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The New Jersey Devils won the 2019 NHL draft lottery after entering Tuesday night’s event in Toronto with the third-best odds.

It’s the second lottery win in three years for the Devils. They won it in 2017 and selected center Nico Hischier.

“I said the No. 1 thing we needed was [more] talent, and this is a huge part of getting more talent. It’s a huge day for the Devils,” GM Ray Shero said after the draw.

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The 15 teams that did not qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs were all eligible to win the lottery. The NHL uses three separate drawings to select the teams for the top three picks in the draft, in an effort to discourage tanking.

The Devils had a 11.5 percent chance of winning the lottery. The New York Rangers, who had just a 7.5 percent chance, jumped up from No. 6 to snag the second overall pick. The Chicago Blackhawks made an even more dramatic move, going from No. 12 all the way to the third pick in the draft. They had just a 2.5 percent chance of winning the lottery. The Colorado Avalanche, via a pick acquired from the last-place Ottawa Senators in a 2017 trade involving center Matt Duchene, entered the lottery with the best odds at 18.5 percent. The Los Angeles Kings (13.5 percent), Devils (11.5 percent), Detroit Red Wings (9.5 percent) and Buffalo Sabres (8.5 percent) rounded out the top five teams in draft probabilities.

American center Jack Hughes is projected as the first overall pick.

“I skate with [Devils star] Taylor Hall in the summers. He’s been a really good guy to me, really nice. It’s the NHL. I’d be honored to play for New Jersey one day. It’s a great spot,” Hughes said.

The Devils’ lottery win continues a bizarre run of luck for Hall in the draft lottery. When he was in Edmonton, the Oilers picked first overall three times. After the Oilers traded him to New Jersey, the Devils won the lottery twice.

This has been some kind of heater folks. This is like when you’ve hit the blackjack tables and made 10x the money you came with. For one final bet, you toss on half your winnings and hope for the best. Either way, you’ve gotten lucky and came out ahead. Here goes https://t.co/sbrRmx770V

— Taylor Hall (@hallsy09) April 9, 2019
Here’s the full draft board:

1. New Jersey Devils

2. Chicago Blackhawks

3. New York Rangers

4. Colorado Avalanche (from Ottawa)

5. Los Angeles Kings

6. Detroit Red Wings

7. Buffalo Sabres

8. Edmonton Oilers

9. Anaheim Ducks

10. Vancouver Canucks

11. Philadelphia Flyers

12. Minnesota Wild

13. Florida Panthers

14. Arizona Coyotes

15. Montreal Canadiens

This year’s lottery was a painful one for Ottawa fans to watch. The Senators finished the regular season with the NHL’s worst record but did not own their first-round pick, which was traded to Colorado in the Duchene trade. They had the option to give Colorado their first-rounder in the 2018 NHL draft, but instead opted to select center Brady Tkachuk with the fourth overall pick. That gave Colorado the Senators’ 2019 pick and the best lottery odds. To add insult to injury, the Senators traded Duchene to the Columbus Blue Jackets in February after 118 games in Ottawa.

The prize of the 2019 NHL entry draft is Hughes, a special talent who skates at an elite level and can make plays at high speed.

The 17-year-old center’s footwork is unique among most players in that he skates deceptively well on top of having higher-end puck skills. Hughes also has elite vision, which combined with his shiftiness, allows him to exploit open ice and find teammates with ease. There are somewhat limited concerns about his size and physical strength, but they have done little to dissuade most that he belongs at No. 1.

2019 NHL Draft

The 2019 NHL draft is June 21-22 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Get ready with the latest prospect rankings and our mock draft.

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» More coverage of the NHL draft

Hughes rewrote the record books at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, blowing past the likes of Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel and Auston Matthews while putting up 202 points over his past two seasons to shatter the previous career scoring mark of 189. He is averaging 2.10 points per game this season with the U.S. national under-18 team amid a mixed schedule of USHL, college and international opponents. Hughes also represented the U.S. at the World Junior Championship this year where he helped Team USA earn a silver medal alongside his older brother and last year’s No. 7 overall draft pick by the Vancouver Canucks, Quinn Hughes.
There is really only one significant challenger who could unseat Hughes as the No. 1 pick. That would be 17-year-old Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko, who brings size and strength to a high-end offensive skill set. Kakko scored 22 goals for TPS Turku this season, which made him the highest-scoring under-18 player in Liiga history as he surpassed Aleksander Barkov for the record.

