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Why haven’t Hall of Fame locks Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers won more Super Bowls?

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Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers secured their legacies long ago.

They were Super Bowl MVPs in back-to-back years after the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Then they followed up with two of the most epic statistical seasons in NFL history in 2011.

Brees ranks first all time in passing yards (77,888), passing touchdowns (550) and completion percentage (67.6), while Rodgers ranks first in passer rating (102.6). The point being, these two could choose to retire at halftime of Sunday night’s marquee matchup between the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) in the Superdome — and someone in Canton, Ohio, would immediately get to work on sculpting their Hall of Fame busts.

Still, it has to rank as one of the decade’s biggest sports upsets that neither has made it back to appear in a second Super Bowl.

And the 41-year-old Brees has been especially candid about how driven he is to change that.

“That’s why I came back,” Brees said bluntly at the start of training camp after he strongly considered retiring before his 20th NFL season.

When asked if he thinks it’s fair that quarterbacks are judged so much by Super Bowls, Brees didn’t shy away from that, either. “Here’s the thing, whether it’s fair or not, I think we all agree that quarterbacks and head coaches in large part are evaluated on wins, losses, championships. And so we acknowledge that, and we take on that responsibility,” Brees said.

Rodgers, five years younger at 36, will probably get a few more cracks at it — especially since he is off to one of his best starts for the 2-0 Packers. But he, too, has grown weary of falling short after three NFC Championship Game losses in the past six years.

“The window’s open, and I think we’re going to be on the right side of one of these real soon,” Rodgers said after the Packers’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers in last season’s NFC title game.

Brees and the 1-1 Saints have more pressing concerns heading into this Week 3 showdown. New Orleans’ offense has been disturbingly out of sync — leading to the spin cycle of questions about whether we might be seeing the start of a steep decline in Brees’ performance.

“I feel good. Borderline great,” insisted Brees, who rejected the notion of a sudden physical dropoff — while acknowledging the results have been disappointing so far.

Assuming Brees and coach Sean Payton can manage their way through these early struggles, we should be looking at two of the NFC’s top contenders once again after both teams finished 13-3 last season.

Since their Super Bowl victories, Rodgers and the Packers are 6-7 in the postseason with the three NFC Championship Game appearances, while Brees and the Saints are 4-6 with one trip to the NFC title game.

But when asked if he is surprised by their Super Bowl droughts, NBC analyst and Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy said, “Not really.” “Because people think it’s easy. But so many things have to go right for you.”

Dungy and Peyton Manning reached only one Super Bowl in their seven years together with the Indianapolis Colts, winning it in the 2006 season. And Dungy said that team probably ranked “No. 4 or No. 5” when it came to talent among all their years together.

“Every year on the first show on NBC, ‘Who are you picking to win the Super Bowl and can the previous team repeat?’ And I always say no. I don’t care who it is,” Dungy said.

Should titles be the barometer for Rodgers’ success?

Shortly after Brett Favre and the Packers lost Super Bowl XXXII to the Denver Broncos — and their chance to repeat as champions — the architect of those teams offered a memorable line about their place in history.

“We’re a one-year wonder, just a fart in the wind,” then-Packers general manager Ron Wolf said.

It might have taken a couple of decades to come to grips with it, but he realizes now he was unfairly harsh — especially as it pertained to Favre and his legacy.

“Is that the barometer?” Wolf asked ESPN.com recently. “Is that the only barometer of success in the National Football League, whether you won a Super Bowl, two Super Bowls or not? Does that make you a great player, whether you won a Super Bowl or not? If you’re a really good player, that should not matter.”

Rodgers’ résumé includes four NFC title games — all on the road. He won his first, in 2010, at Chicago, on the way to Super Bowl XLV but lost the 2014, 2016 and 2019 conference championships.

Wolf said later in his career that he regretted not getting more weapons for Favre to make a stronger run, and the Packers of today could be criticized for doing the same. Ted Thompson, the GM who drafted Rodgers in 2005, mostly shied away from free agency, and his replacement, Brian Gutekunst, hasn’t drafted a wide receiver higher than the fifth round in any of his three years running the show.

Coaching deserves a share of the blame, too. Former coach Mike McCarthy might have stuck with defensive coordinator Dom Capers longer than he should have before firing him after the 2017 season.

If Rodgers never gets to a second Super Bowl, the loss at Seattle in the 2014 NFC Championship Game likely will hurt the most. While McCarthy took much of the blame for the defeat — blowing a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter — Rodgers got off mostly scot-free.

When Morgan Burnett intercepted Russell Wilson to give the ball back to the Packers with 5:04 left in a 19-7 game, the Packers ran the ball three consecutive times (the first two for losses), and McCarthy got crushed for taking his foot off the gas.

But the Packers had a rule going into that game — never run at Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett. On the first play after Burnett’s interception, Rodgers made a pre-snap adjustment to move fullback John Kuhn to his left, which meant running back Eddie Lacy was to follow Kuhn — right into Bennett’s gap. The play lost 4 yards. The next play was a run-pass option. The Seahawks stuffed the box, yet Lacy got the ball again and ran right into Bennett for a 2-yard loss. The Packers ran again on third down before punting. Just a little over a minute ran off the clock before the Seahawks got the ball back.

The Packers lost in overtime, when Rodgers never touched the ball.

Last year’s surprising 13-3 season and improbable run to the NFC title game in coach Matt LaFleur’s first year didn’t leave Rodgers bitter after another near miss. It was in the moments immediately after the blowout loss to the 49ers that Rodgers proclaimed that the Packers’ Super Bowl window remains open.

