Alou Kuol's late brace secured a dramatic turnaround that lifted Central Coast Mariners back to the A-League summit with a 3-2 win over Western United in Gosford.

United took a 2-1 lead in the break thanks to goals from Tomislav Uskok and Besart Berisha, either side of Matt Simon's 16th-minute equaliser in an entertaining first half.

For a while that deficit remained intact and United appeared to be closing in on only a second win of the season.

But Kuol was introduced from the bench with an hour played and he made a fine impact, first equalising in the 77th minute as he turned in Daniel De Silva's corner, before then getting the winner soon after with a diving header.

There was no such delight for Melbourne City, however, rather despair as last season's grand finalists suffered a third successive A-League loss, this time to Newcastle Jets.

The only goal of the game arrived just before half-time, when Valentino Yuel converted from close range for his fourth goal in five games.

Dom Bess took four wickets as England survived Rishabh Pant's counter-attack to end day three of the first Test in Chennai 321 runs ahead of India in an entertaining contest.

England were bowled out for 578 and India, after initially toiling, closed 257-6 thanks to a sparkling knock from Pant at M. A. Chidambaram Stadium.

Bess snared home skipper Virat Kohli for 11 and vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane for one, before putting an end to Pant and Cheteshwar Pujara's rearguard, leaving England in a strong position to take the lead in the four-Test series.

The tourists added a further 23 runs for their final two wickets in the opening hour of Sunday's session, with Bess (34) falling lbw to Jasprit Bumrah and James Anderson missing a sweep against Ravichandran Ashwin for a single run.

India's task of chasing down England's tally was made all the more difficult when reduced to 154-4 at tea, including the loss of Kohli for just 11 when caught at short-leg by the bowling of Bess.

Kohli's dismissal came after Rohit Sharma was sent packing by Jofra Archer for six and Shubman Gill (29) was undone by Anderson's diving catch after averaging a run-a-ball up to that point.

Bess rammed home England's advantage by taking Rahane, who went to a superb Joe Root catch after chipping a drive to short cover, but India - 73-4 at that point - finally steadied the ship through Pujara and Pant.

Pujara racked up 11 fours from 143 balls en route to 73, though it was Pant who helped make a more telling dent in England's tally with nine fours and five sixes as he targeted the spin of Jack Leach.

However, Bess returned and took both Pujara and Pant, the latter being caught at deep extra by Leach for 91 from 88 balls.

Ashwin and Washington Sundar frustrated England late in the day, ending the session on eight and 33 not out respectively.

Trent Alexander-Arnold says Liverpool can have no excuses for their poor Premier League form as they have failed to do the basics this season.

The reigning champions are fourth in the table and seven points adrift of leaders Manchester City, who travel to Anfield on Sunday and also have a game in hand.

Liverpool have already lost four league games this term, which is one more than in the whole of their title-winning campaign of 2019-20.

That includes back-to-back losses at Anfield in the top flight for the first time since September 2012, having previously been unbeaten in 68 matches on home soil.

After storming to the title last term by an 18-point margin, a year on from going all the way in the Champions League, Alexander-Arnold accepts his side took winning matches for granted.

"Once you get accustomed to winning all the time, which we have been doing in the previous two seasons, you do get used to the feeling and you start to kind of expect it," he told Sky Sports.

"That's probably the trap we fell into this season in that we expected to win games because we're good enough, something will happen and we have that quality to find a goal from somewhere, which happened naturally last season and the season before.

"But really breaking it down, that didn't just happen because we were lucky, it happened because we worked hard, doing the basics and fundamentals right until the very last minute. 

"That really worked in our favour. The fact we were still doing it meant we were creating the right opportunities that we could score from.

"I think maybe this season we've forgotten a few of those fundamentals and we've just expected us to do that because it became so natural for us to do it.

"Every team goes through periods like this. You can't expect anyone to keep winning every single game, especially in a league like the Premier League. 

"It would be wrong of us to expect that from ourselves and for people to expect it of us. We want to, but I think in the back of our minds, we all knew this period would come at some point."

Liverpool have not been helped by long-term injuries sustained by Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez earlier in the campaign, with fellow centre-back Joel Matip now also out for the season.

