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On Baseball: After Reviving the Royals, Hosmer and Cain Try to Spark Other Teams

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SURPRISE, Ariz. — Early in Eric Hosmer’s career, when it was clear he would be a star first baseman, a fan at a Rotary Club asked a pointed question to Dayton Moore, the general manager of the Kansas City Royals. For decades, the fans had yearned for a player like Hosmer with the talent and charisma to stir a dormant franchise. But this fan was worried. He wanted to know if the Royals could possibly sign Hosmer to a long-term contract.

“Just enjoy him,” Moore replied, recalling the conversation in a spring training interview last week. “Enjoy watching him play. And, no, we probably won’t be able to keep him here long-term. But that’s O.K. Just enjoy watching him play. Let’s not wish away today.”

The Royals made the most of their todays with Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain. After 28 seasons without a playoff appearance, they rumbled into two World Series in a row, losing in 2014[1] and winning in 2015[2]. Every small-market franchise tries to build through homegrown talent, and most fall short of a title. The Royals actually broke through.

Now Hosmer is a San Diego Padre[3], after signing for eight years and $144 million last month. Cain signed a five-year, $80 million contract to rejoin the Milwaukee Brewers, who traded him to the Royals in 2010.

Other stalwarts from the World Series teams are also gone: Wade Davis, Ben Zobrist, Johnny Cueto, Ryan Madson, James Shields, Jarrod Dyson, and the unsigned Greg Holland and Mike Moustakas. A starter, Yordano Ventura, was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic before last season. Hosmer wears Ventura’s No. 30 with the Padres, a lasting bond to a team and a town he helped change.

“They kept hearing over and over again that guys that would come in and get back to being a playoff threat again,” Hosmer said. “It took 30 years for that to happen. We had a special relationship, and the fans appreciated the way we played. We would show emotion, and they would show emotion back.”

That was not always true in Kansas City, where hopelessness had sometimes reigned. In 1999, thousands of fans walked out[4] of Kauffman Stadium in the middle of a game against the Yankees, protesting baseball’s tilted salary structure. Some littered the field with fake $100 bills.

The Royals lost 97 games that season, just another in a sad string of gloom. Moore arrived in 2006 and finally hit on the winning formula for a team with a modest payroll and a spacious park: contact hitters, slick defenders, dominant relievers and short-term No. 1 starters acquired for prospects.

It was always supposed to be temporary. That is how it works in modern baseball, and why teams scramble to align their top prospects’ peak seasons. If a bunch of young players mature at the same time, the team will probably get a few years of prime performance at affordable rates. When the players then get too expensive, most of them disperse.

The Royals have kept some of their core players; left fielder Alex Gordon is signed through 2019, and starter Danny Duffy and catcher Salvador Perez through 2021. Duffy, who earns $14 million this season, wanted more players to join them.

Lorenzo Cain, who went to two World Series with the Royals, joined the Brewers in January.CreditCarlos Osorio/Associated Press

“I was hoping if one guy comes back, or two guys come back, maybe it’ll spark another guy to take that and run with it, too,” he said. “But the majority of guys I came up with are in other jerseys or unsigned. It’s tough to see those guys go, but that’s the nature of the beast. You definitely wish them well.”

Cain spends his off-seasons in Norman, Okla., and attended the Oklahoma City Thunder game last winter when Kevin Durant returned as a member of the Golden State Warriors. Cain remembers the vitriol from the fans[5], who jeered Durant whenever he touched the ball.

“It was not fun for him,” Cain said. “There were a lot of boos. Kind of tough to see, but that’s just how it is.”

Yet when Cain returns to Kansas City with the Brewers next month, he does not expect the same treatment. Some Royals fans in Arizona have already wished Cain and Hosmer well. Cain called Royals fans “the best fans in the world, for sure,” and no one around the team believes the players tarnished their legacy by leaving.

“They did so much for the game of baseball in Kansas City,” said Gordon, who grew up in Nebraska[6] and went to Royals games every summer. “They were a part of changing the culture. Guys are going to come and go, and it’s not always their decision; it’s just how it is. But for what they did in Kansas City, the Royals fans are always going to be grateful.”

