NFL

Antonio Brown ruled out of NFC Championship game

By Sports Desk January 22, 2021

Antonio Brown has been ruled out of the NFC Championship game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers because of a knee injury.

Brown had been expected to be a game-time decision at Lambeau Field but head coach Bruce Arians confirmed on Friday that he would play no part.

The former Pittsburgh Steelers star had just one catch for 10 yards on three targets in the Bucs' 30-20 win over the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round.

Even without Brown, quarterback Tom Brady will still have a host of weapons available for his duel with the Packers and MVP favourite Aaron Rodgers.

Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will likely be his top targets, while tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate should see plenty of passes thrown in their direction.

The Bucs are hoping to make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since they prevailed in Super Bowl XXXVII at the end of the 2002 season.

Should they emerge triumphant, it will seal Brady's place in a 10th Super Bowl, having won a record six in nine appearances in a storied two decades with the New England Patriots.

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    Eric Weddle is showing "great energy" after coming out of retirement and is primed to play a part against the Arizona Cardinals, says Sean McVay.

    In a stunning move, six-time Pro Bowler Weddle re-joined the Los Angeles Rams this week for the playoffs, having previously retired after the 2019 season.

    The safety will make his comeback against NFC West rivals the Cardinals on Monday, which will be 750 days since his last NFL appearance.

    The roster move with Weddle came with the Rams having issues in their secondary.

    Jordan Fuller was ruled out for the season due an ankle injury, while free safety Taylor Rapp has not cleared concussion protocol and will miss the game.

    That could lead to significant snaps for the 37-year-old Weddle, who quit two years ago after 13 successful seasons in the league.

    Rams head coach McVay revealed there are a range of outcomes over how involved Weddle will be in his first game back but is convinced the veteran will be ready.

    "He's done a great job," McVay said, per ESPN, when asked about Weddle's progress. "He's brought a great energy. He's a great communicator. He's a great leader. 

    "He'll be ready to go. What exactly that role looks like, we're still working through, but I do know as a competitor when he's out there, if he's going and he gets into the flow, he's gonna want to go.

    "If he's feeling good and there's no risk and we're in a good flow, we'll kind of just take it a snap at a time. 

    "It's hard for me to realistically put a parameter around it because this is something that's never been done before. 

    "It could be 10 [snaps]; it could be 30. I think in a lot of instances too, it depends on what kind of personnel groupings we're presenting to the Cardinals' offense as well.

    "[Rapp] is a big loss. He's doing everything in his power to get back as quickly as possible, but we have got a lot of confidence in Nick Scott and Terrell Burgess as well."

     

    Weddle discussed his return earlier this week, insisting he had kept physically fit in retirement.

    He said: "Even though I haven’t been playing football, I still train like I’m playing football.

    "It [returning] was never even a remote possibility ever over the last year and a half because I was pretty much set in my decision and very happy. 

    "This is by no means me having an itch or anything like that. It was just the opportunity of a lifetime.

    "I just kept coming back to I would regret it if I didn’t come and take this chance to try to help out the guys that I love, a coach that I love and try to help this team out, whatever role that is.

    "It didn't take much persuading. It was kind of just going through the avenues with all the coaches and reaching out to some players.

    "I didn't want to come in and ruffle any feathers or be someone who gets in the way, but once all that was on the same page, it was a no brainer in my mind."

    The Rams are at home for the Wild Card game after edging the Cardinals to win the NFC West.

    Two games between the teams in the regular season were split, with each team winning on the road (37-20 Cardinals in L.A., 30-23 Rams in Arizona).

    Arizona fared well on the road this season, going 8-1, but struggled to a 3-5 record at home.

    Per Stats Perform data, in modern NFL history (since 1933), the only other team to have as many as five more road wins than home victories in a season is the Miami Dolphins, who went 6-2 on the road and 1-7 at home in 2010.

  • Steelers activate Smith-Schuster for Chiefs showdown Steelers activate Smith-Schuster for Chiefs showdown

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    After recovering from surgery, he is expected to play at least some part against the Chiefs in the Wild Card round game on Sunday after practising on Thursday and Friday.

    "God answered my prayers and I've recovered from my season-ending shoulder injury earlier than expected," Smith-Schuster wrote on Twitter.

    "I can't believe I get another chance to take the field with this team and play in a playoff game to keep our season alive."

    Kansas City beat Pittsburgh at home in Week 16, 36-10, their largest win over the Steelers in 36 all-time meetings.

