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pull out a flip phone in homage to a memorable touchdown celebration of the past. Benjamin Watson used his touchdown catch to let everyone know that he and his wife are expecting — and it’s going to be twins.That was cause enough for celebration itself on a feel-good weekend for the NFL. So Rashan Gary Jersey , too, was that bettors in Las Vegas and elsewhere finally turned the tables and took the bookies for millions of dollars.They could have just as easily been popping champagne corks at NFL headquarters in New York. A season that began in turmoil has reached its midpoint and the league is riding a new high, with television ratings up and fans filling stadiums to cheer their favorite teams.Suddenly, the NFL is fun once again.It showed Sunday in a shootout in New Orleans that was widely entertaining even without the touchdown props. Then, if any further evidence was needed, it was provided in prime time when Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers squared off in a showdown of quarterback greats.Brady and the New England Patriots won that one, and once again are treating another visit to the Super Bowl as their birthright. Out west, meanwhile, the Rams are trying to win fans again in Los Angeles with a team that could find its way to Atlanta, too.And a new group of exciting young quarterbacks are letting everyone know the future of the sport is in good hands.What could go wrong? Well, plenty, especially if President Trump takes an interest in the league once again.But these are good times for a league that has taken blow after blow the last few years only to emerge with its position of America’s favorite sport safely intact.“We’re the best,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said at last month’s owner meetings. “And I know that’s ironic since we’ve had some criticism, too. But I think that’s healthy.”What is really healthy are offenses around the league, with scoring at record levels and 27 of 32 teams averaging more than 20 points a game. New rule changes designed to protect the quarterback and free up offenses have worked exactly as planned, despite some grumbling early by players upset they couldn’t hit like they did in the past.Healthy indeed. Things are so good that even Roger Goodell couldn’t mess it up.Actually, maybe he can. Not many were paying attention, but there were still a few protests during the anthem over the weekend and the issue is one presidential tweet away from blowing up once again.Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick remains unemployed, something everyone in the league should be ashamed about.For now, though, the attention is on the game itself. And it can be argued that the game has never looked better.There’s no confusion anymore about when a catch is really a catch, and even Clay Matthews of the Packers seems to have figured out how and when to safely take down the opposing quarterback.There are dominant teams on both coasts, and a few high scoring games that are reminiscent of the old American Football League. The concussion issue has subsided, though the disturbing fact remains players are still suffering from them — at great risk to their long term health.Even fans of the hapless Cleveland Browns have something to be happy about with a couple of wins and a couple coaches fired. They also have a franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield and a potential upside that’s the envy of better teams.It didn’t happen exactly by design. A lot of the NFL’s good fortune is due to good luck and an unwillingness of fans to let go of their favorite sport despite its many flaws.There still is no real grand plan to end the protest debate, no long term solution to the fact football played at the highest level can shorten lives. The officiating continues to get in the way — often at just the wrong time — and there’s a real chance games aren’t played when the current collective bargaining agreement expires and players finally make a stand for guaranteed contracts.For now, though, those are distant threats. The league remains the most popular in the country by far http://www.greenbaypackersteamonline.com/jace-sternberger-jersey , and the addition of legalized betting around the country will boost it even more just like fantasy football has done in recent years.What once looked like a season lost is now looking like a season to remember.____Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at [email protected] or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg CHICAGO (AP) — To open its celebration of its 100th season, the NFL got a throwback to, well, the 1920s.You know, one of those knock-down, dragged-out defensive confrontations that ends up 10-3.That’s the score the Green Bay Packers beat the Chicago Bears by on Thursday night. And while it was ugly on offense, likely in great part due to the lack of action so many regulars on that side of the ball got in the preseason, it was a thing of beauty for the defenders in green, gold and white. On this night, the Packers were the Monsters of the Midway.“I think we woke a lot of people up,” defensive end Montravius Adams said. “A lot of people didn’t believe in us. They had us ranked low, but we don’t care about that outside noise.”There was plenty of noise heading into Soldier Field about Chicago’s D, which was dominant in 2018 as the Bears won the NFC North. And it played quite well against Aaron Rodgers and the Pack, sacking Rodgers five times and yielding only 213 yards.But the Packers were stingier.“Yeah, it was fun to watch,” Rodgers said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a performance like that. Obviously, a lot of credit to Mike Pettine and his staff, but to those players, just incredible.“We didn’t do them a whole lot of favors with our performance on offense. I mean every time we needed something, a stop, they came up with some really big plays.”Including five sacks of their own on a clearly befuddled Mitchell Trubisky. Plus the only turnover of the game, a fourth-quarter pick in the end zone by former Bears safety Adrian Amos.“It’s just sweet. It really is,” Rodgers added. “I hold myself to a high standard and I didn’t play great tonight, but to watch a defense like that, man, that gives you a lot of confidence about where this team can go.”Green Bay went into the end zone on an 8-yard jump ball reception by tight end Jimmy Graham — a former college basketball player who boxed out to perfection on the play. That was the difference, thanks to the stingy Packers D.“Before we started, we came together as a team http://www.greenbaypackersteamonline.com/darnell-savage-jr.-jersey , I told everybody, ‘Let’s shock the world on three,'” said linebacker Za’Darius Smith, a free agency addition. “And I felt like we did that tonight.”The game also was marked by sloppy offense and penalties. But the Packers made the fewest mistakes and now lead the league’s longest series 98-95-6. Green Bay has won 16 of the last 19 regular-season meetings, and Rodgers is 17-5.Chicago’s defense hardly slacked, getting five sacks — tying the most it has had against Rodgers. But it could do little with the ball and Trubisky never found his stride. He even was sacked on Chicago’s final offensive play.“I think it was just sloppy by myself and as an offense as a whole,” Trubisky said. “Just going through all our procedures, it was just tough. We couldn’t find a rhythm.”KICKING GAMEMason Crosby made a 39-yard field goal in the final period for Green Bay, while Chicago got a 38-yarder from Eddy Pineiro.Bears fans rejoiced in relief on the first score of the season: Pineiro’s first-quarter field goal. The last such kick on Soldier Field was Cody Parkey’s double-doink off the goalpost and crossbar that sent Chicago home from the wild-card round. Pineiro, a second-year player from Florida, was an immediate hero in the Windy City.FLAGSEach team had 10 penalties, there was a total of 467 yards of only offense, and several drops. At one point, Chicago had three straight penalties to put it in a first-and-40. No, the Bears didn’t convert.New Packers coach Matt LaFleur made an ill-advised challenge, claiming offensive pass interference on a catch by Chicago’s Taylor Gabriel. He lost in the first such challenge in NFL history after interference calls were added to replay reviews this season.INEPT, THEN IN FRONTThe opening series couldn’t have been uglier for Green Bay. A run and a pass netted zero yards, then Rodgers was sacked heavily by Roy Robertson-Harris for a 10-yard loss.Well, maybe it could. Rodgers was sacked again on the next three-and-out and Chicago took over at the Packers 36 after a punt. Chicago had forced 17 yards in losses on those series, and the Packers had minus-12 yards through one period.Rodgers erased such ineffectiveness quickly at the start of the second quarter, launching a 47-yard completion to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Two more completions got the Pack to the 8, and Graham then scored.By halftime, Green Bay had outgained Chicago 119 yards to 98.THIRD-DOWN FAILURESChicago was a pitiful 3 for 15 on third downs and 0 for 2 on fourth downs. Green Bay was even worse trying to convert, going 2 for 12 on third downs.“I am not in panic mode,” Nagy said.UP NEXT:Packers: Host Minnesota on Sept. 15.Bears: At Denver on Sept. 15.____


Thu Oct 17, 2019 2:50 am
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