Thomas Partey has an "aura" about him that helps make Arsenal better, according to manager Mikel Arteta.

Partey provided his first Premier League assist as Arsenal recorded a comfortable 3-0 win over Newcastle United on Monday.

Injuries have limited the midfielder to just eight appearances in all competitions since his arrival for a reported £45million (€50m) from Atletico Madrid in October.

Arteta was delighted with the Ghana international, who had two interceptions and two key passes before being substituted in the 67th minute against Newcastle.

"We've been missing Tommy. He has this freshness, this aura that makes him a special player for us," he told a news conference.

"Hopefully he can keep fit because we can see the difference he makes on the side.

"I think he was growing and getting better as the game was moving and evolving."

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a brace and Bukayo Saka was also on the scoresheet and Arsenal kept five consecutive clean sheets in all competitions for the first time since February 2009.

Arteta was satisfied with his side's performance as they climbed up to 10th in the Premier League table.

"We always said that winning is the best thing for any collective team, for us as well," he said.

"To get three clean sheets in a row, that we're scoring goals and everything is more fluent. The energy and the cohesion, the spirit around the team is better.

"We have to keep that and there's a lot of things we need to do better and improve but I'm really pleased."

Arsenal are next in action on Saturday, facing either Southampton or Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup.

Mikel Arteta believes Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can build on his latest goals against Newcastle United after his brace led Arsenal to their 3-0 win on Monday.

Aubameyang scored in a fourth consecutive meeting with Newcastle in all competitions, adding to openers in both Premier League encounters last season and a winner in the FA Cup earlier in January.

The Arsenal captain broke the deadlock as he beat Karl Darlow at his near post shortly after half-time and then completed the scoring from Cedric Soares' cutback.

It was Aubameyang's first Arsenal double since last season's FA Cup final and should give the forward a lift, having failed to score with his prior 10 shots in the league before netting at Emirates Stadium.

"He tried even in the first half; I thought he had two or three really big chances and didn't score," manager Arteta told Sky Sports.

"He scored two today and I think it's going to be really good for his confidence. Obviously it's great for the team because he helped to win the match. Overall, I'm really pleased."

Arsenal were also boosted by Thomas Partey's return to the starting XI for the first time since December's derby defeat at Tottenham.

Partey completed 67 minutes and registered his first assist in English football for Aubameyang's opener.

"I'm really happy," Arteta said. "I think he got better and better as the game went on. He had a big influence. He gives us things that are different to any other player.

"Still, we have to protect him because he's missed a lot of football in the last few months, but I'm really happy with the performance."

The manager reserved special praise for Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, who combined for Arsenal's second.

Smith Rowe forged four chances, more than any other player, and laid on the assist for Saka to sweep in on the hour mark, all but ending Newcastle's interest in the contest.

Smith Rowe, still just 20, has now either scored or assisted in seven of his 10 appearances for Arsenal in all competitions this season.

"When we are winning, they put a smile on my face," Arteta added of the pair. "I know what they are capable of doing.

"They are developing really well and that's merit to them, merit to their team-mates and to everybody that supports them and protects them as well. The performances that they are putting in are extraordinary.

"I think it is [a boost] for everybody, to have that mixture of energy, passion and a little bit of immaturity that, at times, is good, so you don't play as tense like the senior players. I think they've been doing really well."

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang maintained his fine scoring record against Newcastle United as Arsenal continued to climb the table with a 3-0 win at Emirates Stadium.

Gunners captain Aubameyang has endured a testing season along with his team-mates but enjoys facing Newcastle, scoring in each of the sides' previous three meetings heading into this game - including vital openers in both Premier League encounters last season.

That trend continued on Monday with the breakthrough goal five minutes after half-time and a clinching third 13 minutes from the end as Arsenal picked off a Newcastle team showing eight changes but little improvement from their defeat at Sheffield United.

Bukayo Saka doubled the home side's advantage between Aubameyang's strikes as Mikel Arteta's men breached the top half, albeit having played four games more than 11th-placed Aston Villa.

Arsenal should have led after 15 minutes when Karl Darlow blocked Saka's low shot with his right boot but directed the ball only as far as Aubameyang, who hit the crossbar rather than the back of an empty net from a tight angle.

Aubameyang missed the target again under pressure from a retreating Andy Carroll and soon tallied his 10th consecutive attempt without scoring in the league, also seeing a deflected cross clip the post before the break.

