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Sean Payton has been reinstated

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Sean Payton has been reinstated

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- Sean Payton is back as coach of the New Orleans Saints.Payton's season-long suspension for his role in the Saints' bounty program was lifted by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday, nearly two weeks earlier than expected.The decision allows Payton to attend the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Saturday, where some of the top college players available for the NFL draft will be competing.Payton, along with assistant head coach Joe Vitt, general manager Mickey Loomis, and four players including Jonathan Vilma, was suspended after an investigation found the club had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned."I clearly recognize that mistakes were made, which led to league violations," Payton said in a statement. "Furthermore, I have assured the commissioner a more diligent protocol will be followed."The suspension was scheduled to end after the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, but was moved up after Payton and Goodell met on Monday."Coach Payton acknowledged in the meeting his responsibility for the actions of his coaching staff and players and pledged to uphold the highest standards of the NFL and ensure that his staff and players do so as well," Goodell said in a statement. "Sean fully complied with all the requirements imposed on him during his suspension."More important, it is clear that Sean understands and accepts his responsibilities as a head coach and the vital role that coaches play in promoting player safety and setting an example for how the game should be played at all levels."Saints owner Tom Benson welcomed back his coach."We are all thankful that Sean Payton has been reinstated," Benson said. "We have a lot of work to do and we are in the middle of it right now."Payton also needs to fill a key position on his coaching staff following the departure last week of offensive line coach and running game coordinator Aaron Kromer, now the offensive coordinator in Chicago.Loomis and Vitt are in Mobile evaluating players. Loomis said he was caught off guard by the news of Payton's return. But he said having Payton back sooner than expected will help the Saints."Every day makes a difference. We've certainly missed Sean in terms of the football team and all the things that go with our business and the game. But look, I miss his friendship. We all miss his friendship. We miss him as a person. I'm excited that he's going to be back here and fired up that he's back."Vitt said he talked to Payton Tuesday morning and that he should join the Saints' contingent in Alabama on Wednesday."We just found out on the way to practice," Vitt said. "Mr. B called Mickey and we're all excited. Sean went and spent the day in New York (Monday). He just got back in Dallas. I talked to him on the phone about 5 o'clock this morning. He's packing his bags so we'll expect he'll be here some time" Wednesday.Vitt agreed with Loomis that the timing of Payton's return is good for the team.Payton is "going to hit the ground running with both feet. His jaw is going to be set. He'll have a note pad full of thoughts and ideas and he's going to have to get himself caught up with the evaluation process of our team and looking at film, which he'll do. This is perfect, getting him back now, because he's going to be here for the readings of our players. He's going to be here for the readings of these college seniors. We start handing out unrestricted free agent tape on Thursday and Friday of this week."This is where you're building the foundation of your football team, with the evaluation process of these draft eligible juniors and seniors and the free agents that are out there."There remains one outstanding issue for the Saints stemming from the bounty probe: What will become of the Saints' second pick next spring. As part of the bounty punishment, Goodell fined the Saints 500,000 and took away second-round picks in 2012 and 2013. However, Goodell left open the possibility of restoring the 2013 second-rounder and instead docking the team a later-round pick if he is satisfied with the club's level of cooperation in the bounty matter.What the Saints do know is that the 49-year-old Payton is set to return to New Orleans for the next five seasons. Earlier this month he signed a contract extension running through the 2017 season.The coach is the last person punished in the bounty probe to return to work. Before Tuesday, Payton had not been at work since mid-April, when Goodell rejected the coach's appeal of his suspension.Loomis was suspended for eight games, Vitt for six and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams remains suspended indefinitelyVilma and current Saints defensive lineman Will Smith, along with former Saints Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, were given suspensions of various lengths, but never served a game. Their punishments were overturned after lengthy appeals which also coincided with exhaustive litigation in federal court.The litigation included Vilma's defamation lawsuit against Goodell, which was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan last week.Payton's reinstatement is one more step for the Saints to return to normalcy, but for Vitt, said it doesn't bring closure to the bounty scandal."It doesn't for me. You're going to have ask Sean that question, Mickey that question, Vilma that question. It certainly doesn't for me. I can forgive. I'm not going to forget. It is what it is."

Facing the Blackhawks in Round One is 'going to be fun' for Robin Lehner

Facing the Blackhawks in Round One is 'going to be fun' for Robin Lehner

Saturday afternoon, after eliminating the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers in Game 4 on Friday night, the Blackhawks learned they'll be facing the Vegas Golden Knights and very likely a certain former Hawks goalie in Round One.

Robin Lehner was in net for the Knights in their overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche to help Vegas grab the No. 1 seed in the West for Round One, pitting them against the Blackhawks, who were the No. 12 seed in the qualifying round.

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner unveils new pads

Lehner has seen the majority of the starts in net for the Knights at the beginning of the postseason tournament over three-time Stanley Cup champ Marc-Andre Fleury.

The 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist was traded from Chicago to Vegas ahead of Feb. 24's trade deadline. He was 16-10-5 as a Hawk during the 2019-20 regular season with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage prior to the move.

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner's birthday cake is unreal

Following Saturday's game, Lehner was asked about facing the Blackhawks and his former goalie partner Corey Crawford in Round One and if playing with them earlier this season carries an advantage.

"I don't know. All I know is it's going to be fun playing them," Lehner said. "They're a very good hockey team and I have a lot of respect for them, the whole organization... but I think I really like it here (with Vegas), we're a great hockey team."

