Jan 21, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) runs against the New York Giants during an NFC divisional round game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Notebook: Eagles QB Jalen Hurts not discussing MVP possibility

Jalen Hurts isn’t overly concerned with being one of the five finalists for NFL MVP honors.

The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback has gone from being viewed as a liability as a passer to one of the top players in the game. But if you want to discuss his rise to greatness, Hurts isn’t going to partake in the discussion.

“It’s not the time for me to reflect on that because I’m not done,” Hurts said in a press conference.

Hurts passed for 3,701 yards and 22 touchdowns against six interceptions and rushed for 760 yards and 13 scores during the regular season.

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni is happy to pump up Hurts’ candidacy.

“His body of work speaks for itself. He’s had a phenomenal year,” Sirianni said. “Now, I get to watch him. I’m biased, right? I get to watch every one of his games and correct every one of his games. Obviously, I know there are other players who are playing good as well.

“I hope Jalen wins it because you want that for your players. And he’s had a great year but there are other people deserving as well. He’s just going to continue going about his business.”

The other finalists are Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson.

–The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Kansas City Chiefs three times during the 2022 calendar year — including last season’s AFC Championship Game — and tensions are high entering Sunday’s matchup.

Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay Jr. insisted his team doesn’t engage in trash talk. The next question referenced what impresses Gay about the Cincinnati offense and he replied, “Nothing.” A short time later, unprompted, he again said “nothing.”

Some Chiefs, including tight end Travis Kelce, were upset when Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton referred to Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium as “Burrowhead.”

Cincinnati safety Jessie Bates III also had a shot in regards to Mahomes’ injured right ankle. “I hope that he is 100 percent healthy so there is no excuses,” Bates said.

–Kansas City receiver Mecole Hardman (pelvis) practiced Thursday on a limited basis for the second straight day. Hardman was injured in Week 9 and sustained an injury setback earlier this month. Mahomes was a full practice participant for the second straight day.

For Cincinnati, left tackle Jonah Williams (knee) and right guard Alex Cappa (ankle) again sat out practice on Thursday. If both players again sit out the game, it would again leave the Bengals without three offensive line starters. Right tackle La’el Collins (knee) was recently lost for the season.

Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst (calf) was added to Thursday’s injury report. He was a limited practice participant.

In the NFC, San Francisco running backs Christian McCaffrey (calf) and Elijah Mitchell (groin) both missed practice for the second straight day. Coach Kyle Shanahan expects both to play Sunday.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (foot), who isn’t expected to suit up, also sat out for the second straight day. Receiver Deebo Samuel and cornerback Ambry Thomas were both limited due to ankle injuries.

Defensive end Charles Omenihu (oblique) also was limited. Omenihu was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor domestic violence earlier this week but Shanahan said he will play if healthy.

Philadelphia listed offensive tackle Lane Johnson (groin) and cornerback Avonte Maddox (toe) as limited for the second straight day.

–Field Level Media

Jan 9, 2023; Inglewood, CA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) holds the trophy after winning the CFP national championship game against the TCU Horned Frogs at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

CFP title game notebook: Georgia makes history with blowout

It didn’t even take a full half for Georgia to show that it was eager to defend its national championship against a TCU squad that was looking to cap a magical season on a high note.

The Bulldogs took just 21 1/2 minutes to establish a 24-7 lead, went into intermission up by 31 and went on to finish with the most points in a College Football Playoff title game, downing the Horned Frogs 65-7 to become the first-ever back-to-back CFP champions.

After being picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 Preseason Poll, TCU exceeded expectations to become the first team to represent the conference on the biggest stage.

However, the Horned Frogs were unable to oust the top team in the nation at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., where a number of players featured in Monday’s game could be spending a handful of their Sundays next season.

–The 58-point drubbing marked the largest margin of victory in a bowl game in college football history. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the win is also the second-largest margin over a top-five opponent, taking the back seat to No. 1 Army’s 59-0 victory over No. 5 Notre Dame back in 1944.

–Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett was stellar, completing 18 of 25 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns. The Heisman Trophy finalist also rushed for a pair of scores to finish with six total, matching Joe Burrow’s CFP championship game record, which was set in 2020.

–Quarterback Max Duggan provided TCU’s only points, scoring on a 2-yard keeper with 4:45 left in the first quarter. The TD pulled the Horned Frogs within 10-7, but the Bulldogs went on to rattle off 55 unanswered points.