Darlow got down to make a strong one-handed save from Alexandre Lacazette at the start of the second half but was soon beaten as Aubameyang finally got his goal, driving beyond the goalkeeper at his near post as Arsenal countered following a Newcastle corner.

Another break from another aimless visiting attack set the stage for the second on the hour mark, with Emile Smith Rowe able to run at Jamaal Lascelles and cut a low cross back for Saka to sweep in.

Newcastle, facing a ninth game without victory, were grateful to Darlow for a brave block as Lacazette headed goalwards, yet it was merely another temporary reprieve as Aubameyang completed the scoring, benefiting from a favourable VAR check as Cedric Soares kept the ball in play.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned to Milan's Serie A starting line-up with both goals in a 2-0 win at Cagliari that restored their three-point lead over Inter at the summit.

Antonio Conte's side pulled level with the Rossoneri thanks to their impressive victory over champions Juventus in Sunday's Derby d'Italia.

But Ibrahimovic is inspiring Milan's title bid with a prolific fervour and marked his first league start since November in style.

A seventh-minute penalty and a crisp half-volley early in the second period took the 39-year-old's tally to a remarkable 12 goals in just eight Serie A appearances this term.

Milan finished with 10 men as substitute Alexis Saelemaekers ludicrously collected two bookings within eight minutes of his 66th-minute introduction but fourth-bottom Cagliari could not avert a fifth straight Serie A loss.

It was far from business as usual in the NBA again last week.

A total of 11 games were postponed due to stringent COVID-19 protocols, making it tough for some players and teams to find their rhythm early in the season.

Others have taken full advantage of opportunities presented to them by teams having to go deep into their rosters in order to fulfil fixtures.

We take a look at the players who had the biggest increases and decreases in production over the previous week.

 

RUNNING HOT…

Shake Milton

The Philadelphie 76ers have seen their roster badly affected by COVID-19 protocols and results over the past week have been a little patchy as a result – a pair of wins over the Miami Heat ended a run of three straight defeats but were followed by a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. One who man stepped up, though, was Milton, who was averaging 14.1 points per game up to January 10. Last week he averaged 29.5 – a difference of 15.4, the highest in the league. 

Duncan Robinson

Last season's beaten finalists the Heat are in somewhat of a rut having lost four of their past five to slip to 4-7 for the season. Robinson has done his best to help reverse the fortunes, though, having averaged 23.3 points last week – his improvement of 12.1 from his average at January 10 was second only to Milton. Part of the improvement can be attributed to his prowess from three-point range over with Robinson averaging five per game, compared to 3.1 for the season prior to the week. Team-mate Tyler Herro has also impressed – averaging 25.5 points per game for the week, a +9.9 difference to his average leading into it.

Bruce Brown

With the Brooklyn Nets trading away Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, Caris LeVert and Rodions Kurucs – as well as a ton of picks – to acquire James Harden, Brown received greater minutes in Steve Nash's rotation. He shot 8-of-11 from the field for 16 points in a win over the Denver Nuggets and had a double-double of 15 points and 14 rebounds against the New York Knicks the following day. However, when Kyrie Irving returns, Brown can expect to see a significant reduction in his time on the floor.

Luka Doncic

The Dallas Mavericks star started to find his range from three over the past week, going 5-of-9 from beyond the arc against the Charlotte Hornets and 6-of-11 versus the Chicago Bulls. He averaged four three-point makes per game last week, a significant improvement on his figure of 1.63 on the season he went in with. Doncic also had 16 rebounds and 15 assists against the Bulls to record his 29th triple-double, surpassing the legendary Michael Jordan on the all-time list. However, he ended up on the losing side against Chicago and blamed himself: "That's on me, that game. I was being selfish a little bit because I had 30 points in the first half. That wasn't me in the second half."

GOING COLD...

Fred VanVleet

Four years after going undrafted, VanVleet was rewarded for his role in the Raptors' recent success as he signed a four-year, $85million deal to stay with Toronto ahead of this season. His performances have not yet justified that outlay, however, and the past week was a particularly disappointing one. The struggling Raptors actually enjoyed a minor upturn in form, winning back-to-back games against the Hornets to improve to 4-8, but VanVleet scored just 14 points per game, 8.1 down on his prior season average of 22.1. There was at least some solace in a first double-double of the season as he stacked up 10 assists in the second Hornets game.

