Despite all appearances as he ploughed through the draws at all four grand slams this year, world number one Novak Djokovic does have a breaking point. 

Djokovic hit it on Sunday, falling 6-4 6-4 6-4 to Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final as the 20-time major champion finally proved unable to will himself out of an early hole. 

It was the fifth successive match in which Djokovic had dropped the opening set at Flushing Meadows, and the Serb superstar acknowledged afterward all of the energy he expended to get to the brink of the first men's calendar Grand Slam –since 1969 and a record 21st major title might finally have caught up with him. 

"Could be, could be [time spent on court a factor]. I had more hours on the court spent from Daniil, that's for sure," Djokovic said at his post-match news conference. "But was also emotionally very demanding period for me in the last five, six months. Slams and Olympics and playing at home in Belgrade.

"Everything was coming together for me here and kind of accumulating all the emotions that I've been through.

"Unfortunately I didn't make it in the final step. But when you draw a line, you have to be very satisfied with the year. Three wins, three slams and a final. For the last couple of years I've been very transparent and vocal about my goals, to play my best tennis at slams. I'm managing to do that.

"Of course, I was short today for another slam title, but I have to be proud with everything that my team and I have achieved. And in tennis we learn very quickly how to turn the next page.

"Very soon there are some more challenges, more things that are coming up. I have learned to overcome these kind of tough losses in the finals of slams, the ones that hurt the most."

This defeat sent a range of emotions surging through the emotional 34-year-old as he sat courtside while awaiting the trophy presentation. 

Asked what was going through his mind at that moment, Djokovic's initial answer was succinct. 

"Relief," he said. "I was glad it was over because the build up for this tournament and everything that mentally, emotionally I had to deal with throughout the tournament in the last couple of weeks was just a lot. It was a lot to handle.

"I was just glad that finally the run is over. At the same time I felt sadness, disappointment, and also gratitude for the crowd and for that special moment that they've created for me on the court."

Djokovic heaped praise on his opponent, saying he expects Medvedev to win more grand slams in the years ahead after the Russian broke through for his first.

That inevitably sparked thoughts of the coming generational change in the men's game, dominated for so long by Djokovic, Rafael Nadal (35) and Roger Federer (40).

With an astonishing 60 grand slam titles between them, their eventual departure from the stage will open up opportunities for Medvedev, Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Alexander Zverev and other younger players. 

Djokovic insisted he is not quite done yet, but he does believe that transition already is in progress. 

"The older guys are still hanging on," he said. "We're still trying to shine the light on the tennis world as much as we possibly can.

"I'm speaking on my own behalf. I still want to keep going, try to win more slams, play for my country. Those are the things that motivate me the most I think at this point.

"But the new generation, if you want to call them this way, is not anyone new. It's already current, established. Of course, they are going to take over.

"I think tennis is in good hands because they're all nice guys and very, very good, high-quality tennis players. They got something to offer on and off the court.

"We are hoping that the transition will be smooth in terms of the attention and the popularity of this sport. It's very important.

"We all, of course, want to win on the court, but at the same time we all at the top represent this sport. We need to be aware of that, take this responsibility and try to bring more fans to the world of tennis.

"At the end of the day that's what counts and that's what keeps our sport alive."

Just when the Cleveland Browns thought they were in position to open the NFL season with a statement win, Patrick Mahomes did what Patrick Mahomes does. 

The Kansas City Chiefs star threw for a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter as the reigning AFC champions edged the Browns 33-29 on Sunday.

Mahomes completed 27 of his 36 passes for 337 yards and three interceptions as the former MVP made more NFL history.

The 25-year-old broke the record for most passing yards in NFL history through first 50 games, while he also boasts the most passing touchdowns ever through the same amount of appearances.

Cleveland had built a 22-10 half-time lead, with Baker Mayfield directing three scoring drives that led to Nick Chubb finding the end zone twice and Jarvis Landry running in another touchdown before the break. 

Mayfield finished 21 of 28 passing for 321 yards, but had one critical mistake late. With the Browns near midfield and just over a minute to play, the Chicago quarterback scrambled to avoid pressure before throwing a pass up for grabs to the left sideline. Mike Hughes leaped to intercept the ball and the Chiefs ran out the clock from there. 

Mahomes, meanwhile, was poised as ever as he led the Chiefs to their ninth win in the last 11 games in which they trailed by double digits. 

It started with a 14-play drive to open the second half, capped by an 11-yard TD pass to his favourite target Travis Kelce. 

The signature moment, though, was a stunning 75-yard deep strike to Tyreek Hill that brought the Chiefs within two early in the fourth quarter. 

The Browns botched a punt deep in their own territory on the ensuing drive and Mahomes hit Kelce for the go-ahead touchdown three plays later. 

It was the kind of turnaround Cleveland fans have grown all too accustomed to over the years, particularly in season openers. 

The Browns have not won in Week 1 since 2004 and are now 0-16-1 since. 

Winston, Saints crush Packers

Aaron Rodgers dominated the headlines throughout the NFL offseason but he was upstaged in a big way as the season began. 

Jameis Winston threw for five touchdowns as Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers were kept from the end zone altogether in a 38-3 New Orleans Saints rout. 

Rodgers completed just 15 of 28 passes for 133 yards and threw two interceptions. He had only five interceptions all of last season on the way to being named NFL MVP for the third time.

Winston took over the starting role in New Orleans from another future Hall of Famer, the retired Drew Brees, and was brilliant at the Superdome. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 148 yards without an interception or a sack. 

In a matchup of two young quarterbacks, Tua Tagovailoa got the better of his former Alabama team-mate Mac Jones as the Miami Dolphins edged the New England Patriots 17-16 on the road.

While the rookie Jones had the better numbers of the two with 29 of 39 passing, 281 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, the Patriots repeatedly had to settle for field goals. 

Tagovailoa, meanwhile, ran one touchdown in himself and threw for another in the third quarter that provided the eventual winning margin.

US Open champion Daniil Medvedev labelled Novak Djokovic the "greatest tennis player in history" after snapping the superstar's historic bid for a calendar Grand Slam.

Djokovic was seeking to become just the third man and first since Rod Laver in 1969 to claim all four majors in a year, however, the 20-time slam champion was swept aside by Medvedev 6-4 6-4 6-4 in Sunday's final at Flushing Meadows.

Medvedev showed no mercy as the world number two broke through for his first slam title, having lost to Djokovic in the 2021 Australian Open final and Rafael Nadal in the 2019 US Open decider.

