Packers stun Browns 27-21 in OT, set up Rodgers’ return

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CLEVELAND — Your turn, Aaron Rodgers.

The Green Bay Packers saved their season just in time for their star’s return.

Brett Hundley threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams in overtime as the Packers rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter for a 27-21 win on Sunday over the winless and luckless Cleveland Browns.

Hundley pulled out his third win – and second straight in OT – since replacing Rodgers, and now the Packers (7-6) will get back their quarterback after their season appeared doomed when he broke his collarbone in October.

“My No. 1 thought going into it was to keep our hopes alive to make the playoffs,” said Hundley, who had three touchdown passes. “At the end of the day, whatever happens, happens. Whenever I’m called upon, I’ll be ready. In the meantime, we’re still in this.”

Barely.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

On third-and-6 in overtime, Hundley threw a short pass to Adams , who spun out of Myles Garrett‘s arms and went in untouched with 5:05 left as the Packers set the stage for Rodgers’ return. He returned to practice this week, and as long as he’s cleared by Green Bay’s medical staff, Rodgers will be back on the field next Sunday when the Packers play Carolina.

“We kept the playoffs alive,” said safety Josh Jones, who intercepted rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer to set up the winning score. “We got the best quarterback in the league coming back, so we feel a lot better.”

It was another devastating loss for the Browns (0-13), who made several critical mistakes late in regulation before Kizer’s poor decision on his final throw.

Kizer was rolling to his left and tried to throw across his body to Rashard Higgins when his arm was hit by linebacker Clay Matthews. If not for the contact, Kizer felt the Browns would have won.

“I thought we had control of the game pretty much the majority of the game,” Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “It’s definitely frustrating. Green Bay had the better team today. I don’t know why it keeps happening.”

Down 21-14 heading into the fourth period, the Packers, who beat Tampa Bay last week in overtime, rallied on Hundley’s 1-yard TD pass to Adams with 17 seconds left in regulation.

A 65-yard punt return by Trevor Davis set up Green Bay’s score, which came after Hundley was ruled down inside the 1 after an apparent 6-yard scoring run. Out of timeouts, coach Mike McCarthy elected not to risk a run and Hundley rifled his pass into the corner for Adams, who beat Jason McCourty on the play.

Hundley’s tight spiral was reminiscent of so many thrown by Rodgers, who stayed warm on the sideline inside a large green sideline jacket.

Hundley finished 35 of 46 with three touchdowns and made the big plays when he had to against the lowly Browns.

“He plays his best football when the game’s on the line,” McCarthy said of the young QB. “You can’t teach that. He’s a winner.”

Cleveland was in position to run out the clock before overtime but rookie tight end David Njoku dropped a key third-down pass. Cleveland’s punt team couldn’t bring down Davis, who weaved his way to the Browns 25.

Kizer threw three touchdown passes, one to Josh Gordon, and went 20 of 28 for 214 yards. But he’ll be haunted by the late pick.

“You can’t make that,” coach Hue Jackson said. “If it does not feel right, it probably is not right.”

Cleveland’s heartbreaking loss closed a turbulent week: The team fired Sashi Brown, its top front office executive, and owner Jimmy Haslam said Jackson will return next season.

Isaiah Crowell rushed for 121 yards on 19 carries. Gordon, playing his first home game since Dec. 14, 2014, had three catches for 69 yards and caught an 18-yard TD pass in the first quarter that he celebrated by putting on sunglasses.

GORDON SHINES

After missing some scoring opportunities last week in Los Angeles, Gordon was confident he and Kizer would connect against the Packers. They did just that on Cleveland’s first play, hooking up for 38 yards. Moments later, Kizer threaded a perfect pass over the middle to Gordon, who made a leaping catch in the end zone for his first TD since Dec. 15, 2013. When he returned to the sideline, Gordon pulled off his helmet and put on a pair of dark sunglasses, then strutted in celebration before hugging Jackson.

Gordon did not speak to reporters.

OPENING ACT

They had to fake a punt to keep their first offensive drive going, but the Packers scored their league-leading seventh touchdown on their opening possession.

HALFWAY HOME

Cleveland’s halftime lead was its second this season, and first on American soil. The Browns led the Vikings 13-12 at halftime of their Oct. 29 game in London before losing 33-16.