Kevin Huerter and De'Andre Hunter

It was not a good week for the Atlanta Hawks, their shock 3-0 start long since forgotten. Three Atlanta players were at least 6.0 points down on their prior scoring average for the year, yet it was the decline in three-point shooting that really stood out. Huerter and Hunter had each impressed from beyond the arc in the early weeks of the campaign, making 2.4 and 2.1 threes per game respectively. But a remarkable drop-off saw both make just two across three games - two of which were defeats - to each average 0.7. It meant the team as a whole made just five threes in the loss to the Utah Jazz and six as they went down to the Portland Trail Blazers.

George Hill

The Oklahoma City Thunder again traded assets for picks ahead of this season but have still managed to operate at .500 so far, beating the Bulls after defeats to the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers. However, Hill's outstanding early form is showing signs of tailing off. A new arrival this year, the 34-year-old point guard was outperforming his career average of 1.2 threes made per game heading into the week (1.9) but did not make a single one of his seven attempts from beyond the arc against the Spurs, Lakers or Bulls.

Terrence Ross

After a strong start to the season with the Orlando Magic, Ross went into last week averaging 17.9 points and 2.44 three-pointers made per game. However, in meetings with the Nets, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, he shot 3-of-15 from beyond the arc – an average of just one make per game. It's therefore unsurprising he also suffered one of the biggest decreases in points per game to 11, with 23 of his 33 total points coming against Brooklyn.

Much has changed in the past 12 months but one thing that has stayed the same is the mind-boggling brilliance of Erling Haaland.

It has been exactly 12 months since the Norway striker made his debut for Borussia Dortmund following a big-money move from Salzburg.

Haaland came off the bench against Augsburg on that occasion after 56 minutes and scored a hat-trick in a 5-3 win, offering a taste of things to come.

Here, we have crunched the Opta numbers to highlight just how brilliant Haaland has been.

Haaland competing with the best

If you're a football fan, the only way you could have not spotted Haaland's meteoric rise over the last year is if you live under the proverbial rock.

Indeed, using data across all competitions for the top-five European leagues since his Dortmund debut, only two players can better his tally of 35 goals. 

Prepare to be shocked here (Narrator: there is zero shock value involved), those players were Robert Lewandowski (49) and Cristiano Ronaldo (40).

Ciro Immobile, Romelu Lukaku (each 33) and Lionel Messi (29) all trail Haaland, and when we view the numbers through a different lens his past 12 months become even more impressive.

Both Lewandowski (42) and Ronaldo (40) started more games than Haaland's 29. When looking at goals scored per 90 minutes, the Dortmund's star has 1.18 compared to 1.15 for Lewandowski, and 0.99 for Ronaldo. Surprisingly, Luis Muriel 1.57 heads the way here.

What is even more startling is the fact Haaland had 102 shots (including blocks) during this period, way down on Messi (253), Ronaldo (235) and Lewandowski (180).

Indeed, his goals have come from only 58 shots on target. Messi (115), Lewandowski (90) and Ronaldo (85) again head these metrics.

When looking at shots on target per 90, Haaland (1.96) ranks below Muriel (3.14), Messi (2.53), Kylian Mbappe (2.15), Lewandowski and Ronaldo (each 2.11).

No one can better Haaland's shot-conversion rate of 34.31 (Lewandowski for comparison is fifth on 27.22), and while Lewandowski (40) and Ronaldo (29) beat the 28 'big chances' he has scored, both have a lower 'big-chance' conversion rate (55.56 and 52.73 to Haaland's 60.87).

And when it comes to goals/minutes ratio, Haaland's 76.26 is beaten only by Muriel's 55.33. Lewandowski (78.37) and Ronaldo (90.68) are next on the list.

Bundesliga defences taken to Haal-and back

May we all take a brief moment to show our thoughts for Bundesliga defences, who have been given a torrid time by Lewandowski over the past year.

Okay, that's long enough…

If we crunch similar numbers for goals across all competitions for just Bundesliga strikers, it's not exactly hard to see why Haaland has been such a big star in Germany's top flight.

While Lewandowski's 49 goals remain a high, Haaland's 35 is still comfortably better than Andre Silva (26) and Wout Weghorst (24).

The 1.18 goals per 90 minutes is a best among strikers playing in Germany. Lewandowski is of course close behind, but the next best are Lucas Alario (0.86), Andrej Kramaric (0.8) and Silva (0.76).