As Medvedev celebrated his maiden major crown, the Russian star heaped praise on the beaten and emotional world number one – who shares the record for most men's slams alongside Nadal and Roger Federer.

"I think it's the first time I'm so nervous, saying my speech," Medvedev said during his trophy presentation in New York.

"First of all I want to say sorry for you, the fans, and Novak because I mean, we, we all know what he was going for today.

"What you accomplished this year and throughout your career – I never said this to anybody, but I will say right now for me: You are the greatest tennis player in history."

Medvedev became the first Russian man to win a grand slam since Marat Safin in 2005 on a memorable night.

The 25-year-old also became the ninth different men's champion of the last 14 years in New York, including first-time major winners Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro. During the same time, the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon have each been claimed by four different men.

Medvedev – the second player since Ivan Lendl in 1987 to lose just one set en route to the men's US Open crown after Nadal in 2010 – is the fifth player to clinch a slam final against Djokovic.

"He is also the fourth player with four or more wins over Djokovic as world number one, after Nadal (nine), Federer (five) and Murray (five).

"Last but not least, I want to I want to finish my speech on a very sweet note. It's the third anniversary for me and my wife today," Medvedev added.

"You know, during the tournament I couldn't think of a present or anything, so when I went in the final, after semis, I thought okay if I lose, I need to find a present fast. ... I thought, well, if I lose, I have no time to have a present, so I have to win this match."

In Tokyo, it had been Alexander Zverev who denied Novak Djokovic his Olympic dream in a competition partially defined by controversy over the searing heat. In stifling temperatures inside Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday, the world number one saw his calendar Grand Slam hopes ended by a man often known for losing his cool.

Daniil Medvedev is among the most mercurial players on the ATP Tour. To watch Medvedev outwit his opponents when he is focused is one of the great joys of the modern game. When things go against him, though, his temper and his performance can unravel in a hurry.

To Djokovic's misfortune, in one of the biggest matches of his remarkable career, he came up against an inspired Medvedev enjoying obvious clarity of thought in a 6-4 6-4 6-4 win in the US Open final that means tennis' 'big three' remain locked on 20 grand slam titles apiece.

Medvedev is no stranger to heroics at tennis' largest stadium. Two years ago he enjoyed a rollercoaster journey in New York. Seeing red after being given a code violation for snatching a towel from a ballboy, Medvedev was mercilessly booed in a third-round match with Feliciano Lopez and openly goaded the fans thereafter in his on-court interview.

The booing continued in the subsequent round, but Medvedev's story that year was one of redemption, which ended with him receiving great credit for a remarkable near-comeback in a five-set epic final with Rafael Nadal.

Fast forward to a clash with another of the players firmly in the conversation for the best of all time and Medvedev sustained the levels he produced for two and a half sets against Nadal for three glorious sets as he ruthlessly took possession of a day that was supposed to belong to Djokovic.

Prior to the final, Djokovic had dropped the opening set in four of his previous matches at Flushing Meadows, winning three times in four sets and once in five.

As such, there was little reason not to expect a Djokovic comeback when Medvedev forged ahead in the showpiece.

However, in Medvedev, Djokovic found a foe completely unwilling to indulge his hopes of another recovery effort.

Coach Gilles Cervara labelled Medvedev a "genius" before the 2019 final and, when he plays as he did in clinching his first major title, it is tough to argue with that assessment.

As the elasticity of his movement enabled Medvedev to defend with an ease that belied the pressure of the occasion, Djokovic was simply unable to find a way through in the second set, which was decided with the artistry of the Russian's drop shot.

Djokovic could only hit into the tramlines having scurried in a desperate effort to meet such a shot, and that sense of desperation was evident when uncharacteristically poor play at the net from the Serbian gave Medvedev command in the third.

A pair of double faults played a role in Medvedev initially failing to serve out the match, the ice-cool focus escaping him for a brief moment, but there was to be no repeat when his second opportunity came as he finally clinched a maiden major on his third wedding anniversary.

So history denied. Not because of the heat, but because of a man keeping his cool in the face of the greatest challenge in the men's game and harnessing the genius that is now recognised by many more than just his coach. Extremely gracious in defeat, a potentially momentous day for Djokovic is now one he will want to forget. Instead, Medvedev and his wife have an anniversary to remember.

Novak Djokovic set aside the deep disappointment of missing out on the calendar Grand Slam by backing new US Open champion Daniil Medvedev to be a multiple major winner.

World number one and 20-time slam champion Djokovic had strung together a stunning run of wins at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, and he was a red-hot favourite to complete the set in New York.

A clean sweep of all four slams in a year had not been achieved since Rod Laver won the lot in 1969, and the great Australian was in the crowd as history appeared to beckon on Sunday.

Medvedev had other ideas and swept to a 6-4 6-4 6-4 win in two hours, 16 minutes, collecting his first title at this level but perhaps the first of many.

The world number two was tipped by a number of experts, including former world number one Jim Courier, to take the Flushing Meadows glory, and he came good as a flagging Djokovic paid the price for taking a circuitous route to the final.

Top seed Djokovic dropped the opening set of each of his matches from the third round onwards, spending more than five hours more on court than Medvedev on the way through the draw.

Speaking at the trophy presentation, Djokovic said: "I'd like to start off by saying congratulations to Daniil. Amazing. Amazing match, amazing tournament. If there is anyone that deserves a grand slam title now, it's you, so well done.

"You're one of the greatest guys on the tour. We get along very well. I wish you many more grand slams, many more majors to follow. I'm sure you will be on this stage in the future again."

Djokovic had appeared to well up before the final game of the match, on what was an emotional day for the Serb superstar.

He had demolished a racket in the second set as his rage grew, but come the end of the match he was looking to be sanguine.

Rather than airing his certain sense of frustration at falling just short of such a rare feat as a calendar Grand Slam, Djokovic looked for the positives.

And there was one that stood out, with the man who has often felt unloved by tennis crowds expressing his joy at the New York spectators showing him plenty of affection.

They had turned out in the hope of witnessing a famous moment in sporting history, which may have partly explained their raucous rallying behind the 34-year-old.

"I was thinking in both scenarios, kind of visualising myself standing here in front of you guys and what would I say," Djokovic told the crowd.

"I would like to say tonight that even though I have not won the match my heart is filled with joy and I am the happiest man alive, because you guys helped me feel very special on the court.

"You guys touch my soul. I've never felt like this in New York, I've never felt like this. Thank you so much for your support, everything you have done tonight for me. I love you and I'll see you soon."

