Monthly Archives: January 2018

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Justin Tucker is more than just the most accurate kicker in NFL history. The Baltimore Ravens kicker is also the most talented player off the field.

Showing off his opera skills by singing “Ave Maria,” Tucker was the winner of “Most Valuable Performer,” an NFL talent show televised on CBS on Thursday night.

He beat out finalists Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (played piano) and Cleveland Browns guard Kevin Zeitler (dog tricks).

“This is amazing,” Tucker said. “What an incredible opportunity. Such a blast.”
Opera singer/Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, far right, took home the honor of the NFL’s Most Valuable Performer. CBS Television
Tucker, who earned a music degree at the University of Texas, will give his $50,000 prize money to the Baltimore School for the Arts.

“Hopefully, we’re going to keep encouraging Baltimore’s youth to stay involved in music, dance and all of the fine arts,” he said.

In what was his fourth live performance, Tucker wowed the judges in the first such talent show involving NFL players.

“That’s what we call pitch perfect,” said Katharine McPhee, a singer and actress.

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Watch: Ravens’ Justin Tucker gets standing ovation after singing at concert
Justin Tucker has proven his vocal skills are nearly as impressive as the talent that has made him one of the top kickers in the NFL.
The other players who participated were Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams (singing) and running back Alex Collins (Irish dancing) and Broncos defensive tackle Domata Peko (guitar and singing).

Tucker, who has sung previously at Christmas concerts, was the star of the show.

“I expected to be impressed tonight,” said wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was also a judge. “But I was not expecting to be moved. This was emotional.”

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Todd Haley has a chance to remain in the AFC North, as the Cleveland Browns have engaged him in serious talks to become their new offensive coordinator under Hue Jackson, according to league sources.

Haley, who served as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator for six years (replacing Bruce Arians in 2012), did not have his contract renewed after last week’s 45-42 loss to the Jaguars in the AFC divisional playoffs.

During Haley’s time as the Steelers’ coordinator, the team averaged the third-most yards per play in the league. In the past four seasons under Haley, the Steelers were second in NFL scoring behind only the Patriots.

Haley has received a strong endorsement from Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner. Haley was Arizona’s offensive coordinator and Warner the starting quarterback when the Cardinals lost a dramatic 27-23 game to the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1, 2009.

Despite an 0-16 season, Jackson was retained by Cleveland. He has run the offense the past two years, but there have been indications that he would hire an offensive coordinator for next season.

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METAIRIE, La. — Thomas Morstead’s gutty performance was unfortunately lost in the shuffle after the New Orleans Saints’ devastating last-second playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

But it didn’t go unnoticed by the Vikings fans, of all people.

Morstead said his “What You Give Will Grow” foundation received hundreds of donations from Vikings fans. They apparently appreciated the way he played through the torn cartilage in his ribs that he suffered in the first quarter and the way he came back onto the field at the end of the game to line up as part of the defense when Case Keenum kneeled for the final two-point conversion try.

“It’s very cool,” said Morstead, who joked, “I wish they were all bitter today because we had won. But it’s nice to see people doing nice things.”

Morstead said his executive director texted him on Sunday night and told him they must be getting a lot of donations because of the exposure of the game. Then the director texted later, “Holy crap, these are all from Minnesota addresses.”

Apparently fans started to spread the idea on message boards after the game. It reminded Morstead of what happened with Buffalo Bills fans after Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton helped them clinch a playoff berth in Week 17 by coming back to beat the Baltimore Ravens — “on a slightly smaller scale.”

Morstead said he will donate money he receives from Vikings fans to the Minnesota Child Life Program in order to make sure it “stays up there in their community.” As of Tuesday morning, more than $3,100 had been raised by more than 250 fans.

Morstead suffered the rib injury while making a tackle on the opening series of Sunday’s game. But he continued to play through the pain — feeling a little better after a pain-relieving shot kicked in. He nailed punts of 56 and 54 yards after the injury.

“It was pretty simple in my mind: ‘This is either gonna be a really good or a really bad punt. Either way it’s gonna hurt like hell.’ So I might as well try to make it as good as I could,” said Morstead, who originally thought he had broken ribs.
“My ego was shot a little bit when they said my ribs weren’t broken, which would have sounded cooler,” Morstead said. “But the doc was like, ‘Hey, don’t worry. It hurts just as bad.’”

As for how Morstead wound up on the field lined up as a defensive tackle on that final play, he said it was kind of random.

Morstead said he lingered on the field longer than most players — soaking in the atmosphere of the Vikings’ celebration because he has found in the past that it “kind of helps you get a little closure.” Then when he hit the locker room, he heard fullback John Kuhn saying that they needed 11 players back out on the field to line up for the formality of the two-point conversion.

“So I just turned around. I didn’t expect I was going to be the first guy leading the troops out there. We were just trying to get the game over and be done with it,” Morstead said. “Once we got out there, Case Keenum said, ‘Hey we’re gonna take a knee.’ I said, ‘You better,’ because I was already hurting.”

