LaDainian Tomlinson

NFL Preseason Roundup: Alex Smith, Patrick Mahomes solid before 49ers rally past Chiefs, 27-17

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —-    Alex Smith led the Chiefs to a quick touchdown and first-round pick Patrick Mahomes II had an impressive debut, before the San Francisco backups led the 49ers to a 27-17 victory over Kansas City in their preseason opener Friday night in Kansas City, Missouri.

Smith hit speedster Tyreek Hill for a 32-yard gain on the first play of the game, and Spencer Ware capped a 75-yard march with a short TD run to give the Chiefs a 7-0 lead.

It was the only series for Smith, who finished 4 of 6 for 48 yards.

Mahomes checked in for the first time late in the second quarter, drawing perhaps the biggest roar of the night. The 10th overall draft pick had a long completion wiped out by a penalty on his first play, but later capitalized on a blocked punt with a short touchdown throw to fellow rookie Marcus Kemp.

Mahomes was 7 of 9 for 49 yards as he duels with Tyler Bray for the No. 2 job.

San Francisco rookie C.J. Beathard hit Kendrick Bourne for a 46-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter, then found him for a tying two-point conversion. The Chiefs promptly fumbled the ball back and Beathard added a short TD pass to Tyler McCloskey with 10:41 left to give the 49ers the lead for good.

Beathard, a third-round pick, outplayed both quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart.

Brian Hoyer did little to make new 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan feel good about giving the longtime NFL journeyman the starting job at the onset of training camp. He was 1 of 4 for three yards in two offensive series, going three-and-out on both of them.

Barkley was first off the bench and led San Francisco to a pair of field goals, playing roughly two quarters. He was 10 of 17 for 168 yards without any major mistakes.

Bray was first off the bench for Kansas City. He had an 83-yard TD pass to Chris Conley wiped out by offensive pass interference, then had an errant throw picked off. The fifth-year quarterback, who has yet to appear in a regular-season game, finished 5 of 8 for 63 yards.

Steelers 20, Giants 12: Rookie quarterback Josh Dobbs threw a 28-yard touchdown pass and Chris Boswell kicked a 37-yard field goal in the third quarter to give Pittsburgh the lead for good in a preseason win over New York in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The Steelers capitalized on two major Giants’ turnovers in the preseason opener for both teams.

Terrell Watson added a 15-yard touchdown run in a game that had little offense with Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers and Eli Manning of the Giants being given the night off.

Pittsburgh also was without injured backup Landry Jones, but that didn’t matter because the Giants didn’t get much from either Josh Johnson or Geno Smith, and New York was generous with the football.

Dobbs, a fourth-round draft pick out of Tennessee, hit Cobi Hamilton on his touchdown pass on the first play after Donte Deayon fumbled a punt inside his own 30 and Mike Hilton recovered.

Seven seconds later, Hamilton beat Valentino Blake for a touchdown and a 10-9 lead with 33 seconds left in the half.

A 45-yard field goal by Mike Nugent on the opening series of the second half put New York ahead 12-10, but Arthur Moats intercepted Smith later in the quarter and returned the ball to the New York 14, setting up Boswell’s go-ahead kick.

Watson capped a nine-play, 53-yard drive that Bart Houston guided in his first series after taking over for Dobbs, who was 8 of 15 for 100 yards and two interceptions.

Both picks led to scores. Blake’s interception and 11-yard return to the Steelers 39 set up a 27-yard field goal by rookie Aldrick Rosas, who added a 52-yarder late in the second quarter for a 9-3 lead.

An interception by lineman Devon Taylor led to a 30-yard field goal by Nugent and a 6-0 lead.

A 44-yard pass from Dobbs to Hamilton set up Boswell’s first field goal, a 48-yarder.

Bengals 23, Buccaneers 12: Ryan Fitzpatrick made a good initial impression with Tampa Bay, completing his first series with a 6-yard touchdown run, before host Cincinnati pulled away to a victory over the Buccaneers.