Jurgen Klopp's men have kept just six clean sheets in 22 league games this term - only seven teams have a worse return - conceding in each of their last four outings.

But Alexander-Arnold, who has come in for criticism this term, insists injuries alone are not to blame for the Reds' drop-off in form.

"We're a team that's not going to sit here and make excuses," he said. "There are no excuses on our behalf because we've lost a few centre-backs and we haven't got fans - that's the same for everyone. 

"We've had a few injuries but that's football, you can't blame anyone for that. It's about us being able to adjust and adapt to the situation. We haven't done that as well as we would have liked to.

"With people talking about our centre-halves, it's not like we're conceding three or four goals a game. It's more about one goal, not keeping a clean sheet and not scoring at the other end.

"It's just about clicking as a full team and getting that rhythm back. I personally feel in the last few games, we have been doing that, bar the Brighton game… It's not as if our performances have been down in the gutter."

Liverpool have also struggled in an attacking sense, failing to score in any of their last three home league matches for the first time since October 1984, a run that amounts to 348 minutes ahead of City's visit.

Pep Guardiola's side have conceded just 13 Premier League goals this term, the best defensive record in the division, but Klopp is confident his attacking talents will soon click into gear.

"The creating of the moment [to score] is not really different and that means we come into similar positions but we don't score," he said. "Can we be more often in these areas? 100 per cent.

"We don't think and don't feel we do everything and destiny is against us, it's just the situation we are in. There's no dreaming or wishing, it's all about working and that's what we do.

"Am I concerned? In a normal way, yes of course, because these are the things we have to do in training. We work on things to bring the boys as close as possible to the point where they have to take the final kick. 

"That's what we've always tried and we'll carry on with that. That we change our approach in moments because of the opponent is clear as well. In the end, we have to make the right decisions."

Liverpool have lost just one of their last 29 home league matches against City - a 2-1 defeat in May 2003.

Steve Kerr feels Stephen Curry is playing the best basketball of his career after his impressive 57-point outing in the Golden State Warriors' defeat to the Dallas Mavericks.

Curry joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only Warriors players to post multiple 55-point games in a campaign with a season-high 11 three-pointers in Saturday's thrilling clash.

It was not enough for the Warriors as Luka Doncic tied his career high of 42 points to inspire his side to a 134-132 victory, snapping a six-game home losing streak.

However, Kerr was blown away by Curry's shot-making ability, with the two-time MVP's 57 points - the second-best total of his career - coming on 19-of-31 shooting from the field.

"He's never played better," Kerr said. "We're talking about a two-time MVP, three-time champion. I've never seen him like this. He just looks so strong to me. 

"He's obviously always been an incredible shooter, but he looks stronger to me just getting by people, fending them off on drives to the rim, finish, and of course the shot-making. 

"It's almost unfathomable what he's doing out there."

Doncic, who is yet to outscore Curry in a head-to-head contest, was also amazed by the Warriors superstar's performance at the American Airlines Center.

"Every time he shot the ball, I thought it was going in," Doncic told ESPN. "It was something unbelievable. He's an amazing player. 

"He changed the game and it's always fun to play against him, and today we got a win, but it's always fun to play against him."

Elsewhere in Saturday's NBA action, champions Los Angeles Lakers beat the Detroit Pistons 135-129 in double overtime.

LeBron James had 33 points, eight of those points coming in the second overtime as the Lakers survived a scare against a Pistons side with just five wins all term.

James, who also had 11 assists to make it 10 double-doubles for the season, joked he is getting too old to be taken the distance.

"I was just ready to go," he said. "I'm 36 years old... my heart is not sustainable for two overtimes at this point in my career! 

"I've got a bottle of wine at home ready to be opened, and I delayed it for two overtime periods."

Rafael Nadal is "doing everything possible" to play a part in the Australian Open after suffering from back pain for the past two weeks.

The 34-year-old pulled out of Spain's line-up for the ATP Cup earlier this week and was last in competitive action in November's ATP Finals.

Nadal is due to face Laslo Djere in the first round on Tuesday as he seeks a second Australian Open title, but the Spaniard cannot guarantee he will be able to play the match.