Novak Djokovic fell agonisingly short of a clean sweep of this year's majors as Daniil Medvedev scored a sensational victory in the US Open final.

After scooping the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon titles, Djokovic arrived in New York in pursuit of the full set, but a 6-4 6-4 6-4 defeat meant the calendar Grand Slam dream died.

Rod Laver, the last man to achieve that feat in singles, back in 1969, was in the crowd to witness what most anticipated would be a momentous moment in tennis history. Instead, it was momentous for Medvedev, the Russian finally a champion at the highest level.

It means Djokovic remains tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 slam titles, the 34-year-old being served notice here that a new generation is rising, headed by world number two Medvedev.

 It was a sizzling afternoon in New York, the temperature taking a leap a day on from Emma Raducanu's triumph in the women's final, and Djokovic was feeling the heat from the early moments.

Medvedev broke in the first game against a nervy and erratic opponent. Djokovic had said before stepping on court that he hoped to bring the "best version of myself" and promised he was "ready for the battle", but he was running on close to empty at times here.

Djokovic had dropped the opening set in the previous four rounds in this US Open run, winning three times in four sets and once in five during that sequence. He came into this match having spent five hours and 35 minutes longer on court than Medvedev, an unusually scenic route through the rounds for the top seed. And those extra miles in his legs showed, Medvedev swiftly a set ahead, sealing the opener with an ace.

Djokovic had won 10 of 10 matches in slams this year after losing the opening set. No man has ever won a slam after losing five first sets in the same tournament, the ATP said. That still holds true.

The Serbian had 0-40 on the Medvedev serve in the second game of the second set, but five points in a row from the man from Moscow felt like a bodyblow, and in the fourth game Djokovic's frustration spilled over, brutally smashing his racket three times against the ground.

Djokovic was landing only 50 per of first serves in court, and when he hit a feeble backhand into the net, Medvedev had two break points. He took the second of those when Djokovic looped a volley long, then held to love to lead 4-2.

On his third set point, Medvedev gave Djokovic a chance to make a passing shot, but the 34-year-old went wide. At two sets up, Medvedev may have had thoughts of Stefanos Tsitsipas losing from such a lead against Djokovic in the Roland Garros final, but this time Djokovic was fried.

He raced out to a double break and a 4-0 lead in the third set, yet double-faulted twice in succession when his first championship point arrived and gave back one of those breaks. Djokovic closed to 5-4, the New York crowd roared and the man who rarely feels loved by tennis crowds began to well up. Medvedev came out to serve again and again served a double on a championship point, but he had another in store and Djokovic netted on the backhand.

For the first time since 1990, when Pete Sampras and Gabriela Sabatini reigned over the rest, the US Open has a pair of first-time grand slam winners as its singles champion, with rookie Raducanu joined by the finished article in Medvedev.

In an extraordinary year for Djokovic, this was a lousy day.

Trey Lance threw his first NFL touchdown and Jimmy Garoppolo excelled but the San Francisco 49ers were forced to hold off a near-miraculous rally from the Detroit Lions in a 41-33 thriller.

Rookie third overall pick Lance was not able to win the starting quarterback job from Garoppolo, yet he still made his regular-season debut at Ford Field on Sunday, and he took his first snap with the Niners on the Detroit 16-yard line on their second drive of the day.

His second snap saw him hit Trent Sherfield for a five-yard touchdown pass and, though Detroit responded with Jared Goff connecting with tight end T.J. Hockenson, Garoppolo's 314-yard performance, which included a 79-yard touchdown throw to Deebo Samuel, scores on the ground from rookie Elijah Mitchell and JaMycal Hasty and a Dre Greenlaw pick-six appeared to have put the game beyond all doubt.

San Francisco led 41-17 with under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but a Jamaal Williams short-yardage plunge followed by a two-point conversion provided Detroit a glimmer of hope that grew brighter when George Kittle was unable to field an onside kick.

The Lions subsequently drove down the field and Goff found Quintez Cephus for a two-yard touchdown and another two-point conversion. They then had a chance to tie the game following a fumble from Samuel, but Detroit could not complete an incredible comeback to force overtime.

Samson Ebukam's pressure forced Goff into an errant throw, allowing the Niners to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

It was, however, a pyrrhic victory for San Francisco, who lost cornerback Jason Verrett to what head coach Kyle Shanahan believes is a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Though the 49ers took defensive starters out of the game following Verrett's injury with what eventually proved an insurmountable lead, the ease with which the Lions moved the ball late in the game should be of concern to San Francisco, especially with two of their NFC West rivals enjoying excellent days.

The Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks each won comfortably. Kyler Murray threw for four touchdowns and ran for another while defensive end Chandler Jones had five sacks in the Cardinals' easy 38-13 win over the Tennessee Titans, while Russell Wilson had four touchdown passes for the Seahawks as they saw off the Indianapolis Colts 28-16.

Steelers stun Bills

While not quite as dramatic as events in Detroit, the Pittsburgh Steelers' win over the Buffalo Bills at Orchard Park was certainly unexpected.

The Bills led 10-0 at the end of the first half, but Josh Allen was sacked three times as the Steelers held a usually explosive offense in check.

And, after a pair of field goals from Chris Boswell, Diontae Johnson's spectacular catch at the back of the endzone in the fourth quarter gave them a lead they would not relinquish.

Ulysees Gilbert III recovered a blocked punt to make it 19-10 Steelers, Mike Tomlin's men going on to close out a 23-16 win that deals an early blow to a Bills team seen as Super Bowl contenders.

Burrow makes winning return

Last year's number one overall pick Joe Burrow made his return from a serious knee injury in the Cincinnati Bengals' clash with the Minnesota Vikings, and it proved a successful one in a thriller at Paul Brown Stadium.

He connected with college team-mate Ja'Marr Chase, the fifth overall pick by the Bengals this year, for a 50-yard touchdown in the first quarter to give Cincinnati a lead that they eventually let slip late in the fourth quarter when Vikings kicker Greg Joseph tied matters at 24-24 with a 53-yard field goal.

That forced overtime, but a Dalvin Cook fumble in Bengals territory handed Burrow and the Bengals the chance to clinch it, and he did just that with a drive that set up Evan McPherson's 33-yard field goal and sealed a 27-24 success.

This year's number one overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, endured a very different day. He threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions as the Jacksonville Jaguars were beaten 37-21 by the Houston Texans.