The 34-year-old quarterback signed a one-year deal for a chance to back up Jameis Winston. Fitzpatrick had mixed results after his TD, going 6 of 13 overall with an interception. He also scrambled twice for 15 yards. Fitzpatrick lost the ball while trying to throw, but recovered his fumble.

Ryan Griffin – Tampa Bay’s third-string quarterback the past two seasons – left in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury and didn’t return, forcing Fitzpatrick back into the game.

Tampa Bay opened the game with a 14-play, 92-yard drive, but had to settle for a field goal after Adam “Pacman” Jones broke up a pair of Winston’s passes in the end zone. Jones is suspended by the NFL for the season opener because of his offseason arrest.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was on the sideline after missing a practice last week because of a knee problem.

Andy Dalton had his full complement of receivers – A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert have returned from significant injuries last season – and moved the offense smoothly on Cincinnati’s opening drive before making a bad decision. Vernon Hargreaves III anticipated Dalton’s sideline throw and picked off a pass at the 1-yard line.

Dalton had plenty of time to throw behind Cincinnati’s reconfigured line.

“I just wish I could have that last play back,” said Dalton, who was 4 of 5 for 38 yards on his only drive.

Green, who missed the last half of last season with a hamstring injury, had a pair of catches for 21 yards.

Both teams have kicker competitions that were in the spotlight in their preseason opener.

Roberto Aguayo made a 20-yard field goal on Tampa Bay’s opening possession, but he was wide right on a 47-yard try and hit the right upright on the extra-point attempt. Nick Folk was good from 45 yards on his only chance.

The Bengals’ kickers were perfect. Randy Bullock made field goals of 54 and 49 yards and his extra-point try. Jake Elliott, who was drafted in the fifth round, connected from 45 yards and also made an extra point.

Report: NFL requests collaboration with players’ union to study marijuana in pain treatment

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —-   The NFL wrote the NFL Players Association a letter requesting collaboration in studying marijuana use for players’ pain management, according to a report by The Washington Post.

Marijuana, in any capacity, is banned from the league. NFL players currently are tested for the drug and face potential discipline, including suspensions, for positive tests. The league and union both agreed in 2014 to modifications that softened the drug policy regarding marijuana.

The NFL’s letter to the NFLPA outlined key areas for potential research, including pain management for both acute and chronic conditions. The NFLPA has previously indicated that it’s already conducting its own research and has not yet responded to the league’s offer.

“We look forward to working with the Players Association on all issues involving the health and safety of our players,” Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, told The Post in a statement.

The union separately formed a pain management committee to study marijuana as a pain management tool for players, among other things. The current collective bargaining agreement between the league and union runs through 2020, meaning the union could be working on a less punitive marijuana proposal as part of negotiations for the next CBA.

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SEATTLE (AP) — For more than a decade, the Pro Football Hall of Fame wasn’t a consideration for Kenny Easley.

He was interested in anything regarding football.

“I didn’t watch an NFL football game, college football game, high school football game, for 15 years basically,” Easley said. “I didn’t watch a football game until the night that I was inducted into the Seahawks Ring of Honor. (That) was the first football game I had watched in 15 years.”

The day that Easley reconciled with the Seahawks happened in 2002 and began another lengthy quest that finally landed the hard-hitting All-Pro safety a spot in the Hall of Fame. Easley will be the fourth Seattle Seahawks player inducted, going into Canton on Saturday as this year’s senior candidate after never being in serious consideration during his time as a modern-day contender. Easley will join Steve Largent, Walter Jones and Cortez Kennedy.

Thirty years after Easley walked away from football due to health issues that were the source of his disillusionment with the game, he is embracing the recognition he is finally receiving. He even dreamt of the induction the night before he found out he was bound for Canton.

“The dream was so vivid that it was almost like I was already in the Hall of Fame and it was just a formality for the knock to come at the door. … It’s a great honor and that dream just sort of made it feel like it was meant to be,” Easley recalled.

