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On Soccer: P.S.G. Tumbles Out of Champions League, Left Again to Face the Bill Without the Prize

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PARIS — The excuses are there, the mitigating circumstances and the shallow solaces, for those determined to find them.

Maybe it would all have been different had Neymar been here, and not in Brazil, resting and recovering from surgery on his foot[1]. Maybe he would have been able to inspire Paris Saint-Germain to victory against Real Madrid on home turf, even if he proved unable to do so three weeks ago in hostile territory.

Maybe if Marco Verratti had been able to control his temper, rather than charging at the German referee Felix Brych, his face bright with fury, simply because he had not been afforded a free kick, P.S.G. might have been able to mount a stirring comeback. A few minutes after Verratti was sent off, after all, Edinson Cavani scored, offering his team a scintilla of hope. With 10 men, that was all it could be; with 11, P.S.G. would have been a more imposing proposition.

And maybe, most of all, it is all just a matter of luck, anyway. That P.S.G. simply cannot make that final leap onto the grandest stage of all, into the semifinals and final of the Champions League, has become an article of faith. This year will be no different after it was beaten by Real Madrid on Tuesday, by 2-1 on the night and by 5-2 over two legs.

Unai Emery during his team’s lackluster defeat to Madrid.CreditPierre-Philippe Marcou/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But it is worth considering the teams that have stymied P.S.G.’s ambitions along the way. It has been eliminated in the quarterfinals four times in the last six seasons, twice by Barcelona, and once each (narrowly) by Chelsea and Manchester City. The last two years, it has fallen in the round of 16 against Barcelona and Real Madrid. It is hardly being brought to its knees by minnows.

Indeed, in December, when the pairings for the last 16 of this tournament were confirmed, P.S.G. might have drawn Basel, or F.C. Porto, or Sevilla; had it done so, it would surely be in the quarterfinals today. Instead, it was forced to play the team that has won three of the last four Champions League titles, that seems to excel in this competition by sheer force of personality alone. Fortune, once again, was not on P.S.G.’s side.

But none of that should disguise quite how callow, how dismal, P.S.G.’s elimination was. This is a team that has been constructed, at almost unimaginable cost, to win the Champions League. As its coach, Unai Emery, said Tuesday, losing to Real Madrid is no embarrassment. “It is a team of champions,” he said.

He did not say that losing like this is, or should be. P.S.G., a team that cost half a billion dollars, did not rage against its fate. It did not hurl all it had at Real’s defense, ending the game breathless and broken, fighting for pride, if nothing else. It simply accepted — as soon as Cristiano Ronaldo scored, as he always does in the Champions League — that, once again, it was going to fall short.

An imposing atmosphere at Parc des Princes stadium was not enough to inspire P.S.G. to a victory without its star forward, Neymar.CreditGeoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Emery’s players slowed almost to walking pace. Their passing, hardly sharp at any point in the evening, grew increasingly lazy, wayward. They were careless. They were aimless. They wandered around, as if in a daze. It is one thing not to be able to execute a plan. It is quite another not to seem to care what the plan is, or was.

They were waiting for what they had decided was inevitable, for the blissful release of Brych’s whistle, for the chance to return to what they do best: beating French teams[2] with a fraction of their budget by six- and seven-goal margins. That is where this team really comes into its own.

This defeat — just like all those defeats in the last six years — does, at least, provide some answers. We now know, for example, that Emery, whose contract would have automatically renewed if he had guided his team to the semifinals, will not be its manager next year.

He was forgiven one failure last year — “we must not allow emotion to dictate our actions,” the club’s chairman, Nasser al-Khelaifi, said in the aftermath of that humiliating loss[3] to Barcelona — but he will not survive a second, and he most likely would not expect to. It is open to debate quite how satisfying he has found his work here, anyway, trying to pick his way through a forest of delicate egos, political necessities and sporting realities.

Mainly, though, the latest elimination brought questions, ones that are growing ever more pressing. What now? How does P.S.G. respond not just to this defeat, but to this pattern of defeats? Does Khelaifi do what he has always done and bankroll yet another market-contorting spending spree, even if it means running yet more risks with UEFA’s rules on Financial Fair Play?

If money has not brought a solution thus far — P.S.G. already possesses Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, and will make Kylian Mbappé No. 2 when he completes a permanent move from Monaco this summer — is it rational to assume that it will at some point? Has Paris Saint-Germain, the club that has blown all of its rivals, with only two teams in Manchester as exceptions, out of the water with its checkbook, simply not spent enough?

Or is it time to look at the problem from another angle, to assume that perhaps success in soccer does not simply come from accumulating as much talent as possible and seeing what happens?

What stood out on this most chastising of evenings was not some technical deficiency. Real Madrid did not win because it had better players. It won because of its character, its strength of mind, what its coach, Zinedine Zidane, described as a “trust in what we are doing.”

P.S.G. does not have that, and it showed. In the moments after Ronaldo’s goal just after halftime, when all seemed lost, it had nothing to fall back on, and so it fell apart instead.

P.S.G. can make excuses. It can hope for its luck to turn. It can spend more money; it can always spend more money. Maybe that will work, this time. But maybe it will not, and we will all be back here next year, too, asking the same questions, and getting the same empty answers.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page B9 of the New York edition with the headline: Half a Billion Dollars Buys Another Early Exit. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe[4][5][6]

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References

  1. ^ surgery on his foot (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ beating French teams (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ that humiliating loss (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ Order Reprints (www.nytreprints.com)
  5. ^ Today’s Paper (www.nytimes.com)
  6. ^ Subscribe (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.

Image
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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