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49ers’ Sherman: Chiefs’ speedsters, Mahomes not greatest challenge of season

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MIAMI, Jan. 30 (UPI) — San Francisco 49ers star Richard Sherman counts Patrick Mahomes among the NFL’s elite, but says he’s up for the challenge of taking on the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and his speedy weapons in Super Bowl LIV Sunday in Miami.

“It’ll be a great challenge for sure, but to say it’s the greatest challenge would almost be a disrespect to some of the great passing games we’ve played, because we’ve played some outstanding passing teams this year,” Sherman said Wednesday. “We’ve played the New Orleans Saints and everything that Drew Brees had to bring.

“We played Tampa Bay and early on in the season with their two 1,000-yard receivers and everything that they brought. We played the Los Angeles Rams and Sean [McVay] and his system and how they get things done and played them twice.

“We played some teams that can sling it around pretty good, some quarterbacks that can sling it, some receivers that are really talented. We also played Atlanta with Matt [Ryan] and Julio [Jones] and they’re outstanding. But [the Saints] are fast and they’re talented, so it’ll be a great challenge.”

Sherman always has been known for trash talk, but his performance in the 2019 supported his words. He was Pro Football Focus‘ top coverage defender and top cornerback overall in 2019. He also was the cornerstone of the best pass defense in the NFL. He earned second-team All-Pro honors for his stellar season.

Stratege counts

Sherman doesn’t always defend the best wide receivers from other teams during San Francisco 49ers games, as he plays almost exclusively on the left side of the field, but his team’s formational strategy has yielded elite results.

Sherman mostly covered Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen in his first game this postseason. He had an interception and gave up one catch for nine yards, while being thrown at just three times. Sherman wasn’t quite as productive in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.

Packers star Davante Adams torched the veteran cornerback on a 65-yard catch in that game, the only completion against Sherman this season to travel at least 20 yards through the air. Adams finished the game with 138 yards on nine receptions.

Jones had 134 yards and two scores against the 49ers. The Saints’ Michael Thomas erupted for 134 yards and scored against San Francisco.

But while the NFL’s best have had success against Sherman’s squad this season, the 49ers have also excelled against other stars, surrendering a combined five catches for 81 yards to the Buccaneers’ duo of Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, and six catches for 101 yards to the Cleveland BrownsOdell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.

Hill arguably is the fastest player in the NFL, with speeds often eclipsing 22 mph, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The Chiefs also have rookie Mecole Hardman, who ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL scouting combine. Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins also are very capable of burning defensive backs for big plays.

“It almost looks like they got their roster from the Olympic relay team and threw them all on the football field,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Monday at Super Bowl Opening Night. “Not to say they can’t run routes and catch either, because they can do that.”

The Chiefs have the advantage of having All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce, who helped them rally from a 24-point deficit by scoring three touchdowns in their first game this postseason. Kelce led all NFL tight ends with 97 catches and 1,229 receiving yards in 2019.

Quickness and speed

“It’s not just the fact that [Hill] can go vertical, but with his quickness and speed he can get across the formation very quickly,” said Ron Rivera, new Washington Redskins coach and longtime NFL defensive guru.

“You have to always worry about the threat of run.”

The Chiefs often put Hill in motion before snaps, having him run behind the line of scrimmage before he takes a handoff or toss from Mahomes. The threat of Hill running with the ball out of the backfield makes opposing defenses play with more awareness, as they need to cover the field horizontally as well as vertically.

“He [Hill] really does create a lot of problems, but not just him,” Rivera said. “They have a heck of a receiving core, then you add the tight end [Kelce] to the mix, another guy who can threaten through the vertical part of the defense, and you’ve got to be on your game.”

Miami prepares for Super Bowl LIV

Yolanda Adams performs at the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration in Miami on Thursday. Photo By Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

The option for Hill to run can create mismatches all over the field, as defensive coordinators might opt to put two defenders on Hill to stop him from having success on deep routes. If Hill doesn’t run a deep route, those defenders are taken out of the play, opening up the field for Hill’s teammates.

“We just gotta continue doing what we’ve been doing all year, with the mental and physical aspects of the approach of the game. They have a tremendous defense, but I feel like no defensive in the league can stop our offense with the weapons we have.”

The 49ers take on the Chiefs in the Super Bowl at 6:30 p.m. EST Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.



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Historic NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader highlights weekend sports schedule

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July 3 (UPI) — NASCAR and IndyCar will race at the same track on the same weekend for the first time when the top motorsports tiers rendezvous Saturday and Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The trio of races highlight a packed live sports weekend.

The Fourth of July weekend sports slate also includes UFC fights, a PGA Tour golf tournament, NWSL women’s soccer matches, European soccer clashes and baseball games in Asia.

Drivers will first start their engines for the IndyCar’s GMR Grand Prix at noon EDT Saturday. That race was scheduled for May, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NASCAR will host an Xfinity race after the GMR Grand Prix on the same track at 3 p.m. EDT with the Pennzoil 150 at The Brickyard. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s final weekend race will be the Cup Series Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400, which starts at 4 p.m. EDT Sunday.