Winning a championship does not guarantee a player a lifelong glow; Boston fans never forgave Johnny Damon for signing with the hated Yankees. But Hosmer and Cain left the American League and joined teams not known for spending.

Neither the Padres nor the Brewers had ever given such a lucrative contract in free agency. Neither team has won a championship, either — and, incredibly, Hosmer and Cain are the only players on either team’s 40-man roster who have ever played in the World Series. For both, setting an example is part of their job description.

Cain said that when Shields came to Kansas City from Tampa Bay, a regular playoff contender, “he showed us how to lead — and once he left, we all became leaders.”

“You need all 25 guys to come together and help push each other,” Cain said. “That’s what I’m trying to show these guys.”

The Brewers, at 86-76, had the best record of any team that missed the playoffs last season. In doing so, they sped up their competitive timetable. They agreed on Cain’s contract within hours of another bold move: a trade with Miami for Christian Yelich, a 26-year-old outfielder under contract for five more seasons.

The deals created a bit of a logjam for the Brewers, who also have Domingo Santana, who hit 30 homers last season, and the franchise pillar Ryan Braun in the outfield. The Brewers hope to find time for all the outfielders by sometimes using Braun at first base, where he could spell the slugging Eric Thames against some left-handers.

“You don’t really have any say over where you get traded, but I’m excited to be here,” Yelich said. “To be a part of an outfield with those guys, it’s going to be special. It’s exciting to go into the season expecting to win, hopefully for the foreseeable future.”

Cain (6), Hosmer (35) and Mike Moustakas receiving a standing ovation after coming out of the Royals’ final game last season. All three left the team as free agents in the off-season.CreditCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

The Padres also added multiple veterans to their lineup, trading with Philadelphia for shortstop Freddy Galvis and with the Yankees for third baseman Chase Headley. San Diego has endured nine losing seasons in the last 10 years, but has hope in a slogan on Hosmer’s clubhouse T-shirt.

On the front, beneath a Padres logo, it says “#HotTalentLava[7],” with “= Major League Rock” on the back. Scott Boras, Hosmer’s agent, used those terms to describe the Padres’ percolating farm system, which MLB.com ranks[8] as the best in baseball. For Hosmer, it is a familiar feeling.

“There’s so many similarities to what I was a part of in Kansas City, as far as a group of prospects coming up,” he said. “It’s been fun. It’s one thing to hear about all the guys, but now to finally get out on the field and see what these guys are about, it gets you fired up.”

Moore could have left Kansas City, too, if he had pushed the Royals’ owner, David Glass, to allow him to interview for the Atlanta Braves’ general manager job last fall. Before joining the Royals, Moore had spent 12 years with the Braves, who now have a thriving farm system and seem much closer to contending.

Yet Moore was content to leave the decision to Glass, who did not want to lose his team’s architect. Moore’s passion for the job has never waned, he said, even as he starts over.

“Every team is special, regardless of the win-loss record,” he said. “And if you are leading in a relentless and focused way, it becomes exhausting, it becomes tiring, but that’s the privilege of leadership.”

The Royals had hoped to retain Hosmer as their leader in the clubhouse. But the Padres made a richer offer, and even if Hosmer had returned, the Royals still probably would have struggled. Their rotation was woeful[9] last season, and Moore has been forced to chisel talent from the bullpen.

To entice teams to take expensive veterans off his payroll, Moore had to trade Scott Alexander and Ryan Buchter, relievers who are young, effective and cheap. Alexander went to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-way deal that sent reliever Joakim Soria to the Chicago White Sox, and Oakland took outfielder Brandon Moss — who has since been cut — as a way to get Buchter.

Those deals saved the Royals $14 million, and they replaced Hosmer by giving a one-year, $3.5 million contract to Lucas Duda, the former Mets first baseman whose errant throw in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series allowed Hosmer to score the tying run in the ninth inning.

