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Opinion: Drew Brees’ injuries leave Saints with QB decision that could define season — and beyond

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After learning that quarterback Drew Brees could miss extended time with injuries that, according to multiple reports, include multiple rib fractures and a collapsed lung, the New Orleans Saints now find themselves faced with an intriguing decision while preparing to host the NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill?

That’s the question coach Sean Payton must decide. The outcome of the decision could dramatically shape the franchise both for the short and long term.

Payton on Monday afternoon declined to confirm an ESPN report on Brees’ status and also refused to name a starter.

However, by Wednesday when the Saints return to the practice field, players likely will have learned the direction their team is headed in the interim. 

Winston, the 2015 No. 1 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, signed with New Orleans this offseason in search of further development and redemption following the end of his five-year run as a starter.

Hill, an undrafted fourth-year pro, has distinguished himself as an impactful utility player for New Orleans, lining up at quarterback, tight end, fullback and wide receiver while also playing on special teams.

It marks a second straight year the Saints have found themselves in this predicament. Last season, when a torn thumb ligament in Brees’ throwing hand sidelined him for five games, Payton turned to backup Teddy Bridgewater over Hill, who served as a fixture on offense through his wide range of positions. Bridgewater rewarded the coach by going 5-0 as a starter. 

With Bridgewater having moved on to become the Carolina Panthers’ starter, whichever quarterback Payton chooses this year will try to extend the team’s six-game winning streak and help the 7-2 Saints overtake the Green Bay Packers for the top spot in the NFC.

Both quarterbacks offer different elements.

Winston possesses greater experience having started 70 games for his career. The former Heisman Trophy winner and 2015 Pro Bowl pick also is the more decorated of the two. Blessed with a big arm, Winston last season surpassed the 5,000-yard mark, something only six other quarterbacks have ever done (Brees has done it five times), and recorded 33 touchdown passes. 

As he demonstrated Sunday when he directed three scoring drives (two field goals and an Alvin Kamara touchdown), Winston gives the Saints the ability to execute an offense that resembles a Brees-led attack. Saints coaches simplify what they ask of the quarterback, but they wouldn’t have to overhaul the playbook to position him for success. Starting Winston also enables the Saints to continue to use Hill as the change-of-pace weapon to throw opponents off.

Going to Winston against San Francisco made sense because he had worked behind Brees all week and attended all of the quarterback meetings while Hill bounced from one position group meeting to another in preparation for his usual slash role. Turning to the multi-purpose threat as quarterback would have meant scrapping a chunk of New Orleans’ game plan for the 49ers.

Hill would bring another dimension to the position. The BYU product averages 5.5 yards per carry and, with his capability to execute run-pass option plays, would pose a threat of unpredictability.

However, Hill is a far less accomplished passer, having completed only 10 of 18 passes for his careerwith no touchdown passes and one interception to his name.

With Hill as his starter, Payton likely would have to more drastically change the way the Saints attack, which could prove disruptive. 

The mark against Winston involves his history of poor decision-making. In his final season in Tampa, he threw 30 interceptions — the most by any player in a single season since 1988 — including an NFL record six returned for touchdowns.

Winston chose a backup role with the Saints over a chance to compete as a starter in 2020 because he believed Payton’s expertise with quarterbacks could help him reach his maximum potential. He likened that tutelage to a Harvard education.

But is half of a season enough to transform him into a more disciplined passer? 

It was only a half of football, but Winston certainly seemed more conservative in his approach on Sunday. He completed six of 10 passes for 63 yards without any turnovers .

A move to Winston seems like the no-brainer given his experience and more expansive passing skill set. And many around the league expect the coach to settle on Winston for this week’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.

But the Saints’ fondness for Hill creates some mystique, or at least the illusion of a debate. This offseason, the team signed him to a two-year, $21 million contract that features $16 million in guaranteed money. In 2021, Hill will make more than a handful of top quarterbacks still on their rookie contracts.

Winston, meanwhile, is earning just $1.1 million for this season.

As mentioned, Payton’s decision could help shape the future of the Saints’ quarterback position.