Europe captain Padraig Harrington has selected Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Shane Lowry as his wildcard picks for the Ryder Cup, but there is no place for Justin Rose on the 12-player roster.

Rose has competed in five of the last six editions of the biennial tournament, but he was overlooked by Harrington after a poor season on the PGA Tour that saw him fail to make the top 125 on the order of merit list.

Harrington opted for experienced names in Garcia and Poulter, while Lowry was given a reprieve of sorts after being knocked out of the automatic selection places when Bernd Wiesberger finished tied-20th at the BMW PGA Championship on Sunday.

Wiesberger, Poulter, Garcia and Lowry join Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton, Paul Casey, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Viktor Hovland, who all qualified through the rankings.

"I am absolutely thrilled with my team, with all of our picks we have the strongest 10, 11 and 12 we've ever had," Harrington said on Sunday.

Asked about the inclusion of Poulter, who is set to compete in his seventh Ryder Cup, Harrington said: "He is undefeated in singles. He lifts himself, he lifts his partners, he lifts the team.

"I'm getting a player who is in probably the best form of his life. He consistently motivates people around him. That's so important to the team. I know I have players who are good enough to deliver and Poulter is at the heart of our team."

Europe are looking to retain the trophy at Whistling Straits later this month following their 17.5-10.5 triumph over the United States in Paris three years ago.

USA finalised their squad on Wednesday, with captain Steve Stricker selecting Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele among his wildcard picks.

Schauffele was one of four rookies chosen by Stricker along with Daniel Berger, Harris English and Scottie Scheffler, with Tony Finau – part of the beaten side in 2018 – completing the captain's picks.

Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay had already locked in spots for the USA.

Lewis Hamilton was "so grateful" to be alive after he came out of a crash with Max Verstappen unscathed.

The Formula One championship rivals collided midway through Sunday's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, which was won by Daniel Ricciardo.

Verstappen has been handed a three-place grid penalty for the Russian Grand Prix following the collision, with his Red Bull having become airborne after he went over the kerbs while trying to go down the inside of Hamilton at turn two.

The Red Bull went over the top of Hamilton's Mercedes but, thankfully, the halo protection device, which sits above the driver's head, took the blow, protecting the world champion.

Hamilton confirmed he would have to receive medical attention ahead of the next race but came away complaining only of soreness and a slight pain in his neck.

"I feel very fortunate today," Hamilton told reporters. "Thank God for the halo which saved me, and saved my neck.

"I am so grateful I am still here. I feel incredibly blessed that someone was watching over me today. I don't think I've ever been hit on the head by a car before - and it is quite a big shock for me.

"We are taking risks and it's only when you experience something like that that you get the real shock of how you look at life and how fragile we all are.

"If you look at the images of the crash, my head is really quite far forward in the cockpit."

Hamilton also tweeted to his official account, writing: "It's days like today, I am reminded of how lucky I am.

"It takes a millisecond to go from racing to a very scary situation. Today someone must have been looking down, watching over me! #TeamLH: I'm so thankful for each and everyone of you, you are truly the best. Still we rise!"

Bernd Wiesberger and Lee Westwood secured their places in Europe's Ryder Cup team as Billy Horschel prevailed on a dramatic final day of the BMW PGA Championship. 

Four automatic places were there for the taking at Wentworth. Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick were already all but assured of their spots at Whistling Straits, with Wiesberger, Westwood, Shane Lowry and Justin Rose fighting to book their tickets. 

Lowry and Rose entered the final 18 holes with work to do and both ended up falling short. Rose's seven-under 65, which saw him finish three strokes behind Horschel on 16 under, was not enough to get him on either the European or World points lists. 

Irishman Lowry needed to finish in the top eight to qualify but endured a disappointing final day, a one-under 71 seeing him go 12 under for the tournament and leaving the 2019 Open champion down in tied 17th. 

Wiesberger carded a level-par 72 as he closed on 11 under, that score sufficient to dislodge Rory McIlroy from the European points list. 

Meanwhile, Westwood is set to equal Nick Faldo's record for Ryder Cup appearances by playing for Europe for the 11th time. 

Like McIlroy, Westwood qualifies via the World points list despite a five-over 77 that left him down in a four-way tie for 71st. 

At the sharp end of the leaderboard, it was Horschel who emerged from a tightly packed field thanks to his final-round 65. 

He was tied with Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Jamie Donaldson and Laurie Carter on 18 under, but a tremendous approach over the water at the last gave Horschel a simple putt for birdie. 

Carter was unable to replicate Horschel's feat, giving the American his second European Tour title of the year and his first triumph in a Rolex Series event. 

Max Verstappen has been handed a three-place grid penalty for the Russian Grand Prix following his collision with Lewis Hamilton at Monza on Sunday. 

The Formula One title rivals crashed at turn two during the Italian Grand Prix, with the Red Bull becoming airborne after Verstappen went over the kerbs while trying to go down the inside. 

The Dutchman's car landed on top of Hamilton's and they both ended up beached in the gravel, with Daniel Ricciardo going on to win the race as part of a famous McLaren one-two. 

Verstappen protested that he was not left sufficient space by Hamilton, while Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff accused the Red Bull driver of committing a "tactical foul".

Race stewards investigated the incident after the chequered flag and deemed that Verstappen – whose hopes of winning had seemingly evaporated with a botched pitstop – was guilty of causing the collision that ended both their races.

A statement read: "The stewards heard from the driver of Car 33 (Max Verstappen), the driver of Car 44 (Lewis Hamilton) and team representatives, reviewed the video evidence and determined that the driver of Car 33 was predominantly to blame for the collision with Car 44 at turn two.

"Car 44 was exiting the pits. Car 33 was on the main straight. At the 50m board before turn one, Car 44 was significantly ahead of Car 33. Car 33 braked late and started to move alongside Car 44, although at no point in the sequence does Car 33 get any further forward than just behind the front wheel of Car 44.

"During the hearing the driver of Car 33 asserted that the cause of the incident was the driver of Car 44 opening the steering after turn one and 'squeezing' him to the apex of turn two. The driver of Car 44 asserted that the driver of Car 33 attempted to pass very late and should have given up the corner either by backing off sooner, or by turning left behind the kerb.

"The Stewards observed on CCTV footage that the driver of Car 44 was driving an avoiding line, although his position caused Car 33 to go onto the kerb. But further, the Stewards observed that Car 33 was not at all alongside Car 44 until significantly into the entry into turn one. In the opinion of the Stewards, this manoeuvre was attempted too late for the driver of Car 33 to have 'the right to racing room'.

