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    What We Learned From Week 4 of the N.F.L. Season

    Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is sitting on top of Jerry’s World, the Giants got an instructive win, and Kirk Cousins reverted to form in the Vikings’ loss.Utterly dismantling a Carolina Panthers defense that has dominated the rest of the N.F.L. this season, Dak Prescott looked like a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback that Jerry Jones doubted he ever would be.After all, it was Jones who had originally preferred Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook to Prescott in the 2016 draft. The Dallas Cowboys owner was apoplectic when the Cowboys failed to trade into the first round for Lynch. That weekend, Prescott was little more than a consolation prize, and there were even members of the Cowboys’ front office who didn’t even view Prescott as a draftable player then.Jerry’s World is a wacky place, indeed.Prescott won — instantly — and was forced to wait six years to get paid.After using the franchise tag on Prescott in 2020, Jones finally gave the quarterback a long-term deal before this 2021 season. Now, Prescott appears ready to reward the Super Bowl-starved Jones. The biggest takeaway from Week 4 in the N.F.L.?Dak Prescott is singularly capable of ending the misery in Dallas.Against a Carolina defense that has been suffocating offenses — No. 1 in sacks, No. 1 in quarterback hits, No. 2 in points allowed through three weeks — Dallas’s new $160-million-dollar man coolly completed 14 of 22 passes for 188 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 130.3 passer rating in a convincing 36-28 win.Granted, the season is young. There’s still time for either Jones or Mike McCarthy to meddle with what’s working, via a bizarre trade in the middle of the season or mind-boggling clock mismanagement. Both are capable of sabotaging a potential champion, as we’ve seen. But one is in the booth and one is on the sideline. It’s Prescott with the ball in his hands every play and Prescott absolutely gives the Cowboys a real shot at ending a 25-year championship drought.With the score tied, 7-7, at the end of the first quarter, on fourth-and-1 near midfield, the Panthers had all of Dallas’s receivers blanketed. Prescott did not hesitate. He saw a crease and took off for 21 yards to keep the drive alive. Three snaps later, he knifed an 18-yard touchdown to tight end Blake Jarwin.Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold ran in for his second rushing touchdown to push Carolina ahead, 14-13, Carolina missed a field-goal attempt on its first drive of the third quarter and Prescott struck again.With Carolina deploying a single-high safety, Prescott was decisive again.Planting his right foot at the Panthers’ 44-yard line, he rainbowed a beauty to Amari Cooper for a touchdown that put Dallas ahead, 20-14. Few defenses in today’s N.F.L. ever cede a one-on-one opportunity along the boundary like that. Prescott read it and pounced on exactly the sort of throw these Cowboys need to consistently make against elite defenses. Further, the Cowboys’ offensive line did an excellent job picking up the exotic blitz.Dallas never looked back, eventually extending its lead to 36-14.Even in a league full of quarterbacks married to the sport, Prescott’s maniacal work ethic stands out as rare. Since 2016, he has drastically improved every aspect of his game: accuracy, athleticism, arm strength. If he was a caretaker as a rookie, he’s indisputably one of the best playmakers in the N.F.L. today.And the one aspect of his game that never wavered? His leadership. By most accounts, Prescott endeared himself to veterans, rookies and team staffers from Day 1. And his first coordinator in Dallas, Scott Linehan, once told me that even with Tony Romo still roaming the backfield, “When Dak was in the building, you knew he was the face of the franchise.”And now he’s grown into a franchise leader who can engage in a shootout with Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson, if needed.In a season-opening loss to Tampa Bay, Prescott threw for 403 yards on 58 attempts. But since then, the Cowboys have struck a more sustainable formula — they’re leaning on the ground game. With both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard pounding away, Quinn has been able to retool what was a historically bad defense last year. The Cowboys’ offense is complementing its defense and Sunday provided evidence that the Elliott who was also handed big money has returned.Midway through the third quarter, Elliott hesitated at the line, let a hole develop and hit a top-end speed that Dallas hasn’t seen in ages for a 47-yard carry.Jones made it clear in training camp that he would “do anything known to man” to win a Super Bowl. Honestly, that’s been the case since he bought the team — and has usually resulted in bad decisions.Jerry Jones may never have really wanted Prescott, but Prescott is proving that he’s capable of giving Jones what he has always been after.Stephen Lew/USA Today Sports, via ReutersDaniel Jones and Saquon Barkley are a duo to build around.Through the Giants’ first three losses this season, it has been far too easy to pin all blame on the two players handpicked by General Manager Dave Gettleman to bring the team back to glory. But the truth is that quarterback Daniel Jones was playing perfectly fine — not great, but not horrid, either — and running back Saquon Barkley, meanwhile, looked fine in the early stages of testing his rehabbed right anterior cruciate ligament.In Sunday’s 27-21 comeback win over the New Orleans Saints, both Jones and Barkley were unquestionably special.Their numbers were impressive: Jones threw for a career-high 402 yards and Barkley had 126 yards from scrimmage. But the play that completely changed the complexion of this game in the always-deafening Superdome had to have to supplied the organization real hope that the pair could still be the franchise-carrying talents they were expected to be when they were drafted.Down 21-10, with seven minutes to go, Barkley split wide left and burned Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore for a 54-yard touchdown catch. Barkley noted afterward that he and Jones had discussed the coverage during the game: Seeing that Lattimore was sitting on an out route, Barkley knew he could simply go deep.Jones ran in the 2-point conversion, and a field goal on the Giants’ next drive tied the game at 21. Barkley’s 6-yard touchdown run in overtime ended the game.The Giants are now 1-3 with renewed confidence right in the teeth of their schedule.The Browns finished with 10 hits on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, four by Myles Garrett.Jeffrey Becker/USA Today Sports, via ReutersMinnesota’s third loss was its worst.Blame Kirk Cousins. Blame an anemic offensive line.Either way, the Minnesota Vikings’ 14-7 loss at home to the Cleveland Browns was as demoralizing as it gets for an offense that could do no wrong in September. For three weeks, Cousins tore up three subpar secondaries. He didn’t throw an interception, nor did he show a tick of fear in the face of any pass rush. Statistically, he was playing as well as any quarterback in the N.F.L.Against the best defense he’s faced to date, Cousins again turned back into a pumpkin.That has been the rap on Cousins over his career: Against poor defenses, he’ll throw for 300-plus yards and three touchdowns with ease. But add a stingy pass rush and sprinkle on higher stakes, and be ready to be underwhelmed. Heading into this season, Cousins was 7-35 against teams that finished the season with a winning record.The Vikings want to believe he’s the answer. General Manager Rick Spielman and the front office did salary cap gymnastics to sign Cousins to a contract extension heading into the 2020 season.Unfortunately, this is who he’s been since entering the league nine years ago.The Browns finished with 10 hits on Cousins, four from Myles Garrett alone. Still, this was a 4-point game for three quarters and one big play could have busted things open. Just one. That throw deep to Justin Jefferson or Adam Thielen never developed. After Cleveland kicker Chase McLaughlin hit a 53-yard field goal to put the Browns up, 14-7, with six minutes remaining, Cousins’s deep shot the next possession was easily intercepted by cornerback Greedy Williams. The Vikings got the ball back twice more but fell short on each drive.Cousins gets the Detroit Lions next, but that’ll most likely serve as nothing but a couple of pills of Advil with the Vikings then facing six legitimate contenders in a row.And at some point, the Vikings must ask themselves exactly how far Cousins can take them.Jets receiver Corey Davis, left, caught a 53-yard touchdown pass from Zach Wilson on Sunday.Al Bello/Getty ImagesAround the N.F.L.Cardinals 37, Rams 20: It’s time to stop sleeping on the Cardinals, who smacked around a team that seemed borderline invincible to start the season. Kyler Murray didn’t turn the ball over, Arizona rushed for 216 yards and, now, the Cardinals are in total control of the N.F.C. West. The question now is if Coach Kliff Kingsbury can keep this offense humming and avoid a slide similar to last season’s, when Arizona started 5-2 and went 3-6 the rest of the way.Seahawks 28, 49ers 21: You cannot let Russell Wilson hang around. With every opportunity to bury Seattle early, San Francisco’s offense kept short-circuiting. And as he’s done his whole career, Wilson turned it on when needed, scoring 14 of the Seahawks’ 21 second-half points.Packers 27, Steelers 17: Everything for Pittsburgh turned on an offsides penalty before the half. Officials ruled that cornerback Joe Haden jumped before the snap, negating a blocked field goal-attempt that Minkah Fitzpatrick returned for a touchdown that would have given the Steelers a 17-14 lead. Alas, Ben Roethlisberger was forced to play from behind. As we’ve learned thus far in 2021, that’s not a pretty sight.Ravens 23, Broncos 7: Facing the best defense he’s seen this season, Lamar Jackson finished with 316 yards and a touchdown through the air and ran the ball only seven times to hand Denver its first loss of the season.Washington 34, Falcons 30: One of the biggest shocks of this season is how bad the Washington Football Team’s defense has performed. Of course, it didn’t matter against an equally porous Falcons defense. Running back J.D. McKissic supplied the heroics by going airborne at the goal line with 33 seconds left.Bears 24, Lions 14: Whenever hysteria reaches its fever pitch at Halas Hall, it seems like the Bears always have a get-right game on the schedule. The rebuilding Lions were the perfect medicine, and running back David Montgomery (106 yards, two touchdowns) continued to bludgeon linebackers as one of the best players we don’t talk nearly enough about.Bills 40, Texans 0: One day, there will be a “30 for 30” documentary written solely on how the 2021 Texans managed to win a football game. Not this week, though.Colts 27, Dolphins 17: Jonathan Taylor was a force on the ground (103 yards, touchdown), Carson Wentz was efficient enough on those two bad ankles (24-of-32 passing with two touchdowns) for Indianapolis to get a much-needed win after three emotionally taxing losses.Giants 27, Saints 21 (OT): Lost in the Giants madness this season is the fact that Daniel Jones has taken an obvious step forward. He’s not committing the backbreaking mistakes of 2020 and, on Sunday, he started taking more shots downfield, finishing with 402 yards and two touchdowns.Chiefs 42, Eagles 30: Andy Reid surely knows he needs to clean up his rickety defense. Kansas City again gave up yards and points in chunks. But as long as Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill exist, this Chiefs offense can outscore any team in the league. On 12 targets, Hill caught 11 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns.Jets 27, Titans 24 (OT): OK, so Titans receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Brown were both sidelined. Jets Coach Robert Saleh still got his first N.F.L. win behind a defense that hit Ryan Tannehill 14 times and a rookie quarterback, Zach Wilson, who played with the swagger the team has been missing. More

