On Tuesday, the New York Jets and USA Football hosted a four-team flag football tournament at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, New Jersey. It was part of the New York City Police Athletic League (PAL) NFL FLAG Football program.
It was a huge hit, as quarterbacks Josh McCown and Christian Hackenberg and nose tackle Mike Pennel worked with the youngsters and the winning team earned a trip to Florida.
"It's awesome, to be a part of this and give back to the community," McCown said. "For the kids to come here and be a part of this and to see the officers, you just hope that for them it helps them dream big and encourage them to keep chasing their goals. There's a lot of smiling faces out here. They're having a lot of fun."
The teams each represented a New York City borough and were each coached by members of the New York Police Department and by McCown, Hackenberg and Pennel. Manhattan North defeated Queens South 62-14 in the championship and will represent the Jets at the NFL Flag Championships during Pro Bowl week in Orlando in January 2018.
Before the games, the Jets presented a $40,000 check to the NYC PAL to fund the flag football program. The partnership aims to bring the community closer together by providing 1,200 youth from the five boroughs of New York City the chance to play flag football at no cost. NYPD officers volunteer to coach teams near their local precincts.
"This program is actually great because it gives everybody an opportunity to see that the police can interact with children. They get to look at police officers in a different way," said winning coach and NYPD homicide detective Wil Acevedo. "Having this event here and working with NFL players is awesome because it now puts it into perspective for the kids that this can be a real goal if I work hard and bust their tails. They see these NFL ballplayers like human beings. Mike (Pennel) was awesome, he's out there high-fiving us, jumping with us, he was part of the team. The kids notice that."
THE KNEE-BORHOOD: When Houston Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson went down with a season-ending ACL injury, there were hundreds of players around the league who could painfully relate. One of those was Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who returned to practice from a 14-month absence just before Watson was hurt.
Bridgewater's knee injury was more severe, a dislocation with multiple ligament tears, but the sentiment remained the same.
"He comes from a background where he had to overcome obstacles his entire life. Nothing ever comes easy, and I know that he's going to attack his rehab full speed," Bridgewater said.
Bridgewater has plenty of teammates in his locker room to try to encourage and inspire as well, including rookie running back Dalvin Cook, who tore his ACL six weeks ago.
"Dalvin, he lives in the neighborhood. This right here is called the neighborhood," Bridgewater said, adding: "He can lean on me, and I give him different advice and I know what it takes with having someone around who keeps you lifted."
As for Watson, Bridgewater said he planned to contact him directly soon, but immediately after Watson's injury last week he limited his communication to Twitter. That's because Bridgewater received what he estimated at 800 text messages after he was hurt on Aug. 30, 2016. Bridgewater said this week he needed three months to finish responding to all of them.
TRAVELING MAN: Inside linebacker Joseph Jones is good at moving around, and not just on the football field.
"This is the fourth place I've been," the rookie from Northwestern said after the Denver Broncos signed him off Seattle's practice squad Tuesday.
Jones also spent time on the Chargers' practice squad after getting cut by the Cowboys, who signed him in May after he went undrafted.
"It's been a crazy process," Jones said as he took a break from studying yet another playbook and scouting out another city.
It's not like Jones can just pack a suitcase and hop on a plane like most rookies trying to catch on with a team. He and his wife of two years have a 1-year-old daughter, and every time they're about to join him in a different city, he's off somewhere else.
"It's ridiculous. Going to Dallas and getting ready to have them move to Dallas, hoping I made the team, it didn't happen, so I moved back home," to Illinois, Jones said. "I went to the Chargers, I was there for three days and was getting ready to move them there. I went back home. Went to Seattle. I finally got them to come there, we were starting to look for another spot, about to rent a car and kind of get set up there.
"All of a sudden, 'Hey Joe, you're going to Denver.'"
At least he's assured of being in Colorado for Thanksgiving because a team plucking a player off another team's practice squad must keep him on their 53-man roster at least three weeks.
"It's a whirlwind, but I've enjoyed the process," Jones said. "I would say it's rougher on my wife than on me."
BY ANY NAME: Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota got a text from his brother last Monday night asking if he was watching the Lions beat the Packers. Mariota wasn't and wondered what was up.
Well, Mariota had just become part of the game. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford yelled Mariota's last name as part of a play call at the line of scrimmage.
Mariota was taken aback.
"Yeah, it was pretty cool," Mariota said. "Wish it was maybe something a little more creative. But no, it's really cool that stuff like that happened. Pretty surreal."
It wasn't the first time Stafford used another athlete's name as part of a play call. In a game against the Giants in September, Stafford yelled Clayton Kershaw's last name. He and Kershaw are close friends.
Mariota figures he'll have to recognize Stafford and return the favor.
"We'll have to think of something, for sure," he said.
CLOWNEY'S HABERDASHERY: Jadeveon Clowney designed a line of hats that were released at the Houston Texans team store this week, and the process got him thinking about a second career.
"After football, I'll start being a designer. Might design something for you," Clowney told a reporter.
As for what he'd like to design, he hadn't really narrowed it down yet.
"Clothes, like shirts and stuff. And pants," he said.
So can fans of the defensive end expect to see Clowney's clothing line coming anytime soon?
"No, not right now," he said. "I'm focused on football right now. We're trying to find a way to win games."
The Clowney Collection is the fourth installment of the team's player-inspired line and includes four different adult-sized baseball caps and one in youth sizes. There's an adult and children's one with a camouflage print and the Texans logo; a navy blue one with Houston Texans written in silver; a red one with a black logo; and one geared toward women that is blue satin with Texans written in sparkly white letters with pink flecks.
It also includes a black beanie with a red logo and Clowney's No. 90 featured on a tag attached to the side.
Clowney said he had a lifelong affinity for hats, but now that his dreadlocks have gotten so long it's difficult to find ones that fit him well.
"It kind of squishes it up a little bit, but I always was fascinated by hats - different team hats and everything," he said.
The top overall pick in the 2014 draft said that his favorite is the camouflage hat and that he enjoyed the design process.
"It's crazy how they come up with these designs on the computer and stuff, put all the designs together right in front of your eyes," he said. "And we just went through and picked out materials we liked and the logos we liked, certain logos, and came up with some hats."
Some of his teammates were fans of the designs, but hoped that Clowney would help them get one.
"I love them. I really like them, actually," quarterback Tom Savage said. "Hopefully he gives them to us for free (and) we don't have to go buy them."
ROSE BOWL GAME, BUT NOT ROSE BOWL: The seventh annual NFLPA Collegiate Bowl will be played on Jan. 20 at the Rose Bowl.
Founded in 2012, the Collegiate Bowl gives prospective players has attracted as many as 200 scouts, player personnel staff, general managers and head coaches from all 32 NFL teams for practices, player interviews and tape review.
One player who benefited from appearing in the game last year is Bears running back Tarik Cohen.
"With my circumstances in being a small guy from a (historically black college and university) like North Carolina A&T, the odds were stacked against me," Cohen says. "Playing in the Collegiate Bowl helped get me the looks I needed, along with great advice from coaches, to be in the position I am today."
Cohen went to the Bears in the fourth round of April's draft.
Mike Martz will be a head coach in the game for a fourth straight year, and Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green will be making his debut as a head coach.
AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner, Arnie Stapleton and Dave Campbell, and Sports Writers Joe Kay and Kristie Rieken contributed.
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