"While Car 44 could have steered further from the kerb to avoid the incident, the Stewards determined that his position was reasonable and therefore find that the driver of Car 33 was predominantly to blame for the incident.

"In coming to the penalty the Stewards emphasise that they have only considered the incident itself and not the consequences thereof.

"Competitors are reminded that they have the right to appeal certain decisions of the Stewards, in accordance with Article 15 of the FIA International Sporting Code and Chapter 4 of the FIA Judicial and Disciplinary Rules, within the applicable time limits."

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff described Lewis Hamilton's crash with Max Verstappen at the Italian Grand Prix as a "tactical foul" by the Red Bull driver.

The drivers' championship front-runners collided at Monza, having also come together at the British Grand Prix, forcing both to retire from the race.

After labouring behind eventual winner Daniel Ricciardo, who led a McLaren one-two, Verstappen's hopes of victory were seemingly dashed with a pit stop that saw him stationary for 11.1 seconds.

Hamilton then emerged from his pit stop at the start of lap 26 alongside Verstappen, who attempted to sneak down the inside at turn two, only to catch the kerbs and send his car airborne before it landed on top of the Mercedes, with both ending up in the gravel trap.

Having come second in the sprint race, Verstappen extended his championship lead by two points. He now holds a five-point advantage.

The incident is the subject of a stewards' investigation, but Wolff indicated he believes the blame lies with the Dutchman.

"The stewards are going to decide who is to blame. There is predominantly to blame, I guess, we've seen that in the past. I think in football you'd say it was a tactical foul," Wolff told Sky Sports. 

"He probably knew that if Lewis stays ahead, that is the race win possibly.

"I think when you look at turn four, Lewis backed out and that was quite a thing because probably you know he's staying ahead of you. And then incidents where they actually crash, it was clear for Max in there that they would crash.

"I think if we don't manage that in the right way, this is going to continue. They had a high-speed crash at Silverstone, we had one car ending on top of the other one on Lewis' head here, so how far can you go? Maybe next time we'll have a high-speed crash and land on each other."

Hamilton added: "I was racing as hard as I could, finally got past Lando [Norris], I was in the lead so they pitted me, pit-stop was obviously slow, lost a couple of seconds.

"I came out, saw that Daniel came past, Max was coming, I made sure I let a car's width on the outside to him. I went into Turn 1 and I was ahead, I was ahead going into turn two, then all of a sudden he was on top of me."

Asked if Verstappen could have backed out of the corner, Hamilton replied: "Absolutely. Exactly the same scenario that happened in turn four, where I went around the outside, I was in exactly the same position, but I gave way. And that's racing.

"He just didn't want to give way today, he knew when he was going into turn two what was going to happen, he knew he was going over the kerb but still did it. We'll speak to the stewards and we'll see."

Francesco Bagnaia revelled in a "dream come true" after earning a sensational first MotoGP win by holding off Marc Marquez, who said he proved his old mentality is still burning as strong as ever.

Marquez missed almost the entirety of 2020 due to a serious arm injury and has only one victory to his name this season.

It was so nearly two in a stunning tussle at the Aragon Grand Prix on Sunday, but it was Ducati rider Bagnaia who topped a premier-class podium for the first time in his career.

Speaking afterwards, Bagnaia – who now sits second in the riders' standings, 53 points adrift of Fabio Quartararo – struggled to comprehend the level of his achievement.

"I'm feeling a lot of emotion today, I'm so happy," he said. 

"We worked a lot to achieve this result, every time we were close, something happened and the dream to win my first victory was far. 

"I'm so happy, I have to say thanks to all the team, all my family, my fantastic girlfriend, who are all with me every day.

"It's difficult to say something now but it was not easy to stay in front of Marc at this track. His body is not at 100 per cent, I think today he was very, very competitive. I just tried to do my best, to finish first is a dream come true."

Marquez made several passes during the final few laps, only to cede back the position on each occasion in a race that thrilled to the finish.

The Repsol Honda rider thinks he proved a point with his battling display.

"Yeah, I mean like some people [said] the old Marquez is not there, today we showed it's the same mentality," he said. 

"I still need to find the best level of myself. But anyway, it is a great result, I enjoyed a lot the race and the battle with Pecco on the last laps. I was a bit on the limit, but I think everybody was the same and I tried like always. 

"Even coming in from two crashes in a row, I try, this is my style. Today Pecco was faster than us, he did an incredible race. It was not possible but anyway I'm really happy."

World champion Joan Mir came home third for Suzuki Ecstar and was disappointed not to have challenged the leaders.

"I feel tired, I gave 110 per cent," he said. "And honestly, I'm a bit disappointed today. I expected a little bit better today, the pace over the weekend was better than to make only a podium. I expected to fight with those guys. 

"At the beginning, starting seventh position probably penalised us a little bit. I'm happy for the team, another podium is always a podium, but we want more, so let's push more."

Daniel Ricciardo was ecstatic after McLaren claimed an "insane" one-two at the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday.

McLaren driver Ricciardo started in second and overtook pole-sitter Max Verstappen into turn one at Monza, going on to claim his first Formula One win since 2018, when he drove for Red Bull.

This latest success ended a wait since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix for the Woking-based McLaren team to top an F1 podium, while Lando Norris following Ricciardo home in second represented their first one-two since 2010 in Canada.

A collision between championship leader Max Verstappen and title-holder Lewis Hamilton that forced both out of the race brought out the safety car, and Ricciardo never looked like surrendering first place from there.

"Can I swear? I want to swear! About – time," said Ricciardo.

"I mean obviously it [the start] worked well for me [in Saturday's sprint race] and I knew, to be honest, even if we got the start it was never a guarantee we'd lead the whole race.

"I was able to hold firm out front in the first stint. I don't think we had like mega speed, but it was enough to keep Max behind. There was safety cars and this and that, but to lead literally from start to finish, I don't think any of us expected that.

"There was something in me on Friday. I knew there was something good to come. I've just been a sandbagging S.O.B. the whole year. Thirds, fourths, fifths – you might as well just win, so that's what I did!

"Honestly, the August break was good just to reset. I felt better the last three weekends. To not only win but to get a one-two, it's insane.

"For McLaren to be on the podium is huge, let alone a one-two. This is for 'team papaya'. I'm, for once, lost for words."

Norris was ordered not to attack Ricciardo and admitted he would have liked to have been the one topping the podium, though he was happy to settle for a career-best finish as runner-up and look forward to chances to triumph in future.