Lewandowski (180), Serge Gnabry (112) and Silva (110) have all taken more shots but only Lewandowski's 90 on target beats Haaland's 58. Weghorst (53), Gnabry (52) and Silva (51) are not too far behind.

Silva (22) and Weghorst (21) have each scored fewer of their 'big chances', while only three players have a higher 'big-chance' conversion among Bundesliga players.

In terms of goals/minute ratio – Haaland and Lewandowski are the only players below 100. Alario (105.22), Kramaric (112.25) and Silva (117.88) are way off the pace of the superstar duo.

The main takeaway from all of this is Haaland has been sensational over the past 12 months.

Marcus Rashford still has 5-10 per cent improvement to make as he approaches the prime of his career, according to former Manchester United and England captain Bryan Robson.

Rashford made it five games without a goal in 2021 as Premier League leaders United played out a goalless draw with champions Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday.

Nevertheless, the England forward is enjoying a productive season with 14 goals and six assists in all competitions.

The 23-year-old has only bettered that goal tally once across the course of an entire campaign, with 22 last term bolstered by six conversions from eight Premier League penalties - duties that now lie with Bruno Fernandes.

He netted one spot kick in the 4-1 Champions League win over Istanbul Basaksehir this time around and his 12 open-play goals in Europe's elite competition and the Premier League came from shots with a cumulative xG value of eight - highlighting some impressive efficiency in front of goal.

"Marcus is getting to an age where he’s maturing and will come to his prime soon," Robson told Stats Perform News.

"I think he’s really improved over the last two years. He's worked really hard on his physique and fitness. But I do believe there’s another 5-10 percent in Marcus.

"When things get easy for him in games he becomes a little bit lazy on the ball and gives it away more than he should.

"But that’s probably because we know he can create with a great pass, and sometimes when you're that little bit younger you don't have that real strong mentality to go further.

"I think he can go on to be a great player for Man United and England."

Although Anthony Martial opened the scoring in the 2-1 New Year's Day victory over Aston Villa, Rashford's fellow forward has found the going tougher in front of goal overall this season.

The France international has five goals in 22 games, with just two in 14 in the Premier League.

Robson believes the 25-year-old can sometimes struggle for confidence, while also highlighting his heavy workload as United's 2019-20 schedule ran on until the Europa League semi-final defeat to Sevilla in August.

"It was a long season for a few of the lads," he said. "It took a few of them quite a time to get going, they had no pre-season after Sevilla loss.

"I think it affected [Martial]. I don't think he's a totally confident lad.

"I think he needs encouraging, but I'm sure as the season goes on he just needs a run of games with a couple of goals."

Willy Boly had an eventful derby and there was a penalty double for Matheus Pereira as West Brom boss Sam Allardyce maintained his unbeaten record against the team he used to support as a boy.

Albion claimed a huge victory in their bid to avoid relegation from the Premier League at Molineux on Saturday, beating bitter rivals Wolves 3-2.

There was no such entertainment at Anfield on Sunday, with a hugely hyped clash between Liverpool and leaders Manchester United ending goalless, while Antonee Robinson's red card was costly as Fulham were beaten by Chelsea.

Ilkay Gundogan matched his best Manchester City goal tally for a season in a 4-0 rout of Crystal Palace, while Tottenham captain Harry Kane made his mark in Yorkshire yet again 

With the help of Opta data, we take a look at some of the quirkiest stats from the top-flight action over the weekend.

 

Boly in thick of the action as Wolves pay the penalty 

West Brom ended an eight-match winless run to claim three precious points against their big rivals Wolves.

Defender Boly became the first Wolves player to concede a penalty, provide an assist and score in a Premier League game since Adlene Guedioura in May 2011 - which was also against West Brom at Molineux.

Baggies midfielder Pereira was on target with two spot-kicks, becoming the fifth player to score a brace of penalties in a top-flight game this season. The last time there were so many penalty doubles was back in the 2010-11 campaign.

Allardyce was a Wolves fan as a youngster, but his allegiances have long gone out of the window, as the Albion head coach has not lost in 12 Premier League games against Wanderers - his longest unbeaten streak against any side.

 

Gun firing on all cylinders

Kevin De Bruyne sparkled once again as in-form City hammered Palace to go second in the table.

The midfield maestro laid on one of two goals for John Stones, taking his tally of assists for City to a landmark 100.

