Rookie Newton already breaking records

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Rookie Newton already breaking records

From Comcast SportsNet

TAMPA, Fla. (AP)Cam Newton thinks the Carolina Panthers are capable of making a strong stretch run, building confidence for a promising future.

With the No. 1 overall draft pick growing up faster than most people considered possible, whos to argue with the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner?

Newton ran for three more touchdowns Sunday, setting an NFL single-season record for rushing TDs by a quarterback and pacing a 38-19 rout of the reeling Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Panthers (4-8) have won two straight to double their victory total from last year. Though the success came against winless Indianapolis and the Bucs (4-8), whove dropped six in a row, Newton feels Carolina is jelling as a team.

In addition to putting together three scoring drives of 80-plus yards against Tampa Bay, the Panthers defense forced the Buccaneers to settle for four first-half field goals and didnt allow a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter.

Im seeing a lot of maturity from this team, myself included. It gave us a lot of security in our minds, knowing that the defense is going to come out like they did and hold those guys to field goals. They had a great mentality, Newton said.

Youve got to win games in December, thats what the great teams do, the rookie added. Were not going to overlook anybody. I think we did enough of that earlier in the year. Weve got to take each game at a time, but most importantly each play at a time.

A trio of 1-yard scoring runs gave Newton 13 TDs rushing, one more than New Englands Steve Grogan had in 1976. He also had his first reception as a pro to set up Jonathan Stewarts first-quarter TD, then threw a 19-yard TD pass to Legedu Naanee to finish one of Carolinas three long scoring drives.

I wouldnt say its easier each week. Its a challenge each and every week, Newton said. The one thing Ive seemed to get is more comfortable. Dictating to the defense to some degree with your eyes, the pre-snap reads. The only difference in the NFL and college is the athleticism increases at each position.

Tampa Bay (4-8), which played in throwback creamsicle jerseys and white helmets bearing the logo of a winking pirate, has lost seven of eight following a 3-1 start. The Bucs had nine penalties to Carolinas two, and coach Raheem Morris lashed out at his team for what he described as undisciplined play.

I can take getting beat by a better football team. The foolish things that happened in that game, as far as penalties, some of the things that we caused, are just unacceptable, Morris said. We are not playing like a smart football team right now.

The coachs frustration peaked on the final play of the third quarter when linebacker Geno Hayes sacked Newton for a 4-yard loss only to have defensive tackle Brian Price flagged for unnecessary roughness. It was not clear what Price did to draw the penalty.

Morris removed Price from the game and sent him home.

It was foolish. Its selfish to your teammates, to everybody in the organization, to your fans. Thats terrible. Thats just selfish behavior, to get a 15-yard penalty in that situation when thats all we talk about, thats all we discuss, Morris said. You just dont do that to your team.

The Bucs played without quarterback Josh Freeman, who sat out with an injury to his right shoulder. Josh Johnson made his fifth pro start, throwing for 229 yards and one touchdown while also leading his team in rushing.

Newton completed 12 of 21 passes for 204 yards and no interceptions. He added 54 yards rushing on 14 carries, teaming with Stewart (14 attempts, 80 yards) to help Carolina gain 163 on the ground. Newton nearly scored on his reception after throwing backward to Naanee on the far side of the field and taking a throw-back to the left.

Its a play the Panthers have practiced for a while, but had never used in a game.

He gave me a catchable ball and put the pressure on me to make the play, Newton said. In practice, I cant get hit and it goes for touchdowns. I was trying to get him to the Pro Bowl with the highest quarterback rating, but that didnt work out.

Stewarts 1-yard run put Carolina up 14-0. Newton leaped over the pile to finish an 83-yard, game-opening march and tied the record for rushing TDs by a quarterback to make it 31-12 in the third quarter. His third TD, giving him the record, a 15-play, 91-yard drive that lasted nearly eight minutes.

Im not going to sit up here and say it doesnt mean something, Newton said of the record. Im not focusing on individualism in this game. Its still 11-on-11. I dont think I couldve done anything without those other 10 guys, most importantly the five guys who are blocking their tails off each and every snap.

Connor Barth kicked field goals of 50, 47, 46 and 44 yards for Tampa Bay in the first half. Johnson finally got the Bucs into the end zone when he threw a 23-yard TD pass to Dezmon Briscoe with 6:35 remaining.