After Hughes and Kakko there are several players who could challenge for the next few spots, including Russian winger Vasili Podkolzin, Western Hockey League centers Kirby Dach and Dylan Cozens, WHL defenseman Bowen Byram and some of Hughes’ own under-18 teammates — Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras and Matthew Boldy.

The 2019 NHL draft will take place at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The first round will be held Friday, June 21. Rounds 2-7 will take place Saturday, June 22.

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METAIRIE, La. — Common sense says the New Orleans Saints should rest as many starters as possible in Week 17.

Their history agrees.

Although coach Sean Payton wouldn’t reveal his intentions after the Saints (13-2) secured the NFC’s No. 1 seed with a 31-28 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, his track record suggests he’ll play it safe.

That means we should see Teddy Bridgewater make his debut as the Saints’ starting quarterback on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers before he hits the free-agent market in March.

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In 2009, Payton rested starters in Week 17 when the Saints had the No. 1 seed locked up — even though they had lost two straight games in Weeks 15-16 and could have used a momentum boost. They showed no rust in their playoff opener (a 45-14 win) and wound up winning the Super Bowl.

In 2006, Payton rested starters in Week 17 when they had the No. 2 seed locked up — and they wound up winning their first playoff game two weeks later.

And perhaps most telling, the Saints decided to play their starters in Week 17 in 2010 when they had an outside chance at the division title and No. 1 seed — and they wound up losing key players Jimmy Graham, Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Ivory to injuries before losing their playoff debut a week later. Payton later talked about how much he second-guessed it.

“I’m sure Sean is gonna look at that schedule and obviously make the best decision for what he feels like we need,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who should spend this week trying on visors and baseball caps to find the right fit — even though that would mean finishing the season with just 3,992 passing yards, his first season below 4,000 since joining the Saints in 2006.

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“You know, every team’s different,” Brees said. “But it’s one of those where you take advantage of the time to rest up, get healthy, get your body right. At the same time, you want to stay on point, keep the rhythm, keep the good habits.”

Most Saints players took the “we’ll see what happens” route. But cornerback Marshon Lattimore, for one, practically campaigned for an extra week of rest.

“That’s why I’m so glad we got the win,” Lattimore said. “Next week hopefully we can rest our starters and we can have two bye weeks, get our bodies ready. That’s what we need. It’s a long season, everybody gets dinged up here and there. So we need to be healthy.”

The Saints’ offensive line could use the rest most of all — even though it remains to be seen if two weeks off will be enough for Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead. Armstead left Sunday’s game early after aggravating the torn pectoral that had sidelined him for the previous five weeks.

“I’m gonna keep working, man, working to get back,” Armstead after the game. “It’s frustrating for sure. I felt like I was past this. But not yet, so I’m gonna keep working on it.

“Tried to fight as long as I could. Got worse. Tried it again, just wasn’t able to. Didn’t want to be a liability, so I had to shut it down.”

Armstead’s backup, Jermon Bushrod, also missed Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. Center Max Unger played Sunday after suffering a concussion two weeks ago. Left guard Andrus Peat (who also played both right tackle and left tackle during Sunday’s game because of Armstead’s injury and a brief injury to right tackle Ryan Ramczyk) has also battled a variety of minor injuries this season.
Should the Saints decide to sit quarterback Drew Brees for their Week 17 game against Carolina, backup Teddy Bridgewater would get his first start in a New Orleans uniform. Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports
Meanwhile, standout players such as Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Cameron Jordan, Lattimore, Sheldon Rankins, Demario Davis and Marcus Williams are just too darn valuable to risk losing to fresh injuries — though it might not be mathematically possible to rest them all.

A team loaded with backups would still be compelling to watch, though, because of Bridgewater.