“It’s on my mind every day,” Rodgers said during the playoffs last season when asked about winning another Super Bowl. “That’s why we play the game. That’s why you put in the time in the offseason, that’s why you do the little things. It’s to put yourself in this position, where we’re two games away from being able to compete for that. I’m 36, I know what this is all about. This is an important opportunity for us. I feel like I’ve got a lot of really good years left, but you never know.”

And if he doesn’t and he has to settle for one Super Bowl (including being MVP) and four appearances in the NFC championship?

“That’s still damn good,” Wolf said. “To me, that has always been the one huge factor. Wins and losses. That’s the only thing that matters, is if you win. You guys are going to have a real interesting thing here because there’s going to become a time here when Eli Manning and [Philip] Rivers come up for the Hall of Fame, and they’re going to say, ‘Well, Manning won two Super Bowls, but he’s a .500 quarterback.’ Now is that a Hall of Famer? I think there’s too much emphasis on that Super Bowl. I don’t think that’s a barometer. It shouldn’t be. But some people have certainly determined that is.”

Gut-wrenching playoff exits the norm for Brees

Despite the growing predictions this week of Brees’ demise, he has actually done an outstanding job of keeping the Saints in contention beyond his 40th birthday.

Although the deep ball has become a decreasing part of Brees’ arsenal, he has adjusted by becoming even more efficient over the past two seasons. He posted the two best passer ratings of his career (116.3 in 2019 and 115.7 in 2018) and the two best completion percentages in NFL history (74.4 in 2019 and 74.3 in 2018).

Unfortunately, the Saints might actually have the Packers beaten when it comes to gut-wrenching playoff exits. Last season it was an overtime playoff loss at home to the Minnesota Vikings in the wild-card round. The season before that it was the missed pass interference call against the Los Angeles Rams when the Saints were minutes away from winning the NFC Championship Game in the Superdome. And the season before that it was the “Minneapolis Miracle” in the divisional round at Minnesota.

And yet many Saints players and fans will still tell you that 2011 season was the “one that got away.” That team led by Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham, receiver Marques Colston and running back Darren Sproles still holds the record for most yards gained in a season. But New Orleans was stuck as the No. 3 seed despite its 13-3 record and lost in the final seconds at San Francisco in the divisional round.

There were also two playoff losses at Seattle, after the 2010 and 2013 seasons — including Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Quake” run. New Orleans can obviously also point to the severe “Bountygate” penalties that led to Payton being suspended for the entire 2012 season and stripped the franchise of two second-round draft picks.

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Drew Brees discusses the Saints’ performance through the first two weeks of the NFL season and shares his confidence in New Orleans’ ability to get back on track offensively.

The Saints can blame some poor free-agent spending decisions that flopped (like safety Jairus Byrd in 2014, cornerback Brandon Browner in 2015 and tight end Coby Fleener in 2016). And they can blame a lot of bad defensive performances while burning through four different coordinators in the decade.

In 2012, the Saints set the NFL record for most yards allowed in a season (7,042). In 2015, they set NFL records for most TD passes allowed in a season (45) and highest opponents’ passer rating (116.1).

When asked if he and Rodgers are two prime examples of how hard it is to reach a Super Bowl, Brees said, “Maybe so.”

“We’ve each been to one and we’ve each won one. And we’ve had probably some heartbreaking moments in the playoffs — both teams,” Brees said. “But regardless, each season is a new season and each team is a new team. And you’re gonna face your fair share of challenges that we’ve all faced in order to try to get to the ultimate prize.”

What Super Bowl rings mean to legacy

While Brees and Rodgers have secured their place in history, it is also completely fair to wonder how much differently they would be viewed with just one more ring.

For example, both were left off of the recent “NFL 100 All-Time Team” made up of 100 players and 10 quarterbacks, as chosen by an all-star panel of the game’s coaches, players, executives and media members.

“When you’re on a committee like that, the people you’re leaving off are great players,” said Ernie Accorsi, a longtime general manager of the Giants, Browns and Colts. “But there is no question [how Brees and Rodgers are viewed]. I’ve heard people talk about both of them in independent conversations as the greatest of all time.”

Dungy, who was also on that panel and who was recently added to the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, said he isn’t swayed by Super Bowl appearances when it comes to such decisions.

“Maybe in some people’s mind. But in my mind, Dan Marino and Dan Fouts are two of the toughest guys I ever had to play against, and I’m putting them in that ‘great’ category, and I don’t care that they didn’t win Super Bowls,” Dungy said.

Dungy readily admitted winning Super Bowls is every competitor’s mission.

“Whether it’s Tom Brady and you want seven or anybody trying to get their first one, that’s the goal every year,” Dungy said. “Now, I’ll tell you that first one, there’s a lot of pressure to win one. You think, ‘Gosh, boy, I’m Aaron Rodgers, I’m Drew Brees, I don’t want to play 15, 16, 17 years and not win one.’ So then you win one, that takes some pressure off.

“But then you also realize, ‘Now, how many guys have won two?'”

The answer is 12: Brady with six; Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana with four each; Troy Aikman with three; John Elway, Bob Griese, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Jim Plunkett, Ben Roethlisberger, Bart Starr and Roger Staubach with two each.

“It’s not fair [QBs are judged by Super Bowls]. But we don’t live in a fair world, and playing quarterback in the NFL is not for people who want that,” said ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky. “Listen, this a very black and white and easy statement for me: Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are two of the greatest players and quarterbacks that have ever played the position.

“Do you wish that they won more Super Bowls? As fans, as course. But that will never change the way I look at them.”

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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