The 29-year-old netminder got off to a hot start with Vegas ahead of the NHL pause on March 12 going 3-0-0 with 1.67 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. 

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AL Central race: For White Sox, solving Indians pitching a tall task but a must

AL Central race: For White Sox, solving Indians pitching a tall task but a must

The Cleveland Indians have the best starting rotation in baseball.

And while that might have been an opinion back before the abbreviated 2020 campaign got underway, it’s a fact at the moment. The Indians’ starting staff leads baseball with a 2.09 ERA and 124 strikeouts. Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale — not to mention Adam Plutko, who’s also made one nice start — have dominated opposing lineups.


Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest White Sox news and analysis.

Often, they’ve dominated the White Sox lineup.

The South Siders have seen Cleveland’s starting pitchers five times in their first 15 games of the season, and an offense that was talked up as so capable before and since Opening Day has done very little against this superb collection of hurlers. A 2-3 record against the Indians following Saturday’s 7-1 defeat could certainly be much worse. But in five games against them, the White Sox have scored a total of 13 runs. And only five of those came against the starting pitchers.

The first two games of this weekend series at Guaranteed Rate Field have featured more exemplary starting-pitching performances by the Indians. Civale threw seven one-run innings Friday night, and Plesac was again excellent with six shutout innings Saturday afternoon. Neither performance matched what they did against this same White Sox team a little more than a week ago in Cleveland. But it certainly was enough to keep the White Sox bats quiet.

And Bieber, currently running away with the AL Cy Young Award — he’s got an 0.83 ERA and 35 strikeouts in three starts — awaits in Sunday night's nationally televised showdown.

If the White Sox are going to keep pace in the race for the AL Central crown, they’ll need to figure out a way to solve these Indians pitchers.

“These are the types of guys we have to get after,” manager Rick Renteria said after Saturday’s game. “To win, you have to put together the focus, the concentration. It’s not easy, trust me, when you’re facing guys like this. But you have to put things together enough to start a line and keep it moving and scratch away and claw and score a run or two here and there.”

RELATED: White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

The much discussed White Sox lineup, remade during the offseason with the additions of Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnación and Nomar Mazara and the promotion of Luis Robert, has certainly showed what it’s capable of this season. In the second game of the year, it hung 10 runs on the Minnesota Twins. In back-to-back wins over the Kansas City Royals last weekend, the White Sox exploded for a combined 20 runs on 35 hits.

And granted, this lineup has not been at full strength for even one game this season. The injury bug has chomped down on the White Sox and not let go. Mazara, the team's starting right fielder, started the season on the injured list. Currently, starting shortstop Tim Anderson and starting second baseman Nick Madrigal are on the IL. Encarnación is sidelined, too.

But the White Sox bats have been cool for a bit now, with just nine runs scored in the last five games against the Indians and Milwaukee Brewers. That hasn’t always equaled losses, and they’re 2-3 in those five games, with the pitching coming through to carry the day in certain spots.

Unfortunately for the White Sox, though, a cold snap, a growing list of injuries, three games against Cleveland’s elite pitching and, as Renteria pointed out Saturday, a little fatigue in this most unusual of seasons makes for an unproductive recipe.

“We are facing a club that has solid pitching, really good pitching. And we have to bring our game up,” Renteria said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a little fatigued or tired. Nobody cares about that. The reality is you have to be able to put together and string together really good at-bats, which is not easy to do, but it’s what we have to do.

“I think that maybe today’s game will be a great learning tool for us to understand. No one is going to give us anything. You don’t just turn on and turn off offenses. They are grown through a process, focus, concentration and a prepared attack. When we do that, we are really good.

“For me it’s just a blip. We have to keep playing and keep fighting. There’s not a whole lot of time left, and we are going to try to do the best we possibly can and keep moving forward in a positive direction.”

RELATED: Aaron Bummer latest to join big White Sox contingent on injured list

Since they reported to the South Side in early July for “Summer Camp,” the players have talked about this odd season, how in a 60-game sprint to October every game matters and means a lot. Modest winning streaks and losing streaks can tug an entire season in any direction. Games against division foes mean even more, with each set of 10 games against division rivals representing a full sixth of the schedule.

The White Sox seemed capable of going toe to toe with the Twins and Indians when the season began, though the task was always going to be a tall one. The Twins have one of baseball’s most dangerous lineups, and the White Sox can attest after a pair of opening-weekend thumpings those bats delivered. The Indians have the game’s finest rotation, and the White Sox know that well, too, after five games against their top-flight chuckers.

Despite the dominance of the Cleveland rotation, the two teams have taken turns in second place in the division standings over the first two games of this series. It's not like the AL Central has slipped away from the White Sox just yet.

Indeed, they have the potential to be the most balanced among the group of division contenders, with a potentially potent lineup and a potentially fearsome pitching staff. Injuries are no excuse, especially when the whole league’s going through the same thing, but it’s difficult to live up to that full potential when so many key cogs are on the injured list.

The White Sox won’t use that to wriggle free of any responsibility, of course, and they’ll keep on trying to solve the Twins’ lineup and the Indians’ rotation. If they want to live up to the high expectations they set for themselves before the season started, they’ll have to. There's no other option.

“We’ll have to regroup and go back after them,” Renteria said. “These are the type teams we’ll have to beat. We have to string things together and pull out some victories.”


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