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MINNEAPOLIS — Following their most lopsided loss of the season — a 127-99 defeat at the hand of the Minnesota Timberwolves — several members of the Cleveland Cavaliers were at a loss for words Monday.

“Tonight, I don’t know what tonight was,” said Kevin Love. “It was just ugly. We were getting good shots up, I think, all the way around. We got really good shots to start the game. They just didn’t fall and that kind of held true throughout the entire game, and it seemed like they hit everything. So it’s easy to say it’s just one of those nights, but in a lot of cases there’s a lot of things that we can do better.”

Cleveland trailed 20-4 to start the game and shot just 8-for-23 in the first quarter (34.8 percent), compared to 13-for-22 for Minnesota (59.1 percent). The Cavs shot especially poor from the outside, going 1-for-10 on 3-pointers in the opening frame.

It only got worse from there. The Cavs fell down by as many as 41 points, accounting for their largest deficit of the season — they trailed by 37 against the Orlando Magic en route to a 114-91 loss on Oct. 21. They finished with 14 turnovers resulting in 19 points for the Wolves, compared to just five turnovers for Minnesota.

“They put a good one on us,” said LeBron James, who scored a season-low 10 points. It was his lowest scoring total since 2007. “[We] got it to 14 at the end of the first, but we didn’t get any closer than that.”

James logged the worst plus-minus of his 15-year career, registering a minus-39 in 27 minutes in the 1,101st game he has played in the NBA.

“I don’t care about no damn plus-minus,” James said. “I’ve won a game and had a bad plus-minus before, so what does that matter. I don’t give a damn about no damn plus-minus.”

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Cavaliers’ Thomas ejected for hit on Wiggins
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas was ejected from Monday’s game after swinging his right arm upward at the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins in the third quarter.
James cared considerably more about the Cavs’ recent struggles, as Monday’s loss dropped their record to 3-6 in their past nine games.

Asked if all the losses had anything in common, James said, “Yeah, we’re just not playing well right now.”

James, who kept his head down during his brief postgame media session rather than making eye contact with reporters as is his custom, was asked if he was still “even-keeled” after the loss. Over the weekend, James downplayed Cleveland’s recent struggles, saying, “We know who we are now, what we want to do. Sometimes even when you know, you still take some bumps along that road, that’s OK.”

What was his sentiment on the subject Monday?

“Uh, just want to get better,” James said.

James echoed the same refrain when asked if the Cavs’ offense or defense was more to blame against the Wolves.

“Uh, we just want to get better,” he repeated.
“It’s easy to say it’s just one of those nights, but in a lot of cases there’s a lot of things that we can do better,” Kevin Love said after what he described as an “ugly” loss to Minnesota. AP Photo/Jim Mone
The Cavs now have seven double-digit losses on the season out of their 14 defeats. By contrast, they have just seven double-digit wins on the season out of their 26 victories.

“It happens,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue of the blowout nature of the game. “It happens three or four times a year to a lot of teams. We’re not normally a team that gets beat like that.”
Despite three of his starters — Isaiah Thomas (0-for-7), Love (0-for-6) and JR Smith (0-for-5) — combining to shoot 0-for-18 in the first half against Minnesota, Lue said he had no lineup changes planned for Thursday’s game against the Toronto Raptors.

Instead, Lue put the blame on the Cavs’ defense, which allowed 127 points for the second straight game.

“We haven’t been able to stop [teams] as of late,” Lue said. “Defense [problem areas are] just one-on-one off the dribble, pick-and-roll has been our Achilles’ heel. And transition. They got all three tonight.”

A midseason downturn is nothing new for the Cavs. They’ve dealt with slumps each of the past three regular seasons and rallied to make the NBA Finals the past three years.

Love said Cleveland will lean on its experience to navigate its current rough patch.

“We’re a veteran team and we know what we’re capable of, and it can’t be so easy for us to get in those lulls and not try to dig ourselves out of them,” Love said. “So we got to be better.”

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The Houston Astros have received an invitation to visit the White House to be honored as reigning World Series champions, and a team spokesman says they plan to attend.

“As the representatives of baseball and the World Series champs, when the White House calls and invites you to come up, it’s something that as an organization we felt both a responsibility and an obligation to be part of,” Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan told the Houston Chronicle.

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A date for the visit has not been settled upon yet, Ryan said.

American League teams traditionally visit the White House when they are in the area to play the Baltimore Orioles. But the Astros are not scheduled to play the Orioles until the final series of the regular season, so they might make the trip during spring training, Ryan said.

Visits to the White House for athletic champions have been a regular occurrence since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, but under President Donald Trump, they have sometimes been controversial.

The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins have both visited since Trump took office last January, with some players choosing not to attend. But Trump rescinded his invitation to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors after Stephen Curry said he wasn’t sure he wanted to attend.