Gundogan is another midfielder who has caught the eye this season and the Germany international was on target with a sublime long-range finish at the Etihad Stadium.

The former Borussia Dortmund playmaker has scored four goals in his past six Premier League games, as many as he could muster in his previous 55 matches in the top flight. His tally of six for the season is the joint-most he has scored for City.

 

Kane comes up smelling of White Roses again

Prolific Spurs skipper Kane led by example yet again in a 3-1 win at bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United.

Kane scored his 19th goal of what is proving to be another outstanding season in Tottenham's first league win at Bramall Lane since 1975, having failed to secure maximum points in their previous seven visits.

England captain Kane has scored in each of his past six Premier League games in Yorkshire, a run that former Leeds United striker Mark Viduka was the last to achieve in 2003.

Leeds will have to be wary of the talismanic striker when Jose Mourinho's men return to the White Rose county for a clash at Elland Road on May 8.

 

Dire States: Rash Robinson costs Fulham

Fulham full-back Robinson was sent off late in the first half of the London derby at Craven Cottage for a rash lunge on Cesar Azpilicueta.

Chelsea had to be patient as they pushed for a winner, but Mason Mount struck to consign Scott Parker's relegation-threatened side to a 1-0 defeat.

Robinson was the eighth player from the United States to be given his marching orders in the Premier League.

The former Wigan Athletic left-back's dismissal also made Fulham the first club to have two players from the USA see red, Carlos Bocanegra being the other.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer followed the Jose Mourinho method of parking the bus in Manchester United's draw with Liverpool, according to Paul Ince. 

The Red Devils maintained their place at the top of the Premier League, three points ahead of the champions in fourth, with a 0-0 stalemate at Anfield on Sunday. 

Despite enjoying just 34 per cent of the possession, United limited Liverpool to very few opportunities as the Reds went three league games without scoring for the first time since March 2005. 

In fact, United should perhaps have snatched victory in the second half, with Alisson making good saves to deny Bruno Fernandes and a clear-cut Paul Pogba chance. 

Solskjaer stated after the match that he did not feel his side deserved to win, though, arguing they should have done more throughout to threaten a centre-back partnership of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson. 

And Ince, who played for both teams, claimed Solskjaer deployed the same tactics that saw Mourinho "absolutely slaughtered" during his time as manager at Old Trafford.

"You could see the game plan with Manchester United, you saw it from the first whistle – they defended very, very deep," Ince told talkSPORT 2. "I thought United were very poor in the first half. 

"I remember a few years ago when Mourinho took United to Anfield, he parked the bus and got absolutely slaughtered for it. That's exactly what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did in the first half. 

“We knew they were going to defend and rely on their quick players like Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford to counter-attack Liverpool. But I've played in Man United teams… you don't go to Anfield to defend, especially at a time where they've got two of their best midfield players playing at centre-half and they haven't scored in the last two games. 

"I wanted to see them have a go at Liverpool because they were there for the taking. This was an opportunity for Manchester United to go there and show what they were all about, but they just sat deep and it disappoints me."

WERE UNITED OVER-CAUTIOUS?

Solskjaer admitted he was unhappy with his side's first-half display and it was certainly not an enterprising one. 

United had just one shot in the first half, a Bruno Fernandes free-kick that went narrowly wide, while Liverpool attempted nine. It was the first time since December 2019 that the Red Devils failed to hit the target before the interval in a league game. 

Part of the problem, Solskjaer said, was an eagerness to release striker Rashford at the wrong moments. The England international was caught offside four times in the first half, more than he ever had in a complete league game before. 

Still, the leaders were a little more adventurous after the break. They had seven shots to Liverpool's eight and finished the game with four on target, one more than the home side, with Pogba's chance the best of the contest. The expected goals tally for each side was a little over one.

PLAYING THE PERCENTAGES

Ince's frustration seemed to be that United were no better on Sunday than they were in December 2018, when a one-sided 3-1 defeat at Anfield spelled the end of Mourinho's time in charge.

They were certainly happy to give up the ball. United ended this most recent game with 34 per cent of the possession, their lowest figure in a league game at Anfield under Solskjaer and both slightly down from Mourinho's final visit. 

And yet, United had a far greater degree of control on the game than in their previous two trips to their bitter rivals. 