–Prior to Monday, TCU had scored at least 28 points in 13 of 14 games this season. In the other game — a win against Texas on Nov. 12 — the Horned Frogs totaled 17, but hadn’t scored less than 10 since a 24-6 loss to West Virginia on Nov. 14, 2020.

–Defensive back Javon Bullard was a defensive catalyst for Georgia in the first half, picking off Duggan twice and also recovering a fumble. He didn’t play in the second half, though, due to a shoulder injury.

–The Bulldogs outgained TCU 589-188 and picked up 32 first downs to the Horned Frogs’ nine. TCU’s offense was especially stagnant following the break, totaling just 67 yards, only 12 of which came on the ground.

–“As long as you don’t have entitlement in your program, you got a shot,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “And right now we don’t have that. It’s creeping — games like tonight make it that way — but we got a lot of humble guys.”

–Many sportsbooks had the over/under of Monday’s game at 62.5. Georgia covered the over by itself when Branson Robinson rushed for a 19-yard TD with 7:23 left to play.

–Field Level Media

Feb 13, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) celebrates after a pressure in the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl notebook: Aaron Donald bolsters stellar career with title

Entering Sunday, Aaron Donald had been a Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowler, an All-Pro selection and a Defensive Player of the Year.

By day’s end, he had earned a new distinction: Super Bowl champion.

Donald, the standout defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams, recorded two of his team’s seven sacks in Super Bowl LVI, helping to secure a 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. He made several big plays down the stretch to punctuate what has been one of the greatest careers by a defensive player in NFL history.

“I’m just so happy,” Donald told NBC following the game. “I wanted this so bad. I dreamed this. Man, I dreamed this. And it’s surreal. Look at this. I feel amazing. I feel amazing.”

With the game on the line in the final minute, Donald broke through the Bengals’ offensive line and wrapped up quarterback Joe Burrow, who flung a desperation fourth-down pass that fell incomplete.

“One last play to be world champs. Give it everything you got, and I found a way to get to him,” Donald said. “We made a play and we won. That’s all that matters.”

Now it remains to be seen if Donald, who reportedly was considering retirement if Los Angeles won the title, will walk away as a champion, or if he’ll return for a ninth season with the Rams.

“I’m in the moment. I’m just going to enjoy right now with these guys,” Donald said. “My kids (are coming) on the field. This is a promise I made to my daughter when she was 5. We’re going to play in the confetti for a minute and live in the moment.”

–Rams safety Eric Weddle said after the game that he believes he tore his pec early in the contest. A postgame report by ESPN confirmed the injury, which often is a season-ending ailment for most players.

The six-time Pro Bowler was lured out of retirement last month to rejoin Los Angeles for its Super Bowl push. The 37-year-old Weddle finished Sunday’s game with five tackles, earning the first — and, as it appears, the only — championship of his career.

“I am re-retiring,” Weddle announced after the game. “Back to my daily life.”

–Cincinnati earned its spot in the Super Bowl, emerging from one of the NFL’s most competitive divisions and then defeating the Las Vegas Raiders, Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs, with the final two victories coming as road upsets.

The Bengals then held the talented Rams offense to 313 total yards in the Super Bowl before falling in the final two minutes of the game.

Still, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie commented postgame that Sunday’s loss, while tough, is merely the beginning of things to come.

“Our heads are still high. We know who we are,” Awuzie said. “I’m really excited about the future.”

–Field Level Media

Feb 11, 2022; Thousand Oaks, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth during press conference at Cal Lutheran University. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Rams notebook: Andrew Whitworth calls on peers to aid in community

If playing left tackle in the Super Bowl at age 40 weren’t impressive enough, Andrew Whitworth just raised the stakes even higher.

The Los Angeles Rams veteran was selected as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year on Thursday night, the top off-field honor an NFL player can receive.

One day later, Whitworth said he figured out he was the winning recipient prior to the announcement. He said multiple NFL personnel members approached him to see if his speech was ready.

Regardless, he was honored to win the prestigious award, which recognizes “outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on it.” Whitworth is dedicated to numerous causes in Southern California and his native Louisiana related to housing insecurity and financial inequities.