    The Steelers go in as heavy underdogs against the Chiefs, though they received a further boost when running back Najee Harris was removed from the injury report after recovering from an elbow injury.

    This could be Smith-Schuster's last game with the Steelers given he is due to enter free agency after the season, while eyes are also on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is expected to retire after the playoffs.

    "He had a pretty significant injury," Roethlisberger told 102.5 WDVE this week about the receiver's possible return.

    "The way JuJu plays the game is physical. We all know it. We all love it. He could boost this offense. Even if it's just a few plays, the energy, the encouragement he brings on the sideline. 

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    Roethlisberger has thrown for 970 yards in his last two postseason games, both losses. That is the most passing yards by any player in a span of two playoff games. 

    The veteran will face off against Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes.

    Chiefs QB Mahomes has thrown for two touchdowns and four interceptions in his two Super Bowl appearances, but in his six other playoff games, he has thrown 15 touchdown passes and no picks. 

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  • Carr hopes Bisaccia lands permanent Raiders job after playoff elimination Carr hopes Bisaccia lands permanent Raiders job after playoff elimination

    Derek Carr hopes the Las Vegas Raiders will name Rich Bisaccia as permanent head coach following their elimination from the NFL playoffs.

    Bisaccia, previously the special teams coordinator, has served as interim head coach since October when Jon Gruden resigned.

    After steading the ship he led the Raiders into the postseason with four straight wins down the stretch but the team's hopes were ended in the Wild Card round on Saturday.

    The home Cincinnati Bengals held on to triumph 26-19 and celebrate a first postseason win for 31 years, leaving the Raiders still waiting to end their own drought which has run since 2002.

    Carr, who only has one year left on his contract, threw an interception on fourth-and-goal with 12 seconds remaining after earlier finding Zay Jones in the end zone as his team attempted to recover from 14 points behind.

    The quarterback completed 29 of 54 passes and hopes it is Bisaccia who returns in 2022 as the Raiders begin to turn their attention to next season.

    "I think we can all think that he's the right guy," said Carr, per ESPN. 

    "He has proven that people listen to him. Our team listens to him and I love him so much, I'm thankful for him. 

    "All those things will be decisions that I don't make, I don't get to make. I just play quarterback, but with everything that went on, if you really look at what happened, all the pieces missing, everything that changed.

    "Yeah, he held it together."

    As well as Gruden's exit, Carr discussed the release of leading receiver Henry Ruggs III and a host of injuries suffered by Raiders receivers and offensive linemen in a tumultuous year.

    "You go on and on and on and on, and that's just offense," he said.

    "The fact that that staff kept everything together and kept us competitive and kept us finding ways to win football games, I think that's what our organization is about, right? 

    "So, we'll see what happens. We know what we want to have happen. But, again, we're Raiders. We're going to play football, but we just hope it, obviously, we hope it's for somebody special."

    Asked about his own future, Carr cited his agent's strong relationship with the team and added: "Lord knows there's been a lot of things to communicate about, right?

    "When the time comes, I never want a face-to-face. I'm going to play quarterback, but my message will be talked about.

    "I'm not going to go to dinner and say, 'We have to do something.' I'm not that guy. I'll let my voice be heard, but in a different way."

    Star pass-rusher Maxx Crosby also spoke up for Bisaccia after the game.

    "If it was up to me, I think everyone in the world knows what my decision would be," he said. "One of the best people I know.

    "I love Rich. You know, I'm biased, obviously, but he's a great coach, he came in and got us to 10 wins. We came on the road, on a short week, and gave Cincinnati everything they could handle."

    Bisaccia would not be drawn on his job chances, nor did he discuss the controversial Bengals touchdown which saw Tyler Boyd catch a Joe Burrow pass seemingly after a whistle had been blown by game officials.

    "I'm just thinking about those guys in that locker room that played the game with their heart and soul out there like that and had a chance to win at the end," Bisaccia said.

    "We just ran out of time. We did some uncharacteristic things with some penalties and gave up some drives and didn't capitalise when we had it in the red zone at times. So it just didn't go our way."

    On the TD controversy, he added of the officials: "I think that's a good crew. 

    "There's a lot of things that went on in the game both ways. I got enough problems with my job, I can't do the officiating, too."

    The Raiders' Darren Waller had seven catches for 76 yards, while Josh Jacobs had 83 on the ground at Paul Brown Stadium.

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