Read Malcolm Butler’s full statement on Super Bowl benching

Malcolm Butler was understandably upset after being benched in Super Bowl 52. He played just one snap the entire game — on special teams — in the Patriots’ 41-33 loss.

“They gave up on me. Fuck. It is what it is,” Butler told ESPN afterward. He added, “I could’ve changed that game.” He declined to speak on his future in that moment. But on Tuesday, he tweeted a statement thanking Robert Kraft and Patriots coaches for his four years in New England:

Butler said that he’s always given it his all during his time as a Patriot. He also mentioned that reports of him doing anything other than preparing for the game were false, and hurtful to him and his family.

He doesn’t commit to being with the Patriots in the letter, nor does he say he’s leaving. But there is a tone that hints he’s done in New England, which wouldn’t be a surprise. He’s set to be a free agent this offseason, and there will be teams out there willing to pay for his services.

Only he didn’t stretch far enough. Jenkins, the All-Pro cornerback who helped lead one of the league’s most complete defenses in 2017, let him know about it:

The drop was a pivotal moment early in the game. Rather than earn a fresh set of downs inside the red zone, New England was forced to stare down fourth-and-5 from the Philadelphia 35. Bill Belichick elected to go for it rather than kick a 53-yard field goal; kicker Stephen Gostkowski had already botched an extra point and a 26-yard kick at that point. When Brady’s fourth-down heave to Rob Gronkowski fell to the turf, it closed the book on a scoring opportunity — one the Patriots would need later.

Transition tags pay a player the average of the 10 highest-paid players at his position. A tagged player is allowed to negotiate with other teams. The player’s current team can match any offer given to a transition-tagged player, but the team will not be given compensation if it decides not to match.

Players can be tagged in consecutive years, but it’s costly. For a player to be tagged two-straight years, the team must pay 120 percent of the player’s previous salary. If it’s three-straight years, the team must pay the player 144 percent of his previous salary.

NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch in talks with Panthers suitors

NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch both said they have had conversations with potential bidders for the Panthers, the NFL franchise put up for sale by Jerry Richardson in December, the Charlotte Observer reports.

The rest of the Indianapolis roster is filled with holes, but solid draft position and the presence of GM Chris Ballard will provide some quick fixes. Ballard has earned a reputation as a manager who aggressively targets and signs free agents — including useful players like Johnathan Hankins, John Simon, and Jabaal Sheard last offseason. That trio led to modest improvements, but the league’s 30th-ranked defense will have plenty of work to do this offseason.

Last year’s Falcons defense wasn’t quite as good as this season’s, but they were scrappy and opportunistic. They sacked Russell Wilson three times and picked him off twice in Atlanta’s 36-20 divisional win over the Seahawks last year. They ran away with the NFC Championship against the Packers, allowing Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense to convert just four of 10 third down attempts all day in a 44-21 beatdown.

The commercials are set in some sort of Game of Thrones-esque universe and feature people saying the same insipid phrase over and over again. Bud Light even made a special version for the underdog Eagles after they secured their bid to face the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

You’ll be hearing it even more on Thursday when the Eagles celebrate their Super Bowl win with a parade through the city. Bud Light is sponsoring the parade and handing out free beer to crazed Eagles fans, thanks to a preseason promise from Philly tackle Lane Johnson. (But it’s only ONE free beer per person).

I want the erarglers to win so bad, she says. It’s hard to tell what team name she says, as her mouth is full of cotton and her mind full of painkillers, but her declaration that Carson Wentz is hurt, and I’m sad for him, mom, soon makes it clear.

She loves the Eagles so much she realizes water is coming out of my eyes.

The Rebels are just 11-15 this season, and 4-9 in a suddenly improved SEC.

The Andy Kennedy era is over for Ole Miss. Kennedy announced last Monday that he would resign at season’s end, but after going 0-2 this week against Arkansas and in-state rival Mississippi State, he sent a letter to Ole Miss on Sunday that he will resign immediately. It’s over for AK and Ole Miss.

Kennedy had two years remaining on his contract with Ole Miss, which the school will honor as he moves on from Oxford after 12 years of steering the ship. He ends his career at Ole Miss as the winningest coach in Rebel history, with 245 wins and 155 losses.

The program made the NCAA tournament twice in Kennedy’s tenure, most recently in 2015. Entering this season, Ole Miss had won 20 or more games in seven of the last eight years.

The most interesting wrinkle here is that, given the names of available college coaches out there at the moment, Kennedy sits near the top of the list of prospective guys in the country to land a head coaching spot where an opening appears. He’ll almost certainly be barking out orders somewhere next season.

On Sunday, James and Irving will take the floor again as teammates for the first time since the trade. James himself selected Irving in the first-ever All-Star Game draft, though this is bound to be a little awkward.

As Irving put it in his press conference with the Celtics, Me leaving [Cleveland] wasn’t about basketball. And to some extent that was true — there was no pure basketball reason for Irving to leave. He was coming off the best season of his career statistically.

His move had a lot more to do with breaking out from behind LeBron’s shadow. To not be known as the Scottie Pippen to LeBron’s Michael Jordan.