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    Tom Brady Sets N.F.L. Career Passing Record in Return to New England

    Brady, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterback, returned to New England for the first time since leaving and surpassed Drew Brees’s mark on a first-quarter play.FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady became the N.F.L.’s career passing leader on Sunday in his first game back in New England to face his former team, the Patriots.In the first quarter, Brady completed a 28-yard pass to receiver Mike Evans to reach 80,359 yards and surpass the record of 80,358 yards set last year by Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints quarterback who retired at the end of the season.The Patriots flashed the record on the stadium video screen and announced it to the crowd, which cheered, but they did not stop the game for a ceremony. Heading into the game, Brady needed just 68 yards to pass Brees. Brady will likely hold onto the record for several years. Among active players, Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers has the second-most career yards, but he trails Brady by about 20,000 yards.Brady’s record-setting throw was just one of many highlights in one of the most anticipated regular season games in years, as the Buccaneers sought to improve on their 2-1 record and the Patriots, at 1-2, struggled to get a foothold in their second season without Brady as their leader.Much of the drama before the game focused on the showdown between Brady and Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, and who was responsible for Brady’s departure after two decades, 249 wins and six Super Bowl championships together.One fan bought a billboard not far from the stadium that all but blamed Belichick for Brady’s decision to move to Tampa. Fans tailgating before the game at Gillette Stadium did not begrudge Brady for leaving.“I’m grateful for everything Tom did, but that’s in the past,” said Randy Greeley, a longtime season ticket holder who wore the jersey of Mac Jones, the team’s new quarterback. “My loyalty is to the Pats.”When the Buccaneers took the field to warm up about 50 minutes before kickoff, fans gave Brady a standing ovation and chanted his name. Before the game, the Patriots played a short video tribute on the stadium scoreboard that showed Brady’s exploits in New England. But when Brady took the field for Tampa’s opening drive, he was booed.Brady has been restrained about his relationship with Belichick and his reasons for moving to Tampa. But his father and trainer, interviewed separately, were more blunt, claiming that Belichick did not value Brady’s input and felt, at 44, that his best days were over.When he was in New England, Brady had said he wanted to play until he was 45. Tampa gave him a two-year contract. Having led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title last season, and already off to a fast start this year, Brady has mused about potentially playing until he is 50.Local television stations and national networks like NBC’s “Today” show broadcast from the stadium parking lot days before the game, while one website listed the top 10 sports homecomings in Boston area history before Brady’s return.Brady’s fans greeted the quarterback at the airport in Providence, R.I., when the Buccaneers’ team plane arrived on Saturday. The team now includes cornerback Richard Sherman, the free agent former 49ers corner whom Brady recruited to the Buccaneers despite being mired in legal trouble stemming from an arrest this summer and five misdemeanor charges, including two for domestic violence. The Buccaneers were without tight end Rob Gronkowski, another former Patriots player, who has a rib injury. More

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    The Jets and Giants Manage Week 4 Wins

