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Broncos Steal Victory with Returned Blocked Extra Point



The Denver Broncos have been willing victories with their fantastic defence for two seasons now.

On Sunday they stole a victory thanks to their special teams — and particularly, thanks to a pair of backup rookie safeties.

After New Orleans tied the game 23-23 on Brandin Cooks’ 32-yard TD pass from Drew Brees with just 1:22 remaining, Saints placekicker Wil Lutz attempted the extra point. Kickers make 94% of these longer conversion kicks.

But Justin Simmons, a third-round draft pick out of Boston College, perfectly timed and gauged his leap over New Orleans snapper Sam Barrington, landed, then jumped again right in front of Lutz and easily blocked his kick.

Fellow rookie safety Will Parks, a sixth-round pick, snared the loose ball, took off, (needlessly) tight-roped down the vacant left sideline in a convoy of Broncos, and returned the ball 84 yards into the Saints’ end zone — for two points, the value of a returned scrimmage or kick conversion attempt.

Some Saints coaches, players and fans at the Superdome lost their minds, believing Parks had stepped out of bounds. Referee Bill Vinovich ruled that replays were inconclusive and let the winning two points in Denver’s eventual 25-23 victory stand.

Did Parks indeed step out of bounds?

“It’s hard to tell,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said. “I think those guys (officials) are doing their best to look at it. (Parks) has white shoes on and sidelines are white so there is not a really good (video) picture. At least I did not see one.”

The interwebs later circulated GIFs seemingly showing that the Broncos’ two interior defensive tackles — Jared Crick and Adam Gotsis — held snapper Barrington down in his low-crouched position, presumably to allow Simmons to easily clear Barrington on his leap over the line.

New Orleans was fortunate to be in that position to win. Brees threw two interceptions in the first half, and rookie receiver Michael Thomas fumbled twice in the second.

It was a bitter loss for the Saints, who fell to 4-5. Denver improved to 7-3, to remain a half-game behind Oakland and now Kansas City at 7-2 atop the NFL’s best division this year, the AFC West.


The Carolina Panthers are the latest NFL team to learn the hard way that Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs this season just … don’t … quit.

Carolina led 17-0 late in the first half and 17-3 entering the fourth quarter, but Kansas City rallied to win, 20-17.

The Chiefs moved into a tie atop the AFC West with the idle Oakland Raiders at 7-2.

It’s the second time this season the Chiefs trailed by two touchdowns in the final 15 minutes only to leave victorious. The first time was in the opener, when they trailed San Diego by 21 points in the third quarter but scored 30 points over the final quarter-and-a-half to win 33-27 in overtime.

On Sunday, the KC offence didn’t even score a touchdown. But the defence did.

With Carolina up 17-6 with 10:51 remaining, Panthers QB Cam Newton on 3rd-and-6 threw short left to his go-to tight end, Greg Olsen. Chiefs safety Eric Berry intercepted and returned it for a score.

After Carolina went five-and-out and a KC good punt return, Alex Smith drove the Chiefs 35 yards for Cairo Santos’ game-tying 33-yard field goal, with 4:25 left.

With 29 seconds left in regulation and the score 17-17, the Panthers at their own 20 could have taken a knee and taken their chances in overtime. Instead, Newton threw 14 yards to Kelvin Benjamin, who caught it. But Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters savagely — and legally — ripped it out of Benjamin’s hands.

As forced a fumble as you’ll ever see.

Two plays later Santos ended the game with a 37-yard field goal.

The Panthers first lost their momentum late in the third quarter, up 17-3 and poised to put the game away. A fabulous 10-minute drive, however, ended with a discouraging punt.

Seventeen plays and 71 yards into the clock-chewing march, the Panthers had 1st-and-10 at the Chiefs’ 20. But the KC defence bulldozed the Panthers backward 20 yards on three huge tackles behind the line of scrimmage: a run for minus-one, a Newton sack for minus-seven and another Newton sack for minus-12.

“We can’t take back-to-back sacks. You just can’t. That’s the bottom line,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. “And it’s disappointing. We had every opportunity to score, we ground it out, we ate up the clock and put ourselves in position, and then we have three negative plays.

“You can’t do it. Just can’t do it. You do that and you don’t give yourself an opportunity to win.”

While KC’s offence gained only 256 yards and converted only two first downs, Carolina’s didn’t score a point over the final 31:51.

“We just imposed our will and got it done,” Berry said of the Chiefs’ impressive defence.

Carolina fell to 3-6.

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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