“Our game is driven by the fans and the communities that pay attention and watch and buy jerseys and come to games,” Whitworth said Friday. “In the ways I give back to my communities, it shows my respect for the communities. … I believe in paying forward. To me, community service is important.”

Whitworth has spent the past five seasons with the Rams after playing his first 11 seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals — Los Angeles’ opponent in Super Bowl LVI.

Rams coach Sean McVay said he is just in awe of Whitworth’s accomplishments.

“I can’t say enough about what he has meant to me personally as a coach and a person,” McVay said. “I’m so grateful for him. He’s been an instrumental part in everything that is right about the Rams the last five years.”

During his acceptance speech on Thursday night, Whitworth called on his peers to step up their level of community service.

“It’s called an investment,” Whitworth said. “You can apply these three things to any charity or cause you have a passion for. You can invest your time, you can invest your finances or you can invest your voice. Doesn’t matter which, we just have to keep investing in each other. Let your heart lead you all the way.”

Whitworth doesn’t yet know if he will play a 17th NFL season. He said he would talk to him family after the Super Bowl.

“I’ve cried wolf so many times, they may not want to listen,” Whitworth said per past retirement conservations. “At some point, it will actually happen.”

–The Rams placed tight end Tyler Higbee (knee) and offensive tackle Joe Noteboom (chest) on injured reserve Friday, ending their seasons.

Higbee was injured against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, and his chances of playing didn’t sound good after McVay said Monday that he wouldn’t practice all week. Noteboom was injured one week earlier in the divisional round against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Los Angeles activated running back Darrell Henderson Jr. (knee) and defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day (pectoral) from IR.

–With Henderson set to play Sunday for the first time since being injured in Week 16, the Rams suddenly have what McVay termed the “full arsenal” in backfield options.

Cam Akers returned from a July Achilles injury during the final week of the regular season and has carried the ball 54 times for 151 yards in the playoffs. Sony Michel led the Rams in the regular season with 845 rushing yards and Henderson had 688.

McVay believes it is a good dilemma and said the Rams would go with the “hot hand.”

McVay has seen Michel stand out on the Super Bowl stage but from the opposite side. As a rookie, Michel carried 18 times for 94 yards and one score when the New England Patriots notched a 13-3 victory over Rams in the Super Bowl after the 2018 season.

Akers is just happy to be a part of this game after a surprisingly fast rehab period.

“I knew the chance was real of going to the Super Bowl,” Akers said of his commitment to return this season. “I knew we had a good chance of going. I knew we had a good chance of making that run, and I wanted to be a part of it. I’m blessed to be able to.”

–Rams safety Eric Weddle is playing in his final NFL game after a return to the club following two seasons of retirement.

Earlier this week, Weddle detailed how he was doing nothing but sitting on the couch last month prior to getting the call from Los Angeles to see if he was fit enough to play.

However, people familiar with Weddle knew his lap wasn’t empty when he was sitting on the couch. After all, this is the same NFL star who has fessed up to eating a gallon of ice cream after victories.

Thus, it’s no surprise what Weddle’s post-Super Bowl routine will be like.

“I’m going to do nothing but ice cream celebrations for a week to make up for these last five weeks,” Weddle said Friday in reference to his time with the Rams. “I will make up for it when it is all said and done. The celebrations will happen.”

–Field Level Media

Jan 22, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Cincinnati Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah (87) celebrates after the Bengals defeated the Tennessee Titans 19-16 during the AFC Divisional playoff football game at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Notebook: Bengals’ C.J. Uzomah, Jackson Carman on track for Super Bowl

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor told reporters Friday that tight end C.J. Uzomah was on track to play in Super Bowl LVI Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams in Inglewood, Calif.

The Bengals listed Uzomah as questionable for the contest. The team said he was a full practice participant.

Uzomah, in his seventh year with the Bengals, suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee during the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs and did not return to practice until Thursday, when he was a limited participant.

Uzomah had said throughout the week that he would not miss the biggest game of his life. The 29-year-old had 49 catches for 493 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season — all career highs — and added 13 receptions for 135 yards and a score in three playoff games.

Taylor also revealed a bit more about injured rookie Jackson Carman, a second-round pick who made six starts at right guard in the regular season. Carman was limited in Wednesday’s practice due to a back injury but was at full participation the past two days.