That sequence is etched in Royals lore. After Cain took a full-count slider to draw a leadoff walk against Matt Harvey, he stole second and scored on a double by Hosmer. Moustakas moved Hosmer to third with a groundout, and Perez bounced a ball to third baseman David Wright, who threw to Duda for the out at first. Hosmer charged home[10], knowing that both Wright and Duda had erratic throwing arms.

With a good throw by Duda, the Mets would have won the game. But Hosmer’s gamble paid off, embodying the will and urgency of a team that never cared about the odds. The Royals finished the night as champions, and their flag — planted by Hosmer, Cain and so many others in a proud alumni club — will always fly.

“They’re forever a part of Royals history,” Moore said. “We want all of our players, if they leave, to leave on a white horse.”

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References

  1. ^ losing in 2014 (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ winning in 2015 (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ is a San Diego Padre (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ thousands of fans walked out (www.cbsnews.com)
  5. ^ the vitriol from the fans (www.nytimes.com)
  6. ^ grew up in Nebraska (www.nytimes.com)
  7. ^ #HotTalentLava (www.youtube.com)
  8. ^ ranks (www.mlb.com)
  9. ^ woeful (www.espn.com)
  10. ^ Hosmer charged home (www.nytimes.com)

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Kareem Hunt Is Released by the Chiefs After a Video Showed Him Hurting a Woman

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The Kansas City Chiefs released their star running back, Kareem Hunt, on Friday, shortly after the N.F.L. suspended him in response to the release of a video that showed Hunt knocking a woman to the ground and kicking her at a hotel in February.

The video was recorded at the Metropolitan at the 9 hotel, in downtown Cleveland[1], where Hunt has an apartment. The police were called, but no arrests were made and no charges were filed. The Chiefs knew about the incident — it had been reported by news organizations at the time — but it was not clear whether team officials or N.F.L. officials, or both, had seen the video until TMZ posted it on Friday.

The league, in a statement, said it had placed Hunt on the commissioner’s exempt list, which would not allow him to play, practice or attend games but would let him be paid. The statement said the league had begun an investigation soon after the incident in February and that the investigation would now include “a review of the new information that was made public today.”

The Chiefs, in a statement, said that several members of their management team had spoken directly with Hunt after the team learned of the incident in February. “Kareem was not truthful in those discussions,” the team statement said. “The video released today confirms that fact. We are releasing Kareem immediately.”

The case has joined a litany of questionable, and sometimes violent, off-season incidents involving N.F.L. players.

ESPN reported that Hunt, 23, who is in his second season, was sent home from a practice after the video came out. The league took no disciplinary action after the incident first came to light in February, and he has been one of the most dynamic players on the Chiefs, who are 9-2 and in first place in the A.F.C. West.

The video shows Hunt pushing a woman and being restrained by several men. Hunt then breaks free. The ensuing tumult sends the woman reeling, hitting a wall and falling to the ground, where Hunt kicks her.

One police report obtained by The Kansas City Star[2] said a 19-year old woman from Ohio claimed she was “shoved and pushed” by Hunt, who was listed as a suspect. The Star reported that a second police report named the woman as a suspect.

He has had other outbursts. In June, he punched a man [3]in the face at a resort in Ohio, according to a separate report by TMZ, but no charges were filed.

Clark Hunt, the team’s owner, said in the off-season[4] that he was hopeful that the player had learned from his past. “Kareem is a young man, second year in the league, obviously had a very big year on the field last year,” he said. “I’m sure he learned some lessons this off-season and hopefully won’t be in those kinds of situations in the future.”

The accusations against Kareem Hunt are a fresh reminder of the N.F.L.’s conflicted approach to players accused of assault and domestic abuse. The league has vowed to take a hard line on cases of domestic abuse since 2014, when the former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was seen on video knocking out a woman who was his fiancée.

The league had suspended Rice for two games when the incident was first reported, but weeks later, when more graphic video was released, Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely. A former federal judge brought in to adjudicate the matter overruled the permanent suspension because Rice was effectively being suspended twice for the same infraction.