Easley’s disenchantment from football has many parts. He had an ugly divorce from the Seahawks after the 1987 season, in part because of a kidney ailment that shortened his NFL career. He was traded to the Cardinals and failed his physical. He would never play another down and believes the large doses of painkillers he took as a player led to his kidney issues. Easley believed the Seahawks knew of the kidney condition and didn’t disclose it to him.

He also believed his involvement in the players’ strike in 1987 helped lead to his departure.

It wasn’t until 2002, then with Paul Allen as the owner in Seattle, that Easley began to soften his stance toward the Seahawks and was open to being welcomed back by the franchise. About the time Easley reconciled with the team, a case was starting to be made that Easley deserved consideration for the Hall of Fame. It was pointed out to Easley that he was the only defensive player on the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1980s not inducted into Canton. He was the 1984 Defensive Player of the Year and an All-Pro three times. He picked up strong support from influential voices, perhaps none stronger than Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott.

“Ronnie Lott has been talking about Kenny Easley going into the Hall of Fame since the day I retired,” Easley said. “He kept the drum beat going, and the remarkable thing about that is he didn’t have to. He was in the Hall of Fame, had a brilliant career and he didn’t have to say anything about Kenny Easley. Every time somebody would ask him or he had an opportunity to say it, he would say that Kenny Easley needed to be in the Hall of Fame. Ronnie Lott is one of the most remarkable human beings that I’ve ever associated with.”

It was a relationship based out of respect and admiration. Lott and Easley rarely played against each other in the NFL; Easley was retired by the time Lott joined the Raiders and became a twice-yearly opponent of the Seahawks, then in the AFC West. But they had a mutual appreciation for the way each played dating back to college when Lott was a star at USC and Easley was a standout across Los Angeles at UCLA.

“Going back to my freshman year, whether it was on TV in college or whether it was on TV in pros, I loved watching Kenny play,” Lott said. “I just loved the way he played the game. I loved his enthusiasm for the game. I loved his character of when he made a mistake. … It was more than watching Kenny just make hits. It was more than just watching him go out and making a tackle. What I’ve watched was the emotion and the behaviors of Kenny and the intellect of Kenny.”

Along with the kidney problems that shortened his NFL career, Easley had heart surgery last year just before finding out he was the senior committee nominee. That latest health scare made receiving the news in Houston at the Super Bowl that he was entering the Hall of Fame even more special .

“I have a lot of admiration for his pursuit of life and his resolve of not surrendering to anything,” Lott said. “I know that he’s gone through a lot to be able to stand on that stage. A lot. Way more than I ever thought about going through. And so yeah, I can’t wait.”

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NFL: Chiefs owner Clark Hunt says he’d have ‘no hesitation’ in signing Colin Kaepernick

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —-   Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said he would have “no hesitation” in signing embattled quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has yet to sign with a team following a season in which he kneeled during national anthems to advocate against police brutality and racial injustice.

Ironically, Chiefs starter Alex Smith had his job taken away by Kaepernick while in San Francisco. Hunt was asked during an NBC Sports radio interview if he’d have an issue signing the former 49ers QB.

“You know, I really wouldn’t,” Hunt said of signing Kaepernick — albeit without an actual roster opening. “Obviously, we have an interesting dynamic in regards to Colin in that we have Alex Smith as our starter. Because of that, I wouldn’t anticipate that Andy (Reid) would come to me with that.

“But, generally, I’m not going to tell our head coach or our GM not to bring in a player if they think that player can bring us some success on the field and make us better. Now there are certain circumstances where guys get in trouble off the field, and that is something as an organization and as a family we care about.

“We’re not going to bring those types of players in. In terms of a player like Colin, I would have no hesitation bringing him into the organization.”

New York Giants owner John Mara previously said that Giants fans had written him letters asking the organization not to sign the free-agent quarterback.

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OTHER FOOTBALL NEWS:

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers have acquired quarterback Cardale Jones from the Buffalo Bills in exchange for an undisclosed conditional draft pick.