The former Minnesota Vikings starter and first-round draft pick worked his way back from a devastating 2016 knee injury to play well for the New York Jets this preseason. So well that the Saints decided to trade a third-round draft pick for the 25-year-old — even though he had only a one-year contract.
The Saints mostly wanted to improve their backup QB situation. But they also wanted to make some recruiting inroads in case Bridgewater ever makes sense as a possible successor to Brees.

It will be interesting to see how much interest Bridgewater draws from teams looking for a starting QB this offseason. Or if he’s willing to consider staying in New Orleans as Brees will turn 40 in January.

Playing well on Sunday would likely enhance both of those options.

Last but not least, there is a potentially serendipitous side note to the Saints hosting Carolina on Sunday. In 2009, before the 13-3 Saints won the Super Bowl, they lost to Dallas, Tampa Bay and Carolina.

This year, their two losses have come against Tampa Bay and Dallas.

So really, they can’t lose.

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Josh Allen, with abrasions on his torso and blood still glistening from beneath his left elbow, walked slowly across the Buffalo Bills’ locker room after Sunday’s 27-23 loss to the New York Jets.

Allen had just run for 101 yards, becoming the NFL’s first quarterback of the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to rush for at least 100 yards in consecutive games. The rookie’s 335 rushing yards over the past three games, including 99 in a Nov. 25 win over the Jaguars and 135 in a Dec. 2 loss to the Miami Dolphins, topped Michael Vick’s 294 yards over a three-game stretch in 2006 as the most in the Super Bowl era.
Allen’s 101 rushing yards Sunday raised his total to 490 for the season, surpassing LeSean McCoy’s 479 yards for the team lead.

Battered Sunday from carrying the ball nine times and taking 10 quarterback hits, the No. 7 overall pick had little interest in basking in his accomplishments.
Josh Allen has run for over 300 yards the past three weeks, but his untimely turnovers have set the Bills back. Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
“I want to win football games,” he said. “I could care less.”

Winning football games will take a more complete performance from Allen and those around him. In order for the Bills’ first-round pick to become their bona fide franchise quarterback he will have to stay healthy and corral his capable, but sometimes reckless, arm.

Despite Allen’s unprecedented success as a runner, the Bills have lost each of their past two games to fall to 4-9. There was optimism oozing from Allen’s outing in a 21-17 defeat to Miami, but he was outplayed as a passer Sunday by No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold.

Allen entered Sunday with a 52.9 percent completion rate this season, lower than the 56 percent mark at Wyoming that called his accuracy into question prior to the draft. He completed only 50 percent of his passes (18-of-36) against the Jets, threw two interceptions and finished with a bleak 44.4 passer rating.

Darnold ran for only 10 yards but completed 67 percent of his passes, led the Jets’ game-winning touchdown drive and ended with a 83.7 rating.

Allen owned the NFL’s sixth-best Total QBR in his previous two games after returning in Week 12 from an elbow injury, but the carelessness with the football that plagued him early this season returned Sunday. Allen lost a fumble while attempting to scramble in the first quarter and was picked off in the second quarter when he launched a pass off his back foot while being chased toward the sideline.

“Heaving up a blind pass to maybe pick up 10 yards, rather than throwing the ball away, I can’t do that,” Allen said.

Allen’s second interception came late in the fourth quarter when, with a little more than a minute remaining and no timeouts, Allen tried to force a pass into tight coverage on wide receiver Zay Jones.

“I pressed it and forced a bad ball, instead of going through my progressions,” he said.

Jones did not help Allen’s cause earlier in the fourth quarter when, without contact from a defender, he dropped a pass from Allen on second-and-20 from the Jets’ 48-yard line. Jones, a second-round pick in 2017, was the most experienced of Allen’s top three receivers entering the game. Undrafted rookie Robert Foster and 2017 fifth-round pick Isaiah McKenzie also started Sunday.

Reinforcements for Allen will not come until the offseason, when the Bills have 10 draft selections and more than $80 million in salary-cap space. Addressing wide receiver will be near the top of general manager Brandon Beane’s priorities, but questions should be raised about the futures of McCoy and tight end Charles Clay in Buffalo.