    We enlisted two experts — one locally focused, one nationally — to offer their opinions on the first winning weekend of the 2021 N.F.L. season.This season, we’ve enlisted two experts — one familiar with the ins and outs of New York’s football teams, the other a nationally focused football analyst — to answer an essential question as a service to readers: Are these teams good yet?Devin Gordon, who has written about sports for ESPN and GQ and is the author of “So Many Ways to Lose: The Amazin’ True Story of the New York Mets, the Best Worst Team in Sports,” observed both the Giants and the Jets from a locally focused perspective.Diante Lee, an N.F.L. analyst at Pro Football Focus, offered a national view.GiantsThe Giants rallied to beat the New Orleans Saints, 27-21, in overtime.Insider’s perspective:Folks, we have a watchable football team: The Giants are officially worth your viewing attention. Look, the Giants (1-3) still aren’t good, to be clear, but they are no longer winless. Deep into the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against the Saints, one of the N.F.L.’s better teams, playing in their emotional post-Hurricane Ida return to the Superdome, a pattern appeared to be repeating itself. Freewheeling quarterback Daniel Jones was making the occasional spectacular play, running back Saquon Barkley was tantalizing the audience with flashes of his pre-injury self, and the Giants were making a game of it. All that remained was for the Giants to lose in heartbreaking fashion, presumably on a last-second field goal, like in the previous two weeks.Instead, Jones and Barkley gave fans a glimpse of the playoff-caliber team the Giants might soon become (but definitely aren’t yet), winning in overtime on Barkley’s second touchdown gallop of the game. His first score, a 54-yard dump-and-run from Jones, brought the Giants within 3 points after the ensuing 2-point conversion late in the fourth quarter. Barkley’s second, on the opening drive of overtime, gave the Giants their first victory of the season.In New Orleans’s new world without Drew Brees, their offense has suddenly grown stagnant. It’s a three-prong plan: Feed Alvin Kamara, toss in some dashes of Taysom Hill, and forbid Jameis Winston from doing anything complicated. For three and a half quarters, the strategy worked. But when the Saints needed a first down, they couldn’t manufacture one. And the young frisky funnible Giants? All of a sudden, they’re the ones who can score from anywhere.Verdict: Get on the bandwagon early!Outsider’s view:Finally, there’s evidence of a pulse fluttering about in the chest of the Football Giants.In their first win of the season, the Giants managed legitimate scoring drives, winning in overtime when Saquon Barkley fought through contact for a 6-yard touchdown run following a huge 23-yard pass to Kenny Golladay on a third down play.Daniel Jones looked exactly like a quarterback in a contract year, repeatedly pushing the ball downfield when he saw one-on-one coverage. He finished on Sunday with the first 400-yard passing performance of his career, and he spread the wealth in spite of receivers Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard being out: Four Giants had more than 70 yards receiving.Jones filled the stat sheet, but more important to the Giants’ future, Barkley looked like the playmaker of old. Barkley has been desperate to again make explosive plays that decide games and, to set him up, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett got Barkley the ball as far away from the box as possible. Barkley’s 54-yard third quarter touchdown came as a receiver in an empty formation, and he scored again on a key run after the catch in overtime on a screen play.Four weeks in, we can firmly conclude that the defense won’t be what it was in 2020. The Giants surrendered 400 yards of offense to a Saints offense missing many of its most explosive players. The bend-don’t-break approach was enough on Sunday but can’t generate enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks to mount a sustained challenge. The real test is next week against the Dallas Cowboys’ explosive passing game.Verdict: We’ll know for sure next week.Zach Wilson was 21 of 34 for 297 passing yards and two touchdowns Sunday in an overtime win against the Titans.Adam Hunger/Associated PressJetsThe Jets fought off the Tennessee Titans to win, 27-24, in overtime.Insider’s perspective:It must be fun to root for Derrick Henry, the N.F.L.’s best running back, because it sure is demoralizing to root against him. He plays this trick in the early going, luring us into a false sense of satisfaction. Look, it’s almost halftime and he’s only got 39 yards! He might even get stuffed at the line of scrimmage once or twice. It was easy to think the Jets might be doing well.Silly goose. Henry, who rushed for 2,027 yards last season, is a heavyweight fighter working the body, and by the fourth quarter the opposing defense’s gut is mush. N.F.L. wonks often say that Henry gets stronger as the game goes on, but it’s more the defense that gets weaker, and then steam-rolled. On Sunday at MetLife Stadium, Henry crossed the 100-yard mark on his first carry of the fourth quarter, then bullrushed his way into the end zone to put the Titans ahead, 17-10. End of story, right?With Titans receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Brown out, the Jets could be certain of the entirety of the Titans’ playbook — Derrick Henry, Derrick Henry, Derrick Henry. The Titans had a similar advantage: The Jets’ only weapon is their rookie quarterback Zach Wilson’s rocket right arm. After a first half in which Wilson failed to lead the Jets on a touchdown drive for the fourth straight game, he connected twice for 50-plus yard passes on rollouts to his right, including a 53-yarder to Corey Davis to put the Jets in front, 24-17, late in the fourth quarter.Finally, the Jets figured out how to slow down Henry: grab a lead, and force the Titans to throw. Up by a field goal with two minutes remaining in overtime, the Jets almost seemed to give up on Henry and play the clock. Could time expire before Henry got into the end zone? Yes. Henry got the Titans close enough for a game-tying field goal, but kicker Randy Bullock missed it. The Jets got their first win, and even better, they don’t have to tackle Derrick Henry anymore.Verdict: Maybe consider checking in at halftime first?Outsider’s view:After three weeks of counting moral victories and nursing wounded egos, the Jets have something tangible to celebrate — a win.The young team put together a fourth-quarter performance beyond their years and then outlasted the Tennessee Titans in overtime. The Jets converted three different third-down attempts on their final drive to get into range for a successful 22-yard field-goal attempt.After seeing tough defenses in three consecutive games, rookie Zach Wilson was finally able to work through his progressions against the Titans. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur didn’t ask Wilson to be a world-beater, but when the offense needed to take a shot, tied 17-17 midway through the fourth quarter, Wilson delivered with a 53-yard touchdown pass to Corey Davis to take the lead.Wilson will still need to improve his decision making down the field, whether pass rushers are chasing him down or not. Wilson’s lone interception, his eighth this season, came on a pass to a receiver who wasn’t open, a sign that he’s probably too comfortable pushing things. Without much of a running game to set up play-action passes, and a receiving corps that cannot win against tight coverage play after play, the Jets’ best hope on offense is to be good enough. Against the Atlanta Falcons next week, Wilson and company just might be.Verdict: Almost! More

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    Justin Tucker's Field Goal Record Is Likely to Stand for a While

