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Aaron Rodgers strains calf during warmups, sits out first Jets practice open to media

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers never made it past warmups in his first New York Jets practice in front of the media.

The 39-year-old quarterback, acquired last month from Green Bay, strained a calf while participating in conditioning drills Tuesday. Rodgers watched quarterback drills and remained on the field during practice, but was without his helmet and threw no passes.

“I don’t think it’s too serious,” Rodgers said, downplaying the injury and saying he took “a vet day.”

He didn’t have a noticeable limp, but stretched his lower legs and ankles several times throughout the practice. Rodgers, who wasn’t wearing a wrap on either calf while he stood at the podium and spoke to reporters, was uncertain when the injury occurred.

“I dunno,” he said with a smile. “Just running, I guess.”

Organized team activities began Monday and Rodgers participated in practice, with the Jets tweeting photos and videos of the quarterback throwing passes. The session Tuesday marked the first with media in attendance, and a few dozen reporters showed up to watch Rodgers practice with the Jets for the first time.

That will have to wait until next Wednesday at the earliest, when practice is next open to the media.

New York acquired Rodgers, the No. 15 overall pick and a fifth-rounder in this year’s draft from Green Bay on April 26. In exchange, the Packers got the 13th overall selection, a second-rounder, a sixth-rounder and a conditional 2024 second-round pick that could become a first-rounder if Rodgers plays 65% of New York’s plays this season.

The four-time NFL MVP spent his first 18 seasons in Green Bay and contemplated retirement before going on a darkness retreat in Oregon in February. Rodgers emerged wanting to continue to play — and chose to do so with the Jets. That set in motion the deal to New York.

Since the trade, Rodgers has experienced several moments that have reaffirmed his decision.

“It was surreal, for sure, and strange to look at my locker and see the No. 8, and to be rocking Jets gear is a little bit strange, for sure,” he said. “But every day, there’s been something that’s kind of been a little special sign or a synchronicity or just a cool moment that reminds me that I’m in the right place.”

Rodgers has participated in voluntary workouts and practices with his new teammates, something he didn’t consistently do the past three offseasons in Green Bay.

“He’s still a kid in an old man’s body,” coach Robert Saleh joked. “He’s having a blast.”

With the Jets, Rodgers is reunited with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who led the Packers’ offense during the quarterback’s last two MVP seasons in 2020 and 2021. There are also several other familiar faces on the field with Rodgers, including wide receivers Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb and offensive lineman Billy Turner. But Rodgers is also building a rapport with many new players and helping Hackett install the offense.

“I really wanted to be around, at least for some of the beginning things, to just let them know kind of how I like to do things,” Rodgers said. “Some of the code words, some of the little adjustments, some of the ways I see the game — just sparking the conversation.”

Rodgers’ presence has fired up many of his new teammates, who acknowledged being a bit starstruck when the quarterback first arrived.

“It’s lit, man,” cornerback D.J. Reed said of the energy around the team.

Saleh has particularly enjoyed watching Rodgers work and interact with the players and coaches.

“It’s been cool,” Saleh said. “I joke around that he’s closer to a coach than he is a player at this point of his career. He’s a fantastic mind, he’s a fantastic conversation. It’s been all positive.”

While the work on the field and in meetings has been good, Rodgers appreciates the “freedom of expression” Saleh allows players to have, balancing fun and accountability.

Rodgers has also liked getting to know his new surroundings — from taking in Knicks and Rangers playoff games to learning where he can find the team’s mail room. He also joked the only things he previously knew about New Jersey were Teterboro Airport and the show “Jersey Shore.”

“I was assured that was not a proper representation of this great state,” a grinning Rodgers said before later adding: “I mean, it’s been like a dream month so far.”

NOTES: All-Pro DT Quinnen Williams isn’t participating in voluntary workouts while he awaits a contract extension. Saleh isn’t concerned it could turn into a lingering issue. “That thing will get done,” the coach said. … RB Breece Hall and OT Mekhi Becton, both returning from knee injuries last year, aren’t practicing yet. OL Alijah Vera-Tucker (torn triceps) is practicing. … Becton told Newsday he partly blamed the coaching staff for his season-ending knee injury last summer because they insisted he play right tackle instead of left — and that put extra pressure on his already surgically repaired right knee. Saleh took the high road, saying he didn’t want to get into finger pointing.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Source: https://apnews.com/article/new-york-jets-aaron-rodgers-a8553ff76912123e1bc6996d72c278dd

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Novak Djokovic perfect in key tiebreaker at French Open and faces No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz next

PARIS (AP) — Novak Djokovic, in his words, felt “quite sluggish, quite slow” for nearly two full sets against Karen Khachanov in the the French Open quarterfinals Tuesday.