Their shot count was done by just one on last season's game, which ended 2-0 to Liverpool, and was higher than in any of their visits to Anfield under Mourinho. Similarly, they faced just one more Liverpool shot than last term and a whopping 19 fewer than they did in December 2018. That 3-1 loss also saw United make 41 clearances, eight more than they had to make on Sunday. 

And while Mourinho's final game saw them attempt 59 passes into the final third – much higher than the 35 they managed this time – the majority of those were long balls aimed at alleviating pressure on the defence.

Indeed, United on Sunday attempted 22 passes into the Liverpool box, four more than they managed in Mourinho's last visit to Merseyside, highlighting a greater level of poise about their forward play.

Lamar Jackson got his playoff win last week, but six days on from their revenge over the Tennessee Titans, the Baltimore Ravens were left to reflect on a year in which they will feel they fell short of expectations.

Their season came to a meek end on Saturday with a 17-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional Round, the Ravens bowing out at that stage for the second successive season.

Baltimore's offense failed to really get going and the turning point in a close contest came when Jackson tossed a red-zone interception to Bills defensive back Taron Jackson.

The 2019 MVP's namesake promptly returned it 101 yards for a Bills touchdown that left the Ravens with what proved an insurmountable deficit.

Jackson then left a chastening game with a concussion, and wide receiver Willie Snead afterwards gave a frank assessment of how the Ravens' signal-caller will respond to this setback.

"I just think he’ll look back at the whole season — not just this game, the whole season — and he'll make those adjustments that he needs to do to be an elite quarterback; an even more elite quarterback," Snead said.

"He is an elite runner, an elite passer, but there are steps he can take, better strides that he can take, and he knows that. That's the competitor in him to want to get better each and every offseason, to fix the little things that his game needs improvement on and continue to get better as a passer.

"I think if he knuckles down on that part of his game and really reaches his full potential in that area, then the sky is the limit for Lamar, man. It's just a matter of time. So, it's really on him. I think this game is going to be a wake-up call for him, hopefully this offseason. So, we'll see what he does next year."

Yet there is a case to be made that it is Baltimore's front office that needs the wake-up call, with key issues on the offensive side of the ball exposed once more by the Bills.

If the Ravens are to climb the mountain with Jackson, they must address two key problem areas.

Interior issues

Jackson's concussion was suffered as he scrambled to recover a snap way over his head from center Patrick Mekari.

Mekari was off target with four snaps in a dismal performance indicative of the Ravens' struggles on the interior of the offensive line following the retirement of future Hall of Fame guard Marshal Yanda.

Yanda has understandably proved tough to replace, and the numbers reflect that.

Jackson was pressured on 16.2 per cent of his dropbacks in 2019 as the Ravens compiled a league-best 14-2 record.

In the 2020 regular season, that number rose to 21.4 per cent, and Jackson and backup Tyler Huntley were pressured on 36.6 per cent of dropbacks against the Bills, according to the NFL's NextGen Stats.

There has been a clear drop-off in Jackson's protection, which has been compounded by a lack of difference-making options at wide receiver.

Wideout woes

The Ravens did invest a first-round pick in a wide receiver in Marquise Brown in 2018. 

Brown made strides in 2020 but the fact tight end Mark Andrews led the team with 50.1 receiving yards per game is illustrative of the lack of a consistent impact from the wideouts.

Snead, an experienced slot receiver set for free agency this offseason, led the Ravens in percentage of catches that went for a first down with 69.7 and yards after catch per reception with 5.9.

The latter stat is particularly telling. So many of the league's best offenses boast playmakers who can make things happen with the ball in their hands but the Ravens, with Snead a potential departure, are severely lacking in that regard, Brown having averaged just 4.3 YAC per reception.

To his credit, speedster Brown was the Ravens' best receiver in terms of plays of 25 yards or more (nine) and touchdowns (eight).

Yet 2019 third-round pick Miles Boykin has delivered only sporadic spurts of production, and while Devin Duvernay showed signs of promise, he and fellow 2020 selection James Proche will need to become significantly bigger parts of the offense if the Ravens do not add to their receiving corps in the offseason.

Even if Snead stays, the Ravens require a more dynamic wideout who can take over the chain-moving burden and provide Baltimore with a legitimate YAC threat in 2021.

Jackson is not without his flaws, as his crushing turnover showed. However, too often in 2020 he had the look of a quarterback not properly protected by the heart of his line and not properly supported by his receivers.

If the Ravens are to make the most of his incredible dual-threat skill set, that has to change.