"It's not great, obviously," he said. "It's true that for the last 15 days I have been suffering.

"In the beginning, the muscle was just a little bit tired, but I now feel a little bit more stiff than usual.

"The muscle is still tight, so it is difficult to play with freedom of movement."

But Nadal, who has a history of back injuries, is refusing to withdraw from the tournament.

"I have Monday and then playing Tuesday. I don't think about not playing," he said.

"We are doing everything. My physio is here, the doctors [are] here, everybody is helping me in all possible ways. I hope to be ready, that's all. I know sometimes things change quick."

Nadal is not alone in entering the first grand slam of the year below full strength, with the likes of Serena Williams, Sofia Kenin and Naomi Osaka also battling injury problems.

However, the world number two will not use his niggling back issue as an excuse should he suffer an early exit at Melbourne Park.

"I'm not a big fan of finding excuses," he said. "When things happen, you need to find a way to get through."

Nadal can surpass Roger Federer for all-time majors should he triumph at the Australian Open.

He is also looking to become only the second man after Rod Laver to win each major on more than one occasion in the Open era, but his only previous success at the tournament came 12 years ago.

"I think I had the big chance in 2014. I got injured during the match on the back. It was tough," he said.

"I had another good chance in 2012, another good chance in 2017 with a break up in the fifth. I just didn't win the match. 

"That's all, I can't find another reason. It is true that I missed a couple of Australian Opens for injuries, too."

World number four Daniil Medvedev clinched ATP Cup success for Russia, who defeated Italy in Melbourne on Sunday.

On the eve of the Australian Open, Medvedev boosted his preparations by guiding Russia past Italy thanks to a 6-4 6-2 victory over Matteo Berrettini at Melbourne Park.

It was a dominant display from Russia, who won all eight singles matches they played in the ATP Cup, after Andrey Rublev overpowered Fabio Fognini 6-1 6-2 in the second matchup.

"I want to thank my team. Andrey won all of his matches," Medvedev said. "Thank you for being with me here and lifting this trophy in a few moments."

Medvedev heads in Monday's Australian Open in red-hot form, having won a personal-best 14 successive matches, dating back to the start of last year's Paris Masters.

Of those victories, 10 have come against top-10 opponents as 2019 US Open runner-up Medvedev – seeded fourth for the year's first grand slam – prepares to face Vasek Pospisil on Tuesday.

"It's a really big achievement because I also didn't lose a match. Yeah, 10 matches against Top 10 opponents, didn't lose a match in these 10 matches. It's a big boost in confidence," Medvedev said.

"Even when you lose, you know that you're capable of playing this level, and it helps you for the next time to stand up."

While Italy did not taste team success, Jannik Sinner claimed the Great Ocean Road Open on Sunday.

Sinner overcame countryman Stefano Travaglia 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 to earn his second title following the first all-Italian ATP Tour final since 1988.

The 19-year-old Sinner is the youngest player to win two ATP Tour titles since world number one Novak Djokovic (19) in 2006, while he is also the youngest player to celebrate back-to-back trophies since 20-time grand slam champion Rafael Nadal (19) in 2005.

Elsewhere, eighth seed Daniel Evans defeated Canadian sensation Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-2 6-3 to claim his first tour-level title.

Evans became the first Brit to win an ATP Tour title since Kyle Edmund at the New York Open last February.

World number one Novak Djokovic said he does not have "much respect" for outspoken Australian star Nick Kyrgios away from the tennis court.

Kyrgios has been critical of Djokovic in an ongoing feud with the 17-time grand slam champion, who was labelled a "tool" by the former following a list of requests made to Tennis Australia (TA) and the Victorian government for tennis players stuck in hotel quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Former world number 13 Kyrgios was also critical of Djokovic's decision to stage the Adria Tour in Europe last August – in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis – having previously dubbed the Serb star "cringeworthy".

Djokovic rekindled his rivalry with Kyrgios after being asked about the 25-year-old on the eve of the Australian Open.

"I've said this before," Djokovic told reporters on Sunday. "I think he's good for the sport. Obviously he's someone that is different. He goes about his tennis, he goes about his off court things in his own authentic way. 