Afterward, Djokovic called it his worst stretch of the tournament, a fair assessment. He dropped the opening set, something he hadn’t done at Roland Garros this year. As the second went to a tiebreaker in Court Philippe Chatrier, he knew it was vital to step up his game, bring forth his best.

It’s one thing to seek perfection; it’s another entirely to deliver. As if merely wanting so made it so, Djokovic did what he’s done before at crucial moments over the years en route to 22 Grand Slam titles.

Managing to choose the right shot every time, managing to put each ball precisely where he intended, Djokovic threw a shutout of a tiebreaker to point himself toward what would become a 4-6, 7-6 (0), 6-2, 6-4 victory over the 11th-seeded Khachanov.

Djokovic, who will meet No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz in a much-anticipated semifinal Friday, found one word to describe that segment of the match: “Amazing.”

Alcaraz beat Djokovic on clay at the Madrid Masters last year in their only previous encounter, and the 20-year-old from Spain got past No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (5) on Tuesday night.

“Since the draw came out, everyone was expecting that match — the semifinal against Novak. Myself, as well. I really want to play that match,” Alcaraz said. “Since last year, I really wanted to play again against Novak.”

No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka and unseeded Karolina Muchova both reached the women’s semifinals by winning earlier in the day. Sabalenka, the reigning champion at the Australian Open, eliminated Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-4, then appeared at a news conference for the first time in nearly a week. Muchova defeated 2021 runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 6-2.

How does Djokovic approach a tiebreaker?

“It’s kind of a mentality of (locking down): ’OK, I’m present, I’m focused only on the next point and I have to really think clearly about what I want to do against … a given opponent. It worked really well for me,” said Djokovic, a 36-year-old from Serbia who has spent more weeks ranked No. 1 than anyone in his sport’s history and is currently No. 3. “It worked really well for me.”

Well, there’s an understatement.

“Every point was perfectly scripted for me, so to say. Yeah, sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t,” he said. “I was lucky that, throughout my career, I have a very good and positive score in the tiebreaks. My opponents know that, and I know that. So, I think, mentally that serves me well.”

Indeed, he is 307-162, a winning percentage of .655, in those set-deciders now played at 6-all at every major. In 2023, it’s 14-4, including 5-0 in Paris. And get this: Those tiebreakers at the 2023 French Open have been comprised of 47 total points — and he has made a grand total of zero unforced errors.

On an 80-degree afternoon, Djokovic brought that brand of make-no-mistakes tennis to the next set, too, against Khachanov, a semifinalist at the U.S. Open last September and the Australian Open this January.

“The energy of the court shifted to my side. I felt the momentum. I started releasing and relaxing through my shots a bit more,” Djokovic said, pantomiming a backhand swing, “and going for it more, with more confidence. And he backed up a bit.”

On the 10th point of the third set’s opening game, Djokovic flubbed a backhand. But he then would not commit an unforced error the rest of the way in that set, compiling 19 winners in that span.

Whenever an answer was required, Djokovic found one.

“It always feels like he finds a way … to make you (in) trouble,” Khachanov said. “He’s always there. He’s always pushing, and you know this.”

After Khachanov wildly celebrated his best shot of the match — a back-to-the-net ’tweener that drew a netted volley from Djokovic, who bowed his head — by wind-milling his arms and shouting and yelling, the perfect response came next. Djokovic hit a 128 mph (206 kph) serve followed by a forehand winner, and a 130 mph (209 kph) serve followed by a drop shot winner to take that game, then pointed his left index finger toward the azure sky.

When Djokovic played a shaky game that ended with a double-fault to suddenly make it 4-all in the fourth — “A little bit of a scare,” he said — he turned back into that vibrant version of himself.

Djokovic collected the remaining eight points — breaking at love, then holding at love — and was on his way to a 12th semifinal at the French Open (among men, only Rafael Nadal, with 15, has more; the 14-time champion is currently sidelined by a hip injury) and 45th at all Grand Slam events (only the retired Roger Federer, with 46, has more).

“It’s exactly,” Djokovic said, “where I want to be.”

Alcaraz progressed to his second major semifinal — the other came when he won the 2022 U.S. Open — by outclassing two-time Slam runner-up Tsitsipas in every possible manner until stumbling slightly near the finish line.

It was so lopsided for much of the evening that fans roared, and Tsitsipas raised his arms to acknowledge their reaction, when Alcaraz’s third-set edge was trimmed from 3-0 to 3-1. Soon after, at 5-2, Alcaraz held two match points that he frittered away; he got broken for the first time to make it 5-3; and another match point came and went at 5-4.

Not until his sixth match point of the contest did Alcaraz finally convert, with a backhand volley winner.

Like Djokovic hours earlier, Alcaraz was superior when he needed to be.