    Kickers, kicking techniques and playing conditions have all improved, but the downsides of coming up short still discourage coaches from challenging the record.When Tom Dempsey walloped a 63-yard field goal for the New Orleans Saints in 1970, it might have ushered in a new era of long kicks. Instead, it was an anomaly, so much so that it took decades for another kicker to match it.It has taken 51 years to nudge the N.F.L. record 3 yards longer, as Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens did on Sunday with a 66-yard field goal. It’s worth asking: Why have field-goal records generally stood for so long, and why are they broken by such small margins?Dempsey’s kick, with two seconds left, won the game for the Saints over the Detroit Lions at Tulane Stadium. It shattered the previous record of 56 yards set in 1953 by Bert Rechichar of the Colts — a defensive back attempting the first field goal of his career.“The snap was perfect, the ball was placed perfectly — and I had the strength,” Dempsey said a day later. “I’m still stunned today thinking about it.”Besides that kick, Dempsey, who died last year at 73 of complications from the coronavirus, is remembered for his footwear. He was born without toes on his right foot, and when kicking, he wore a custom shoe with a flattened toe surface. The 63-yarder passed into N.F.L. lore and was unsurpassed for 43 years — 20 years longer than Bob Beamon’s epic long jump at the 1968 Olympics, which has become synonymous with paradigm-shattering records.There was just one kick of 60 or more yards in the 1980s and two more in the 1990s: In 1998, Jason Elam of the Broncos tied Dempsey’s record.But the new century brought bigger, stronger, more skilled kickers and an explosion of successful 60-plus-yard kicks, 21 of them so far. In 2013, the Broncos’ Matt Prater finally broke Dempsey’s record with a 64-yarder.On Sunday, Tucker went 2 yards better, booting a 66-yard field goal as time expired. The ball hit the cross bar, popped in the air and fell through the uprights to win the game for the Ravens.In a small coincidence, both Dempsey and Tucker’s game winners came against the Lions. In a huge coincidence, both games ended with a 19-17 score.“I don’t really have the words to do justice to the moment,” Tucker said after the game.The comparative onslaught of successful long kicks in recent decades can be attributed to kickers getting bigger and fitter, and improvements in technique, beginning with the switch to soccer-style kicking. Many stadiums are also domed now, cutting down on wind and weather impediments.Still, the record has increased only 3 yards — nine feet — since 1970. Why is that?Tom Dempsey shattered the field-goal record in 1970 with the help of a special shoe.Associated PressTeams don’t try them.It’s not that field goals have fallen out of favor: The number of attempts per team is flat over the last six decades. Field-goal kickers have become a lot more accurate since 1970, making 85 percent of their kicks last season to just 59 percent then. In theory, they should have the ability to make a lot more long kicks than they do.But to kick a really long field goal, teams have to attempt a really long field goal, and such tries are not routine. In the 2020 season, 168 field goals of 50 yards or more were attempted. Only 10 of those were 60 yards or more, and just three were 65 yards or more.One reason is field position. If an attempt from midfield fails, the opponent gets the ball at the place the ball was spotted. Even a poor punt that resulted in a touchback would give the other team the ball at its own 20.It’s no coincidence that Tucker’s kick came with time running out and the game on the line. Field position considerations mean you probably only want to try a very long kick as time is expiring in the half or in the game. And if it’s the fourth quarter, there’s no point trying a long field goal unless you are within 3 points of your opponent. That combination of circumstances doesn’t come up too many times a season.Hail Marys are a better bet.Quarterbacks’ arms are improving as fast or faster than kicker’s legs. A Hail Mary try may be just as appealing as a long kick to many coaches. Teams have also started treating long passes more scientifically, setting up special blocking schemes and analyzing opponents’ tendencies, rather than simply chucking up the ball and praying.Besides, Tucker’s 66-yarder just barely made it over the bar. The Canadian Football League record is 62 yards, and the major college record, without a kicking tee, is 65. Kickers have sometimes belted 70-plus-yard field goals in practice, but in a game, how much longer can a kicker truly go?Falling short can have ugly consequences.There’s one more rude downside to trying a really long field goal. Also on Sunday, Prater of the Cardinals took a shot at a 68-yarder against the Jaguars as the first half ended. Had he made it, Tucker’s kick would have been an afterthought.But Prater came up short on the prodigious kick. And the thing is, you can return a field goal that comes up short. Jamal Agnew caught Prater’s short kick and ran it back 109 yards for a touchdown. A play that had a small chance of getting the Cardinals 3 points gave the Jags 6 instead. More

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    NFL Week 4 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread

    Tom Brady faces Bill Belichick, the Rams and the Cardinals fight to stay undefeated, and the Browns’ pass rush travels to Minnesota to try to end Kirk Cousins’s interception-less streak.Guess what? Tom Brady heads to Foxborough, Mass., to play the Patriots this weekend. You probably already knew that, though.Brady’s return to New England pits him against Coach Bill Belichick, with whom he won six Super Bowls over two decades. Brady is back in town with a freshly acquired Super Bowl ring and needing only 68 yards to break Drew Brees’s N.F.L. record for career passing yards. But there are other grudge matches around the N.F.L. in Week 4, including an N.F.C. West showdown between the unbeaten Rams and Cardinals and a scary Browns pass rush traveling to Minnesota to try to end Kirk Cousins’s interception-less streak.Here’s a look at N.F.L. Week 4, with all picks made against the spread.Last week’s record: 12-4All times Eastern.Here’s what you need to know:Thursday’s MatchupSunday’s Best GamesSunday’s other gamesMonday’s MatchupHow Betting Lines WorkThursday’s MatchupJacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals, 8:20 p.m., NFL NetworkLine: Bengals -7.5 | Total: 45.5The Jaguars’ streak of allowing an average of 302.3 passing yards per game should continue this week against the Bengals (2-1) as Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase seem to have rediscovered their college chemistry in the pros.Burrow and Chase have connected for touchdown passes in each of their three games, including two last week in the 24-10 dismantling of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Trevor Lawrence’s acclimation to the league has been rough; the rookie has thrown seven interceptions compared with only five touchdowns. Expect Burrow and the Bengals to score at will while the Jaguars (0-3) struggle to respond. Pick: Bengals -7.5Sunday’s Best GamesTampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots, 8:20 p.m., NBCLine: Buccaneers -6.5 | Total: 49After the pomp and circumstance around Tom Brady’s return to Gillette Stadium as a visitor dies down, the game itself should be competitive. The Buccaneers (2-1) will have Antonio Brown back from the reserve/Covid list, but the team will be without slot receiver Scotty Miller, who has a toe injury, and potentially the pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul, who sat out against the Los Angeles Rams with hand and shoulder injuries. The veteran free-agent cornerback Richard Sherman will join the team as its secondary battles injuries, though Coach Bruce Arians said he doubted Sherman would play on Sunday.Teams have not run effectively against Tampa Bay’s front seven and have instead exploited its defensive backs. The Bucs’ secondary has allowed opponents to throw for over 300 yards twice, including in a loss to the Rams last week, when Matthew Stafford tossed for 343 yards and four touchdowns. Brady will be motivated to win, and the Bucs most likely will, but the secondary’s struggles give Mac Jones and the Patriots a chance to cover the spread. Pick: Patriots +6.5Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m., FoxLine: Rams -6 | Total: 54.5Matthew Stafford’s connection with Cooper Kupp has made the receiver a fantasy football must-have. Kupp leads the N.F.L. in receiving yards (367) and touchdown receptions (5) and is tied at first for catches (25).Their chemistry will test the Cardinals’ defense, which has yet to face an offense as dynamic as the Rams’ (3-0). Though both teams are undefeated, the Cardinals (3-0) were saved from a loss to the Vikings in Week 2 by a shanked field-goal attempt and played down to the lowly Jaguars last week. Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey are unlikely to allow Kyler Murray to again put up video game numbers — he’s averaging 335 yards per game — and Rams Coach Sean McVay has never lost to the Cardinals. He is likely to keep that streak alive. Pick: Rams -6Browns pass rusher Myles Garrett, who had 4.5 sacks last week against the Bears, will hound Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins on Sunday.Kirk Irwin/Associated PressCleveland Browns at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m., CBSLine: Browns -2 | Total: 53Kirk Cousins has yet to throw an interception this season, but the Browns (2-1) are the most complete defense the Vikings (1-2) will have seen.Cousins has thrown for more than 300 yards twice, including last week while running back Dalvin Cook was out with an ankle injury. Cook’s replacement, Alexander Mattison, rushed for 112 yards in his absence. It’s unclear whether Cook will play on Sunday, but if Cook returns or Mattison starts, the Browns’ defense will be up for the challenge. The unit ranks fifth in the league against the rush (201 yards allowed) and second in sacks (14). Meanwhile, Cleveland’s offense last week welcomed back receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from his knee injury. Those factors make betting with the Vikings tough, and the spread may honestly be too low. Pick: Browns -2Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers, 4:05 p.m., FoxLine: San Francisco -2.5 | Total: 52Hello, defense? Is anyone home? Pete Carroll must be asking his team that question after the Seahawks (1-2) allowed opponents to amass over 450 yards of offense in each of the last two games. No amount of Russell Wilson magic can save a game with those defensive performances.The 49ers (2-1) will be eager to play again after narrowly losing to the Packers on a last-second field goal. But they continue to battle injuries on both sides of the ball, with important players like tight end George Kittle (calf) and Josh Norman (lungs) listed as day-to-day. If Seattle can muster some sort of respectable defensive outing for pride’s sake, then the Seahawks could manage to be competitive and cover the spread. Pick: Seattle +2.5Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos, 4:25 p.m., CBSLine: Broncos -1 | Total: 44Their undefeated record has come against winless opponents, so the Broncos (3-0) will try to get a statement win over the Ravens (2-1), who last week struggled before closing out the Lions. Denver quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be without receiver K.J. Hamler, the Broncos’ No. 3 receiver, who tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in another big loss to the receiving corps after Jerry Jeudy was placed on injury reserve earlier in the season.After an overtime loss to open the season, the Ravens have closed out thrilling victories at home and on the road. They should be able to ride that momentum to give Denver its first loss. Pick: Ravens +1Sunday’s other gamesCarolina Panthers at Dallas Cowboys, 1 p.m., FoxLine: Cowboys -4 | Total: 50Losing running back Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) and cornerback Jaycee Horn (foot) should devastate the Panthers (3-0) and their chances of remaining undefeated. With McCaffrey out for “a few weeks,” according to Coach Matt Rhule, receiver D.J. Moore is the Panthers’ best offensive weapon. He is likely to be shadowed by the Cowboys’ top cornerback, Trevon Diggs, who has had an interception in every game this season.The Cowboys will keep up an aggressive offensive attack as the offensive coordinator Kellen Moore tries to exploit a secondary that hastily added C.J. Henderson via trade during the week. Until proven otherwise, expect the Panthers’ offense to backslide and struggle without McCaffrey as its workhorse. Pick: Cowboys -4Washington’s defense has underperformed so far this season. Led by defensive end Chase Young, it could bounce back against the Falcons.Andrew Harnik/Associated PressWashington Footballers at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m., FoxLine: Footballers -1.5 | Total: 48Oddsmakers are essentially predicting a tossup, largely because Washington has not played to its potential. The Footballers’ defense, in theory, should overpower the Falcons (1-2), as Atlanta has rushed for 100 yards only once and is still heavily relying on Matt Ryan’s arm at the ripe age of 36. But the Footballers (1-2) failed to sack Bills quarterback Josh Allen last week, and he dissected them for four touchdowns. Against a weaker offensive line, Washington should find more success. Pick: Footballers -1.5.Houston Texans at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m., CBSLine: Bills -17 | Total: 48The line on this game is absurdly lopsided and rightfully so. The Bills’ defense generated three turnovers in each of the last two games. It is likely to feast on Davis Mills of the Texans (1-2), who threw for 168 yards and was sacked four times in his first N.F.L. start last week against Carolina. Mills is likely to do more to limit the production of Texans receiver Brandin Cooks than the Bills (2-1). Expect the score to get ugly quick. Pick: Bills -17Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m., CBSLine: Bears -3 | Total: 42.5This could finally be the one.The Lions (0-3) have played competitively in first halves against playoff-caliber teams, and Ravens kicker Justin Tucker had to convert a 66-yard field-goal attempt to rob Detroit of a win last week. That evasive W may come against the Bears (1-2), who posted 1 net passing yard (yes, you read that correctly) and allowed the rookie Justin Fields to take nine sacks against the Browns. Coach Matt Nagy said Fields, Andy Dalton and Nick Foles are all under consideration to start. The Lions could capitalize on that dysfunction. Pick: Lions +3Indianapolis Colts at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m., CBSLine: Dolphins -1.5 | Total: 43.5Injuries continue to plague the Colts (0-3), most recently with the All-Pro offensive guard Quenton Nelson spraining his ankle and needing to be carted off the field last week. Coach Frank Reich did not rule out Nelson, but said his chances of playing were “not looking good.” Nelson’s availability would help against the Dolphins (1-2), who feature an aggressive and opportunistic defense. Miami’s backup quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, completed over 65 percent of his passes in an overtime loss to the Raiders in Week 3, showing he can manage the offense efficiently while Tua Tagovailoa’s ribs heal. If that responsible play continues and the defense generates pressure and turnovers, the Carson Wentz experiment in Indianapolis could remain winless. Pick: Dolphins -1.5Giants at New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m., FoxLine: Saints -7.5 | Total: 43.5Giants receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton injured hamstrings in Week 3, potentially removing two of Daniel Jones’s favorite targets. He’ll need every asset the Giants (0-3) can offer to combat the inevitable deafening noise in the Superdome for the Saints’ first true home game of the season. The Saints (2-1), whose defense collected three interceptions last week against the Patriots, could produce a similar outing as Jones throws to receivers on the bottom of the depth chart. Pick: Saints -7.5Tennessee Titans at Jets, 1 p.m., CBSLine: Titans -7.5 | Total: 46Receiver A.J. Brown’s hamstring injury should not stop the Titans (2-1) from winning this game easily, given the team’s other formidable stars, running back Derrick Henry and receiver Julio Jones. The Jets, however, lack such options. The rookie quarterback Zach Wilson has thrown seven interceptions to two touchdowns, and the Jets (0-3) have rushed for more than 100 yards only once. Even a developing defense like Tennessee’s should be able to contain the Jets’ attack. Pick: Titans -7.5Kansas City at Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m., CBSLine: Kansas City -6 | Total: 54.5Kansas City (1-2) has had back-to-back losses only three times since 2018, making this uncommon territory for a perennial Super Bowl contender. They are likely to bounce back against the Eagles (1-2), who took a beating from Dallas on Monday and had a short week to prepare.Kansas City Coach Andy Reid reportedly returned to work Tuesday after being treated for dehydration after Sunday’s game. He will most likely preach ball security to his team, which committed six total turnovers in losses to the Ravens and the Chargers. If the Chiefs can fix those issues, their firepower should be too much for the Eagles’ young offense to respond. Pick: Kansas City -6Pittsburgh Steelers at Green Bay Packers, 4:25 p.m., CBSLine: Steelers -6.5 | Total: 45.5The Steelers’ pedestrian offense has been a problem and now faces a Packers team (2-1) that is beginning to click. Pittsburgh’s quarterback weakness has been well documented, but Ben Roethlisberger ranks third in the N.F.L. in passing attempts in large part because the team has yet to rush for more than 75 yards in a game this season and its defense has given up first-quarter leads.The Steelers (1-2) are hopeful outside linebacker T.J. Watt (groin) will be available after missing last week’s loss to the Bengals, but Aaron Rodgers’s output should still far exceed that of the Steelers’ offense. Pick: Packers -6.5Monday’s MatchupThe Chargers’ offensive line has allowed only five sacks of Justin Herbert this season, but Los Angeles’s offense leads the league in penalty yards (243), which could put it in a bind against defensive end Maxx Crosby and the Raiders.Kyusung Gong/Associated PressLas Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers, 8:15 p.m., ESPNLine: Chargers -3.5 | Total: 52.5With Kansas City figuring out how to end its rut and the Broncos facing their first winning opponent, the Chargers or the Raiders will gain valuable ground in the A.F.C. West. The outcome will come down to whether the Chargers’ new-look offensive line can hold its own against the Raiders’ improved pass rush. The Chargers (2-1) have allowed only five sacks, but Los Angeles’s offense leads the league in penalty yards (243), including notable flags for illegal shifts in a loss to the Cowboys and a narrow win over the Chiefs.This one will have exceptional player matchups to watch — between the Chargers rookie tackle Rashawn Slater and Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby, and Chargers safety Derwin James against Raiders tight end Darren Waller — but the Raiders (3-0) may have the edge if running back Josh Jacobs returns after missing two games with an ankle injury. Pick: Raiders +3.5How Betting Lines WorkA quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Steelers -4.5, for example, means that Pittsburgh must beat Cincinnati by at least 5 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points. More