No spectators will be allowed at the races.

NASCAR’s Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Truck Series have been back since May after they were suspended due to the pandemic. IndyCar started its season in early June after its start was postponed from mid-March.

Caesars has Cup Series leader Kevin Harvick as a +350 favorite to win Sunday’s race, which means a $100 bet would win a bettor $350, in addition to the wagered amount.

Kyle Busch (+400), Denny Hamlin (+500), Martin Truex Jr. (+800), Brad Keselowski (+1000) and Joey Logano (+1000) are also among the favorites for the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400.

UFC on Fight Island

A welterweight title bout between Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns highlights UFC 251 on Fight Island, a unique Yas Island venue Saturday in Abu Dhabi.

Usman (16-1-0) is the titleholder and hasn’t lost since 2013. Burns (19-3-0) is ranked No. 1 in welterweight and hasn’t lost since 2018. He knocked off former welterweight title holder Tyron Woodley on May 30 at UFC Fight Night. Usman beat Woodley on March 2 at UFC 235 to dethrone the champion.

Caesars has Usman as a -245 favorite to beat Burns (+205), which means a bettor would need to wager at least $245 to win $100 on Usman and would win $205 on a $100 bet on Burns. BetOnline.AG also has Usman as a favorite at -235 with Burns at +200.

The main card for UFC 251 includes four other matchups. Amanda Ribas and Paige VanZant will open the main card at 10 p.m. EDT Saturday on ESPN+.

Jessica Andrade (20-7-0) will face Rose Namajunas in the second fight on the main card. Petr Yan will then clash against Jose Aldo in a bantamweight title bout. Featherweights Alexander Volkanovski will match with Max Holloway in the co-main event bout before Usman battles Burns.

Soccer from U.S. women, Europe

The NWSL Challenge Cup will continue Saturday and Sunday. More than a dozen players from the United States Women’s National Team are on the rosters for the National Women’s Soccer League teams.

Utah Royals FC will face the Sky Blue FC and the Houston Dash play the OL Reign Saturday in Herriman, Utah. The North Carolina Courage face the Chicago Red Stars and Portland Thorns FC plays the Washington Spirit on Sunday in Herriman.

Germany’s Bundesliga and England’s Premier League already have crowned champions, but Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A still await a winner. Rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona are in a tight race atop La Liga.

Two consecutive draws have led to Barcelona’s drop for the top spot. Real Madrid can increase their lead this week while Lionel Messi and Barcelona need to beat Villarreal Sunday to keep pace with their foes.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus lead Serie A by just four points over second-place Lazio. Both Italian squads will take the field Saturday with Lazio in a clash against Milan and Juventus in a matchup against Torino.

Premier League champion Liverpool follows their rivalry matchup Thursday against Manchester City with a game Sunday against Aston Villa. United States soccer star Christian Pulisic will attempt to keep the Blues in Champions League contention with a matchup against Watford Saturday in London.

Saturday

Baseball

KBO: Kiwoom Heroes vs. KT Wiz at 4:55 a.m. EDT on ESPN

Golf

Rocket Mortgage Classic: Third round featured groups from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. EDT on PGA Tour Live; 1 to 3 p.m. EDT on Golf Channel; 3 to 6 p.m. EDT on CBS

Soccer

Serie A: Juventus vs. Torino at 11 a.m. EDT on ESPN+

NWSL Challenge Cup: Utah Royals FC vs. Sky Blue FC at 12:30 p.m. EDT on CBS All Access

Premier League: Chelsea vs. Watford at 3 p.m. EDT on NBCSN

Serie A: Lazio vs. AC Milan at 3:30 p.m. EDT on ESPN+

NWSL Challenge Cup: Houston Dash vs. OL Reign at 10 p.m. EDT on CBS All Access

IndyCar

NTT Series GMR Grand Prix at noon EDT on NBC

NASCAR

Xfinity Pennzoil 150 at The Brickyard at 3 p.m. EDT on NBC

UFC 251 on ESPN+

Amanda Ribas vs. Paige VanZant at 10 p.m. EDT

Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas after first fight

Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo after second fight

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway after third fight

Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns after fourth fight

Sunday

Baseball

KBO: LG Twins vs. Samsung Lions at 3:55 a.m. EDT on ESPN

Golf

Rocket Mortgage Classic: Fourth round featured groups from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. EDT on PGA Tour Live; 1 to 3 p.m. EDT on Golf Channel; 3 to 6 p.m. EDT on CBS

Soccer

La Liga: Real Madrid vs. Athletic Club at 8 a.m. EDT on beIN Sports

Premier League: Liverpool vs. Aston Villa at 11:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN

NWSL Challenge Cup: North Carolina Courage vs. Chicago Red Stars at 12:30 p.m. EDT on CBS All Access

Premier League: Southampton vs. Manchester City at 2 p.m. EDT on NBC

La Liga: Barcelona vs. Villarreal at 4 p.m. EDT on beIN Sports

NWSL Challenge Cup: Portland Thorns FC vs. Washington Spirit at 10 p.m. EDT on CBS All Access

NASCAR

Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at 4 p.m. EDT on NBC



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Serpentine wins Investec Derby at 25-1

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July 5 (UPI) — Serpentine, a 25-1 long shot, led the field a merry chase in the Investec Derby on Epsom Downs and kept on running, winning by 5 1/2 lengths to give both his trainer and his sire records for Derby wins.