The coach told reporters that they had seen enough from Carman to believe he could start at right guard. But when pressed if that was the team’s plan, he replied, “We’ll see.”

Hakeem Adeniji would be in line to start if Carman does not.

–Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase and Los Angeles’ Cooper Kupp each earned some hardware at Thursday night’s NFL Honors awards show. Chase won the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year title, while Kupp was named Offensive Player of the Year.

Chase ranked fourth in the NFL in receiving yards and third in touchdowns receptions, but his terrific season did not stop him from admiring Kupp and his receiving triple crown (leading the NFL in receptions, yards and touchdowns).

“Cooper Kupp’s game is like magic, man,” Chase said. “The way he plays, the way he gets in and out of his cuts, the way he sets defenders up, it’s just crazy. … He’s at a level that I want to make.”

Chase also joked that it will be great to finally watch star wideout Odell Beckham Jr. in person. The three-time Pro Bowler has been considered one of the league’s most talented receivers since he entered the league in 2014 and is now on his third team. Both Chase and Beckham are LSU products.

“I hope (Bengals cornerback) Eli Apple does his thing of course,” Chase added, referring to his teammate assigned to cover Beckham. “But it’s gonna be a lot of fun watching this game.”

–The Bengals’ most famous No. 85 never played in a Super Bowl, but wide receiver Tee Higgins will carry Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson’s jersey number onto the field on Sunday.

Higgins wanted there to be a 5 in his NFL jersey number after wearing the single digit in college. But before the NFL changed its rules governing jersey numbers in 2021, that limited Higgins to 15 or 85. When the Bengals drafted Higgins in 2020, No. 15 was taken.

“I hit up Chad on Twitter,” Higgins explained Friday. “I was like, ‘With all due respect, I would like to ask you if it would be cool if I wear 85.’ He was just like, ‘Yeah, man, go ahead! It would be an honor for you to wear it.’ I picked the number and the rest is history.”

But Higgins may still change his jersey to No. 5 after this year, now that the league is allowing receivers and tight ends to wear any number from 1-49 and 80-89.

–The mayors of Cincinnati and Los Angeles announced their Super Bowl bet Friday morning. In addition to a traditional component, in which the mayor of the losing city will wear the winning team’s jersey during a press conference, the winning city and team also will make a donation to a children’s hospital in the losing city.

In a TV interview, Cincinnati mayor Aftab Pureval was asked if the city’s decision to give its schoolchildren Monday off was contingent on the Bengals winning the game.

“Your question is irrelevant, because we’re going to win,” Pureval said, tongue in cheek. “We will have the school day off. We’re planning a Super Bowl parade already.”

–Field Level Media

Jan 16, 2021; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker (6) against Green Bay Packers during the NFC Divisional Round at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Notebook: Rams P Johnny Hekker would be happy with quiet Super Bowl

Johnny Hekker has been part of the Rams’ organization for 10 seasons, the first four when the franchise was housed in St. Louis before moving to Los Angeles.

But six months ago, the four-time Pro Bowl punter was a bit concerned over whether he would remain a member of the Rams. He was sidelined due to COVID-19 and was mighty concerned when his competition, Corey Bojorquez, boomed a 67-yard punt in a late August preseason game against the Denver Broncos.

“I was at home with COVID watching the preseason game from Denver and I felt my heart sink and thought he might have solidified the job for him,” Hekker said. “I turned off the game at halftime. I’ll say that now.”

The concern proved to be for naught. Hekker ended up keeping the job when the Rams dealt Bojorquez to the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 31.

Hekker will punt in his second Super Bowl when the Rams face the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. He averaged 46.3 yards on nine punts during a 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in the 2018 Super Bowl.

The 32-year-old will be happy if he’s not so busy this time around.

“It’s a joy to sit there and watch,” Hekker said. “I really relish those games with one or two punts and watching our offense go up and down the field and score points.”

Hekker also said his arm is ready if needed. He has completed 14 of 23 fake-punt throws — including one for a touchdown — in the regular season and he is 1 for 1 in the postseason.

When it was pointed out his long completion is 23 yards, Hekker said, “I fancy myself as a good deep ball thrower so I need to pump that up.”

–Rams coach Sean McVay couldn’t resist poking fun when a reporter asked what the feeling was like when he was on the losing side in the 2018 Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.

“You’re the first person to ask me this the whole entire week,” McVay cracked. “Not really.”