"First of all, a big thanks to everyone, all the fans, all the team. We've had a pretty awesome weekend," said Norris.

"Four years ago, I joined the team and we've been working towards this and we got a one-two finally. A good step for us and I'm happy for Daniel and me of course getting P2, so I'm happy for the team.

"Of course [I wanted the win]. You've been in that position where you want to go for it, but I'm here for the long term, I'm here for the team. It could've ended up like the other two [Verstappen and Hamilton] ended up.

"I'm just happy. I'm happy finishing second, I'm happy for Daniel in first place. I'll have my chance in the future, so it's all good."

Daniel Ricciardo ended his and McLaren's long wait for a Formula One victory after a collision between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton sent the title rivals out of the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday. 

Ricciardo's last win had come in Monaco in 2018 when he was at Red Bull, while McLaren saw one of their drivers top the podium for the first time since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Lando Norris followed his team-mate across the line as McLaren claimed a famous one-two – their first since the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix – after Verstappen and Hamilton scarily crashed out midway through the race.

Although neither championship contender was able to finish and the incident was to be investigated after the race, Verstappen still increased his advantage in the drivers' standings by two points this weekend having finished second in the sprint race.

Valtteri Bottas, who was classified third on Sunday after a five-second time penalty for Sergio Perez, won the sprint race but started at the back of the race grid after taking a new power unit, so Verstappen lined up on pole alongside Ricciardo.

McLaren's straight-line speed was expected to make them contenders in the race and Ricciardo took the lead into turn one, with Hamilton going off track and returning to fourth after making contact with Verstappen at the second chicane.

Verstappen laboured behind Ricciardo and his hopes of victory were seemingly dashed when he was stationary for 11.1 seconds during his first pit stop, and he was alongside Hamilton when the reigning champion emerged from his stop at the start of lap 26.

The Dutchman looked to sneak down the inside at turn two but caught the kerbs and his car went airborne, landing on top of the Mercedes and sending both into the gravel.

A safety car was deployed and Ricciardo led the race competently, with Norris ordered not to challenge him for the victory, ensuring a memorable and long-awaited result for McLaren.

 

Magisterial McLaren

By taking the lead on the opening lap and controlling the race until he pitted, Ricciardo had already led more laps for McLaren than the team had managed since Hamilton's departure at the end of the 2012 season.

Bad blood developing

They had already clashed at Imola and Silverstone this season, but this time contact between Verstappen and Hamilton resulted in both drivers failing to finish. The Briton accused Verstappen of pushing him wide when they collided on the opening lap, while the Red Bull driver had a similar complaint following their race-ending crash.

Ghastly day for Gasly and AlphaTauri

After the elation of winning his first F1 race at Monza in 2020, Pierre Gasly and AlphaTauri's day this time could not have been any different. He started from the pits after a crash in the sprint race but retired early on, while Yuki Tsunoda was unable to start due to a mechanical issue.

Francesco Bagnaia held off Marc Marquez in a sensational Aragon Grand Prix to claim a maiden win in MotoGP.

The Ducati rider and his Spanish rival, aiming to win on his fifth straight appearance at the track having not raced there in 2020, exchanged position several times over the course of a pulsating finish.

But the Italian, who started on pole, put on a masterclass to beat Repsol Honda rider Marquez in his own backyard to clinch an unbelievable victory and move up to second in the riders' standings.

Bagnaia finished down in 14th last time out at the British Grand Prix for his worst result in two years but he and Marquez stole a march on the chasing pack this time around.

It has been a largely disappointing season for the legendary Marquez, who missed almost the entirety of 2020 through injury, yet there were signs of his best in a thrilling chase.

Marquez made his first move at Turn 5 with three laps to go, only to go wide and allow Bagnaia to reclaim the lead.

That theme continued for the rest of the race as Marquez made several passes and on each occasion giving it back, until finally he went off track at Turn 12 allowing Bagnaia to finally claim a win in the premier class.

Defending world champion Joan Mir rounded out the podium, while riders' standings leader Fabio Quartararo finished a distant eighth but was the only Yamaha rider inside the points.

Aleix Espargaro was fourth ahead of Jack Miller, who was on course for a podium finish until a costly error midway through the race saw him lose position.

TOP 10

1. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati)
2. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) +0.673s
3. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) +3.911s
4. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) +9.269s
5. Jack Miller (Ducati) +11.928s
6. Enea Bastianini (Avintia) +13.757s
7. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM) +14.064s
8. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) +16.575s
9. Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) +16.615s
10. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) +16.904s

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Riders

1. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) 214
2. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) 161
3. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) 157
4. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) 137
5. Jack Miller (Ducati) 129

Teams

1. Monster Energy Yamaha 309
2. Ducati 290
3. Suzuki Ecstar 225
4. Pramac Racing 212
5. Red Bull KTM 204

Quade Cooper made a sensational match-winning return as Australia got up and running in the Rugby Championship with a last-gasp 28-26 victory over South Africa on Sunday. 

Following back-to-back defeats to New Zealand to start the competition, veteran fly-half Cooper was named in the starting line-up for the visit of the world champions – his first international appearance since June 2017. 

The 33-year-old's kicking was exemplary, slotting through a seventh penalty and eighth successful kick of the game from 40 metres with the clock in the red to snatch the win at the death. 

Handre Pollard and Cooper scored two penalties apiece before Siya Kolisi's yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Tom Banks was pounced upon by Australia.

Samu Kerevi's excellent pass released Andrew Kellaway, who cut in off the right wing and dived in behind the posts. 

The Springboks responded well and Bongi Mbonambi powered over from the back of a driving maul after Matt Philip was sent to the sin bin for repeated ruck infringements, but the Wallabies still took an eight-point lead into the break. 

Willie Le Roux was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on in the 52nd minute and he was joined in the bin by Folau Fainga'a before replacement hooker Malcolm Marx touched down in the middle of another driving maul. 

Marx did likewise in the 72nd minute for his second try to put the Springboks in front, but Damian Willemse made a costly miss when attempting to convert from the tee. 

And after South Africa conceded a penalty at the death for not releasing on the ground, Cooper made them pay with a winning kick. 

Quade a display

He may have made 70 previous appearances for the Wallabies, but Cooper only scored 10 points or more in six of those matches. His 23 points against South Africa was consequently his best display for his country.

Hooper at the heart

Cooper may have taken the headlines, but Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper was formidable in the pack. He made two of his team's three clean breaks and did not miss any of his eight tackles.