"I have respect for him. I have respect for everyone else really because everyone has a right and freedom to choose how they want to express themselves, what they want to do. My respect goes to him for the tennis he's playing. I think he's very talented guy. He's got a big game. He has proven that he has a quality to beat any player really in the world in the past.

"Off the court, I don't have much respect for him, to be honest. That's where I'll close it. I really don't have any further comments for him, his own comments for me or anything else he's trying to do."

Djokovic has won the past two Australian Open finals as he eyes a record-extending ninth Melbourne Park crown.

The 33-year-old, who opens his title defence against Jeremy Chardy on Monday, has won the Australian Open every time he has reached the semi-finals.

Djokovic has reached at least the semi-finals in seven of his last nine grand slam tournaments, winning five of them.

No male has won more Australian Open men's singles titles than Djokovic, who said: "It's a love affair. Probably something similar maybe not like Rafa [Nadal] has with the French Open, but I've been feeling more comfortable on the court each year that I've been coming back. 

"The more you win, obviously the more confidence you have and the more pleasant you feel on the court. It just feels right. If you're in the right state of mind, regardless of the surface, you have a better chance to play at your best.

"When I stepped on the court this year for the first time in the practice session, I relived some of the memories from last year, also the other years that I won the tournament here.

"It just gives me great sensation, great feeling, confidence. It feels right. It feels like the place where I should be and where I have historically always been able to perform my best tennis. Hopefully can be another successful year."

Asked if he still feels nerves, Djokovic – who is looking to close the gap on Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (both 20) for the most slam trophies – added: "Every match, every match. Every single match. I don't want to speak on behalf of the other athletes, but I just feel like it's almost impossible to eliminate that kind of pressure, anticipation, the nerves coming into any match really for an athlete. At least in my case.

"It's just that I managed over the years to train myself, I think with the experience and with also the dedication that I had off the court to the mental preparation, that helped me react better to those kind of emotions. Sometimes I don't manage to overcome the pressures and the stress and nerves. Sometimes I do. It really just depends. Even though I've been blessed to experience a lot of success, especially here in Australia, but also in my career. I still feel that those failures, if you want to call them that way, even though I don't believe in failures, I just believe in opportunities to improve, kind of the lessons to be learned, but in those matches you lose, big matches, that's where you learn the most.

"That's where you're facing the kind of wall mentally. You're upset. You have a lot of different things happening, and you feel like you let yourself down. That's where it's the biggest opportunity for you to really address that and become stronger, more capable. You can get to know yourself a little bit on deeper levels. It still happens to me.

"Every single tournament, regardless of my previous success, of course I do feel that I have more confidence, more experience, maybe more training in understanding how to deal with these specific situations when I'm coming on the big court, being expected to win 99 per cent of the matches that I play.

"But it's still there. It's still there. I don't think it's ever going to go away. Especially when the occasion is big, when you're playing for the biggest trophies."

Stephen Curry joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only Golden State Warriors players to post multiple 55-point games in a season, but his team lost to Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks 134-32 in the NBA.

Curry nailed a season-high 11 three-pointers en route to 57 points in a thrilling duel with Mavericks star Doncic on Saturday.  

Former MVP Curry put up his eighth 50-plus point game in his career, however, it was not enough.

Doncic tied his career high with 42 points in Dallas, where he also had 11 assists to snap the Mavericks' six-game home losing streak.

Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic joined Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson as the only Denver Nuggets players with 50-plus point games in the past 20 seasons.

Jokic finished with a career-high 50 points – including 23 points in the final quarter – but the Nuggets still went down 119-114 to the Sacramento Kings.

The MVP candidate also had 12 assists and eight rebounds as the Nuggets dropped their third straight game.

 

Embiid leads 76ers

Joel Embiid became the first Philadelphia 76ers player with eight consecutive 25-plus point games since Iverson in 2006. The three-time All-Star registered 33 points in a 124-108 win over the Brooklyn Nets, who were without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. James Harden led the Nets with 26 points and 10 assists.

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Milwaukee Bucks, who eased past the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-99.

The Oklahoma City Thunder scored a team-record 83 points in the first half as they edged the Minnesota Timberwolves 120-118. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander posted 31 points to the Thunder.