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Browns defensive players robbed of jewelry, vehicle by masked men in downtown stickup

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski expressed relief that two of his defensive players were not physically harmed while being robbed at gunpoint by six masked men outside a downtown nightclub.

According to Cleveland Police, the players had jewelry and a truck taken during the early morning stickup.

Police redacted the names of the players in a field case report. However, a person familiar with the situation identified the players as cornerback Greg Newsome II and tackle Perrion Winfrey. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The Browns opened mandatory minicamp on Tuesday. After the workout, Stefanski said he has spoken to Chief Wayne Drummond.

“I’m glad our guys are OK,” he said. “I want all of our community to be safe. The Cleveland Police have been outstanding. We want everybody to be safe and we want to get violent people off of our streets.”

Stefanski did not reveal the players’ names.

According to the report, one of the players was returning to his truck in a parking lot at 3:30 a.m. Monday when the masked suspects jumped out of a car and robbed him of jewelry before fleeing in his vehicle. The player told police he was not injured.

Newsome, a starting cornerback drafted by the Browns in the first round in 2021 from Northwestern, posted Monday night, “It’s a cruel world we live in” on Twitter.

All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett said he spoke to both Newsome and Winfrey, offering his support.

“I’m just glad to see they’re all right,” he said. “Just making sure they’re in the right head space, they feel like they’re surrounded by family and letting them know that anything that they need, we’re the perfect resource for them and we have their back with whatever happens.

“We’re just going to try to make sure that none of our guys are ever in that situation again and how we can help, we’re going to do that. But I’m just glad to see them safe and sound with us and still walking around. Still blessed to this day no matter what happens, still able to wake up in the morning and just glad to that we still have them here.”

Newsome was on the field as the Browns opened their three-day minicamp, while there was no sign of Winfrey, a former Oklahoma defensive tackle arrested in April on a misdemeanor assault charge in Texas.

In a separate incident, Browns running back Demetric Felton had his vehicle stolen from a downtown parking garage on Sunday.

Garrett has been outspoken about his fondness for Cleveland and said the incidents have not changed his feelings about the city.

“It shows that me, my team, all of us here at the Browns have more work to do in the community,” he said. “There’s more that we can do here. There’s still more lessons that we need to give each other, because it’s not just one side or another side. Things like this happen because of so many different actions that led up to that.”

NOTES: WR Amari Cooper understands why QB Deshaun Watson was campaigning for the Browns to sign free agent DeAndre Hopkins, recently released by Arizona. Watson and Hopkins were together for three seasons in Houston. “Who wouldn’t?” Cooper said. “DeAndre has been a very great player in this league. Obviously, they have a lot of great chemistry. If I was him, I’d want the same thing.” Cooper knows if the Browns sign Hopkins, his production will be impacted. “As long as it’s helping us win, I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” Cooper said. … Stefanski said WR Anthony Schwartz is dealing with an unspecified injury. … Watson made several nice throws in the red zone for touchdowns during 7-on-7 drills. … Garrett said legendary running back Jim Brown’s recent death has impacted many of the players. ”Jim Brown was everything here,” Garrett said. “He’s been the blueprint. He’s been the role model for a lot of us players and as men. We look up to him.”

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Gun tragedies hit close to home for Stanley Cup Final opponents, who helped their communities heal

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers didn’t have much of a joint history on the ice before meeting in the Stanley Cup Final — just 10 regular-season games before the series opened Saturday.

Off the ice, the teams were connected by tragedy just over five years ago. Within months of each other, Las Vegas and South Florida were devastated by mass shootings not far from their arenas — and the then-expansion Knights and the Panthers played a role in the healing that has followed.

The teams mourned the Las Vegas Strip and Parkland high school victims during pregame ceremonies, brought relatives to games, honored first responders and donated to family foundations. They erected permanent memorials inside their arenas — in Vegas, to its 60 victims, and in Florida, to the 17 who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

“The idea that these two teams, impacted by gun violence at almost the same time, are now playing each other for the Stanley Cup is such a huge deal,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died at Stoneman Douglas.

“The Knights, even though they were a new team, they stepped into their community and became such an important part of helping that community heal,” he said. “The Florida Panthers, not only are they my hometown team, they are now like family to me.”

Orin Starn, a Duke University cultural anthropology professor who studies the impact sports have on society, said teams often contribute to their communities’ recovery after tragedies. He pointed to the New York Yankees’ first home game after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and New Orleans Saints players assisting relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

There are other examples, including the Miami Heat giving jerseys and also hosting families of Stoneman Douglas victims and the Houston Astros hosting residents of Uvalde, Texas, after last year’s school shooting there.

“Tragedy, like the Stoneman or (Vegas) killings, rips apart the fabric of society,” Starn said. “Returning, after proper time for mourning, to the rink or the court marks a gesture of refusing to give in to forces of violence and intolerance, and beginning to mend.”