New Zealand turned on the style to ruthlessly dispatch Argentina 39-0 to make it three wins from three in the Rugby Championship.

Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece and Dalton Papalii all touched down in a dominant first-half showing from the All Blacks at the CBUS Super Stadium in Queensland.

Luke Jacobson then scored twice in the second period to complete the most routine of wins for Ian Foster's side.

Ioane went over in scrappy fashion after 10 minutes when he reacted fastest to Bautista Delguy knocking a Beauden Barrett offload to ground.

Despite dominating ball and territory it took until three minutes before half-time for Reece to crash over, with Papalii following suit with time in the red following a drive from a line-out with Pablo Matera sent to the bin for the Pumas in the build-up due to persistent team infringements.

Jacobson had his first following a stunning offload from Barrett early in the second half and, after New Zealand were denied on three occasions by the TMO, he had a second with a strong run from the back of a scrum.

A late Jordie Barrett three-pointer added further gloss for a New Zealand side that was never troubled by a limp Argentina for who Nicolas Sanchez made a record 90th appearance.


Ioane a menace

Argentina were camped in their own 22 for the majority of the first half in no short part down to the work of Ioane.

The bulldozing centre, who prior to this game was the leader for metres gained in the Championship, consistently broke the lines and it was his quick reactions that got the All Blacks rolling.

Barrett bros almost combine for stunner

Shortly after Ioane's opener there was a moment of genius when Beauden Barrett's high kick was caught by brother Jordie deep into the try area and dotted down.

It was a sensational catch and ground by the full-back, who had absolutely no right to make the grab, but sadly his placing of the ball appeared to be just over the line.

On Sunday, four of the five quarterbacks selected in the first round of this year's NFL Draft will take the field for their debuts.

A quintet of franchises capitalised on what many considered to be an historic class at the position to select the prospects they hope will prove to be the long-term future of their respective teams.

However, so much of a quarterback's success is dependent on situation and it is likely the quarterback from this crop of rookies that initially stands out will be the one with the best supporting cast around them.

The consensus is that Trey Lance, the third overall pick of the San Francisco 49ers, is in the best spot. For now, he will have to play second fiddle to Jimmy Garoppolo and settle for only sporadic action as the Niners look to make use of his running threat.

When Lance does take over full-time, he will be playing the most important position on a roster that was seven minutes from Super Bowl glory two seasons ago.

While he may have landed in the most favourable scenario, 11th overall pick Justin Fields appears to have been dealt the worst hand, with the Chicago Bears unwilling to risk putting him out there in Week 1 with a talent-poor offense against the Los Angeles Rams despite a strong preseason.

Do the numbers back up the statements that Lance is in the best situation with Fields in the worst? And where do Trevor Lawrence, first overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets rookie Zach Wilson and New England Patriots starter Mac Jones stack up in terms of supporting cast?

Stats Perform analysed its advanced metrics to find out.

RUNNING GAME

1. Patriots 2. 49ers 3. Jaguars 4. Jets 5. Bears

The running game can be an excellent safety net that takes the pressure off a quarterback's shoulders.

Rushing the ball effectively is contingent on an offensive line that can open the holes and a back that can not only take advantage of those lanes but also create for himself.

In terms of run blocking, the Patriots are the standouts among the teams to select a signal-caller. Second in Stats Perform's projected offensive line rankings, put together using combined run blocking and pass protection data over the past three seasons, only two offensive lines league begin the season better prepared to provide the foundation for a successful ground game than that of New England.

Led by center David Andrews - whose run disruption rate allowed of 5.3 per cent was the best in the NFL at his position - and right guard Shaq Mason (6.3%), the Patriots' O-Line is one that should continue to excel at creating running lanes.

Damien Harris showed his ability to take advantage of those lanes last season when he averaged 3.11 yards before contact from a defender, 10th in the NFL, while making things happen for himself with 3.15 yards per carry on attempts where there was a run disruption from a defender.

When Jones makes his first start against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, he should have full confidence in being able to lean on Harris and the line to make his life easier.

The 49ers, whose starting running back Raheem Mostert averaged 3.28 yards before contact last season, might have a strong case for having the top running game should Lance's dual-threat ability take their ground attack to the next level.

Third-round pick Trey Sermon (4.85 yards before contact, 2.77 yards after contact for Ohio State in 2020) could prove an astute selection, though an offensive line 18th in run blocking in Stats Perform's rankings will need to take a step forward.

Still, their position is significantly more favourable than that of the Bears, who rank last in run blocking, making David Montgomery's 1,000-yard 2020 season all the more surprising.

Yet Montgomery was below the league average in yards before contact (2.54 per attempt) and after contact (1.84), hardly inspiring confidence that he can lighten the load on Fields when the Bears finally commit to him as the starter.

PASS CATCHERS

1. 49ers 2. Patriots 3. Jets 4. Bears 5. Jaguars

There isn't much use investing in a potential franchise quarterback if you cannot put weapons around him upon whom he can rely.

In terms of players he can target and trust, Lance has the edge over his fellow rookies, though no team to take a quarterback in the first round landed in the top half of Stats Perform's rankings by collective open percentage.

The Niners landed 18th on that list but conventional wisdom says they will be much higher should tight end George Kittle and top wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk stay healthy.

All three endured injury-hindered 2020 seasons, though Kittle still led all tight ends in adjusted open percentage (45.03%). He was first among tight ends with 3.9 burn yards per route (a burn is a target where the receiver wins his matchup with a defender).

Samuel's burn yards per route rate of 3.0 was particularly eye-catching because his average depth of target of 2.3 was the lowest in the NFL, the former second-round pick showing his skills with ball in hand with 12.1 yards after the catch per reception, best in the NFL.

Aiyuk, meanwhile, produced a big play on 33.1 per cent of his targets, third among rookie receivers with at least 50 targets, a breakout year appears on the horizon for the second-year wideout.

With an elite tight end and two promising wideouts, the Niners' situation is substantially better than Jacksonville's. The Jaguars' pass-catchers ranked last by collective open percentage.

Late free-agent addition Tyron Johnson is the sole wide receiver on the Jaguars' roster to have posted a burn percentage above the average of 62.5 per cent last year.

Johnson did so on 69.2 per cent of his targets and was first in burn yards per target (19.89) and second in burn yards per route (3.6) with an average depth of target of 20 yards.