In addition to completing 16 of 27 passes and being intercepted once, Johnson led Tampa Bay with 45 yards rushing on five attempts. LeGarrette Blount(notes), coming off consecutive 100-yard games, was limited to 19 yards on 11 carries.

Its very satisfying. The big thing thats really exciting is we have a bunch of young guys who have gone through so much, now theyre seeing some rewards, Carolina coach Ron Rivera said.

I think we do have a run in us. Weve got good football teams coming Atlanta, Houston, Tampa again, Rivera said. Weve got to continue to work. We need to finish strong. We do expect to build on this and gain momentum.

View from the Moon: Bears make statement in taking tight end while passing on defensive backs

View from the Moon: Bears make statement in taking tight end while passing on defensive backs

With their second pick in the 2017 draft, the Bears addressed offense and did it in a way that, when coupled with one of their main offseason moves, makes for some very interesting what-ifs for the upcoming season.

The choice at No. 45 was tight end Adam Shaheen, who at 6-foot-6 and 278 pounds becomes the second significant addition at the position following the signing of Dion Sims (6-foot-4, 270 pounds) to a three-year deal. In a sometimes over-specialized NFL, the Bears have brought in not one but two every-down tight ends.

“Yeah, that’s accurate,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “So it opens up a lot of possibilities for our offense.”

The acquisitions of Shaheen and Sims hold some intrigue, if only because of sheer bulk, because the inescapable conclusion with the commitments to big tight ends is that the Bears might be serious about running the football. They ran 28.4 percent of their 2016 plays in personnel packages of two or three tight ends or with a tight end and fullback.

Under coordinator Dowell Loggains the Bears ran the football just 39.3 percent of the time in 2016. Head coach John Fox and Loggains cite the Bears’ frequent need to play catch-up as the reason why, though in 12 of the 16 games the Bears were tied, led or were within seven points at halftime. In fairness to Fox and Loggains, the Bears in fact arguably did not have the physical firepower at tight end to sustain a smash-mouth base of operations.

That said, both Shaheen and Sims also have a fully formed receiver side to their games, which is where the bigger-picture interest lies. Shaheen had 122 receptions over his last two seasons at Ashland. Sims caught 36, 25 and 35 passes in his final three years with the Miami Dolphins. Both Shaheen and Sims were high school basketball standouts; Shaheen played a year of basketball at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, while Sims was dual-recruited for football and basketball at Michigan State after finishing fourth in voting for Mr. Basketball in Michigan in 2009.

“I definitely think (the basketball stuff) helps,” Pace said. “Half the time, it’s like these tight ends are going up for a rebound and boxing out. And (Shaheen) definitely has it. When we talk about body control and catching radius, the ball is not always going to be on target. And Adam has the ability to do that. We confirmed that through the tape, and Frank (Smith, tight ends coach) was able to confirm it during the workout.”

Why not take a defensive back?

During the NFL owners meetings this spring, Pace said that the draft's depth of talented options was a factor in free-agency decisions as well as the draft. So his willingness to trade down in the second round of this draft was expected, given that it has been rated as one of the best-ever drafts for quality and depth at defensive back.

Of course, these were the same experts’ analyses that concluded that no quarterback would be drafted before the middle of the first round, when in reality three went in the first 12 picks after teams traded up, so ... oh, never mind.

The NFL collective seems to agree with the take on defensive backs: Of the 107 players selected through three completed rounds, 29 (27.1 percent) have been defensive backs (18 cornerbacks and 11 safeties). Meaning more than one-fourth of the 2017 draft picks have been defensive backs.

What wasn’t expected was Pace then making no move at either cornerback or safety even after the trade-down that recovered much of the draft capital expended to deal up to No. 2 for Mitch Trubisky. When the Bears’ pick at No. 45 came around, the Bears instead chose a smaller-college tight end.

First thoughts were that Pace agreed with thinking that said starter-grade corners in particular could be had as late as the fourth round — he reacquired a fourth-round pick in the trade with Arizona, giving him two (Nos. 117 and 119) — or that he had been outflanked by a sudden minor run on defensive backs. In the eight picks from No. 36 (the Bears’ original second-round slot) to No. 43, four defensive backs were snatched up, three of them safeties.

That clearly didn’t bother Pace, though the Bears ended Friday with a plan to take a revised look in the defensive back direction.