Rice, though, never returned to the N.F.L.

After that controversy, the league introduced several new policies that included stiffer penalties for players found to have committed domestic abuse, less reliance on law enforcement for guidance and a more robust investigative team at the N.F.L.

Still, the response to incidents has been uneven. In 2016, the league suspended Josh Brown, a Giants kicker[5], for one game because it believed he committed only one act of violence against his wife.

The league later suspended him indefinitely with pay after police documents showed Brown wrote about being “physically, verbally and emotionally” abusive to his wife[6].

This week, the Washington Redskins were widely criticized for claiming linebacker Reuben Foster off waivers. Foster, 24, had been released by the San Francisco 49ers[7] days after he was arrested in Tampa, Fla., on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.

The league suspended Foster indefinitely with pay, but the Redskins decided to sign him anyway, though it is unlikely he will play this season. “The Redskins fully understand the severity of the recent allegations made against Reuben,” Doug Williams, the senior vice president for player personnel, said in a statement. “If true, you can be sure these allegations are nothing our organization would ever condone.”

While the Redskins were willing to await judgment on Foster, some former N.F.L. players were quick to condemn Kareem Hunt. “I thought I was a perfect example of what NOT to do!!!!” the former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson, who was convicted of domestic violence, said on Twitter[8]. “I thought by speaking aloud about my pitfalls that players after me could see these situations before they happen.”

Ray Crockett, a retired defensive back who played a part of his career for Kansas City, lashed out at the league.

“NFL, this is a bad look for the League!” he wrote on Twitter[9]. “You cant just act like you are against domestic violence. You have to be about it. Kareem Hunt has to be suspended.”

About six hours after that message, the league announced the suspension and the team released Hunt.

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Doctors Said Hockey Enforcer Todd Ewen Did Not Have C.T.E. But He Did.

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WILDWOOD, Mo. — The news at first seemed to shock the medical world studying the relationship between hard hits to the head in sports and a degenerative neurological disease called C.T.E.

Todd Ewen, one of hockey’s most aggressive fighters, who fatally shot himself at age 49 in September 2015, did not have the disease, despite displaying a wide range of symptoms for it.

That was the conclusion of doctors in Toronto. It turned out to be wrong.

Ewen’s wife, Kelli, was skeptical about the Toronto doctors’ conclusion and had her husband’s brain tissue tested by doctors at Boston University’s C.T.E. Center, whose findings were checked by researchers at the Mayo Clinic.

Ewen, they said Friday, did in fact have C.T.E., stoking the debate about the disease’s relationship to hockey instead of tempering it.

on the links between C.T.E. and the sport of hockey and to fend off lawsuits from former players who said the N.H.L. had misled them about the dangers of the sport.

Most of all, the diagnosis provides some closure for Kelli Ewen, who watched her husband’s life spiral out of control and who was mortified when the initial conclusion that he did not have C.T.E., or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, became a prop in the wider war over the disease between sports leagues and scientists.

“Now I have a reason for how and why all this happened,” Kelli Ewen said in her home outside St. Louis. “How could one expert find no C.T.E. at all? So we asked another expert, who said there is no way a 49-year-old man with repeated head trauma didn’t have signs of C.T.E.”

Kelli Ewen said she knew nothing about C.T.E. until Todd mentioned it a year before he died. By that point, he was forgetting even simple tasks and conversations, withdrawing socially and lashing out with little prompting. She had no inkling he had a corrosive brain disease. The couple sought therapy for a few years.

Todd Ewen, though, sensed something more serious was wrong, and began reading about C.T.E. and its links to other athletes who suffered repeated head trauma, including hockey enforcers.

During his career, Ewen, who played for the St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Mighty Ducks and San Jose Sharks, broke three knuckles and every finger on both hands. His nose was reconstructed three times and his eye socket was shattered. He blew out both knees. He had multiple concussions, black eyes and stitches on his face. Once, a player punched him so hard the screws on the inside of Ewen’s helmet were driven into his forehead.