This evidently skilled deep separator will be tasked with stretching opposing defenses while D.J. Chark (30.33% adjusted open) and Laviska Shenault (27.44%) must do a better job of beating coverage and taking advantage of the stress Johnson can put on opponents to lift this group from the cellar and give Lawrence more to work with.

PASS BLOCKING

1. Patriots 2. Jets 3. Jaguars 4. 49ers 5. Bears

Though most accept Fields is the most exciting quarterback on the Bears' roster, Matt Nagy's decision to not start him and protect him from an offensive line that can hardly protect anyone may be an astute one with Chicago facing Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and the Rams Week 1.

Eventually, Fields will have to take his lumps. There are good defensive players across the NFL by which he will one day be confronted, but a reticence to put him out there behind a line ranked 30th in pass protection by Stats Perform is understandable.

Starting left tackle Jason Peters is 39 and allowed a pressure rate of 12.4 per cent last term, the 10th-worst in the league. The interior of the line is also a substantial concern.

Right guard James Daniels is coming off a year where he gave up a pressure on 11.3 per cent of pass protection snaps. Cody Whitehair is at left guard having played center in 2020, when only three players at his former position allowed a higher adjusted sack rate than his 1.9 per cent. One of those players was this year's starting center Sam Mustipher (2.3%).

While Fields would have the NFL equivalent of a turnstile in front of him. Jones will head on the Gillette Stadium field with an O-Line that is the definition of solidity.

Though not quite the brick wall he had the benefit of at Alabama, the Patriots' line should provide Jones with excellent protection, ranking fifth in pass blocking.

Mike Onwenu ranked as the best pass-protecting left guard in the NFL and in Trent Brown, credited with one adjusted sack allowed on 162 pass-block snaps in his final season with the Las Vegas Raiders, and Isaiah Wynn, the Patriots have a solid pair of tackles to give Jones the time to prove his pre-draft doubters wrong.

The left side of the Jets' line could rival that of the Patriots. Mekhi Becton's pressure rate allowed of 5.5 per cent was ninth among left tackles in 2020. On his inside shoulder, rookie left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker conceded only five pressures on 387 pass protection snaps the last time he played that spot for USC in 2019. Wilson can afford to have great faith in that duo.

DEFENSE

1. 49ers 2. Bears 3. Patriots 4. Jets 5. Jaguars

Defense is often neglected when it comes to talking about a quarterback's supporting cast but, if a team has one that can stifle opposing attacks, it leaves more wiggle room for a young quarterback to endure the 'rookie mistakes' and not sink his team's chances of competing.

Lance's performances during the preseason, while exciting, indicated he is a quarterback who could be a little turnover-prone as he adapts to reading defenses at the NFL level.

San Francisco's is a defense that is strong up front and better than given credit for in the secondary. The 49ers ranked eighth in pass coverage grade, which was produced by multiplying each player's coverage baseline by a projected target share for 2021 with the results then aggregated at the team level.

On the front, Stats Perform projected the average Niners defender to produce a pressure on 11.5 per cent of pass rush attempts, putting them fourth in the NFL.

Though there is great depth on the defensive line, much of that projection is built on Nick Bosa, getting back to his Defensive Rookie of the Year levels of 2019, when he had a pressure rate of 28.3 per cent, after suffering a torn ACL in Week 2 last year. With Bosa healthy and Fred Warner the premier all-round linebacker in the NFL, the Niners have a defense that could help them contend amid bumps in the road for Lance.

The Bears don't have many areas where they can be considered to be the best in the NFL, yet their front seven has a strong claim. The average Chicago pass rusher is projected to produce a pressure on 11.4% of pass rush attempts and the average run defender is forecast to cause a run disruption 10.2% of the time.

While Chicago's front may be well-rounded, their secondary looks extremely shaky, as illustrated by the Bears' ranking of 22nd in pass coverage grade. Jaylon Johnson enjoyed an encouraging rookie season at corner yet, with Kindle Vildor set to start across from him having only started one game in his brief career, there is clear a potential weakness for opponents to target.

The Patriots have no such problems on the back end, at least when the absent Stephon Gilmore is on the field. New England are seventh in coverage grade, and with linebacker D'Onta Hightower returning and the addition of edge rusher Matthew Judon, they will hope their front seven can dramatically outperform the projection of a pressure from a defender on just 9.51% of attempts.

New York's pass rush suffered a substantial blow when free agent signing Carl Lawson, who had a pressure rate of 22.3% that was seventh in the NFL last season, was lost for the year due to a ruptured Achilles. Without him, the average Jets defender is predicted to cause pressure 10.34% of the time, and there is an even greater onus on defensive tackle Quinnen Williams to carry his 2020 emergence into this year.

The Jets' hopes of the defense offering support to Wilson may be dashed should the front prove unable to lift a secondary bereft of talent beyond safety Marcus Maye, New York entering the season 23rd in pass coverage grade.

A lack of pass-rushing options beyond Josh Allen, who took a step back in an injury-affected 2020, contributed to the Jaguars' mediocre projected pressure rate of 10.18% and, with Jacksonville just above the Jets and Bears in 21st in coverage grade, they need cornerback Shaquill Griffin to live up to his lucrative free agency pricetag to elevate the play in the defensive backfield and ensure Lawrence is not tasked with coming through a shootout every week.

OVERALL

1. Patriots 2. 49ers 3. Jets 4. Bears 5. Jaguars

Aided by an offensive line that excels in both facets, a running back seemingly primed for a breakout year and a defense restocked with players returning from opt-outs and quality free agents, Jones will head into his NFL debut with the top supporting cast of any of the rookies.

The most important thing in Jones' favour, though, is his head coach, as he will benefit from playing for the greatest coach of all-time in Bill Belichick, whose incredible expertise on the defensive side of the ball should prove a significant help to the former Alabama star as he adapts to different looks from opponents.

Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan's play-calling acumen will give Lance an advantage most quarterbacks in the league do not enjoy when he hits the field, with the weapons they boast on both sides of the ball meaning he will likely take over a team headed for the playoffs when he eventually displaces Garoppolo.

Wilson has the luxury of playing for two Shanahan disciples in head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. The early signs have been promising in terms of him settling into LaFleur's offense but Saleh will need to do a particularly impressive coaching job on defense to turn them into a unit capable of making Wilson's life easier.

Fields may get help in that respect from the defensive front and will have one of the most underrated wide receivers in the NFL in Allen Robinson. He and Lawrence were deemed by many to be the best quarterbacks in the 2021 class, however, due to the holes on both sides of their respective rosters, it is they who have the most obstacles to immediate success in front of them.

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