Nothing like suspension to remind NFL who’s indispensable

Ezekiel Elliott (AP)
Updated 07 December 2017
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Nothing like suspension to remind NFL who’s indispensable

NASHVILLE, Tennessee: Anyone can see just how much the Dallas Cowboys desperately miss Ezekiel Elliott.
Now the New England Patriots will get a reminder of life without Tom Brady’s favorite target when Rob Gronkowski sits out his own suspension Monday night in Miami.
“He’s a big focal point in our offense,” Brady said of Gronk. “I mean, I think when he gets going, it’s great for everybody, so it’s been great having him in there this year. He’s worked really hard and he’s a great player. I love playing with him. We’ve got a great rapport.”
Yes, even Brady has a teammate who makes him better.
And every NFL team has that one player that makes everything click, someone with so much ability and leadership who makes everyone else better, too. Or, in the case of tail-ending teams, a player who stands above the mess.
Sure, the quarterback is the most important, touching the ball every snap on offense. But take Mr. Indispensable off the field, and nothing works quite the same.
Nobody knows that better than Dallas, 1-3 since Elliott started serving his suspension and putting a serious crimp in the Cowboys’ postseason plans. Dallas finally ended the skid last week, beating Washington. Surviving and staying in the playoff hunt until Dec. 24 when Elliott returns against Seattle may not be possible without what he brings to the field.
Washington linebacker Zach Brown says it’s easy to see on film just how different the Cowboys are without Elliott’s speed and ability to score on any carry.
“Now everybody’s forcing them to pass the ball,” Brown said.
Gronkowski leads the Patriots with 55 catches and seven touchdowns , and he just turned in his best game this season with nine catches for 147 yards. But his late hit on Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White means Gronk will miss his first game this season with the Pats chasing the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
“He’s obviously a guy that’s super consistent when he’s been out there for us, and he’s really playing that same role this year,” Brady said.
A quarterback’s best friend can be a left tackle like Joe Thomas in Cleveland or David Bakhtiari in Green Bay. The Falcons didn’t click on the offensive line until signing center Alex Mack last year, and then they went straight to the Super Bowl.
A talented wide receiver also can carry an entire team. Just look at Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown , or conversely what it’s been like for the Giants without Odell Beckham Jr.
Defenders can be indispensable, too.
In Carolina, Cam Newton may do the Superman poses, but the Panthers’ real MVP is middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. The Panthers aren’t the same without the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s missed time with three concussions over the past three seasons. When healthy, Kuechly rarely misses a tackle. He also usually knows what play is being called .
“When you watch his film against other teams, he’s pointing where the run is going,” Miami coach Adam Gase said. “It’s really amazing to watch him play, because he’s a tough guy to play chess with. For me, I’m on the sideline and he’s on the field, so it makes it really tough.”
Jacksonville had been spending millions on its defense that seemed wasted until end Calais Campbell arrived as easily the league’s best free-agent acquisition of 2017. He’s helped put the Jaguars (8-4) in the mix for their first playoff berth since 2007. Campbell leads the AFC in sacks and is a calming influence in the locker room.
“He’s everything that’s been advertised,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “Just from the way to prepare, the leadership in the locker room, on the field, leads by example and, obviously, has been playing extremely well for us. A lot of times in free agency, maybe you don’t get, sometimes, the value of what you would like, but that’s not the case with Calais. We’ve gotten that, and I believe more, out of him.”
Oakland may have one of the worst defenses in the NFL, but defensive end Khalil Mack — last year’s Defensive Player of the Year — helped the Raiders contend again in the struggling AFC West despite being the defender each opposing offense focuses on most.
“Some of the stuff he was doing just can’t be done,” Denver linebacker Von Miller said earlier this season. “Just pick up offensive linemen and run straight through them — that stuff, it can be done, but not the way Khalil does it.”
Then there are players that teammates know mean everything to a franchise such as two-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker in Tennessee . Such players may not get the attention from fans their play deserves, but opposing teams build their game plans around them.
“I know that the teams we’re playing are trying to stop him,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said.
That’s the ultimate sign of how indispensable a player really is.


Oleksandr Usyk wins big fight moved from Saudi Arabia to Moscow

Updated 22 July 2018
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Oleksandr Usyk wins big fight moved from Saudi Arabia to Moscow

  • Ukrainian beats Murat Gassiev by unanimous decision
  • Usyk wins $10 million and the Muhammad Ali Trophy

Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk unified the cruiserweight division by beating Russian Murat Gassiev by unanimous decision on Saturday in a fight that was originally due to take place in Saudi Arabia.
The two titans were due to meet at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on May 11, but the fight was called off because Usyk suffered an injury in training. The showdown in the final of the World Boxing Super Series was subsequently moved to Moscow and took place on Saturday night, with $10 million at stake in addition to the honor of winning the first Muhammad Ali Trophy.
Despite facing a hostile crowd in Moscow, Usyk controlled the fight with his jab to add Gassiev’s WBA and IBF titles to his own WBC and WBO belts.
Gassiev landed some heavy body shots when he got inside Usyk’s reach, but started to tire and the Ukrainian was utterly dominant in the later rounds as Gassiev swung wild haymakers.
Usyk, a former Olympic gold medalist, holds all four major titles after just 15 professional fights, all of which he won.
“Moscow, 2018. Bang! Daddy’s in the building,” Usyk said.
Usyk added he could move up to heavyweight to fight the experienced British fighter Tony Bellow.
“If he doesn’t want to drop down (to cruiserweight), I’ll happily go up to meet him,” Usyk said. “I’ll just eat extra pasta.”
It was Usyk’s third fight in 10 months as part of the World Boxing Super Series, in which he also beat German Marco Huck and the then-WBC champion Mairis Briedis.
Gassiev’s record dropped to 26-1 with one no contest. “I had the best opponent in my professional career,” Gassiev said. “I do my best, just today is Oleksandr’s day.”
Usyk was born in Crimea and has said he was forced to leave the peninsula after Russia annexed it from Ukraine in 2014. Despite the tension between the two countries, Usyk and Gassiev embraced warmly after the fight with broad smiles.
On the undercard, Cecilia Braekhus remained the undisputed women’s welterweight champion after beating the relatively inexperienced Russian Inna Sagaydakovskaya by unanimous decision.
The Norwegian, who first won a world title in 2009, has a 34-0 record.