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Both players have been mainstays in the offense since 2015 but will each count $9 million against the salary cap next season. Clay will turn 30 in February and McCoy will turn 31 in July.
McCoy has three games left to turn around what has been the worst season of his career, and his availability could be in doubt. After rushing twice for 1 yard Sunday, McCoy left the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return. He declined to speak to reporters in the locker room afterward.

“We’ve got to protect the quarterback and run the football with somebody other than our quarterback,” coach Sean McDermott said. “We’ve got to take a hard look at that. It’s been an issue. I know that when the quarterback is your leading rusher, it’s not a healthy thing, week in and week out.”

The offensive line shares some blame for the inability of the Bills to establish a running game outside of Allen’s scrambling, and for the hits Allen took as a passer. The rookie also pointed a finger at himself.

“I got to start limiting the hits I take on myself,” he said.

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CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis seemed surprised at a question regarding his future on Monday afternoon.

Lewis, who is in his 16th season coaching the Bengals, was asked if he had been given any assurances by the front office that he would last the season in light of the Green Bay Packers firing longtime coach Mike McCarthy on Sunday.

“That’s your question?” Lewis said, and laughed. “No, and I wouldn’t expect any or ask for any.”

Lewis was also asked if he wanted to be coaching next season.

“My job is to coach the football team,” he said.
Marvin Lewis, in his 16th season with the Bengals, is the NFL’s second-longest tenured head coach behind Bill Belichick. Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Lewis signed a two-year deal at the end of last season after facing similar questions.

“Sure. Are you making an offer today?” he said last December when asked if he wanted to be back in 2018. “We’re really wasting time talking about this right now. Just let it die down. Let’s go win these football games, and let things happen the way they do.”

The clamor regarding Lewis’ job hasn’t died down after the Bengals slumped to 5-7 following a 4-1 start. They have now lost four straight games and haven’t won since October.

While injuries have certainly played a part, it’s clear that the fans have grown tired of the current regime. The smallest announced crowd since 2011 showed up to watch the Bengals lose to the Broncos on Sunday, and the Bengals have gotten more boos than cheers during home games lately.

Lewis’ future certainly remains unclear. According to the NFL Networkk, he actually signed a one-year deal with a team option for 2019, although at least some of his assistants signed two-year deals following last season. Bengals owner Mike Brown has never liked “paying coaches not to coach,” but it’s clear they have eased up on that opinion the past two years after firing coordinators Ken Zampese and Teryl Austin during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, respectively.

Lewis may not ask for assurances, but the speculation regarding his job is unlikely to die down anytime soon.

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A game that Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff fittingly called “four quarters of craziness” earned multiple entries in the NFL record book as the Rams won an epic battle with the Kansas City Chiefs 54-51.

The highest-scoring game in Monday Night Football history saw a back-and-forth battle that ended with the Chiefs becoming the first team in NFL history to score 50 or more points and lose.

The 105 combined points — which blew past the lofty over-under of 64 set by sportsbooks — was the third-highest total ever for an NFL game, surpassed only by the Washington Redskins over the New York Giants 72-41 in 1966, and the Cincinnati Bengals over the Cleveland Browns 58-48 in 2004.

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“It was a whirlwind,” said Rams coach Sean McVay. “I feel like I might need a couple beverages to relax tonight. But it was great. This is what you love so much about the game.”

Among other notable numbers:

– It was the fourth time this season a team lost when scoring 40 or more points, the most such instances in a season in the Super Bowl era.

– Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes became the first to throw six TD passes in a Monday night game.

– Goff threw for 413 yards and had a QB rating of 117.1, but Mahomes topped him with 478 yards and a 117.6 rating.

– Mahomes is the first player with five passing touchdowns and five turnovers in a game since Gus Frerotte in 2000.

– The Chiefs are averaging more points per game in losses (45.5) than in wins (34.8) this season.

– Rams LB Samson Ebukam is the first player since sacks became official in 1982 to record a sack, interception and multiple touchdowns in a single game.

– Rams TE Gerald Everett was an unlikely hero, scoring the Rams’ final two touchdowns, with all three of his catches coming in the fourth quarter. He had had only three fourth-quarter catches in his first 26 career games.

– Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill topped all receivers with 215 yards (two TDs), becoming the first KC player with a 200-yard receiving game since Stephone Paige on Sep. 17, 1990.