McVay has been asked about the situation each day and he has continued to accept responsibility for not functioning at his best in the 13-3 loss to the Patriots.

“That was a very humbling, hard night,” McVay said. “When you feel as a coach that you didn’t pull your weight, that’s a hard thing.

“That memory will always stick with me. It bothers me but some of the worst things that happen to you can turn into one of your better blessings. It gives you an appreciation for how hard it is to finish this game.”

–The Rams practiced at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Thursday due to high winds at their practice site in Thousand Oaks. It was an approximate 45-mile drive each way.

The iconic stadium proved to be a good place for quarterback Matthew Stafford. McVay said the 13-year veteran had a top-notch practice.

“That’s what we wanted,” McVay said. “What kind of game it ends up being will dictate exactly what plays that we will run. But he did a great job, found a lot of completions, got a lot of guys involved. That’s what we wanted to do.”

Stafford has guided the Rams to three wins this postseason after being 0-3 in the playoffs during 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions.

–Los Angeles tight end Tyler Higbee (knee) didn’t practice Thursday and his availability for Sunday remains undetermined. Higbee was injured in the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 30.

Offensive lineman Joe Noteboom (chest) was a limited practice participant. His status also is up in the air.

Running back Cam Akers (shoulder) was a full participant and he is expected to start Sunday.

–Field Level Media

Jan 23, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Los Angeles Rams cornerback Eric Weddle (20) looks on during the first half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a NFC Divisional playoff football game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Notebook: Rams’ Eric Weddle gets shot at Super Bowl after ‘whirlwind’ month

Eric Weddle played 201 regular-season games over 13 NFL seasons and knew he retired two years ago with a hole in his resume.

The six-time Pro Bowl safety never considered there would be a chance to patch it up. But after recently coming out of retirement to play for the Los Angeles Rams, Weddle has a surprise chance to earn a Super Bowl ring on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“This has been a whirlwind the past few weeks,” the 37-year-old Weddle said during Monday’s media availability. “To be on the cusp of something that was missing from my life from a football standpoint is unbelievable.”

Weddle played for Los Angeles in 2019 and Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris contacted him four weeks ago to gauge if he was in shape after being out of the game for two years. The team had sustained injuries in the secondary and was interested in adding someone familiar with their system.

Weddle decided on the night of Jan. 11 that he would accept the challenge.

“The initial shock of it all — that Tuesday night, deciding I was really going to do it,” Weddle said of the process. “I love the game. It brought such joy to my life. Did I want to come back? No. Did I reach out to teams? I did not. I was happy with my new life.

“It was just a fortunate turn of events. But did I thought this would happen? Never.”

Weddle got back into the flow quickly. He led the Rams with nine tackles in the NFC title game win over the San Francisco 49ers.

And now the player who also spent nine seasons with the San Diego Chargers and three with the Baltimore Ravens is looking forward to one last hurrah on the football field.

“It’s not really so surreal in this moment,” Weddle said. “There is a job to be done and the job isn’t finished. Outside of that, nothing else matters.

“All that matters is playing great on Sunday and hoisting that trophy. Until that, the job’s not finished.”

–Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth is in a unique position this week. The four-time Pro Bowl selection spent the first 11 seasons of his NFL career with the Bengals and the last five with the Rams.

“It’s a real special week for me to be playing a franchise I invested so much time in for 11 years,” the 40-year-old Whitworth said of the situation. “Not only that, but a city that my family and I were invested in and being part of the community.

“For me, this week couldn’t be more special to have both franchises we put our hearts and souls in to be playing each other in the Super Bowl. It is unbelievable. It’s hard to put into words how cool it is.”

Whitworth started 164 of 168 games played with Cincinnati and has started in all 71 of his appearances with the Rams.

–The Rams are holding out hope that tight end Tyler Higbee (sprained knee) can play after being injured against San Francisco. Coach Sean McVay said it is unlikely that Higbee will practice this week.

“He’s been such a big part of this team,” McVay said. “He’s one of those glue guys on this team. I know he will do everything in his power (to try and play).”

McVay said running back Darrell Henderson Jr. (knee), cornerback Robert Rochell (chest) and defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day (pectoral) should all be available. McVay said the team is taking a wait-and-see approach with offensive lineman Joe Noteboom (chest).

–Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey is aware that expectations around the Los Angeles sports scene call for championships.

The Lakers and Dodgers both won titles in 2020. So if NBA and MLB teams can get it done, Ramsey thinks it is time for the Rams to add their own banner.

“I guess you could say it has been an extra motivating factor,” Ramsey said. “The Dodgers did it, the Lakers did it and we can do it as well.”

–Field Level Media

Jan 15, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah (87) runs onto the field before to the game against the Las Vegas Raiders in an AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Notebook: Bengals TE C.J. Uzomah (knee) plans to play in Super Bowl

It’s going to take a lot to keep Cincinnati Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah from suiting up Sunday and playing in Super Bowl LVI against the Los Angeles Rams.

Uzomah was carted to the locker room during the AFC Championship on Jan. 30 with a left knee injury, later diagnosed as an MCL sprain despite how ugly it looked at first blush.

“It’s the Super Bowl. I’m doing everything I can,” Uzomah said with a grin Monday. “I don’t really care too much about how I’m feeling, to be honest, when I’m out there. … To me, I’m like, ‘Alright, I’m not missing the biggest game of my life.’ Right? I’m not missing it.”

Uzomah has yet to return to practices with the team since the 27-24 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. On Saturday, reporters at Bengals practice spotted him working out on the side, including riding a stationary bike.

Uzomah said he is working with Cincinnati’s director of rehabilitation and performance, Nick Cosgray, to determine how he should proceed, asking him questions about whether he could risk structural damage if he did too much too soon.

But he insisted he’s feeling “really, really good.”

Uzomah, 29, had 13 receptions for 135 yards and one touchdown in Cincinnati’s first two playoff victories. The seven-year veteran who has spent his entire career with the Bengals established career bests of 49 receptions, 493 yards and five touchdowns in 16 games during the regular season.

–The Bengals may be a new face in the heights of the NFL hierarchy, but coach Zac Taylor said his players, though young, are mature and will rise to the occasion Sunday.

That’s because he and director of player personnel Duke Tobin took very deliberate tactics to build the current roster with a championship in mind.

“They’re not overwhelmed by these moments. … That’s why we’ve spent a lot of time with Duke Tobin building the team this way,” Taylor explained. “It’s a lot of guys who’ve played in championships in college, whether it was at LSU or Clemson or Alabama or Ohio State. And then a lot of these free agents we’ve signed have been a part of playoff teams before. These guys, they know they belong on this stage and we know we’re gonna get their best on Sunday.”

The College Football Playoff experience shows up everywhere from quarterback Joe Burrow and receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who won a national championship together at LSU, to receiver Tee Higgins (Clemson) and defensive lineman Khalid Kareem (Notre Dame).

–The Bengals are perhaps known best for their dynamic group of wide receivers. Chase broke rookie records on his way to finishing fourth in the NFL with 1,455 yards and third with 13 touchdown catches. Tee Higgins has made a name for himself on the opposite side.

But another vital part of their receiving corps has been Tyler Boyd, who has made 77 straight catches without a drop, according to NFL Network.

“It’s actually a privilege to be playing in the National Football League, you know, so every time I step foot out there, I’m gonna prove to myself and prove to everybody why I deserve to be there,” Boyd said. “With Joey B’s help, it makes everything easier because he’s so smart and he understands football.”

Burrow, in turn, said Boyd was a “very underrated” part of the Bengals’ high-powered offense.

“I wish he would get more love, because he’s one of the best slot guys in the league,” Burrow said. “He really understands what we’re trying to do on each play, and he’s always where I expect him to be — and he never drops a ball.”

–Burrow was asked point-blank if he ever thought about rejecting the then-woeful Bengals before the 2020 NFL Draft, when he was the presumptive first pick. The star quarterback’s response was swift.

“No, I never thought about telling the Bengals not to draft me or anything like that,” Burrow said. “I was just happy to be in the position that I was in, being the potential No. 1 pick. That was exciting for me. I would never throw that opportunity away.”

It’s hard to imagine now that Burrow has helped turn Cincinnati into a Super Bowl contender, but because of the franchise’s hard luck and terrible 2019 season that saw them finish 2-14, some corners of social media suggested that Burrow should in fact avoid the Bengals at all costs.