The Chicago Bulls defeated the Orlando Magic 118-92 behind Zach LaVine's 39 points on the road.

LeBron James had 33 points and 11 assists and Anthony Davis added 30 points as NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers prevailed 135-129 against the Detroit Pistons in double overtime.

 

Oladipo struggles

Victor Oladipo ended the Houston Rockets' 111-106 loss to the San Antonio Spurs with nine points on four-of-14 shooting from the field. He also missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc.

In 34 minutes of action, Rodney Hood was three-of-10 from the field and made just one of six three-point shots for seven points as the Portland Trail Blazers were beaten 110-99 by the New York Knicks.

 

Zion with the slam!

Zion Williamson had the final say against the Memphis Grizzlies. His game-sealing dunk saw the New Orleans Pelicans to a 118-109 win. Williamson had 29 points, while team-mate Brandon Ingram scored 27 points, collected 12 rebounds and tallied a career-high four blocks.

 

Saturday's results

New York Knicks 110-99 Portland Trail Blazers
Sacramento Kings 119-114 Denver Nuggets
Chicago Bulls 118-92 Orlando Magic
Philadelphia 76ers 124-108 Brooklyn Nets
Atlanta Hawks 132-121 Toronto Raptors
Milwaukee Bucks 124-99 Cleveland Cavaliers
San Antonio Spurs 111-106 Houston Rockets
Oklahoma City Thunder 120-118 Minnesota Timberwolves
Dallas Mavericks 134-132 Golden State Warriors
New Orleans Pelicans 118-109 Memphis Grizzlies
Los Angeles Lakers 135-129 Detroit Pistons (double OT)

 

Kings at Clippers

Before Super Bowl LV gets underway, the Los Angeles Clippers (17-7)-Kings (11-11) matchup headlines a slate of five early NBA games on Sunday.

World number one Ash Barty ended her Australian Open preparations with a title after defeating Garbine Muguruza in the Yarra Valley Classic final.

Barty – gearing up for the year's first grand slam which gets underway in Melbourne on Monday – defeated sixth seed and 2020 Australian Open runner-up Muguruza 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 on Sunday.

Looking to add to her 2019 French Open crown, Australian star Barty claimed her ninth WTA Tour trophy and second on home soil.

"It was some of the better tennis I played throughout the whole week," Barty, who had not played in a competitive tournament since last February, told reporters in her post-match news conference.

"Garbine forced me to play at that level. It was a great final."

Barty added: "Overall it was a pretty solid performance. I'm still my harshest critic at times. That's the challenge of sport every day, is trying to get better and better."

Elsewhere in Melbourne, Elise Mertens clinched the Gippsland Trophy with a 6-4 6-1 win over Estonian veteran Kaia Kanepi.

Mertens – the seventh-seeded Belgian – returned to the winner's circle following two runner-up finishes in 2020.

As for Anett Kontaveit and Ann Li, they shared the Grampians Trophy on Sunday.

The Grampians Trophy did not have a final, the WTA announced, due to time running out before the Australian Open begins. Thursday's play was cancelled as a precautionary measure after a case of coronavirus involving a worker from a hotel that had housed quarantining tennis stars.

Kontaveit outlasted fifth seed Maria Sakkari 2-6 6-3 11-9 in the first semi-final, while Li upset seventh seed Jennifer Brady 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (5-7) 10-6.

Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers said he is honoured to be named MVP after being crowned the NFL's best player for a third time.

Rodgers capped a stellar 2020 regular season by receiving another Most Valuable Player award on Saturday, having also reigned supreme in 2011 and 2014.

The Packers fell short in the NFC Conference Game, beaten by Super Bowl finalists the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but veteran quarterback Rodgers still enjoyed a memorable campaign.

Rodgers amassed 48 touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion rate of 70.7 per cent for the Packers this season.

His quarterback rating of 121.5 puts him second on the all-time list among qualifiers, behind only his 2011 campaign (122.5).

In total, Rodgers completed 372 of 526 attempts for 4,299 yards as the Packers topped the NFC North with a 13-3 record to clinch home-field advantage and the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2011.