Image
Todd Ewen, back, fought the Calgary Flames’ Paul Kruse when he played for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1995.CreditGlenn Cratty/Getty Images

“If a fighter got a concussion, it was just part of the game,” Kelli Ewen said of hockey enforcers in the 1980s and 1990s, when her husband played. “But I can tell you there were many nights he came home and couldn’t see, or was blurry out of one eye for days, or had headaches, or was confused for 24 hours after a serious fight.”

Ewen’s statistics reflected his role[5] as a pugilist. He had only 36 goals but 1,911 penalty minutes in 518 regular-season games.

After he retired, Ewen became an investment broker, worked in real estate, received five patents for various inventions and earned a degree in information technology. He coached the St. Louis University hockey team for several years, but resigned in 2013 because he started to miss practices and forget plays.

Afterward, he became more reclusive, his widow said. He started carrying a yellow notepad so he could remember what errands to run. Doctors prescribed anti-depressants, but they made his moods worse, she said.

“In the morning, I’d wake up and wonder if I was getting the mad Todd or the sad Todd,” she said. “Todd knew there was something wrong with Todd. He kept saying, ‘There’s something wrong with my brain, I don’t know what it is, but there’s something wrong.’”

After he killed himself, a member of the St. Louis Blues alumni association asked Kelli if she wanted to donate her husband’s brain to doctors in Toronto. Eager for an explanation for her husband’s demise, she agreed. She said she spoke with Hazrati, the doctor, and asked if she was unbiased.

“I had read that there were a lot of C.T.E. naysayers,” Kelli Ewen said. Hazrati “assured me she was not on one side or another.”

Image
A photo provided by the family shows Todd and Kelli Ewen walking with the Mighty Ducks’ mascot and their sons, Chadd and Tyler.

When Hazrati called six months later with the results, Kelli said she was speechless. In a statement after the results were announced[6], the doctor said: “Our findings continue to show that concussions can affect the brain in different ways. This underlines the need to not only continue this research, but also be cautious about drawing any definitive conclusions about C.T.E. until we have more data.”

In her own statement, Kelli said, “We hope that anyone suffering from the effects of concussion takes heart that their symptoms are not an automatic diagnosis of C.T.E. Depression coupled with other disorders can have many of the same symptoms of C.T.E.”

Skeptics of C.T.E. and its link to repeated head trauma used the negative diagnosis to underline the need for caution. In July 2016, Bettman, the hockey commissioner, in a letter to Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, cited Ewen’s case to blame the news media for getting ahead of the science on the long-term effects of head injuries.

“This, sadly, is precisely the type of tragedy that can result when plaintiffs’ lawyers and their media consultants jump ahead of the medical community and assert, without reliable scientific support, that there is a causal link between concussions and C.T.E.,” Bettman wrote.

Kelli Ewen was livid. She knew firsthand what Todd had gone through, and “C.T.E. had to be the answer,” she said.

Image
Kelli Ewen provided photos of her and her husband taken in Montreal in 1992.

She asked that a sample of her husband’s brain be sent to Ann McKee, the chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the Boston University C.T.E. Center, who has diagnosed many more cases of C.T.E. than Hazrati.

In February, McKee called Kelli Ewen to tell her Todd had C.T.E. (The scientific link between C.T.E. and suicide is far from established.)

Kelli Ewen then asked for a third opinion, so her husband’s brain samples were sent — with his identity cloaked — to the Mayo Clinic, where doctors confirmed McKee’s positive diagnosis.

In a statement, McKee said Ewen was most likely misdiagnosed because “the samples were taken from unaffected brain regions.” Less severe cases of C.T.E. like Ewen’s are found in fewer areas of the brain, McKee said.

A spokeswoman for the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, where Hazrati works as a neuropathologist, said she was unable to elaborate on the new findings in Ewen’s case because the hospital did not have consent from the family. She confirmed that Hazrati provided expert testimony for the N.H.L., but said that “neither she, nor our organization, were compensated for her time.”