– There were 14 combined touchdowns in this game. The Buffalo Bills have scored 13 touchdowns all season.

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PITTSBURGH — The numbers out of Baltimore aren’t pretty.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have averaged 16.1 points per game in M&T Bank Stadium since 2011.

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Ben Roethlisberger never has thrown for 280 yards in Baltimore, where he has two touchdowns and five interceptions in his past four matchups. Big Ben has two 300-plus-yard games apiece in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

A physical Ravens-Steelers clash is rarely an offensive light show, to be sure. But the Steelers’ identity is not to grind out games. Roethlisberger is averaging 327 yards per game through seven games this season. The Steelers are among the NFL’s top five in points and yards per game. This offense is largely considered high-powered.

Players are hopeful they can maintain that pace, even in Baltimore.

“Most of the time these games are low-scoring games, but hopefully we get a game where we get a whole bunch of points,” center Maurkice Pouncey said.

To make that happen, the Steelers are relying on the no-huddle offense, a better Wi-Fi connection between Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown and a refined pre-snap routine.
Ben Roethlisberger has two touchdowns and five interceptions in his past four matchups with the Ravens in Baltimore. Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire
Ride the hot hand at the end of halves

The Steelers have been masterful at the end of first halves, using the no-huddle offense to orchestrate four touchdown drives in the final two minutes before halftimes.

Roethlisberger has touchdown passes on three of those drives, including a 1-yard rub play to Antonio Brown with 10 seconds left in Sunday’s win over the Browns.

The Steelers emphasize the “double score,” as tight end Jesse James calls it — score at the end of the half, then try to score again when receiving the ball to start the third quarter.

Rigorously practicing the two-minute offense, a strength of Roethlisberger’s game, is paying off.

“You have an expectation when you work the way that we’ve worked in that area specifically,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “Hopefully our guys have that expectation as well.”

James said Roethlisberger, who has freedom to call plays in no-huddle settings, will take advantage of defenses by calling unexpected plays.

“Sometimes it’s a play you haven’t heard since the beginning of camp,” James said. “You have to be ready for anything.”

Brown and Roethlisberger taking flight

One of the NFL’s great tandems had 272 yards and three touchdowns through the first four games, decent production for most duos but not for this one. Brown and Roethlisberger have collaborated on an NFL-record five consecutive 100-catch seasons together.

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In the past five halves, however, Roethlisberger is completing 75 percent of his passes to Brown with five touchdowns, zero interceptions and 13.3 yards per attempt. That’s a stark improvement from a 3-4 ratio with a 51.0 completion percentage and 4.7 yards per attempt.

Roethlisberger said the numbers changed but the game plan didn’t.

“Just sticking to it,” Roethlisberger said. “Not worrying about what the outside world has to say or people because we know what we have.”

Brown will see a heavy dose of cornerback Jimmy Smith, who has had success against Brown. But the All-Pro receiver seems to be on to something with his quarterback. The signature plays to the sideline — the deep-out throws Roethlisberger has attempted hundreds of times to Brown — are starting to work more often.

Fighting the crowd noise

Roethlisberger’s home-road splits were uneven for quite some time. From 2014-17, Roethlisberger posted a 105.9 rating at Heinz Field compared with 86.6 on the road, according to Pro Football Focus.

Roethlisberger has referenced cadence/snap counts at the line of scrimmage as an issue. To hear James tell it, crowd noise can drown out the quarterback’s vocal calls on the road, forcing the offense to rely on hand signals and breeding predictability.
But Roethlisberger has back-to-back road performances of at least 350 yards, including three touchdowns to one interception at Tampa Bay.

James hinted the offense has tried different snap-count tactics that he hopes will work in Baltimore (ones he’ll never describe in full detail, of course).

“Try to change up as much as we can to keep them guessing,” James said. “We’ve had some success this year.”

Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has several playmakers and a steady running game behind James Conner, who has three straight 100-yard rushing performances on his way to AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors.

But Fichtner knows the big reason why he feels confident heading into Baltimore.

“Ben is fresh, so yeah, I feel good,” Fichtner said.