Tom Brady praised the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' "incredible" defense after a playoff win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

The Buccaneers caused four turnovers, leading to 21 points, to claim a 30-20 win in the NFC Divisional Round.

Brady rushed for a late touchdown and completed 18 of 33 passes for 199 yards and two TDs as the star quarterback improved to 14-2 in the Divisional Round.

The 43-year-old hailed the Buccaneers' defense, which intercepted Saints quarterback Drew Brees three times.

"Defense was incredible all game. The turnovers were huge," he told a news conference.

"Last time we played them we lost the turnover minus-three, today was plus-four. You're not going to lose many games when you're plus-four. Just a great effort. They came up huge.

"Offensively, we made some plays when we needed to, running game was great, line protected great up front, just a great week of prep and really proud of our team and everything we put in to get to this point."

The Buccaneers will face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in their first NFC Championship Game since 2003.

Brady – a six-time Super Bowl champion – is looking forward to the matchup against the Packers, the top seed in the NFC.

"There's only four teams left, we're one of them, it's tough to get to this point," he said.

"We need a great week of practice. We've got one of the best teams in the league obviously in Green Bay, the top seed, and Aaron's playing incredible.

"They've got a great defense so it's going to be a great matchup."

Brady will start his 14th conference championship when the Buccaneers travel to Lambeau Field.

He has more conference championship wins (nine) than any other quarterback has starts, per NFL Research.

According to Stats Perform, the Buccaneers became the first team in NFL history to lose to a team by double-digit points twice during the regular season but then beat that team by double digits in the playoffs.

The New York Knicks routed the Boston Celtics 105-75 in a stunning upset in the NBA on Sunday.

Julius Randle (20 points and 12 rebounds) and RJ Barrett (19 points and 11 rebounds) came up big to help the Knicks snap a five-game losing streak.

The Celtics had the best record in the Eastern Conference following five successive wins, but the hosts suffered their biggest loss of the season and had their lowest scoring output in 2020-21.

Luka Doncic posted his 29th career triple-double in the Dallas Mavericks' 117-101 defeat against the Chicago Bulls.

The All-Star moved above Bulls and NBA great Michael Jordan and into 15th position on the all-time triple-double list after finishing with 36 points, 16 rebounds and 15 assists.

Doncic put up the fourth 35-plus point, 15-plus rebound and 15-plus assist game in NBA history, while he joined Oscar Robertson (five times), Wilt Chamberlain (1968) and James Harden (2016) as the only players with that stat line.

 

Career-high night for Fox

The Sacramento Kings lost 128-123 at home to the New Orleans Pelicans, but De'Aaron Fox posted a career-high 43 points and 13 assists. Sacramento team-mate Marvin Bagley III also had a double-double of 26 points and 10 rebounds.

Nikola Jokic (35 points and 14 rebounds) and Jamal Murray (30 points) combined for 65 points, but the Denver Nuggets still went down 109-105 to the Utah Jazz.

 

Walker returns but struggles

Kemba Walker made his season debut after missing the opening 11 games of the 2020-21 campaign due to injury. But the Celtics star was just three of 13 from the field and one of eight from three-point range for nine points in 20 minutes before exiting in the third quarter with a rib problem. Boston team-mate Semi Ojeleye attempted six shots from beyond the arc, however, he missed all of them.

 

Zion flexes his muscles

Former number one draft pick Zion Williamson put on a show. The Pelicans star had 31 points on 13-of-15 shooting from the field, including a couple of monster dunks.

Sunday's results

New York Knicks 105-75 Boston Celtics
Chicago Bulls 117-101 Dallas Mavericks
Utah Jazz 109-105 Denver Nuggets
New Orleans Pelicans 128-123 Sacramento Kings
Los Angeles Clippers 129-96 Indiana Pacers
Cleveland Cavaliers-Washington Wizards (postponed)
Philadelphia 76ers-Oklahoma City Thunder (postponed)

 

Bucks at Nets

James Harden will look to follow up his historic debut when the Brooklyn Nets (8-6) host reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks (9-4) on Monday.

 

Andy Reid said Patrick Mahomes was "feeling good" after the Kansas City Chiefs star suffered a concussion in Sunday's 22-17 win over the Cleveland Browns.

Mahomes was replaced by Chad Henne in the third quarter of the AFC Divisional Round game at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday after a big hit from Browns linebacker Mack Wilson.