This could be the 41-year-old Brees’ last year, so this midseason stretch in his absence could serve as an audition for 2021 and speak to how New Orleans views Winston and Hill. 

A nod to Hill seemingly would suggest that Payton views him as the quarterback of the future and that the coach would be comfortable having him shed his utility role after this season. 

Turning to Winston could indicate that, in addition to believing the former Florida State product gives him the best chance to win now, Payton also wants to evaluate him extensively as a potential long-term replacement for Brees.

That’s not for certain, however. Bridgewater’s five-game stint last season wound up serving as a showcase for the rest of the league rather than New Orleans.

Either way, it all boils down to this: for however long Brees’ injuries sideline him, his replacement will receive a golden opportunity. The next man up will receive the chance to play for one of the game’s best play-callers while surrounded by one of the league’s top supporting casts. He will have the chance to contribute to a playoff run. And the quarterback selected also will receive the chance to solidify his future role.

Read from source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/columnist/mike-jones/2020/11/16/drew-brees-injury-jameis-winston-taysom-hill-saints-quarterback/6316535002/

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Football for Friendship keeps the ball running online

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Educating young generations goes beyond the classroom. But inspiring in children and teenagers the moral values that will guide them in their professional and personal lives is not always straightforward. Parents and educators have often nudged young people into playing team games, which have been recognised as effective tools to help them acquire important values while enjoying themselves.

For the last eight years, the Football for Friendship (F4F) platform has helped young people from across the world get together, share their love for football, and in the process acquire important ethical values, focusing on friendship, equality, fairness, health, peace, devotion, victory, traditions, and honour, the building blocks of the F4F project.

In 2020, the social restrictions across the world that halted real-life football matches did not stop F4F, with over one million users taking part in this eighth season. The programme launched a new online game, F4F World, allowing young people to play football with peers anywhere. The game gives children the option of being players, coaches, or fans, and each role comes with different responsibilities and tasks. Players can apply to join their teams of choice, and as they advance in the game, they can become coaches, select other players, and set up their own team. The first F4F eWorld Championship brought together 32 teams of young players from 104 countries on the F4F World football simulator.

The game, available to download since early December, has received thumbs-up from many young players who praised how it connects players around the world, its availability on mobile and PC and the originality of its gameplay and character creation.

The online game keeping young people engaged with football throughout lockdowns, time away from school, and restricted social lives can help them maintain and build new connections with many other football afficionados from different cultures and backgrounds, while still strengthening their football skills away from the turf.

The variety of roles children and teenagers can choose from, the interactions needed to build teams, select players, engage with coaches and be part of the community provide a fertile ground for creating new friendships around their common passions for football.

An Online International Friendship Camp involves famous football players and F4F ambassadors that engage young people in team-building games and workshops that do not account for age, gender, nationality, race, or physical abilities. “Football for Friendship is a programme that brings together truly talented and motivated kids who are in love with football, giving them the opportunity to develop, learn more about each other and find new friends in other countries,” says Roberto Carlos, F4F Global Ambassador. “Many young football players all over the world dream of getting into Football for Friendship, and the universal human values promoted by the programme are really important for the children, for their future.”

The end of the season also brought for F4F the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ title for the Most users on a football/soccer video hangout, with a 2.5-hour master class with live video feeds from France, Brazil, Russia, Uruguay, Pakistan, Ireland, Cyprus, Peru, India, Guyana and Spain being organized for children from over 100 countries.

By learning and following the rules of F4F World, young players also become more responsible for their online behaviour; and while football itself teaches fair play, engaging in games and trainings with other children and teenagers, as well as with coaches from different cultural backgrounds, races, and beliefs encourages participants to be fair and treat everyone equally and honourably.

Beyond practical skills, F4F and in particular, the new online game, helps young people remain motivated to win, devoted to the game and to their teams, and continue a traditional game even through difficult social and economic times.

Read from source: https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/22/football-for-friendship-keeps-the-ball-running-online

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Russian city of Kazan to host 2022 Special Winter Olympics after Sweden pulls out

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The countdown has begun for the Special Olympics, World Winter Games, which are set to kick off in Kazan, Russia in one year.

More than 2,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from over 100 countries will compete.