The clubs announced the trade Wednesday, four days before the Chargers’ first full practice of training camp.

The 6-foot-5 Jones led Ohio State to a national title during the 2014 season. After one more year with the Buckeyes, he was a fourth-round pick by Buffalo in 2016.

Jones was a project for the Bills, where Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn spent last season as running backs coach before his promotion to offensive coordinator. Jones was inactive for 15 games in Buffalo before throwing 11 passes in the fourth quarter of the season finale.

His future in Buffalo was in question after the Bills drafted Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman in the fifth round last April.

The Chargers are looking for a mobile, athletic third-string quarterback behind Philip Rivers and Kellen Clemens, who has been Rivers’ backup for three seasons. Undrafted quarterbacks Mike Bercovici and Eli Jenkins also are on the roster.

Robert Griffin III worked out for the Chargers on Tuesday, but wasn’t signed.

Rivers is a six-time Pro Bowler who has started 185 consecutive games.

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The New York Jets claimed wide receiver-kick returner Lucky Whitehead on Wednesday, two days after the Cowboys cut him following a shoplifting charge in what turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.

A man used Whitehead’s identity to steal $40 worth of food and drink from a Virginia convenience store in June. Dallas released him Monday after reports that Whitehead was arrested and subsequently cited for missing a court hearing.

The Jets, desperate for help at receiver, claimed the three-year veteran and waived receiver Devin Street.

Whitehead appeared in 30 games the past two seasons with the Cowboys. He averaged 25.6 yards on 33 kick returns and 6.9 yards on 44 punt returns, and had nine receptions as a reserve receiver.

When the charges against Whitehead were announced, his agent, Dave Rich, contended that his client wasn’t in Virginia at the time of the reported arrest. Police subsequently said they are seeking the person who used the identity of Rodney Darnell Whitehead Jr., the receiver’s given name.

Whitehead could file a grievance with the players’ union about his release.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones and coach Jason Garrett said Whitehead’s release was an accumulation of events, although Garrett acknowledged Monday that the decision came after the club did more work gathering information.

During his second season in 2016, Whitehead was left at home for a December game at the New York Giants after missing a Saturday walkthrough. He also was involved in a car accident that Garrett found out about through media reports.

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NFL Power Rankings: Who’s solid when camps open?