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    Richard Sherman Joins the Buccaneers After a Call From Tom Brady

    Sherman is facing criminal charges for five misdemeanors, including two for domestic violence, from an arrest this summer. The free agent cornerback was recruited to Tampa Bay by his former rival.Richard Sherman, who is mired in legal trouble stemming from an arrest this summer and five misdemeanor charges, including two for domestic violence, has agreed to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, becoming the latest high-profile free agent to join quarterback Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions.One of the best known cornerbacks in the league, Sherman, 33, announced his arrival in Tampa on his podcast Wednesday morning. The team confirmed the news by posting to Twitter a photo of Sherman signing his contract, reported by the NFL Network to be worth $2.25 million, only $500,000 of it guaranteed. Coach Bruce Arians said Sherman would not play this weekend against the Patriots unless there were injuries to other cornerbacks.“I finally had enough conversations and came to a decision that I’m going to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” Sherman said, adding a shout. “All the craziness and then all the hate and all the tweets, and then everybody’s mad because I didn’t go to their team. I’m sorry.”Whatever his contributions on the field may be, Sherman’s arrival in Tampa raises fresh questions about the N.F.L.’s handling of players accused of domestic abuse and other violent crimes and about Brady’s role in lobbying the Buccaneers to sign two free agents, Sherman and receiver Antonio Brown, while they were in the midst of criminal and league investigations.In 2020, N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Brown for eight games while the league investigated his role in a reported assault on a moving company employee, an allegation that emerged after Brown was accused of sending threatening texts to a woman who accused him of sexual misconduct. At the time of the suspension, Brown was an unrestricted free agent.Brady, who played with Brown briefly in New England in 2019, courted the All-Pro receiver to Tampa before he finished his suspension at the end of Week 8 last season. Brady invited Brown to live in his home in Tampa before Brown signed with the Buccaneers at the end of October 2020.Concurrently, Brown also faced a lawsuit that claimed he sexually assaulted his former trainer in 2017 and 2018. Brown and his accuser reached a settlement in April this year. He pleaded no contest to battery in the moving company dispute and his probation in the case was terminated in June ahead of schedule.Sherman was arrested this summer after police said he tried to break down the door to his in-laws’ house, several hours after a dispute between him and his wife, Ashley, who eventually tried to remove their children from the couple’s home, according to audio recordings of 9-1-1 calls. He was accused of “burglary domestic violence,” the police said, because he knows the people at the home, and there was no indication that he physically harmed any of its occupants. Sherman has pleaded not guilty to five misdemeanors, including two counts of domestic violence and one of driving under the influence. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday.Sherman said on his podcast that Brady had reached out in hopes of bringing him to Tampa.“He reached out initially and just checked to see if I was in shape,” Sherman said. “He and I have had a relationship over the years. He’s a great guy. Very encouraging.”Sherman’s arrival comes just days before the Buccaneers travel to Foxborough, Mass., to play the Patriots on Sunday in the widely anticipated face-off between Brady and the Patriots, their first meeting since Brady left New England as a free agent in the spring of 2020. He and Patriots Coach Bill Belichick won six Super Bowls in 20 years together, but their relationship deteriorated as they sought to determine Brady’s future with the team.Brady and Sherman’s pairing comes in contrast to their past rivalry. Sherman, a three-time All-Pro, spent his first seven seasons in Seattle as a key to the defensive backfield known as the Legion of Boom for its hard-hitting style. After the Seahawks upset the Patriots in a 2012 regular season matchup where Sherman intercepted Brady, Sherman antagonized Brady after the game.The pair faced off in Super Bowl XLIX after the 2014 season, when the Patriots beat the Seahawks, 28-24.Sherman spent three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, where he played in just five games during the 2020 season because of injuries.The Buccaneers, whose defense propelled them to a Super Bowl title last season, lost cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting to injury. Cornerback Jamel Dean’s status is also questionable. After three games this season, Tampa Bay’s pass defense ranks last in the N.F.L.Brady left New England after two decades reportedly because he wanted more input into the composition of the Patriots. Since joining Tampa Bay in March last year, Brady helped lure tight end and former teammate Rob Gronkowski out of retirement, and persuaded the team that Brown was worth the gamble. Now the Buccaneers and the rest of the N.F.L. will get to see if Sherman was worth the effort as well.Kevin Draper contributed reporting. More