Amid concerns over the 2018 NFL MVP – who joined Hall of Famer Steve Young (1993-94) as the only players in NFL history to have a passing touchdown and rushing TD in three successive playoff games – Chiefs head coach Reid was upbeat about Mahomes' health.

"He's actually doing very well. I just talked to him and he's doing good," Reid told a news conference.

"We'll see how he is tomorrow, but right now he's feeling good."

Without Mahomes, Super Bowl champions the Chiefs still managed to book a meeting with the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game.

Henne produced a 13-yard run and made a short pass to Tyreek Hill on fourth-and-one to seal the Chiefs' win.

"When you're around him [Henne], you just know. I'm glad he had an opportunity to play a week or two ago, whenever our last game was, and get in," Reid said.

"I think that helped him when he jumped in this time of just being comfortable with the speed of everything. Everybody has full confidence in him."

Reid added: "We go through all of those Saturday night with the quarterbacks and those situations, fourth-and-one to win the game, what do you want? That play happened to be there.

"My coaches were on board between Mike [Kafka] and Eric [Bieniemy] and Joe [Bleymaier] upstairs, they all did a great job, with the spot, with the calls, with everything. They were spot on so it was a great job."

The Chiefs will host the AFC Championship Game for the third consecutive season. According to NFL Research, Kansas City joined the 2002-2004 Philadelphia Eagles – also coached by Reid – as the only teams to stage three straight conference championships.

Kevin Na birdied the final hole to win the Sony Open in Hawaii by one stroke on Sunday.

The American carded a five-under 65 in the final round at Waialae Country Club, finishing a stroke clear of Chris Kirk (65) and Joaquin Niemann (66).

Na made a short birdie putt after producing a great chip on the final hole, the birdie sending him to 21 under and victory.

It marked his fifth PGA Tour win and fourth in two and a half years.

"It's a nice feeling. I know it's a Ryder Cup year, it's all positives. I feel great," Na told a news conference after his win.

"It's four seasons in a row I've won, it's a great feeling, nice to get it done early but I'd like to win another one before the season is over."

Behind Kirk and Niemann were Webb Simpson (64), Marc Leishman (65) and overnight leader Brendan Steele (69).

Niemann, who lost a play-off at the Tournament of Champions last week, finished second for the second straight week.

The last player to finish second in back-to-back weeks on the PGA Tour was Simpson in 2019.

Patton Kizzire (64), Collin Morikawa (64), Billy Horschel (65) and Daniel Berger (66) finished tied for seventh at 18 under.

Tom Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into their first NFC Championship Game since 2003 with a 30-20 win over the New Orleans Saints.

Brady, 43, and Drew Brees, 42, were below their best in the highly anticipated NFC Divisional Round clash, but the Buccaneers got the job done late at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday.

The Buccaneers scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, with Brady's rushing touchdown capping the win and setting up a clash against the Green Bay Packers.

Brady went 18 of 33 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, while Brees threw three interceptions – including two in the fourth quarter – while completing 19 of 34 passes for one TD.

The Saints' four turnovers proved costly as the Buccaneers moved into the NFC Championship Game.

Trailing 6-3, the first touchdown of the game saw Brady find Mike Evans after Sean Murphy-Bunting intercepted Brees.

The Saints' response came through Jameis Winston, who threw a 56-yard TD pass to Tre'Quan Smith, and the teams were level at 13-13 at half-time.

Brees and Brady traded TD passes in the third quarter to Smith and Leonard Fournette respectively, keeping the game level with a quarter to play.

Ryan Succop's 36-yard field goal put the Buccaneers 23-20 up and Devin White intercepted Brees to give Tampa Bay another chance, which Brady took.

 

Turning point – White steps up with well-timed interception

Brees and the Saints were looking to respond to Succop's fourth-quarter field goal, but instead gifted Tampa Bay an opportunity to extend their three-point lead as White intercepted the QB.

The Buccaneers made no mistake, and it was Brady rushing over from one yard to give his team a decisive 30-20 lead.

Brady gets it done again in Divisional Round

The Buccaneers' win saw Brady improve his record in the Divisional Round to 14-2.

The six-time Super Bowl champion may have been below his absolute best, but he still got it done, putting the Buccaneers into the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2003.

What's next?

Brady and the Buccaneers face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field on January 24.

For the Saints, meanwhile, there is plenty of talk about Brees' future amid reports the quarterback is set to retire.

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