RANK TEAM RECORD CHANGE HI/LOW NOTES
1 New England
Patriots
0-0 It’s hard to recall another defending champion in recent history that did more to distance itself from the competition. More than ever, this season might be the Patriots vs. the world.
2 Atlanta
Falcons
0-0 The knives will be out for new coordinator Steve Sarkisian if the offense stumbles. But it’s hard to find a vulnerability, especially if the young defense continues to rise.
3 Pittsburgh
Steelers
0-0 Le’Veon Bell didn’t reach a long-term deal before the deadline, leaving his training camp status uncertain. As long as he’s healthy in the fall and winter, Pittsburgh’s attack remains one of the league’s most dangerous.
4 Green Bay
Packers
0-0 Aaron Rodgers delivered on his “run the table” remark, but expecting a repeat is unreasonable. The two-time MVP needs help, especially from an unreliable running game and consistently subpar secondary.
5 Seattle
Seahawks
0-0 Another year, another gamble along the underdeveloped offense line. Russell Wilson will have to work his magic, while Eddie Lacy must find his footing in the rushing attack.
6 Dallas
Cowboys
0-0 It’s been a bumpy summer in Dallas, as a potential suspension for Ezekiel Elliott still hangs over the team. Even if Dak Prescott’s ascension continues, multiple unknowns on defense are cause for concern.
7 Oakland
Raiders
0-0 Derek Carr landed the five-year extension that, at least for the time, makes him the NFL’s highest-paid player. Once the season starts, however, Marshawn Lynch may seize the spotlight in Oakland.
8 Tennessee
Titans
0-0 Tennessee won’t sneak up on anyone in 2017. With an improved receiving corps and Marcus Mariota back in action, the Titans have all the pieces in place to seize the AFC South crown.
9 Kansas City
Chiefs
0-0 Expecting Tyreek Hill to hold down the No. 1 WR job might be a leap after he averaged just 9.7 yards per catch as a rookie. Watch out for third-round rookie RB Kareem Hunt, who could jolt the running game.
10 New York
Giants
0-0 Will Ben McAdoo’s offense take hold this year? Deficiencies at running back and along the offensive line could derail the attack again, but Eli Manning’s receiving corps might afford him ample leeway.
11 Miami
Dolphins
0-0 Miami’s coaching staff has raved about many of its young offensive talents, including WR DeVante Parker and RB Jay Ajayi. Success in this division, however, will be measured by the ability to challenge the Patriots.
12 Tampa Bay
Buccaneers
0-0 Between encouraging additions to their receiving corps and their impending showcase on “Hard Knocks,” the Bucs look ready for their star turn. A steady output from the defense will be needed to meet heightened expectations.
13 Denver
Broncos
0-0 Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch clash for the training camp QB battle with the highest stakes. Offensive improvement will need to be multi-layered, though, as the line and running game still have to make great strides.
14 Arizona
Cardinals
0-0 Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are back for another go-around, but it’s clear the Cardinals’ core is racing against time. David Johnson will have to do much of the heavy lifting to keep Arizona in contention.
15 Baltimore
Ravens
0-0 Jeremy Maclin’s eleventh-hour arrival invigorates a previously languid receiving corps. Offseason investments indicate that the defense will be expected to set the tone.
16 Houston
Texans
0-0 The Deshaun Watson-as-starter question appears to be a matter of when rather than if. Duplicating the top-ranked defense, which returns J.J. Watt, will be paramount to holding onto the AFC South.
17 Carolina
Panthers
0-0 Firing Dave Gettleman as GM eight days before training camp makes for a rough transition into a new season. Yet the season may hinge on an all-too-familiar theme: protecting Cam Newton.
18 Minnesota
Vikings
0-0 Injuries washed out the early promise Minnesota showed in 2016, but the Vikings now looks to be on solid ground. Establishing a post-Adrian Peterson formula could still take time, but the defense remains imposing.
19 Washington
Redskins
0-0 Few other teams could liven up an otherwise quiet July the way Washington did with its approach to Kirk Cousins, who enters the season on his second consecutive franchise tag. Regardless of how this year pans out, 2018 will hang over the entire campaign.
20 Los Angeles
Chargers
0-0 This year’s top worst-to-first candidate? Tough sledding in the AFC West, but a healthy offense could provide fireworks for Year 1 in Los Angeles.
21 Detroit
Lions
0-0 No playoff team from 2016 faces as much doubt as Detroit, which rode into the postseason on a magical run of fourth-quarter comebacks. Losing OT Taylor Decker for the early part of the season could be a stumbling block for the offense.
22 Philadelphia
Eagles
0-0 Carson Wentz was playing with house money as a rookie, but he won’t be afforded as many excuses this year given his upgraded receiving corps and added experience. He’ll have to take a significant step forward for Philadelphia to keep pace in the NFC East.
23 New Orleans
Saints
0-0 Drew Brees appears ready to ride into the last year of his contract with little certainty. The burden remains the same, however, as Sean Payton’s group will have to win its share of shootouts to avoid its fourth straight losing season.
24 Indianapolis
Colts
0-0 Anxiety in Indianapolis might be running high given that Andrew Luck is starting training camp on the PUP list. With a supporting cast still under construction, the Colts remain one of the league’s most QB-reliant outfits.
25 Jacksonville
Jaguars
0-0 Jacksonville checked a few boxes this offseason by bolstering its already stout defense and adding RB Leonard Fournette as a potential centerpiece. Those moves may be for naught, though, if Blake Bortles can’t find his equilibrium.
26 Cincinnati
Bengals
0-0 Marvin Lewis enters the final year of his contract with little certainty after Cincinnati’s disappointing 6-9-1 campaign. Significant losses along the offensive line could prove daunting for Andy Dalton.
27 Buffalo
Bills
0-0 Pairing coach Sean McDermott with his old Carolina cohort in new GM Brandon Beane gives Buffalo a unified approach for its rebuild. There may be some growing pains in Year 1 of the regime change.
28 Los Angeles
Rams
0-0 All eyes will be on Jared Goff’s development as Sean McVay, the NFL’s youngest head coach ever, takes over. But Wade Phillips’ impact on the defense and DT Aaron Donald also bears watching.
29 Chicago
Bears
0-0 Mike Glennon has the reins for now, but No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky looms as the future at QB. Will John Fox still be Chicago’s coach when the transition takes place?
30 Cleveland
Browns
0-0 A formidable offensive line should help Hue Jackson move on from last year’s 1-15 debacle. Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer all offer different paths in the QB competition.
31 San Francisco
49ers
0-0 Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch bring some long-term certainty to a franchise that has been a revolving door in recent years. Their vision, however, likely won’t truly begin to take shape until next offseason.
32 New York
Jets
0-0 It’s always a troubling sign when tanking talk emerges before training camp has commenced. The quarterback battle might be the lone reason to watch Gang Green until the 2018 NFL draft order begins to take shape.