INJURIES

Packers: CB Davon House was carted off in the fourth quarter with a back injury. House’s feet got tangled and he fell hard to the turf. … TE Lance Kendricks returned after sustaining a jaw injury in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Packers: At Carolina on Sunday

Browns: Host Baltimore in their final home game Sunday.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Football is back! Here are five things to watch this NFL season

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After an offseason filled with players returning from retirement, celebration rule changes, and Gronk being Gronk, football is back!

Before the Hall of Fame game gets underway, here are five storylines to watch as the new football season approaches.

Heavy is the head that wears the Star

Dallas entered last season with a rookie backup quarterback that wasn’t expected to see a lot of time until Tony Romo got injured and a rookie running back that was supposed to make an immediate impact. Now, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott enter this season with expectations the size of Texas. The Cowboys are looking to win the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995, or when TLC’s “Waterfalls” was the No. 2 song on the Billboard charts.

Undefeated Patriots? It could happen…

Even Seahawks fans can admit that Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever and Bill Belichick is one of the greatest coaches of all time. The amazing thing about the Patriots is their ability to reload (specifically from the Buffalo Bills, but that’s a longer story). Lose Martellus Bennett? Bring in Dwayne Allen. Lose LeGarrette Blount? Pick up Rex Burkhead. Top it off with an electric Brandin Cooks and the NFL’s best offense may be even better in 2017.

Falcons’ Super Bowl hangover recovery

28-3. The rallying cry of Patriots fans everywhere that makes Falcons fans cringe and want to crawl into a hole. Everyone talks about the Super Bowl hangover, but will a series of changes, including offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan departing to run his own team in San Francisco, be enough for the Falcons to return to the Super Bowl? Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will have a major role in that.

Kaepernick’s role

As of this post, Colin Kaepernick is still without a spot on an NFL roster. That could change at any moment. Kaepernick potentially has two landing spots: Miami Dolphins or Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco has been dealing with a back injury in camp, and the Dolphins are fearing the worst with Ryan Tannehill‘s knee injury Thursday. On the field, Kaepernick makes sense for both teams as a backup quarterback. But will one of these teams actually sign the former 49ers quarterback?

Raiders’ Resurgence

Before the Falcons’ brutal Super Bowl collapse, the Raiders held the crown for the most devastating way to have your season end, with quarterback Derek Carr breaking his leg two games before the playoffs started. Now, with Carr back and healthy, the Raiders look poised to make a big run and make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2002. One person who remembers that run well? Oakland native and new Raider Marshawn Lynch, who was a student at Oakland Tech high school.

Just think of it this way-you’ll now have football every Thursday until January, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the season.

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Patriots’ Super Bowl odds lead the pack as NFL preseason gets underway

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The recent track record with the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl odds suggests their price today might be as high-yield as it gets, barring an unanticipated stumble.

With the NFL preseason beginning this week, the defending champion Patriots are listed at +375 on the Super Bowl 52 champion board at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Their price is half that of the nominal second favorite, the Green Bay Packers (+750), while four other teams with championship aspirations — the Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks — have a +1200 price tag.

The preseason favorites prior to the 2015 and 2016 NFL seasons had +600 odds. But New England is coming off a championship season where it upgraded both its passing game and pass defense, adding deep threat WR Brandin Cooks and Pro Bowl CB Stephen Gilmore respectively.

Last year, the Patriots were at +650 before the season and their price dropped each week as they got off to a hot start, falling to +375 after only four games. With an early schedule that has only two 2016 playoff teams in the first six games (the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1 and Houston Texans in Week 3), Tom Brady and the Patriots could again shoot out of the gate quickly.

Those inclined to seek out a higher price — or opposed to picking New England, perhaps on general principle — certainly have options. The Packers are always a threat as long as they have Aaron Rodgers, who guided Green Bay to the NFC Championship Game last season without a healthy running back.

If New England is to be dethroned, the culprit might come from within the AFC, meaning either the Raiders with Derek Carr, or the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger (and Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown). It is worth noting that, based on the 2016 records of their slate of opponents, the Raiders’ schedule is rated fourth-toughest in the NFL and the Steelers’ is rated the sixth-easiest.

That might mean Pittsburgh has a better shot at the 13- or 14-win season it would take to wrestle home-field advantage throughout the playoffs away from the Patriots. It’s not as if being forced away from Foxboro in January drains the Patriots of their dominance, but it has made a difference.

It’s probably best to fade the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons (+1600), who had arguably the worst collapse in American sports history when they blew a 25-point lead against New England in the Super Bowl. Teams that blow that kind of opportunity are seldom awarded a second chance.