“Yeah, we’re going to have to kind of sort through it tonight and we’ll be here late tonight and early in the morning,” Pace said. “Kind of resetting our board and going through it again. We’re going to take best player available, and if it ends up being offensive players, that’s what it is.”

After fighting through unspeakable adversity, Celtics 'enjoying the moment' with new perspective

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USA TODAY

After fighting through unspeakable adversity, Celtics 'enjoying the moment' with new perspective

Championship moments rarely occur in the first round. With a playoff format that drags the postseason out for more than two months, with playoff series taking as long as two weeks, the second season feels like just that. It’s far too early to say what exactly Friday night in Chicago will mean for the top-seeded Celtics, but a sense of a team coming together under unfathomable circumstances may prove to be the turning point in a season that a week ago appeared hanging by a thread.

It happened in three parts.

On the floor the Celtics looked every bit the part of a 51-win team that edged out LeBron’s Cavs for the top spot in the East. Brad Stevens’ small-ball approach came full-circle as the Boston guards lived in the paint against the Bulls, kicking out to open shooters for 16 3-pointers that helped the Celtics put away the game (and series) midway through the third quarter.

Avery Bradley starred for a second consecutive night, tallying 23 points while making Jimmy Butler work for his, while eight different Celtics hit a 3-pointer and the team shot 49 percent. For the first time in the series the Celtics looked dominant, like a team poised to contend with the Cavaliers for supremacy in the East.

“It felt good to play Celtic basketball again,” Avery Bradley said. “We were all smiling, having fun, and that’s what it’s supposed to be. That’s how hard we worked this entire year, to play that type of basketball.”

Isaiah Thomas was naturally somber much of the series. The well-documented death of his 22-year-old sister put a damper on the series before it began, and the MVP candidate understandably chose not to address it on the few occassions he spoke with the media. But Thomas looked more like himself as the series went on. Not only did his numbers improve, he appeared more vocal after made baskets, laughed off trash talk from Bulls point guard Isaiah Canaan, and engineered the Celtics' offense to near-perfection.

His defining moment came late in the third quarter with the Celtics nearing a 30-point lead. After a hard foul he gathered his four teammates in a huddle near the baseline and shouted that the series for the Bulls was "a wrap for these m------------!" This was the same player who two weeks earlier was brought to tears prior to Game 1, and who will bury his sister on Saturday in Tacoma, Washington. Under unthinkable circumstances, Thomas averaged 23.0 points and 5.7 assists in 34.8 minutes in the series.

“I feel like he has grown,” Al Horford said. "And we all have in a way with all the adversity that has gone on. It could have easily gone the other way, but I feel like especially tonight when we got the game in hand, in control, we all just kept on repeating to stay focused to keep it going, keep pushing. We didn’t want to give them any life and we were a focused group and we were enjoying the moment.”

Thomas' journey won't get easier. He'll have another short turnaround to get ready for Sunday's second-round matchup against the Celtics. But like his teammates did in Games 3 and 4, when Thomas flew by himself to Chicago following his return home to Tacoma to mourn with his family, they'll have another opporuntity to grow closer. Brad Stevens kept an incredible perspective on the situation throughout the series, and applauded his team for doing the same while still fighting for wins.

"Bigger things than basketball happened, and that took precedent and it takes precdedent," he said. "I was really proud of our guys for how they treated each other, how they stood together, stuck together. And how nobody pointed fingers, they were just a great support for one another, especially Isaiah."

When Thomas does return, and when the Celtics gear up for their next postseason journey, expectations will have remained the same. Though the Wizards were one of the league's best teams in the second half, and with John Wall and Bradley Beal playing on another level, it'll take more performances like Friday night - both on the court and collectively staying together - for Boston to advance. A 2-0 hole against the Wizards will feel a whole lot different than it did against the Bulls.

That sort of letdown doesn't feel like it will happen again. Though no one would have wished such tragedy to force it, the Celtics came together at a critical moment and came out better for it. Their work isn't done, and they know it. But the way they were able to handle the adversity in Round 1, anything seems possible for Stevens, Thomas the top seed in the East.

"We just try to stay the course in the day-to-day. And if that results in us winning more games or winning in the playoffs, or whatever the case may be, there’s only one goal in the Boston," Stevens said. "Seventeen (NBA championship) banners above us. We don’t have a choice. We only shoot for one thing there."