But in a declaration related to the N.H.L. concussion case, in which the league was sued by more than 100 former players, Hazrati said she had billed the league for $25,000, which she said was donated to a foundation at the hospital where she works. (The league and plaintiffs announced a settlement on Nov. 12[7].)

A spokesman for the hospital said Hazrati later decided to work pro bono for the N.H.L. and had not been compensated.

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Bloodied, Ewen skated away in a 1997 game while playing for the Sharks. He had only 36 goals but 1,911 penalty minutes in an 11-year career from 1986 to 1997.CreditGlenn Cratty/Getty Images

Ewen’s lawyer, Brian Gudmundson, questioned Hazrati’s objectivity. In court documents, the doctor was skeptical of whether C.T.E. was a disease, going beyond the questioning among some researchers on whether the disease was linked to repeated head trauma.

“I do not believe enough research has been performed to date to show that C.T.E. is a slowly progressive neurodegenerative disease, nor do I believe that the current research can explain the relationship between head impacts and pathology or head impacts and the symptoms described in the current C.T.E. literature,” she wrote in a declaration in April 2017.

“It is concerning to me that someone who won’t admit C.T.E. is a disease, or has any symptoms, so actively seeks to obtain these players’ brains,” Gudmundson said.

With the new diagnosis in hand, Kelli Ewen is trying to move on from what has been an emotional roller coaster.

“Looking back, it makes me sad because if I had known why he was sick, it would have changed things a lot,” she said. “Something good has to come out of Todd’s passing. I don’t want other families to have to go through what I had to go through.”

References

  1. ^ Derek Boogaard (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ Bob Probert (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ Steve Montador (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ Gary Bettman, pointed to Ewen’s first test to cast doubt (www.nytimes.com)
  5. ^ Ewen’s statistics reflected his role (www.hockey-reference.com)
  6. ^ statement after the results were announced (www.nytimes.com)
  7. ^ announced a settlement on Nov. 12 (www.nytimes.com)

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How Did He Catch That? A New N.F.L. Stat Can Confirm Your Amazement

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Keenan Allen of the Chargers. Yeah, he made the catch.CreditPeter B Joneleit/Associated Press

Philip Rivers’s 4-yard touchdown to Keenan Allen in the Los Angeles Chargers’ 45-10 victory[1] last Sunday tied the N.F.L. record[2] for consecutive completions to start a game, with 25. It was the kind of play that warranted several viewings, just to marvel at Rivers’s synchronicity with Allen.

It also harbored another distinction: the most improbable completion of Week 12.

Just how improbable was determined within seconds, by tracking devices embedded in the football, the players’ shoulder pads and the goal-line pylons, among many other places.

Those devices collect data like the quarterback’s foot speed at the time he releases the ball, how much time he has to throw and the distance to the receiver. If, for instance, a quarterback is running faster than 8 miles an hour when he throws, his chances of completing the pass drop.

The devices also collect data related to the receiver, including the space between him and the nearest defender and the distance separating him from the sideline. The closer a receiver is to the sideline, the lower the likelihood of his catching the pass.

All that data is funneled through a machine learning model, which weighs those factors (and others) against similar information about more than 35,000 pass attempts to calculate the probability of a completion. Unveiled this season on the N.F.L.’s Next Gen Stats[3] platform, completion probability is in the nascent stages of being unpacked for greater meaning — the frequency of improbable throws toward a particular receiver, perhaps, or a measure of a quarterback’s willingness to make dicey passes.

For now, completion probability is more frivolous than illuminating, a nifty bit of trivia. But it could eventually become a scouting tool.

“On a play level, it’s kind of fun to see how hard that pass was,” said Matt Swensson, the N.F.L.’s vice president of emerging products and technology. “At another level, it tells a story of these guys and their inclination to take risks and whether or not they’re able to convert that or not.”

The quarterbacks with that inclination this season run the gamut in pedigree, from Case Keenum to Aaron Rodgers, each of whom has delivered some of the more improbable completions in the league.