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    Lamar Jackson’s Bold Play: A Contract Without an Agent

    Jackson is leading his own negotiation for a contract extension with the Ravens, challenging the norms of executives’ relationships to N.F.L. players and raising questions about the efficacy of agents.By any argument, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has had an exceptional career through his first three N.F.L. seasons.Drafted at the end of the first round in 2018, he quickly emerged as one of the league’s most dynamic players, winning six of his first seven regular season starts in his first year and the Most Valuable Player Award in his second. At 24, he is a face of the league and the undisputed centerpiece of the Ravens’ future.Those are among the facts that undoubtedly will be brought up as Jackson and Baltimore executives negotiate an extension of his rookie contract, the massive payday that is usually the largest salary bump in an N.F.L. player’s career and that will determine the market for other franchise quarterbacks nearing the end of their entry-level deals.His peers have already set the table. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott in March signed a four-year, $160 million contract extension (with $126 million in total guaranteed money). In August, Bills quarterback Josh Allen received a six-year, $258 million deal (with $150 million in total guaranteed money).But as Jackson haggles with his team over the size and conditions of a new deal, he stands out for handling the matter on his own, one of 17 N.F.L. players not represented by a traditional sports agent. Instead, Jackson has enlisted advisers, including his mother, Felicia Jones, to work out the clauses, exceptions and trade-offs.They have offered little insight into the process. He could follow the trend and ask for a four-year deal to increase his flexibility, or he could try to secure a longer and larger contract as Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Allen did. Jones did not respond to a request for comment.By proceeding without traditional representation, Jackson is challenging football orthodoxy, partly promoted by agents, that players can’t possibly understand complex contracts or negotiate one successfully. At the same time, Ravens team executives — who declined to speak for this story — can’t limit their relationship to only talking to Jackson about his labor. They also must tell him what they think his labor is worth.“The agents have told the whole world that the players can’t do anything without them,” said Russell Okung, who began representing himself halfway through his 12-year N.F.L. career as an offensive lineman. “By Lamar going out on his own, it’s scary to the agent world. If he figures it out, others will too.”The challenges stretch beyond dollar signs. “He’s also a Black quarterback and people are used to labor looking a certain way,” Okung added. “He’s pushing up against a myriad of narratives all at once.”Lamar Jackson posed with his mother, Felicia Jones, after winning the Heisman Trophy in 2016 while at the University of Louisville.Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via AP ImagesFor years, players have complained that agents don’t do enough to earn their fees, which can run as high as 3 percent of a contract’s value. Saving hundreds of thousands of dollars is largely what motivated Richard Sherman, Okung, DeAndre Hopkins and others in recent years to negotiate their own deals, some of which were panned in the media.While those players ditched their agents midcareer, Jackson has gone without an agent from the outset.Under the league’s peculiar economics, that’s understandable because rookie pay scales are tightly prescribed, leaving little room for negotiation. Teams operate under rigid salary caps, and often pick up the fifth-year option in star players’ contracts to keep them at a cheaper figure for an additional year before they become free agents, or in the Ravens’ case with Jackson, to allow for more time to negotiate an extension.Teams can also slap a “franchise tag” on players — a one-year designation of either the average salary of the top five players at the same position (over the past five seasons) or 120 percent of the player’s previous salary — to refrain from paying what the market will bear. To hang on to their star quarterbacks, whose salaries are growing far faster than those of players at other positions, teams can also fill the rest of their rosters with rookies and free agents willing to play for minimum salaries.Jackson’s decision to forgo traditional representation is inviting more scrutiny than other stars’ negotiations because he is in line for a mammoth contract extension that will help set the future market for franchise quarterbacks. Deciphering N.F.L. contracts is complicated because teams can include a host of clauses that when triggered can cost the player dearly. Getting injured away from the field might allow a team to withhold payment. So might an arrest, suspension or an unexcused absence from the club.A player’s yearly salary can be relatively small compared to signing bonuses, payments for making a team’s roster, payments for appearing at voluntary training camps and hitting performance targets like leading a statistical category.Top-tier quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have in recent negotiations prevented their teams from assigning them franchise tags. The tag would have kept Brady from hitting the open market after the 2019 season, his last with the Patriots. The reworked contract Rodgers signed in July prevents the Packers from assigning him the franchise tag after the 2022 season, when he is eligible to become a free agent.In 2018, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins negotiated through an agent to reach a rare contract that was 100 percent guaranteed, like those in Major League Baseball and the N.B.A. The percentage of guaranteed money in N.F.L. contracts is increasing, but for most players it is below 70 percent, which makes it easier for teams to justify cutting players.Agents argue that part of their role is to steer players away from deals that give teams too much leverage.“There are so many different ways to not get your money in the N.F.L.,” said Joby Branion, who runs Vanguard Sports Group, an agency that represents 36 N.F.L. players, including Von Miller of the Denver Broncos and Keenan Allen of the Los Angeles Chargers. “The best agents are going to understand that the most important part of any negotiation is leverage. Guarantees in the N.F.L. are not guarantees like in other sports.”Agents also pay for top prospects to train for the combine and talk up their draft value with general managers. Once they join a team, agents help players find marketing opportunities and keep track of their needs during the season.“It’s not just doing negotiating the contract and washing your hands of the player,” said Kim Miale, an N.F.L. agent who leads the football division at Roc Nation Sports, which represents Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette and others. Still, some players do many of these things themselves. Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said he negotiated a three-year, $54 million extension in 2019 not just to avoid paying his agent, but to become a smarter businessman. He read the league’s collective bargaining agreement, studied other player contracts and sought advice from corporate executives, team owners and even Michael Jordan.During the process, he was aware of how unusual a path he was taking. “There were a lot of people that felt players were not able to negotiate their contracts successfully, so I knew once I committed to doing it, I had to do it right because I knew there was a lot of eyeballs that wanted me not to succeed,” Wagner said.Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner told reporters that reading the book ”Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?” by Reginald Lewis helped him negotiate a three-year, $54 million contract with the team.Ted S. Warren/Associated PressThe union does not push players either way on hiring agents. But it provides players who represent themselves access to its database of contracts and reviews any proposed contract language, just as it does for agents. Since 2016, the union has required agents to send all contracts that average $2 million or more a year to the union’s lawyers for review to ensure that agents are sufficiently protecting their clients.“The union-agent relationship is complicated and sometimes adversarial,” said George Atallah, the spokesman for the N.F.L. Players Association. “But when it comes to representing players, we haven’t changed our model of providing services to the agents.”For now, just 17 players represent themselves according the N.F.L.P.A., but that may change in the coming years as college athletes, now allowed to earn money off their names, images and likenesses before turning pro, become better educated about their value and how others profit from it.“With name, image and likeness rules, you’re going to have more young people recognizing their worth,” said Charles Grantham, the director of the Center for Sport Management at Seton Hall and a former N.B.A. agent and union executive. Agents may be forced to cut their fees to secure players, he added. “It’s definitely going to change the economics of the business.”Over time, Grantham and others said, the younger generation’s awareness could lead them to take the same leap as Jackson.“A lot of it is players waking up to realizing the power that they have and how they can execute if they educate themselves the way that they should,” Wagner said. It’s all part of a bigger picture of players becoming more aware of their potential outside of the sport that they play.” More