"It's an honour to win this award for the third time," Rodgers said in a pre-pared video acceptance speech. "2020 was definitely a crazy year filled with lots of change, growth, some amazing memorable moments, 180 straight days of having my nose hairs scraped, playing for very little fans or no [fans] the entire season. I got engaged, and I played some of the best football of my career. "

The 37-year-old Rodgers is now level with Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, Packers great Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown with three MVP honours – only Peyton Manning (five) has more in NFL history.

"The guys on that list are guys I grew up watching, idolising," Rodgers said. "To join that list of guys who've won it more than twice is pretty special."

Rodgers became the first QB to lead the league in the categories of touchdown passes, completion percentage, passer rating and interception percentage (1.0) in the same season since 1992, when Steve Young won the first of his two MVPs.

"To have won it in my fourth year as a starter was very special, and now to win it in my 13th year as a starter, in a new offense, is pretty amazing and something I'm really proud of," Rodgers said.

"To have sustained success and to be playing your best football at 37, in my 16th season, is something I take a lot of pride in."

Rodgers added: "I'm really thankful for my team-mates, the way that they played this year. It's so much fun being called upon to be a leader of this football team.

"I'm thankful for the opportunity to still be here, to still be the starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.

"The success we had this year made the season a lot of fun at a time when there was a lot of turmoil and protocols around coronavirus.

"So I'm thankful for all my guys, all the support from them, having my back, listening to me, questioning me, having great conversations, growing together on the field, and then going out and putting up big-time performances."

If Aaron Rodgers intended to make a statement in the 2020 season, he could hardly have done so more emphatically.

The quarterback's future in Green Bay became a hot topic in the offseason when the franchise surprisingly used their first-round pick in the 2020 draft to seemingly choose his replacement. 

Selecting Jordan Love was obviously part of the long-term plan for the Packers, but Rodgers – who may have hoped for an upgrade in weapons, rather than an apprentice to watch and learn while waiting in the wings – showed he is no mood to relinquish the starting job in a hurry. 

Winning the MVP award for a third time in his career may not ease the disappointment of his team missing out on the Super Bowl, but it is a thoroughly deserved honour following a season that suggests, even at 37, he may just be better than ever. 

The basic numbers are impressive enough: 48 touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion rate of 70.7 per cent. His quarterback rating of 121.5 puts him second on the all-time list among qualifiers, just behind... Aaron Rodgers. His 2011 campaign sits top at 122.5, though that year he threw fewer touchdowns (45) and one extra pick. 

Dig a little deeper, though, and you see just why the members of the Associated Press voted the signal-caller as the most valuable player during the regular season. 

 

Old dog, new records

Conventional wisdom suggests Rodgers' career should, at his age, be winding down towards a conclusion. However, the man who helped defeat Rodgers and the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, 43-year-old Tom Brady, has redefined the limits for quarterbacks seemingly in their final years in the game.

And Rodgers produced some NFL firsts as he led Green Bay to the best record in the conference.

No player in NFL history had previously managed to complete at least 70 per cent of their pass attempts while managing a passer rating of at least 120.0 in a season - until this year.

Displaying a devastating ability to carve up defenses while doing a superb job of protecting the football, Rodgers also became the first quarterback to have 40 or more touchdowns while throwing five or fewer interceptions. Two of those picks were in Week 5 against the Buccaneers, the only outing in which he failed to manage a scoring pass.

Davante Adams was, unsurprisingly, his favourite option. The wide receiver was targeted 149 times - putting him fourth on the list for the entire league, behind only Stefon Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins and Allen Robinson.

Running back Aaron Jones was second for the Packers with 63 targets, but Rodgers was willing to share the ball around. On the roster, nine players made it to double figures, among them receiving duo Marquez Valdes-Scantling (63) and Allen Lazard (46), who both finished with 33 catches. Breakout tight end Robert Tonyan, meanwhile, caught all but seven of his 59 targets.

Hat-trick hero

Though Rodgers could not get the better of Brady in either the regular season or the playoffs, he did at least emulate an achievement the six-time Super Bowl champion pulled off during the season widely considered as his greatest.

Rodgers had 12 games with at least three passing touchdowns, tied for the most in a single campaign in NFL history. Brady had reached that same tally in 2007, when he scorched defenses across the league in leading the New England Patriots to an unbeaten 16-0 regular season.