But since the model values certain factors more than others, Swensson said, there is not always a correlation between a spectacular catch and a low completion probability. If a quarterback throws from a clean pocket or if the receiver catches the ball in the middle of the field, the play’s success will not be viewed as unlikely as, say, that of Keenum’s 4-yard laser on the run to Demaryius Thomas for a touchdown in Week 1.

“There’s definitely a high degree of confidence in this,” Swensson said of the assessments, “but there’s not really a magic formula.”

In the case of Rivers and Allen, their touchdown contained all the elements. Rivers faked a handoff, looked left, then rolled right, almost reaching the sideline. He was running at 14.22 miles an hour when he fired the ball 16.6 yards through the air to Allen, who caught it on the boundary of the end zone, his feet dragging inbounds as his body fell out. At the time the pass arrived, Allen was actually 0.3 yards out of bounds.

Swensson said any catch with a 20 percent probability or less would be considered “pretty difficult.” The chances of Rivers’s completing that pass were a scant 14.5 percent.

Still, it ranks as only the seventh-least probable completion this season. Here are the top five:

Week 11 vs. Ravens

Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey covered Ross step for step down the sideline so well that he probably thought there was no chance Dalton would throw his way. Dalton did, and Ross rewarded his conviction, securing the ball against Humphrey’s arm as he came down in the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown. The primary factors contributing to the 12.3 percent completion probability, the lowest in the N.F.L. this season, were the 38.9 yards the ball traveled in the air, Ross’s 0.4 yards of separation from Humphrey and his 0.2 yards separation from the sideline.

Week 2 vs. Packers

Late in the fourth quarter, with Minnesota trailing Green Bay by 29-21, Cousins dropped back to pass from his 22-yard line. Just as he got hit by defensive end Mike Daniels, Cousins released a throw off his back foot that went 42.2 yards in the air, sailing between two Packers defenders to nestle in the arms of Thielen, whose momentum carried him into the end zone as he caught it. The pass had a 12.4 percent of being completed, in large part because of Daniels’s proximity — 0.4 yards — to Cousins when he threw the ball and because of Thielen’s place on the field, 1.3 yards from the sideline and 1.2 yards from cornerback Jaire Alexander.

Week 2 vs. Bengals

In the fourth quarter[4], Flacco connected with Brown on a 21-yard touchdown that defied belief. Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was draped on Brown from the snap to the end zone, but Brown grabbed the ball over Kirkpatrick, reaching around his right arm to catch it. The completion had a 12.6 percent probability because of the 37.5 yards traveled by the ball, as well as Brown’s minimal separation from Kirkpatrick (0.7 yards) and from the sideline (0.5 yards).

Week 7 vs. Lions

Since guiding the Houston Texans to an A.F.C. South title in 2016, Osweiler hasn’t had many highlights. One, though, came against Detroit, in his second start for the Dolphins in relief of an injured Ryan Tannehill. In the second quarter, Osweiler flipped a 5-yard touchdown pass to Stills, who was running so fast toward the back corner of the end zone that he flattened a security guard facing the stands. The pass had a 12.7 percent chance of connecting because of the 31.7 yards it flew but also because of Stills’s 1.2 yards of separation from cornerback Darius Slay and how close he was to the back of the end zone when he made the catch just 0.5 yards inbounds.

Week 2 vs. Patriots

This might just be the prettiest pass of Bortles’s career. Bortles, since demoted, lofted a 24-yard touchdown in the first quarter that soared over New England cornerback Eric Rowe and into the arms of Cole. The catch had a 14.1 percent possibility given Cole’s 0.8 yards of separation from Rowe and his 0.5 yards from the sideline; the 1.3 yards between Bortles and the nearest defender at the time of release; and the 43.9 yards the pass traveled in the air.

References

  1. ^ 45-10 victory (www.espn.com)
  2. ^ tied the N.F.L. record (www.espn.com)
  3. ^ Next Gen Stats (nextgenstats.nfl.com)
  4. ^ fourth quarter (www.espn.com)

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