Kazan jumped in to host the games at the last minute after Sweden pulled out due to financial reasons – a controversial decision given that Russia is currently serving a ban from all major sporting events.

In December, Russia’s ban was reduced to two years from four by the Court of Arbitration for Sport after its anti-doping agency was declared non-compliant for manipulating laboratory data handed over to investigators in January 2019.

”We are as a country ready for a bigger message on inclusion and as Special Olympics International is not a signatory of the World Anti Doping Code, therefore we were in a good place to come to Russia with the World Games,” Natalia Vodianova, an international Russian-born model and member of Special Olympics International Board of Directors, told Euronews.

“My younger sister Oksana was born with an intellectual disability. There is a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of miscommunication about the abilities of people with special needs. Therefore, I hope that the world Games will bring more clarity and break some stigmas around possibilities and opportunities for people with special needs like my sister,” she added.

After hosting the World Aquatics Championships in 2015 and the FIFA World Cup three years later, Kazan is no stranger to big events.

Founded in 1968, the Special Olympics is a global movement aimed at ending discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. It offers more than 30 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 games and competitions every year.

Special Olympics Russia, which has been active for more than two decades, has 128 thousand athletes taking part in sports and competitions across the country.

But this represents just 4% of the estimated three million people with intellectual disabilities in Russia, and Vodianova is hoping the Special Olympics winter games coming to the country will mean more people can benefit from the initiative in the future.

 

Read from source: https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/22/russian-city-of-kazan-to-host-2022-special-winter-olympics-after-sweden-pulls-out

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Giants knock out Cowboys to stay alive in NFC East as questionable decisions doom Dallas

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In fitting fashion, an NFC East elimination game concluded with a running back sitting on his fumbled ball. Yes, sitting.

New York Giants running back Wayne Gallman coughed up the ball with 58 seconds to play, but officials ruled he secured it just enough to maintain possession after he literally sat on it. The Giants held on for the final minute of the game, winning 23-19 Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

The Dallas Cowboys have been eliminated from playoff contention.

The NFC East title will be decided by a “Sunday Night Football” matchup between the Washington Football Team and Philadelphia Eagles. Washington is in if it ties or wins. The Giants (6-10) will advance if Washington loses.

Neither the Giants nor the Cowboys played a clean game. Dallas’ offense stalle

The Giants, despite an interception and two fumbles (one lost), terrorized the Cowboys offensive line and sacked Dalton six times — hitting him a total of nine times. Dalton’s pressure prohibited the Cowboys from jelling in the passing game as they had a week earlier in their 37-17 win over the Eagles.

The Giants snapped a three-game losing streak with the victory. The Cowboys, finishing their season at 6-10, snapped a three-game winning streak.

d repeatedly, and its defense let up two early touchdowns.

But head coach Mike McCarthy will shoulder the blame for two questionable decisions.

On third-and-16, with 7:02 to play and the Giants up by 1, Giants receiver Dante Pettis did not appear to secure the catch on a 10-yard pass from quarterback Daniel Jones. Dallas chose not to challenge the play that immediately preceded the Giants’ 50-yard field goal. That, and the decision not to go for 2 after running back Ezekiel Elliott’s third-quarter touchdown, doomed the Cowboys.

Neither team converted a third down for the first 24 minutes of the game, and ball security made a difference. The Cowboys’ final drive ended on quarterback Andy Dalton’s interception in the end zone.

The Giants, despite an interception and two fumbles (one lost), terrorized the Cowboys offensive line and sacked Dalton six times — hitting him a total of nine times. Dalton’s pressure prohibited the Cowboys from jelling in the passing game as they had a week earlier in their 37-17 win over the Eagles.

The Giants snapped a three-game losing streak with the victory. The Cowboys, finishing their season at 6-10, snapped a three-game winning streak.

NFC East eyes will turn to the Sunday night game to determine whether a six- or seven-win team advances to the playoffs.

McCarthy’s eyes will turn to his second season in Dallas after an underwhelming first.

 

Read from source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/cowboys/2021/01/03/new-york-giants-nfc-east-dallas-cowboys-out/4116818001/

 

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