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Lewis to start at QB for Browns vs. Steelers

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Lewis to start at QB for Browns vs. Steelers

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Once practice ended on Friday, quarterback Thad Lewis was approached by Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who had great news for the third-stringer.

``He said, `You're the man,''' Lewis said.

And just like that, Lewis became Cleveland's starter Sunday in the season finale at Pittsburgh, where he will take his first regular-season NFL snaps against the Steelers and their No. 1-ranked defense.

``It's exciting,'' Lewis said. ``It's a blessing for a childhood dream come true.''

Shoulder injuries to starter Brandon Weeden and No. 2 QB Colt McCoy will give Lewis a chance to show what he can do after almost three seasons spent on practice squads, running the scout team and finishing off exhibition games with other backups. He's been waiting for his opportunity, and he'll get it against James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and Co. - amid a sea of Terrible Towels.

Lewis never considered his first start would come against one of the league's most feared defenses.

``Part of my childhood dream was to be a starter one day in the NFL. Who it was against, I didn't have a visual of that,'' Lewis said, smiling. ``But it's a challenge and if you don't like challenges then you're in the wrong sport.''

With Weeden and McCoy unable to practice, Lewis spent all week working with Cleveland's first-team offense. Although signs pointed toward him making the start, Lewis didn't get the official word until after Friday's workout from Shurmur, who is confident the 25-year-old will perform well.

``He's been preparing himself to play all year even though he wasn't on the active roster,'' Shurmur said. ``What we expect is that he goes out and plays winning football.''

Weeden finished with 3,385 yards passing, a team rookie record. He was inconsistent, but Shurmur believes the 29-year-old's best seasons are ahead.

``Now that he's had a season under his belt, he'll come back here in the offseason, much like a lot of quarterbacks in this league that went on to have really good careers, just pick one,'' he said. ``They all had rookie years where they were much better in their second year. I think he's shown quite a bit this year that's good.''

For their last game, the Browns will also be without starting rookie running back Trent Richardson.

He sprained his left ankle in the closing seconds last week in a lopsided loss at Denver. He broke almost every Browns rookie rushing record but wound up 50 yards shy of 1,000. It's a disappointing ending for Richardson, who missed all of the exhibition season following knee surgery and played most of the season with a rib cartilage injury.

Browns running backs coach Gary Brown said Richardson was never at full speed.

``Although he was running hard and playing well, he just didn't feel like Trent,'' Brown said. ``God willing he's going to come back strong from the rib and the knee is strong and the city of Cleveland will see exactly what Trent Richardson is, and I believe that's going to be a top-flight running back in this league.''

Montario Hardesty will start for Richardson.

Cornerback Sheldon Brown will also sit out with a concussion, ending his streak of 175 consecutive starts, the second-longest run among active cornerbacks. .

``It's killing him,'' linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. ``I know he wants to play.''

Shurmur said he didn't have to radically alter his game plan for Lewis, whom he has known since they were both in St. Louis. Lewis is aware of the Steelers and their propensity to blitz.

``I think there's enough evidence of how they play,'' Shurmur said. ``We have the first game against them, plus their style of defense hasn't changed in years. What's important for Thad is to execute the progressions and get the ball off on time and not rush things, just be urgent and go play his game.''

Pittsburgh has never been a forgiving place for any quarterbacks, and especially ones from Cleveland.

In the 2008 season finale at Pittsburgh, injuries forced the Browns to start fourth-stringer Bruce Gradkowski, who passed for 18 yards, was sacked three times and posted a 1.0 rating in a 31-0 loss.

Last year, McCoy's season ended after he sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter when Harrison leveled him on a jarring tackle late in a loss at Heinz Field.

Lewis knows he has to be wary of Harrison and Polamalu, who both seem to be all over the field.

However, he's not worried about Harrison.

``You've got on a helmet and shoulder pads and if a guy is going to hit you or if you get hit, that's what the pads is for, to protect you,'' he said. ``You've got to be tough at the quarterback position. You've got to get up, shake it off and move on to the next play.''