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Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel said he wasn’t going to second-guess his decision to twice go for two points down by one with 31 seconds remaining Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers.

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Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur decided to call for Marcus Mariota to pass the ball despite having it on the 1-yard line because of a holding call on their first try. Mariota’s pass was intended for wide receiver Taywan Taylor but was tipped by the Chargers’ Adrian Phillips. The Chargers won the game 20-19.

“I have a lot of faith in our players, we prepare, we work together and I’ve got confidence in them to go out and execute. It just didn’t work out. Faced with the same situation I’d like to think I’d do it the same way,” he said.

Teams that have gone for two points when down one point in the last minute of the game are now 2-for-7 in those situations according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“We wanted to win the game. Wanted to go out there and win the game,” Vrabel said.

Deciding to throw the ball rather than run it from 1 yard out didn’t seem like the best decision since the Titans have a big back in the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Derrick Henry, who ended the team’s two-game touchdown drought with a 1-yard plunge in the third quarter.

Even though it wasn’t successful, Mariota felt it was the right call.

“I love the call. I love the confidence in going for it. We just couldn’t execute the play. They did a good job covering. I should have maybe done a better job of extending the play,” Mariota said.

The Chargers’ Phillips also commended Vrabel on the call.

“It was a great decision,” he said. “That’s the game right there. If I’m the head coach, I go for it, too.”

The Titans now enter their bye week with a 3-4 record.

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers have apologized for initially leaving Colin Kaepernick out of a photo gallery celebrating the team’s history against the Green Bay Packers.

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The 49ers posted dozens of photos on their website of past games against the Packers before the teams meet again Monday night, but at first did not include any of Kaepernick.

The team later added photos of Kaepernick. This is the first photo gallery the 49ers have run this year; pictures of Kaepernick were included in all seven galleries posted on the team’s website last year.

“Unfortunately there were a handful of obvious misses in this gallery posted by our website team and we appreciate them being brought to our attention,” the 49ers said in a statement. “The 49ers organization has tremendous respect and gratitude for the contributions Colin made to our team over the years.”

Kaepernick set an NFL record for quarterbacks by rushing for 181 yards in a playoff win over Green Bay on Jan. 12, 2013; threw for 413 yards in a season-opening win against the Packers in 2013; and led a winning drive in a playoff game in Green Bay on Jan. 5, 2014.

“We have fond memories of those games and that should have been displayed on our website,” the team said. “This oversight does not properly reflect the appreciation our ownership and this team have for Colin.”

The 49ers supported Kaepernick in 2016 when he decided to kneel during the national anthem to protest social and racial injustice and matched his $1 million contribution toward programs for social equality.

Kaepernick opted out of his contract the next offseason when the 49ers told him they planned to cut him. Kaepernick has been unable to find another team to play for the past two seasons.

Coach Kyle Shanahan was asked about bringing Kaepernick back after starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a season-ending knee injury, but said Kaepernick didn’t fit the team’s offense.

“I made that decision just with the style of offense that we wanted to go with,” Shanahan said Sept. 24. “That’s kind of what I said last year, and it’s kind of the same situation now. … I always look into what style of offense I want to do, what style of offense we’ve been doing for the last two years.”

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo is riding a pretty impressive streak, but in his mind his 14 consecutive field goals (18 if you count the playoffs) don’t exist.

“My personal philosophy is the most important kick is the next one,” Lambo said. “It doesn’t matter if you made or missed the last 50. That has no bearing on your next one, so whatever happens, zone in on the next kick. It’s a difficult business and kicking’s hard. People think it’s so easy.

“I saw some writer that said kickers always leave practice early and this, that and the other. I’m like, ‘Dude, you’ve never freaking stepped in our shoes.’ People who think that they know about kicking need to just shut up, to be completely honest with you. It’s freaking hard.”

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After a weekend that featured 19 missed kicks and two kickers released, NFL Nation talked to kickers around the league to find out their mindset about pressure and job security. Read.
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Lambo has made it look easy over the past year. He has made 22 of his 23 field goal attempts since he was signed to replace Jason Myers on Oct. 17. The only field goal he missed was a 41-yard attempt in Cleveland in snowy and windy conditions. Since then he’s made 14 regular-season field goals attempts in a row — capped by a 28-yard field goal in the Jaguars’ 31-20 victory against New England last Sunday — which is tied for the fourth-longest streak in franchise history.