Yet even Brady at that 2007 zenith could not produce what Rodgers did in 10 games in 2020, as he reached double figures with at least three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Of course, it is significantly easier to protect the football when playing with a lead - and Rodgers' extraordinary first-half performances ensured the Packers did a lot of that this season on their way to a second successive 13-3 record under head coach Matt LaFleur.

Stunning in the second quarter

Rodgers threw an incredible 70.8 per cent of his touchdown passes in the opening half, with his total of 34 scores the most ever in an NFL season. The second quarter was clearly his favourite too, with 25 TDs also a new record for a single quarter.

Those remarkable numbers were fuelled partially by Rodgers' dominance over the rest of the NFC North, which was illustrated by him throwing 20 touchdowns with no interceptions in six games against division opponents. No other player has reached that number and avoided being picked off in divisional match-ups.

With the Minnesota Vikings the only realistic threat in the NFC North as the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions plot their next moves at the quarterback, there is no immediate sign of the Packers' grip on the division loosening.

So while Rodgers pondered his future in the aftermath of the Packers' postseason exit, the reality is that, as long as he has the ability to perform at his 2020 levels and Green Bay have control of the NFC North, there is little reason for the newly crowned MVP to look elsewhere to fulfil his ambition of winning a second Lombardi Trophy.

Love may well end up being the future starter for Green Bay, but there is little reason to suggest they are about to move on from a franchise legend just yet.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been crowned the NFL's MVP for a third time.

Rodgers was honoured during Saturday's awards – on the eve of Super Bowl LV between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – as he added to his 2011 and 2014 MVPs.

The 37-year-old is now level with Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, Packers great Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown with three Most Valuable Player honours – only Peyton Manning (five) has more in NFL history.

The Packers fell short in the NFC Conference Game, beaten by Super Bowl finalists the Buccaneers, but Rodgers still enjoyed a memorable campaign.

Packers star Rodgers amassed 48 touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion rate of 70.7 per cent this season.

His quarterback rating of 121.5 puts him second on the all-time list among qualifiers, behind only his 2011 campaign (122.5).

In total, Rodgers completed 372 of 526 attempts for 4,299 yards as the Packers topped the NFC North with a 13-3 record to clinch home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Rodgers – a Super Bowl champion during the 2010 season – featured in his first NFC title decider at Lambeau Field, but the Packers fell to Brady's Buccaneers 31-26.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald won the Defensive Player of the Year for a third time.

Pittsburgh Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt had been tipped to win the award, but Donald maintained his dominance, having also reigned supreme in 2017 and 2018.

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski claimed the Coach of the Year award after leading the franchise to their first postseason victory in 25 years.

Not since the 1994 season had the Browns won a playoff matchup, until upstaging the Steelers before losing to the Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round.

 

List of NFL Honors

Rookie of the Year: Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert
Defensive Player of the Year: Los Angeles Rams DL Aaron Donald
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert
Offensive Player of the Year: Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Washington DE Chase Young
Comeback Player of the Year: Washington QB Alex Smith
Coach of the Year: Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski
Most Valuable Player: Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Juventus head coach Andrea Pirlo lauded Cristiano Ronaldo's adaptability as the defending Serie A champions beat Roma 2-0 on Saturday.

Ronaldo and an Ibanez own goal saw Juve to victory at Allianz Stadium, where the Italian giants claimed their third successive league victory.

A day after his 36th birthday, Ronaldo opened the scoring when his deflected strike clattered down off the underside of the crossbar in the 22nd minute before Ibanez's 69th-minute own goal put the result beyond doubt.

Ronaldo has been directly involved in 84 goals since his Serie A debut in 2018, scoring 68 goals and providing 16 assists, more than any other player in the competition, while the five-time Ballon d'Or winner has now scored 16 times across 17 league appearances this season.

Pirlo praised Ronaldo's willingness to adapt after Juve beat Roma, telling reporters: "Since the beginning of the season, Cristiano's made himself adaptable to our needs on the pitch.

"In some games he's played more like a proper number nine when we asked our other striker to close down the opposition's playmaker.

"In these games, he can play closer to the penalty area and be more effective in terms of goal scoring.