As for Polamalu, Lewis said it's imperative to know where he's lined up.

``He's going to be the rule breaker,'' Lewis said. ``You have to keep an eye on 43.''

The Browns have lost eight straight games in Pittsburgh, and are just 5-23 against their biggest rival since 1999. But after beating the Steelers in November, the Browns can sweep them for the first time since 1988 and perhaps send Shurmur out on a high note in what is likely his final game for Cleveland.

``We can walk away from this season with something to brag about,'' Jackson said.

Notes: Weeden, McCoy and Richardson did not speak to the media this week. ... Cleveland's 82 combined starts by rookies are a league high. Indianapolis is second with 52. ... TE Jordan Cameron will also miss Sunday's game with a concussion.

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Survey of NBA general managers reportedly shows divide in how teams want to proceed with season

Survey of NBA general managers reportedly shows divide in how teams want to proceed with season

A conference call between NBA general managers and commissioner Adam Silver on Thursday revealed a divide as to how the GMs think the league should proceed if able to finish the 2019-20 season, according to a report by The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor.

GMs were given a survey, the results of which were revealed on the call, and according to the report, they were split on several things:

  • Half the general managers voted to skip the rest of the regular season and go straight to the playoffs

  • More than half voted to reseed the playoffs 1 to 16, regardless of conference

  • About 75 percent voted in favor of a play-in tournament for bubble teams to determine the final playoff seeds; the other 25 percent voted in favor of a World Cup-style group stage

The play-in tournament was reported as a potential option by ESPN on Wednesday. Labeled as a “playoffs plus” format, it would allow teams just outside of the playoff picture like the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings -- all separated by just 1.5 games -- a way to play themselves into the playoffs if the regular season is in fact canceled. 

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The Wizards, currently the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference and 5.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot, weren’t mentioned in the report, but it did say 20-24 teams would be included. This would likely include Washington.

According to O’Connor, teams with top seeds like the East-leading Bucks and West-leading Lakers favor the play-in option over a group stage, likely because they get an easier matchup against lower-seeded teams and a less difficult path to a title. And because teams will always vote in their own best interest, the survey isn’t an indication of what will ultimately happen.

“There was zero commitment to any one plan,” one of the GMs told O’Connor. “But it was a call to gather more information.”

On Friday, Silver will talk with the league’s board of governors to discuss formats to resume the season, a potential timeline for return, and more. But nothing is expected to be determined on that call either.

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NFL, EA Sports agree to six year extension of Madden video game franchise

NFL, EA Sports agree to six year extension of Madden video game franchise

The Madden franchise will continue to be a part of the gaming universe for at least the next six years.

NFL owners on Thursday approved an extension of their deal with Electronic Arts, continuing a relationship that has existed for 30 years. It was also recently approved by the NFL Players Association.

The current contract was set to expire after the 2021 season. The extension means that EA Sports will continue to be the league's exclusive publisher of football simulation games through 2026.

EA Sports Executive Vice President Cam Weber said both sides had been talking for months. Many wondered what the future of the relationship might be after 2K Sports signed an agreement with the NFL in March to produce non-simulation games.

The current edition of Madden has seen a 30% increase in unique players. According to Electronic Arts, more than 330 million hours of the game have been played since it was released last August. The company has also seen large increases in gameplay during the past couple of months as people have been confined to their homes because of the coronavirus pandemic, with many tournaments taking place among friends and on television.

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Rachel Hoagland, the league's vice president and head of gaming and esports, said keeping the Madden franchise at the core of their video gaming strategy was important, especially with the emergence of new platforms and gaming systems. Sony and Microsoft have announced new generations of gaming consoles that are expected to debut by the end of the year.

"EA has done a nice job of ensuring the game matches the experience during a game week. The new technology will allow richer content and add more realism," she said.

Madden NFL 21 will come out in early August with the first looks at the game coming next week. 

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes was last year's cover athlete. Baltimore quarterback and reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson said in April that he would be on the cover this year, but EA Sports has not made an announcement.

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