Josh Scobee and Mike Hollis share the record with 20 consecutive field goals. Myers and Hollis each have streaks of 16, and Scobee has two separate streaks of 15. Scobee also has two separate streaks of 14 consecutive field goals.

Lambo’s success since joining the Jaguars makes the Los Angeles Chargers’ decision to waive him in the final cuts of training camp in 2017 — after he made 52 of 64 field goal attempts and 70 of 78 PATs in 2015-16 — even more puzzling. That was his lowest point, but it lasted only seven weeks, because the Jaguars brought him in for a tryout after Myers missed two field goals against the Los Angeles Rams.

“All you can control is what you can control,” Lambo said. “I can’t control the Chargers cutting me. All I can do is make kicks, and I did that that preseason and they decided to go in another route. That’s fine. It worked out better for me. It’s hard, as people, to see over the hump and see over the hill. But I feel like if you do have the right attitude and you go about your business the right way, the grass is typically greener.”

Lambo said it’s human nature to look back instead of forward — especially after not having success — but fighting that is the only way to stick around in the NFL.

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“We can’t be humans as football players,” Lambo said. “It’s just what it is. None of us are human. We’re all freaks in some form or another to play this sport and to play this sport at this high of a level. [Fullback] Tommy Bohanon, he’s not human. He’s a freaking monster. Unfortunately, you can’t be human in a human world. You just can’t be.”

That was reinforced by a conversation he had with Kobe Bryant, who spoke to the Chargers during training camp in 2017. Lambo asked him if he’s ever had a game where everything feels right, he’s getting great looks, the ball feels good coming off his hand, and the shots just don’t fall.

“He said, ‘S—, yeah. All the time I have those. But you know what I did? Kept on shooting. I didn’t try to do anything differently. I did what I know to do,’” Lambo said. “He told me there was a game where he was like 0-for-21 and he said, ‘The only shot that I made? Three-point game winner.’ That’s all that matters.”

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Antonio Gates returned to the L.A. Chargers late in the game, but the 38-year-old is hoping to suit up for Week 1 versus the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I’ve always been optimistic about playing in a game, whether I was injured or not here — it didn’t matter,” Gates said Wednesday, via ESPN’s Eric D. Williams. “So, I think I’m well aware of the preparation that needs to be put in throughout the week to go play a game at the highest level possible. With that being said … it just depends on how I feel leading up to Sunday.”

Gates rejoined the Chargers on Sunday after skipping the entirety of training camp and preseason. Previously, L.A. did little to upgrade the tight end position after Hunter Henry went down with an ACL tear in May.
A reunion with Gates always made sense from a familiarity perspective. However, with Wednesday being his first practice this year, playing Sunday would be an accelerated timeframe, even for a player with such experience with quarterback Philip Rivers and the offense.

Coach Anthony Lynn took a more measured approach to the idea of Gates playing a significant role in Week 1.

“I’m going to watch him closely this week,” Lynn said. “I want to know where he is conditioning-wise. We know that he can help us. That’s why we brought him back. I don’t know how much yet, but we’ll see.”

Gates is coming off a season in which he earned a career-low 316 yards, 30 receptions and three touchdowns. The Chargers offense didn’t awaken until it replaced the veteran with Henry in the starting lineup. With few tight end options, however, bringing back a future Hall of Famer who knows the offense made sense for a team with playoff aspirations.

While it felt like Gates waited until after the preseason was over so he could skip the laborious offseason work, the tight end suggested sides needed time to figure out a contract.

“We disagreed on certain things, and I think what we agreed on is that we had an opportunity this year to be a part of this family,” Gates said. “This will always be family to me. So, it’s like forgiving a family member and then moving forward.

“Our goal is to go out and try to win a Super Bowl, and that’s what I wanted to be a part of. So that’s what we agreed on and I came to the same conclusion, and so here I am today.”

Sunday marks the beginning of Gates’ 16th season with the Chargers. Whether he starts that on the field or the sideline remains to be seen.


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