It was my time to do what was best for me in terms of my intentions and that’s going after something bigger than myself and obviously being in an environment that’s conducive for my potential, Irving said according to Cleveland.com.

That’s when he started throwing subtle jabs at James.

To assuage players’ concerns about sign stealing, MLB will install new telephone lines from dugouts to video replay rooms.

Major League Baseball has imposed stricter limits on mound visits by players in an effort to speed up games, but it decided against 20-second pitch clocks for 2018.

After more than a year of negotiations, the Major League Baseball Players Association refused to agree to the changes but also signed an agreement that it will not oppose the rules.

The amendments to the playing rules announced Monday include a general limit of six mound visits per nine-inning game without a pitching change, whether by a manager, coach or player.

MLB said the lines will be monitored, and a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press all conversations on the lines will be recorded. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because that detail was not announced.

All of this is important because the NBA’s relationship with technology is paramount to its growth as a league. Its embrace of social media has opened doors that other sports leagues slammed shut, providing an unlimited and instantaneous marketing machine at its fingertips.

Tech was the first thing Adam Silver mentioned in his annual state of the game press conference on Saturday night, and the league’s Tech Summit has become one of the hottest tickets of All-Star weekend. Earlier this week at the Recode conference, Silver was part of a forum for something called mixed reality, which is a hybrid between the real and virtual worlds.

Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth, who has spent the past 17 years in a North Carolina prison for conspiracy to murder his pregnant girlfriend, opened up for the first time in a handwritten letter to the victim’s mother.

Carruth wrote a 15-page letter to Saundra Adams, the mother of Cherica Adams, that was sent to Charlotte television station WBTV. He also spoke at length by phone with the station about the letter, accepting responsibility for the 1999 conspiracy to murder Cherica Adams and expressing interest in gaining custody of their son.

I’m apologizing for the loss of her daughter. I’m apologizing for the impairment of my son, Carruth told WBTV. I feel responsible for everything that happened. And I just want her to know that truly I am sorry for everything.

Just a hair behind Oklahoma State in attendance and a few places ahead in revenue (because Phil Knight loves his Ducks more than T. Boone loves his Pokes?) is Oregon. The Ducks have never won a title but have come close. They had close calls in 2001 (finished No. 2), 2007 (in position until Dennis Dixon’s knee injury), 2010 (lost the title game on the final play), and 2014 (Zeke Elliott). The Ducks are ninth in winning percentage since hiring Mike Bellotti in 1995 and have eight top-10 finishes over that period. They even wear green and have an avian mascot.

For the 20 teams that failed to reach the playoffs this season, the offseason starts Monday.

For some of those teams, the offseason will begin with a bit of housecleaning.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported early Sunday that the San Francisco 49ers, coming off a season with only two wins entering Week 17, will conduct an overhaul of their organization that will include the firing of Coach Chip Kelly and GM Trent Baalke. (Baalke confirmed he had been fired just before the Niners kicked off their season finale against the Seahawks.

Media writer John Ourand of SportsBusiness Journal wrote Romo and Nantz “have been the most talked about broadcast team this NFL season.” When Ourand asked Nantz if Romo or Cutler would be the better rookie broadcaster, Nantz “just sat back and laughed.” Awful Announcing pointed out Romo is a viral sensation for his Nostradamus-like ability to call plays in advance. “It’s hard to imagine how the Romo experiment could be going any better for CBS.”

And Cutler? With the Dolphins missing the playoffs, the surly 34-year-old QB’s future is in question. He reportedly doesn’t want a backup job. If Fox hires him back, he’d be lucky.

But the Rams and 49ers put on a superb show Thursday night. The offenses of the two youthful head coaches, the Rams’ Sean McVay and the Niners’ Kyle Shanahan, were impressive. McVay eventually prevailed in the square-off of former Redskins offensive coordinators, 41-39.

McVay is already working wonders with second-year quarterback Jared Goff, who threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns Thursday in a 22-for-28 passing display. Goff didn’t have an interception and had a passer rating of 145.8. Goff was not capable of such a performance last season as a rookie. He is being turned into a franchise quarterback by McVay.

With one of the most stunning plays in NFL playoff history, the Vikings beat the Saints, 29-24, to advance to the NFC championship game.

Down a point, with seconds left and out of field goal range, Minnesota scored a touchdown when Stefon Diggs hauled in a pass from Case Keenum, eluded a bizarre non-tackle by rookie New Orleans safety Marcus Williams and dashed the rest of the way into the end zone.

From there, the teams traded field goals, with Minnesota’s Kai Forbath nailing a clutch 53-yarder before New Orleans’s Wil Lutz hit one from 43 yards out with just 25 seconds to go. That set the stage for the heroics from Diggs and Keenum, and now the Vikings will travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles and their backup quarterback, Nick Foles, with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake.

It will be interesting to see what happens this coming offseason when the NFL’s rule-making competition committee deliberates and then reports to the owners at the annual league meeting in March in Orlando. The replay system itself could be tweaked. Or if the conclusion is that the system itself is fine but the way it is being applied is not, there could be a directive made to change the approach.

