftereffect of that minus-13 degree game.

Witten: “I’m sure the Ice Bowl was colder. But I’ve got nothing but respect for those guys, because technology has come a long way since those guys played.”

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Patriots-Chiefs rematch evokes best victories of New England’s dynasty – New England Patriots Blog

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship Game, which was one of the epic wins of the era of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

“As usual, I’d say the Chiefs look pretty good,” Belichick said Wednesday, noting last year’s conference title game has some relevance in game planning. “Offensively, this is about as tough a team to prepare for as there is.”

While noting the Chiefs present challenges on defense and special teams, as well, Belichick said of Kansas City coach Andy Reid: “He’s as good a playcaller and game planner as anybody I’ve coached against.”

The Chiefs (8-4) have played some of their best football of the season as they enter Sunday on a two-game winning streak, while the Patriots (10-2) are coming off a disappointing loss to the Houston Texans, and their offense has come under some scrutiny for inconsistent play.

The return engagement (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS) provides a springboard to not only revisit that AFC Championship Game, but also place it in historical context among some of the great non-Super Bowl victories of the team’s dynastic run since 2001.

Best win ever? Not even in the top tier?

Such rankings are obviously subjective, but using what Brady said after last season’s game as a top part of the criteria — that it was especially sweet based on the odds being stacked against the Patriots, a high level of performance, the back-and-forth action and 70,000 people cheering against them — here is one view of the top six (for a touchdown, of course):

1. Patriots 38, Colts 34 (Nov. 30, 2003): Similar to last season’s AFC title game, it was on the road in a raucous, ear-splitting environment with high stakes as the teams jockeyed for the No. 1 playoff seed.

With 40 seconds remaining in regulation, the Peyton Manning-led Colts had four chances to win the game from inside the 2-yard line — and were stunningly denied. On fourth down, outside linebacker Willie McGinest charged into the backfield to tackle running back Edgerrin James, capping a back-and-forth game that is a notable chapter in the great Manning-Brady rivalry.

2. Patriots 37, Chiefs 31, OT (Jan. 20, 2019): In the rare spot of underdog, the Patriots couldn’t have played a better first half in the AFC Championship Game, leading 14-0, and it likely would have been more if not for an end zone interception thrown by Brady.

But it was only a matter of time before Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense would get cooking, which set the stage for a tense second half and overtime, with the Patriots converting three third-and-10s on the game-winning drive. As Brady said afterward when explaining why he jumped into the arms of Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy, “I was as excited as I’ve been in a long time.”

3. Patriots 38, Giants 35 (Dec. 29, 2007): Playing for history — the first 16-0 regular season — the Patriots hit the road in a playoff-type atmosphere.

Part of what made it special was that it was played on a Saturday night, and there were some questions as to how the Giants might approach the game because they were locked into the No. 5 playoff seed. New York coach Tom Coughlin went all-out, which further contributed to one of the NFL’s greatest regular-season finales.

There were five lead changes. When Brady hit Randy Moss for a 65-yard touchdown down the right sideline in the fourth quarter — one play after just missing the connection on a similar long bomb — it was an unforgettable moment because it gave the Patriots a 31-28 lead they wouldn’t relinquish and also set NFL records for most touchdown passes in a season (50, since broken) and most touchdown catches in a season (23).

4. Patriots 35, Ravens 31 (Jan. 10, 2015): The only game on the list played at home, the AFC divisional-round matchup finds its way here because the Patriots looked to be in real trouble — facing a 14-point deficit twice.

A touchdown throw from receiver Julian Edelman on a double pass helped provide a second-half spark, and the Patriots used an unusual tactic — declaring eligible receivers ineligible — that rattled the Ravens as the comeback was unfolding.

5. Patriots 24, Steelers 17 (Jan. 27, 2002): Although the Patriots had won seven games in a row, few figured they had much of a chance in the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh. Then they lost Brady to injury during the game, thrusting starter-turned-backup Drew Bledsoe into the game.

But as has become their signature under Belichick, they proved resourceful, with a Troy Brown 55-yard punt return for a touchdown and a blocked field goal that was returned 60 yards for a touchdown.

6. Patriots 24, Chargers 21 (Jan. 14, 2007): Brady throwing three interceptions in an AFC divisional-round game should have meant defeat, especially against a top-seeded Chargers team that had been undefeated at home and was led by league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson (31 touchdowns, 186 points, 1,815 yards).

The Chargers had nine Pro Bowlers and five All-Pros, as well. But the scrappy Patriots charged back from a 21-13 fourth-quarter deficit, with a key play coming when receiver Troy Brown stripped safety Marlon McCree on an interception return to set up the game-tying touchdown and 2-point conversion (direct snap to running back Kevin Faulk).

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