 

NFL Hall of Fame: Tomlinson, Warner, Davis part of 7-man Hall of Fame class

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HOUSTON (AP) — The quarterback served as ringmaster for “The Greatest Show on Turf.” The running backs were known simply by their initials: LT and TD. And the receiver also known by two letters — TO — was on the outside looking in again.

All unstoppable in their own way, LaDainian Tomlinson, Terrell Davis and Kurt Warner earned their spots in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. Terrell Owens, though, got turned away in a decision that went viral on social media and led the receiver to blame a “flawed process” in an after-the-fact tweet.

Also making it were sackmaster Jason Taylor — in on his first ballot, the same as Tomlinson — and Morten Andersen, the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, who joins Jan Stenerud as the second pure placekicker to make the hall.

Seahawks safety Kenny Easley made it as a senior nominee, while Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is in as a contributor. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue did not get in, with his role in downplaying the severity of the league’s concussion problem a factor in the vote.

Tomlinson’s victory shed a glimmer of light on a dark year for San Diego fans. The city lost its team, but gained a Hall of Famer.

“Those fans there inspired me to run harder, to dig deeper in times when I was tired in the fourth quarter and didn’t think I had anything left,” Tomlinson said.

In nine years with the Chargers, then two with the Jets, the 5-foot-10 Tomlinson reset the template for what had been known as a scatback, proving someone of his size and speed could be a game changer, not merely a change of pace.

As dangerous catching the ball (4,772 career yards) as he was running it (13,684), in 2003, LT became the first player to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 100 passes. His 31 touchdowns scored in 2006 are still the single-season record. He finished his career with 145 TDs, not counting the seven he threw on halfback options.

In giving the thumbs-up to Davis and Warner, the 48 Hall of Fame voters answered ‘Yes’ to the question of whether a few truly dominating years are enough for someone to be enshrined.

Getting a big, fat ‘No’ for the second straight year was Owens, the league’s second-leading all-time receiver, but also one of its most divisive players over a career that spanned 1996-2010.

“Unfortunately I DID NOT MAKE IT again this year,” Owens tweeted. “Thanks to ALL my fans & supporters. #FlawedProcess.”

Warner on Owens: “When you just look at what he accomplished, everybody looks and says, ‘C’mon.’ The numbers are there, the impact is there.”

Warner’s heyday was 1999-2001 with the Rams, whose offense was known as “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Warner quit his job bagging groceries, first for a stint in the Arena League, then landing in the NFL after getting a tryout with St. Louis.