Doing nothing might not be an option, given the level of discontent reflected by the public comments made by Pegula.

When will the firings begin? … The day after the NFL’s regular season always has been known as Black Monday because that traditionally has been when the firing of head coaches league-wide has gotten under way in earnest.

Dolphins cut Maualuga: Miami dumped linebacker Rey Maualuga hours after his arrest on a battery charge early Saturday.

Make way for Peterman: The Bills are taking what Coach Sean McDermott says is a “calculated risk” and starting Nathan Peterman over Tyrod Taylor against the Chargers.

Where in the world is Jon Gruden? Not in Tennessee. With the Vols’ coaching job open, a Grumor sizzled Saturday that he was in Knoxville with Peyton Manning. While there are reports of his interest in coaching again, this Grumor went from sizzle to fizzle.

The protests have been limited to a few players on a few teams, and this was before the president of the United States told his devoted base to boycott.

Fueling Curry’s career season from inside the 3-point line has been a change in approach in the half court, namely a sharp increase in pick-and-roll responsibilities combined with fewer isolations. One of the benefits of utilizing Second Spectrum’s player tracking is that it not only captures result-based actions, but also every indirect action that doesn’t ultimately lead to a shot, foul, assist or turnover. It’s helpful to truly quantify what a player is doing on the floor.

According to this data, Curry is averaging about 40 half-court actions on the ball per game, a reduction of roughly two per game from his unanimous MVP campaign. That doesn’t include any transition opportunities or possessions in which he’s on the floor but never becomes involved. The percent of those on-ball actions that are run as a pick-and-roll ball handler has risen from 58 percent to 65 percent, while his isolations have dropped from 8 percent to just 5 percent. Considering that Curry ranks as the NBA’s single most efficient pick-and-roll ball handler, it’s a thrilling tradeoff for the Warriors.

At other NFL stops, Shurmur has served as the offensive coordinator for the Rams and Eagles, and he previously served as the tight ends and quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia under then-head coach Andy Reid. He began his coaching career at Michigan State after being an all-Big Ten center for the Spartans.

“I am looking forward to getting to work with Dave Gettleman and [assistant general manager] Kevin Abrams and starting the process to once again build a championship team,” Shurmur said in a statement. “I have been fortunate to work with many great coaches and players, and I am thankful for those relationships.”

Things are escalating, and both sides seem to be onboard with that escalation. And if enough fans decide that their loyalty to their political team is more important than their loyalty to their NFL team, this could be much bigger than just a war of words over a September weekend.

The case for: This isn’t a coaching issue. This is a roster-construction issue. The Browns passed on Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in the previous two NFL drafts, and both appear to be franchise quarterbacks. Wentz could be the league MVP this season, and Watson very well could have been the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year if he hadn’t gotten hurt. The Browns didn’t trade for Jimmy Garoppolo. They couldn’t even manage to notify the league office properly after they agreed to a trade-deadline deal for AJ McCarron.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac quoted a Steelers source as saying that Shazier’s condition was “better than what it could have been.”

Meanwhile, it is baffling how the Raiders (one winning season in their last 16) and Browns (two winning seasons out of 19) can justify sticking to the same old hiring routines at the expense of an explicit policy aimed at altering those routines.

Back in 2016, when pioneering head coach Dennis Green died, his role in opening previously locked doors to NFL coaching was lauded. The recent shenanigans with the Raiders and Browns, though, are a reminder that the NFL runs in place more than it moves forward on this.

“This is a tough game, a tough business. 5-0 is our brother,” Steeelers Coach Mike Tomlin said after the game, referring to Shazier’s jersey number. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to him. … He’s receiving good medical care.”

Walton is a big believer in meditation. He did it under Jackson as a player and practices it regularly today. The Lakers coach wanted his team to practice mindfulness to help not just unlock its potential but also help players deal with daily pressures such as social media.

“It is very confusing,” Walton said of his team’s free-throw shooting. “Free throws are more mental than anything. We talk about it, we work on it. Then I try to not talk about it, let it just happen naturally. I think we got up over 70 (percent) as a team before last night, but it kills us. It hurts us. It’s hurt us in a lot of games this year. But like everything else, hard work and confidence is normally the way to fix things. … They’re all very capable free throw shooters, so it’s not like they don’t have the skill to knock them down. We just have to clear our minds and take it for what it is, which is just one shot at a time and step up there and knock it down.

Tarik Cohen, RB, Bears: Cohen provided his owners with seven points in standard scoring leagues in Week 7, and the impressive part is he had just one reception — but it went for 70 yards.

Ted Ginn, WR, Saints: Ginn has not been a factor for most of his career when it comes to fantasy football, but he became fantasy relevant in 2015 when he hauled in 10 touchdowns during the run to the Super Bowl with the Carolina Panthers. He turned in a nearly identical season in 2016 from a receiving standpoint, but had just four touchdowns.

“Speaking strictly for myself, I am shooting the worst that I have in like three years (61 percent). It is not saying much, but it is not for a lack of practice. I am in here shooting free throws every single day. I don’t know what it is. Probably got some kind of mental block as a team going on.”