"He's always adapted to what I've asked him to do this season and therefore I'm very calm about this part of how we play."

Juve are now third in the Serie A standings in pursuit of their 10th consecutive Scudetto.

Pirlo's men are four points behind second-placed Milan – who are due to face Crotone on Sunday – and five adrift of leaders Inter, though Juve have played a game less.

Juve have won six successive games across all competitions, and Pirlo added: "I don't know if it was our best performance this season. For sure we played a great match.

"Especially because after the match we played on Tuesday at San Siro [semi-final first leg against Inter in Coppa Italia]. We had to recover energy even if we rotated many players. The team had spent a lot of mental energy in that match.

"We faced a strong opponent [Roma] that force you to run a lot on the defensive side and I think that especially under this aspect we played a brilliant match tonight."

The NFL crowned its two top rookies on Saturday as Chase Young and Justin Herbert claimed deserved recognition for stunning first years in the league. 

Defensive Rookie of the Year Young, the second overall pick in the 2020 draft, had long since been the frontrunner for that award.

His case was helped substantially by the pivotal role he played in propelling the Washington Football Team to an unlikely playoff berth as part of a fearsome defensive front.

Herbert was not given the chance to test himself in the playoffs as the Los Angeles Chargers' mystifying tendency for throwing away leads condemned them to another losing season.

But the Chargers can afford to be confident that better days are ahead, Herbert looked every inch a franchise quarterback as he subverted pre-draft expectations that were not as high as those placed on former Heisman Trophy finalist Young.

Both Young and Herbert look poised to have a defining impact on the NFL over the course of the 2020s and here, using Stats Perform data, we look back on their magnificent maiden years.

Chase Young

Just like his fellow former Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa, drafted second overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2019, Young emphatically lived up to his draft status, becoming the fourth ex-Buckeye to win Defensive Rookie of the Year in the last five seasons (DE Joey Bosa, 2016; CB Marshon Lattimore, 2017; DE Nick Bosa, 2019).

He did so through making the lives of opposing offensive linemen miserable, leading rookies in every metric that measures pass rush.

Young's 7.5 sacks were first among all rookies, while he also led the way hurries (37), knockdowns (12.5), quarterback hits (12) and total pressures (55).

Similarly dominant against the run, Young was first among all rookies with 10 tackles for loss and six stuffs, his performance in the latter category putting him tied-13th among all defenders.

He demonstrated a nose for the football, his four forced fumbles tied third in the NFL. Three of those resulted in turnovers, with only Myles Garrett (4) performing better in that regard.

Young's game-wrecking rookie year proved his pre-draft billing was well deserved and, in the eyes of many, vindicated taking him ahead of the other quarterbacks not named Joe Burrow.

However, the success of the Chargers' gamble on a quarterback seen as a level below Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa raises the question of whether Washington would have been better served taking a chance on Herbert.

Justin Herbert

After making his first start in Week 2 amid unusual circumstances, Herbert's rookie season was one defined by him setting rookie records.

Herbert is the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season having not played the opener, Week 1 starter Tyrod Taylor sidelined after a team doctor accidentally punctured his lung while administering a painkilling injection.

His 4,336 passing yards rank second all-time among rookie quarterbacks behind Andrew Luck, who racked up 4,374 with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.

With his completion percentage of 66.6 trailing only Dak Prescott's 67.8 in 2016, Herbert set all-time leading marks for rookie quarterbacks in completions (396), passing yards per game (289.1), passing touchdowns (31) and 300-yard games, of which he recorded eight.

Just three players - Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Tom Brady - finished with a higher yards per game average in the regular season in 2020.

Herbert's name already being in such elite company indicates he is primed to make the leap to the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, provided Los Angeles can build an ecosystem to make the most of his undoubted gifts, and it unquestionably makes him worthy of being the first Charger to win Offensive Rookie of the Year since Don Woods in 1974.

Few anticipated Herbert outperforming both Burrow and Tagovailoa in his rookie season. While Young's incredible first year is an endorsement for betting on freakish athleticism on defense, Herbert's record-setting start to what the Chargers hope will be a storied career serves as further evidence of the significantly more imposing challenge that comes with evaluating quarterbacks.

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