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    N.F.L. Rookie Quarterbacks Have Been Bad. Can That Change?

    The Patriots’ Mac Jones, the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence and the Jets’ Zach Wilson have so far combined to go 1-8 this season.Good rookie quarterbacks are all alike. Terrible rookie quarterbacks are all terrible in their own way. And this year’s rookie quarterbacks? They look far more terrible than usual.Three N.F.L. rookies have started all three of their teams’ games at quarterback so far this season: Mac Jones of the New England Patriots, Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Zach Wilson of the Jets. They have combined to throw 17 interceptions and just nine touchdowns while leading their teams to a collective 1-8 record. The only victory was when Jones’s Patriots defeated Wilson’s Jets.Justin Fields made his much-anticipated first start for the Chicago Bears on Sunday in Week 3, after Andy Dalton started the first two games. Fields completed 6 of 20 passes for 68 yards while enduring nine sacks for 67 lost yards, meaning the Bears netted precisely 1 yard of passing offense in a 26-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns.Add emergency appearances by the middle-round draft picks Davis Mills of the Houston Texans and Jacob Eason of the Indianapolis Colts, plus gadget-specialist cameos by Trey Lance of the San Francisco 49ers, and rookie quarterbacks so far this season have combined to throw 20 interceptions, absorb 42 sacks and complete just 57.7 percent of their passes.Rookie quarterbacks are typically mediocre to dreadful. Fans tend to remember exceptional cases, like Justin Herbert’s offensive-rookie-of-the-year-winning performance in 2020, while the struggles of top prospects like Dwayne Haskins, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Jared Goff and many others are either forgotten or politely retconned when they later achieve success.It is rare, however, for so many rookies to be so punishingly awful in so many early appearances. Sam Darnold had a tragicomic rookie season for the 2018 Jets (a bout of mononucleosis, “seeing ghosts” against the Patriots’ defense), but he threw two touchdowns and led the Jets to victory in his very first start. Joe Burrow, Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and many others also enjoyed early success before tailing off or getting injured, or both. A rookie season is usually a roller-coaster ride. So far in 2021, they have all been haunted houses.Reasons for the miserable starts vary from team to team. Wilson’s Jets are embarking on their second foundation-to-rafters rebuilding project of the last three years. Their roster looks like it was assembled using a newsstand draft guide with the first 50 pages torn out. Injuries have sidelined a handful of the team’s remaining recognizable veterans, including left tackle Mekhi Becton, who was Wilson’s top pass protector, and wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who was Wilson’s short-pass safety valve. Nearly every Jets rookie quarterback of the past half-century has been in for an ordeal, but Wilson faces an especially dire situation.Lawrence is coached by Urban Meyer, the latest in a long line of collegiate potentates (Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino and Chip Kelly among them) who learned the hard way that they could not operate as deities in the N.F.L. Meyer’s tenure thus far has been marred by fines from the N.F.L. Players Association for violating practice protocols, a vainglorious comeback attempt by Tim Tebow and a public denial that he is interested in the University of Southern California coaching vacancy. (Like Julius Caesar, Meyer is obligated to reject the crown three times before seizing it.) The Jaguars perform each Sunday as if they are the third or fourth thing on their coach’s mind.Meyer also forced Lawrence to split first-string practice reps with a lame-duck incumbent, Gardner Minshew, for much of training camp, before Minshew was traded to the Eagles, perhaps still believing that he could redshirt his prized freshmen. Lawrence’s relative lack of practice time with the starters may be contributing to his woes.Jones was relegated to mostly second-string reps until Cam Newton missed a portion of training camp after a breach of Covid-19 protocols. Patriots Coach Bill Belichick unexpectedly released the creaky, eccentric and probably unvaccinated Newton in late August, allowing the team to focus its attention on a Hitchcockian attempt to transform Jones into Tom Brady. (Wear these rings for us, Mac. Now eat this avocado ice cream.) Playing behind a sturdy offensive line, supported by an outstanding defense and getting the Pygmalion treatment from Belichick, Jones has been the best of the rookie bunch so far.Fields, by contrast, looked utterly unprepared for his first start. Bears Coach Matt Nagy insisted Dalton was the team’s unchallenged starter from the moment the 11-year veteran arrived in March, denying Fields any chance to compete for the role in the preseason. Whether Fields is now unready because of a lack of starter’s reps or he didn’t earn starter’s reps because he wasn’t ready for them is the sort of chicken or egg question N.F.L. franchises typically answer by firing the coach.There’s a cottage industry of Dalton-like “mentors” who roam the league, serving as combination stunt doubles and therapy pets for coaches panic-stricken by the thought of starting a rookie. It is debatable whether these caretakers help rookies or hinder them: Whatever Fields learned from watching Dalton sure looked like the wrong lessons on Sunday. Jimmy Garoppolo is holding off Lance in San Francisco by executing the screen passes and misdirection plays coaches typically use to hide the deficiencies of their rookies. Still, one look at Fields, Jones, Lawrence or Wilson is all the justification the 49ers need for sticking with Garoppolo for now.There’s no reason to worry about the futures of these rookie quarterbacks just yet. Peyton Manning threw 11 interceptions in his first four N.F.L. starts. Troy Aikman led the Dallas Cowboys to an 0-11 record in his first season. John Elway was benched multiple times as a rookie. A lack of early success might actually help the 2021 rookies in the long run by tempering expectations and dimming the national spotlight.Fans need to be patient. So do coaches, especially the ones accustomed to working with Hall of Famers or trouncing Bowling Green State this time of year. At least some of this year’s rookies will come around soon enough, though Jets and Jaguars fans can assure you that there are no guarantees. More