It was no surprise that Serpentine got off to the lead in Saturday’s race. But as the lead kept getting bigger and bigger, it suddenly became clear the Galileo colt — a maiden winner just seven days earlier — wasn’t about stopping and the others had given him far to much rope.

With Emmett McNamara along for the ride, Serpentine nailed down the 25-1 upset win by an easy 5 1/2 lengths with Khalifa Sat edging Amhran No Bhfiaan for second. The favorites, Kameko and English King, were fourth and fifth.

Serpentine gave trainer Aidan O’Brien his record eighth Derby win and his sire his record fifth.

O’Brien had six of the 16 runners in the Derby, including Kameko and Amhran No Bhfiaan, but neither he nor McNamara seemed too surprised that two of his longer chances finished in the top three.

“We try to give every horse their best chance to win and we ride them accordingly,” O’Brien said by ZOOM from his base in Ireland. “It was exactly the way we planned.”

McNamara said with his huge lead, he couldn’t hear the other horses and, with no spectators allowed at Epsom, he silence was “surreal.”

“I never looked behind me. I couldn’t hear a thing,” he said. “All I could hear was my horse breathing and he was in a very good rhythm.”

McNamara answered frankly, “No,” when asked if he expected to win the race. But, he quickly added, O’Brien “had a huge amount of confidence in the horse. It wasn’t a complete surprise.”

Serpentine, produced by the Danehill Dancer mare Remember When, was having just his fourth start. He won for the first time June 27 in a maiden event at the Curragh in Ireland.

O’Brien said the colt is a proper stayer and did not rule out a try in the Group 1 St Leger or even the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, though he did say he would not want Serpentine “going deep into the heavy ground” often typifying the going in the French fixture.

O’Brien also said the Coolmore lads, Serpentine’s owners, are eyeing a shot at the Group 1 Japan Cup in Tokyo on November, though more likely with one of their 4-year-olds. He mentioned, without a trace of irony, Japan might be a chance for the Japan Cup.

The Serpentine is a lake in London’s Hyde Park, created for Queen Caroline in 1730 — 50 years before the first Derby.

Two races earlier, O’Brien also saddled the winner of the Investec Oaks. Love, another Galileo product, rallied from well back for jockey Ryan Moore and quickly drew off to win by 5 lengths.

Ennistyman, another Galileo filly, held off second-favorite Frankie Darling, with Frankie Dettori up, for second.



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Jorge Masvidal, Kamaru Usman agree to UFC 251 fight

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July 5 (UPI) — Kamaru Usman will defend his welterweight title against Jorge Masvidal after both fighters agreed to terms Sunday to fight at UFC 251 this weekend at “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Masvidal, who must pass a coronavirus test before the fight can take place, will step in as a late replacement for Gilbert Burns, according to ESPN and MMA Fighting. Burns — originally set to face off against Usman — was forced to withdraw from Saturday’s UFC 251 fight card due to a positive COVID-19 test result.

According to ESPN, Usman is traveling to Las Vegas on Sunday, while Masvidal — who took a private jet from South Florida to Las Vegas — landed earlier in the day. Once they are in Las Vegas, both fighters must check in to the host hotel, take a coronavirus test and then self-quarantine.

If the UFC stars pass the test, they will be cleared to travel to Abu Dhabi, according to ESPN. The fighters are expected to fly to the country Monday if the tests come back clean, but the fight won’t happen if there is a positive result.

The UFC and Masvidal were engaged in contract talks over the last two months to make the Masvidal-Usman fight happen. But the promotion opted to walk away from negotiations about a month ago and gave the title bout to Burns, who recently beat former champion Tyron Woodley.

Afterward, Masvidal criticized the UFC for its business practices and demanded his release from the promotion.

Once Burns was forced to withdraw from the fight late Friday night, momentum started to build for the initial plan. Masvidal was expected to fight Usman for the welterweight belt this month before negotiations between Masvidal and the UFC collapsed.

Masvidal — considered one of the most popular fighters in the UFC — picked up impressive wins over Ben Askren, Darren Till and Nate Diaz last year. Usman last fought at UFC 245 in December and successfully defended his welterweight title against Colby Covington.

In addition to the welterweight title fight, the UFC 251 card also features a rematch between Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway for the featherweight title and a fight between Petr Yan and Jose Aldo for the bantamweight belt.



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