Burrow’s own comments at the NFL scouting combine were interpreted by some as a lack of enthusiasm for playing for Cincinnati: “Yeah, I’m not going to not play. I’m a ballplayer. Whoever picks me, I’m going to go show up.”

–Field Level Media

Feb 7, 2020; Tampa, FL, USA;  Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) talks with Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) during the second quarter of Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl notebook: Tom Brady, Tyrann Mathieu have words

Tom Brady was winning more than the game on the field, he was also up for shouting down anybody that wanted to disrupt his plans for a seventh Super Bowl title.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ veteran quarterback appeared to be in something of a socially distanced argument with Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu near the end of the first half of an eventual 31-9 Tampa Bay victory.

With his helmet bobbing with every word, Brady pointed an index finger at Mathieu as he started to leave the field. Mathieu appeared to hold up four fingers, with the crux of the argument still unknown.

“We love that (stuff),” Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans said. “… We love when he gets fiery and competitive. When he does it, a lot of guys back him up to help him out. We love the competitiveness that he brings.”

Mathieu seemed to suggest on Twitter that Brady said something inappropriate, which led to the heated discussion. But the tweet seemed to disappear from his feed as fast as it appeared.

Brady was wearing a microphone during the game.

“Listen, Tom Brady’s a great quarterback,” Mathieu said, according to ProFootballTak. “I never really saw that side of Tom Brady, to be honest. But whatever. No comment. it’s over with. I’m done with it.”

–Chiefs head coach Andy Reid had much more on his mind than the football game Sunday as he was coaching with a heavy heart.

Reid’s son Britt, a Chiefs assistant, was involved in a car wreck Thursday that injured two young children, one of whom, a 5-year-old girl, is still hospitalized in critical condition. Multiple reports indicated Britt Reid was being investigated for driving while impaired.

Andy Reid was quick to address the car accident in his opening statement to the media.

“My heart goes out to all those involved in the accident, in particular the family with a little girl who’s fighting for her life,” Andy Reid said. “Just from a human standpoint, man, my heart bleeds for everybody involved in that.”

Asked whether the incident was a distraction, Andy Reid said, “We had put the game plan in the week before. The distraction wasn’t a distraction as far as the game plan goes. That was already in and how we were going to work with it and go forward.

“From a human standpoint, it’s a tough one. From a football standpoint, that wasn’t … I don’t think that was the problem.”

–Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes could be headed for offseason surgery, according to a report from NFL Network.

Mahomes has been bothered by turf toe and surgery could be an option to make sure the injury does not get worse over time. The MVP of last year’s Super Bowl, who was also the 2018 NFL MVP, threw two interceptions Sunday but refused to blame his health for his performance.

“You battle through it; you’re playing football,” Mahomes said. “You have to battle through injuries. We’ll look at it (Monday), and we’ll make a final decision on it if we’re going to have to have surgery on it or not.”

–Rob Gronkowski isn’t done yet.

After retiring from the New England Patriots two years ago following Super Bowl LIII, Gronkowski decided to end his time off and join buddy Tom Brady this season in Tampa. He wound up playing in all 16 regular-season games for the first time since 2011, catching 45 passes for 623 yards and seven touchdowns.

But Gronkowski showed his real worth in Super Bowl LV, finishing as the Bucs’ top receiver with six catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns. In the process, he combined with Brady to become the NFL’s most prolific postseason touchdown tandem with 14 TDs to break a tie at 12 with the Hall of Fame San Francisco 49ers duo of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.

“It definitely ranks as one of my greatest accomplishments ever,” Gronkowski said of moving south to win another Super Bowl with Brady. “It’s just an unbelievable story.”

It’s one that Gronkowski hopes to continue, saying afterward, “I’ll remain unretired. … I definitely see myself coming back.”

–If there is one team that knows the joy of a Brady-led Super Bowl title, it is the New England Patriots. Brady won six Super Bowls in New England, so when the veteran won No. 7 with the Buccaneers, his old team was quick with praise.

“Congratulations to the greatest of all time,” the Patriots posted to their Twitter account soon after Super Bowl LV was complete.

–Field Level Media

Jan 24, 2021; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) celebrates during the fourth quarter in the AFC Championship Game against the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl notebook: Virtual media day an unusual scene

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was amused by his surroundings during Monday’s virtual media day activities heading into the Super Bowl.

He was stationed in the back of the team’s public relations department, sitting in front of a screen and staring into a camera.