VEGAS

On Oct. 1, 2017, the Golden Knights were finishing training camp, five days from playing the first NHL game in team history and nine days from their home opener. Vegas sports fans were abuzz about the city’s first major league team.

But then a sniper opened fire from a Strip hotel’s 32nd floor, initially killing 58 at an outdoor country music concert. Two more died years later. More than 800 people were wounded.

The team scrapped its raucous opening night celebration. The boards that surround the ice were stripped of ads, replaced by the motto “Vegas Strong.” The pregame focus was on victims and first responders. It culminated with then-defenseman Deryk Engelland giving an emotional speech.

”To the families and friends of the victims, know that we will do everything we can to help you and our city heal,” said Engelland, who now works for the team’s foundation.

During that season’s home games, the Knights recognized the Vegas Strong Hero of the Game, a first responder or citizen who risked their life to save the wounded.

At the regular season’s conclusion, the Knights retired the number 58 for the victims who had died to that point. The names of all 60 victims are on a banner hanging in the arena’s rafters.

Amber Manka said the Knights’ lasting support has been a source of light for the tens of thousands of people affected by the Las Vegas shooting. Her mother, Kimberly Gervais, died of her wounds in 2019.

The team’s work “gives people hope and reassurance that there is good in the world,” she said. “I think one good deed leads to another, and it makes a difference. That’s what they’re doing.”

That inaugural team shocked the NHL by winning its division and three playoff rounds before falling to the Washington Capitals in the Cup final. By far, it is the best performance by a modern expansion team in North America’s four major sports leagues.

Forward Jonathan Marchessault, an original Knight still with the team, said it has been a “love-love situation” with the fans.

“It’s been really great to be part of this. It’s been an unbelievable run for the past six years,” he said last week.

PANTHERS

When a former Stoneman Douglas student gunned down 14 students and three staff members on Feb. 14, 2018, the Panthers were in Vancouver to play the Canucks — as far from South Florida as possible within the NHL. Parkland, a well-off bedroom community just north of the team’s practice facility, is home to many players, coaches and executives.

Shawn Thornton, a 14-year NHL player and the team’s chief revenue officer, said owner Vincent Viola told him to do anything needed and not worry about the cost. Thornton turned to friends working for the Knights and two Boston teams, the Red Sox and Bruins, for advice as they had dealt with tragedies in their communities.

“The thing we learned is that everyone is going to grieve differently, that everybody needs support in different ways. Just sit back and listen to what’s needed and not expect to know what’s needed,” Thornton said, his voice breaking throughout an interview.

At the team’s next home game a week after the shooting, a 15-minute pregame memorial that brought some players to tears ended with a speech by then-goalie Roberto Luongo.

“To the families of the victims, our hearts are broken,” Luongo said. “Just know that we’re there for you if you guys need anything. You’ll be in our prayers, and let’s try to move on together.”

Eleven days after the shooting, the Stoneman Douglas hockey team — which included Guttenberg’s son, Jesse — won the Florida state championship. As the Eagles prepared for the national tournament in Minnesota, the Panthers hit them with surprises.

First, the Eagles practiced at the Panthers arena, with players and Thornton, a hard-nosed brawler during his career, giving pointers — including Thornton’s lighthearted lessons on fighting.

When practice ended, to the players’ amazement, Thornton brought out the Stanley Cup for them to skate with — only NHL champions usually do that. The Panthers then flew the Eagles and their families on the team plane to the tournament and brought them back.

“Shawn Thornton coming out with the Stanley Cup was just surreal,” said Matthew Hauptman, that team’s captain. “Everything that the Panthers did for us was just very high class. It made us feel very welcomed. … Five years later, it is still something I think about.”

On the shooting’s first anniversary, the Panthers unveiled a memorial in the arena’s main concourse that includes the victims’ portraits and the phrase “MSD Strong.” On the recent fifth anniversary, the team wore special shirts while traveling honoring the victims, and their arena has hosted graduations and other student events.

“They have been supportive over and over through the years,” said Tony Montalto, president of Stand with Parkland, the group that represents most victims’ families. His 14-year-old daughter, Gina, died in the shooting.

Florida state Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, then-Parkland’s mayor, hopes no other teams ever have to step up.

“There are too many opportunities for people to help one another after these awful, awful tragedies,” she said.

Fred Guttenberg said some of his happiest memories with Jaime are from Panthers games. When she was young, when the team scored he would prop her on his shoulders as they clapped and yelled.

“There is one more super fan who is there every (Panthers) game and that’s my daughter,” he said. “I have no doubt she is watching these games.”

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Rio Yamat and Mark Anderson of The Associated Press contributed to this report in Las Vegas

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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