An injury to Trent Green thrust Warner into the lineup for 1999. Coach Dick Vermeil cried when he lost his supposed star quarterback. But he ended up with another. Warner went on to win two overall MVPs and one at the Super Bowl to close the 1999 season, when the Rams captured their only Lombardi Trophy. The 1999 and 2000 teams are still among the top 10 in most points scored in league history.

“You’ve got to remember, he was crying at the time, because he didn’t believe it either,” Warner said. “We all had dreams. We all believed big things. We all expected greatness from ourselves. But I never would have expected ’99.”

Davis was a sixth-round pick in 1995 who caught Broncos coach Mike Shanahan’s eye with a big hit on special teams in a preseason game. Davis became the starting tailback, and from 1996-98 he helped the Broncos to 45 victories and finally pushed John Elway over the top with two Super Bowl titles. In 1998, Davis became the fourth runner to surpass 2,000 yards, with 2008.

He suffered a career-changing knee injury in 1999 while making a tackle after an interception, and played only 17 more games before retiring in 2001. His 78 career games spanned seven seasons, meaning Davis lasted the same number of years as Hall of Fame runner Gale Sayers, who is often held up as Exhibit A when voters are debating short bursts of greatness versus longevity.

“I really thought that there’s no way they’re going to put two backs in the same class, especially a guy that was a first ballot Hall of Famer versus a special circumstance guy like me,” Davis said. “I thought that’s what they saw me as. When I got the knock, obviously I was shocked.”

On the other end of the spectrum was Andersen, the kicker who lasted 25 seasons, played in 382 games and scored 2,544 points for five teams. He was among the first to make the 50-plus-yard field goal routine. His 40 kicks of 50-yards plus were the most in NFL history at his retirement.

Taylor was Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 with 13 1/2 sacks and finished his 15-year career, most of them with the Dolphins, with 139 1/2 sacks, eight interceptions and 29 fumble recoveries.

Easley was the hard-hitting Seattle safety who also played only seven seasons, but made them all count. He was Defensive Player of the Year in 1984 and a four-time All-Pro selection. He finished with 32 interceptions.

Jones is still very much active in charting the league’s course in the 21st century. His $1.2 billion stadium, dubbed “Jerry World,” set the standard for stadiums to follow it in New Jersey, the Bay Area, Minneapolis, Atlanta and, eventually, Los Angeles. He brokered TV and marketing deals that have helped turn the league into a $13 billion-a-year business, all the while keeping a steady — and some might agree, entertaining — presence in front of the TV cameras.

“His impact on our organization, the National Football League is significant,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s changed the league in so many ways.”

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AP Power Rankings: Pats finish regular season at No. 1 / HOF Finalists

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NEW YORK (AP) — Going into the playoffs, the New England Patriots are once again a strong favorite to reach the Super Bowl.

The Patriots finished the regular season with an NFL-best 14-2 record. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and will start their drive for their seventh Super Bowl appearance in Foxborough on Jan. 14.

The Patriots also finished the season as the unanimous choice for the top spot in the final AP Pro32 poll of the season, released Tuesday.

New England received all 12 first-place votes for 384 points from balloting by media members who regularly cover the NFL.

“The 14-2 Patriots own home-field advantage in the AFC,” said Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News. “But does it really matter? New England was the only NFL team to go 8-0 on the road this season.”

Dallas and Kansas City remained at No. 2 and 3, respectively. Dallas has the top seed in the NFC.

“And now for the hard part. After a brilliant regular-season performance earns the Cowboys the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, they try and become the first team to win a Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback,” Newsday’s Bob Glauber said.

“But Dak Prescott doesn’t seem overwhelmed by the moment, and wunderkind running back Ezekiel Elliott looks ready to build on a spectacular regular-season performance.”

The Chiefs wrapped up the AFC West title and a first-round bye.

“What the Chiefs have done in four seasons under Andy Reid and John Dorsey should serve as a model for teams starting the rebuild process this offseason,” said Jenny Vrentas of The Monday Morning Quarterback. “Reid trusted Dorsey to build a deep roster; Dorsey trusted Reid to coach and develop their players. The result was steady forward progress and sweeping the toughest division in football.”