“They must have shipped this camera in, I’ve never seen it before,” Mahomes cracked.

The differences in having Zoom interviews as opposed to being on the Super Bowl “Opening Night” stage was a frequent topic among players on both the Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady took a selfie and posted it on social media to show the unusual scene leading to the game in Tampa.

“This is very different than the other nine experiences,” said Brady, who will be playing in his 10th Super Bowl on Sunday.

Mahomes is playing in his second Super Bowl. He said being in Kansas City makes for smoother preparations, but he noted it is vastly different.

“Obviously, just sitting in an empty room and not being in the city of the Super Bowl, it’s a unique experience,” Mahomes said.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid noted his squad was already in Miami last year on the Monday of Super Bowl week, but that he is just fine with being at home.

“I don’t think you have quite as many distractions as you would have in a normal Super Bowl week,” Reid said. “But you still know there is a game ahead that is the Super Bowl and you’re able to focus on it a little bit better.”

–While the Brady-Mahomes matchup will be discussed continually all week, there is another intriguing matchup for the ages.

Kansas City’s Travis Kelce is considered the best tight end in the NFL, a title Tampa Bay’s Rob Gronkowski held for most of his tenure with the New England Patriots.

The 31-year-old Kelce is the only tight end in NFL history with five 1,000-yard receiving seasons. The six-time Pro Bowl selection also accumulated a tight end-record 1,416 receiving yards this season.

“I got nothing but major respect for Travis Kelce,” said the 31-year-old Gronkowski, who ended a one-year retirement to play with the Buccaneers this season. “He has helped transform the tight end position. He has helped put the tight end position on the map.

“One thing that is very intriguing about Travis Kelce, and I’ve never really seen this with any other player in the NFL ever before, is that Kelce gets better every single year that I’ve seen him play in the NFL. That’s just respect right there.”

Gronkowski, a five-time Pro Bowler, had four 1,000-yard receiving seasons with the Patriots, including 1,327 to go with 17 touchdowns receptions in 2011. He holds the postseason record for tight ends of 1,206 receiving yards.

“Gronk’s career has been unbelievable,” Kelce said. “He will go down in history as one of the best players to ever play the game … The guy is an unbelievable person, talent. I might be one of the biggest Gronk fans out there.

“I’m happy for him to reach the mountain peak all over again. But it’s a little bit personal, man. It’s got to be that way. I’m playing this game to be the best, to be the best I can be for my team on every single play.”

–The Chiefs lost left tackle Eric Fisher (Achilles tendon) during the AFC title game against the Buffalo Bills and Martinas Rankin will likely start in the Super Bowl.

But Reid says who starts on the line isn’t a big factor as the plan is to use an eight-player rotation.

“It doesn’t really matter who is in there, they end up getting familiar with each other,” Reid said. “It’s been an important process and then we can still go there and be productive.

–Kansas City placed center Daniel Kilgore and receiver Demarcus Robinson on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Both players are thought to be close contacts of somebody else who tested positive and could be cleared on Saturday if they continue to test negative.

Reid said that receiver Sammy Watkins (calf) and cornerback L’Jarius Sneed (concussion) both practiced on Monday. Reid indicated both players are on track to play Sunday.

–The status of Tampa Bay’s Antonio Brown (knee) is still in doubt, though Arians said the 32-year-old receiver is improving.

Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle) also is “getting closer,” according to Arians. The status of safety Jordan Whitehead (shoulder, knee) may not be known until late in the week.

Linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring) isn’t a threat to miss the game, according to Arians, who said, “You’d have to shoot him to keep him out of this game.”

–Brady is aiming to win his seventh Super Bowl title, which would be one more than the total won by basketball icon Michael Jordan.

“Michael is one of my sports idols,” Brady said. “I think he’s pretty incredible. For me, it’s about being a part of a lot of great teams. To have the opportunity to play in this game means a lot to me. … It would just be cool to accomplish it this time.”

–Kansas City wideout Tyreek Hill is known for his blistering speed and a question about whether any Tampa Bay cornerbacks can catch him was sure to prompt a remark from the player with three career 1,000-yard seasons.

“I feel like in my heart that no one can keep up with me,” Hill said. “I’ve ran track. … Somebody in the NFL, I don’t really believe so.”

–Field Level Media