NFC South champion Atlanta and AFC North winner Pittsburgh both inched up, to No. 4 and 5, respectively.

“No one is talking about Matt Ryan or the Atlanta Falcons,” said Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. “Something tells me that’s just the way they like it.”

The Giants and Packers, who will meet on Sunday afternoon in Lambeau Field, tied for No. 6.

“Very hot right now, but banged-up on defense,” NBC’s Tony Dungy said of the Packers. “If they can handle the Giants, I could see them winning in Dallas.”

NFC West champ Seattle was No. 8 and hosts Detroit on Saturday night.

“Should have an easy time with Lions,” Fox Sports’ John Czarnecki said of the Seahawks.

The Raiders dropped five spots to No. 9 and may have to use Connor Cook at quarterback in their wild-card game against the Texans on Saturday.

Miami remained at No. 10 as the Dolphins go to Heinz Field and face the Steelers on Sunday.

Denver, which missed the playoffs and needs a coach after Gary Kubiak resigned for health reasons, finished No. 13.

“Went from 7-3 on their bye week to 9-7 and out of the playoffs,” ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold said. “They lost an eight-point lead with three minutes to play in Denver against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 12 and weren’t the same since.

“Now Gary Kubiak has retired and they enter the offseason with huge questions in the offensive line and in need of a head coach.”

Carolina, the Broncos’ opponent in Super Bowl 50, finished No. 24.

“Cam Newton and the shell-shocked Panthers looked like they never recovered from that Super Bowl loss to Denver,” said Ira Kaufman of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Cincinnati, which won the AFC North last season, failed to qualify for the first time in six seasons and was at No. 25. And the Bengals’ division rival, the Browns, were 1-15 and last in the poll.

But the Browns finished first for the NFL draft, where they will have the No. 1 overall pick in the spring.

“Have enough draft picks and cap space to acquire some talented young players,” Dungy said. “But if they don’t find a QB it won’t help.”

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Tomlinson, J. Taylor, Dawkins are Hall of Fame finalists

First-year eligibles LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor and Brian Dawkins are among 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Also making the finals are Morten Andersen, Tony Boselli, Isaac Bruce, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Alan Faneca, Joe Jacoby, Ty Law, John Lynch, Kevin Mawae, Terrell Owens and Kurt Warner.

Previously selected as a finalist by the veterans committee is former Seattle safety Kenny Easley.

In the contributors’ category, the nominees are former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The class of 2017 will be elected on Feb. 4, the day before the Super Bowl in Houston. Inductions will be Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio.

Other than Tomlinson, Taylor and Dawkins, first-time finalists are Boselli, Bruce, Law, Mawae, Easley and Jones.

Most-frequent finalists are Lynch, Tagliabue and Coryell, four apiece. Davis and Warner are three-time finalists.

Coryell, an offensive mastermind with the Cardinals and Chargers, is in his 30th year of eligibility. Easley is in his 25th, while Jacoby, the left tackle on the Redskins’ offensive line known as the “Hogs”, is in his 19th.

Tomlinson played 11 NFL seasons, nine with San Diego, winning league MVP honors in 2006 when he set a record with 28 rushing touchdowns. He won two rushing titles.

Dawkins spent 16 seasons in the NFL, 13 with Philadelphia, and was considered a prototype modern safety. He made four All-Pro teams and was the first player with a sack, interception, fumble recovery and touchdown catch in the same game (vs. Houston in 2002).

Taylor was one of the NFL’s top pass rushers for 15 seasons, mostly with Miami. The 2006 Defensive Player of the Year with 13½ sacks, he had 139½ sacks for his career.

Among the other modern-era finalists, Andersen is the NFL’s career scoring leader with 2,544 points, has the most field goals (565) and games (382) playing for five franchises. He made two all-decade teams (1980s and ’90s).

Bruce, Davis, Faneca, Jacoby, Law, Lynch and Warner all won Super Bowls.

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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