Isaiah McKenzie knows he let a big opportunity slip right through his fingers last season.
Six muffed punts .
The Denver Broncos returner knows he can’t hide from that glaring figure. All he can do is learn Authentic Customized Bills Jerseys , which is why McKenzie went back and watched every mistake again and again. He’s hoping to win back trust and receive another chance after fumbling it away.
”Unacceptable,” the 5-foot-8, 173-pound McKenzie said of his rookie season as two of his muffs led to turnovers and another to a safety. ”I say that because I know the things I can do. I can catch the ball. I can make plays. I made bad decisions. I understand that and I’m building off that. I’ve come back this year with a better mindset.”
Over the offseason, he focused on little things: Getting more sleep. Eating better. Lifting more in the weight room.
”It was about getting my mind right, my body right,” McKenzie said.
He also scrutinized those muffed punts and the decisions that led to them.
”It’s like, `Why did I do that? I shouldn’t have done that,”’ said McKenzie, whose long return last season was 44 yards at Philadelphia. ”The first four games, I was catching everything and making big plays. I kind of got greedy.”
He’s got even more competition this time around. There’s receiver Jordan Taylor and rookie wideout DaeSean Hamilton, along with rookie running backs David Williams, Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. The team also has a new special teams coordinator in Tom McMahon, who doesn’t have any sort of hierarchy in place yet.
Or preconceived notions.
”I want them to earn it,” McMahon said. ”Naturally, Isaiah and Jordan Dante Pettis Color Rush Jersey , in my opinion, they’re doing a great job right now. … We’re going to have a great returner, whoever it is.”
McKenzie just hopes he can win back the confidence in him – from head coach Vance Joseph, who kept running him out there. From his teammates. From the fans.
”People don’t understand, you’re sitting in the stands, but punt return is hard. It’s a tough job,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. ”He has to reset. He doesn’t have a choice. He has to take a step back and say, `OK, how can I break down the film and get better?’ That’s what he’s been doing. We’re going to see if it paid off when the season comes.”
McKenzie also hopes there’s room for him as a receiver. The team spent draft picks on Courtland Sutton (second round) and Hamilton (fourth).
”We got two of the best receivers in the draft,” said McKenzie, who caught four passes for 29 yards. ”It’s a job competition every day. That’s what I come here to do, compete every day.”
A fifth-round pick out of Georgia, McKenzie started out with a 31-yard punt return against the Los Angeles Chargers in the opener.
Soon after, the muffs began to happen. Two against Oakland, which didn’t result in turnovers. Another mishandling against the New York Giants – again recovered and no real harm done Leonard Williams Jersey Youth , except perhaps to the psyche.
McKenzie’s bobble cost him at Kansas City , with his turnover leading to a field goal. And another against New England after the defense forced a three-and-out to open the game. Tom Brady converted that into a TD during a 41-16 rout on Nov. 12.
McKenzie was inactive the following week in a season going sideways. At practice on Thanksgiving Day, McKenzie and defensive back Chris Harris Jr. got into a tussle.
The following week, inactive again before he returned Dec. 3 at Miami. He fumbled a punt in the fourth quarter that led to him being tackled in the end zone for a safety. He didn’t return a punt over the last four contests.
”Last year was a roller coaster,” McKenzie said. ”But it’s a fresh start. I’m catching the ball well on punts. I’m keeping it rolling.”
NOTES: Sanders is hoping to help set up a quarterback/receiver camp this summer. ”Go out there for two or three days and throw the football around and hang out and gain team chemistry,” Sanders said. … S Justin Simmons is trying to balance workouts with being a father after the birth of his daughter last month. ”No sleep,” he said. ”But it’s good.”
Jeff Van Gundy warned the Americans that they were in for a serious challenge.
To his chagrin, he was right, and the U.S. was handed a rare loss.
Francisco Cruz scored 24 points, Mexico opened with an 18-0 run and went on to beat the United States 78-70 on Thursday night in a qualifying game for next year’s FIBA World Cup.
According to USA Basketball, it was just the second loss by the U.S. in 30 games against Mexico – with the other defeat coming in the 2011 Pan Am Games.
Orlando Mendez-Valdez added 20 points for Mexico, which held the U.S. scoreless for the first 5:51 and forced the Americans into missing their first 10 shots from the floor.
”Mexico dominated us from the start and that’s on me,” Van Gundy said. ”We were not ready to compete at the level Mexico did. Give them all the credit, they played a great, great game.”
Marcus Thornton scored 14 points for the U.S. Cheap Vita Vea Jersey , which is using a roster composed primarily of G League players for the qualifying rounds. Xavier Munford added 11 points while David Stockton and Reggie Hearn each had 10 for the Americans.
The U.S. lost for the first time in 10 contests under Van Gundy, who is coaching this team that’s tasked with getting the team of NBA stars that will be coached by Gregg Popovich to the World Cup.
”We can’t underestimate how hard it is going to be to play on the road, at altitude, and against a team desperate to qualify for the FIBA World Cup,” Van Gundy said leading up to the game. ”We have to make sure we match that type of intensity and passion that we know they’ll bring.”
By the time the U.S. found its stride, it was already in deep trouble. Mexico led 31-10 after the first quarter, then staved off a big second-half rally try by the U.S.
Trey McKinney-Jones‘ basket late in the third quarter capped a 15-1 run and put the U.S. within 53-51. Thornton made a pair of 3-pointers about a minute apart in that burst, and Hearn’s 3-pointer early in the fourth cut Mexico’s lead to 56-54.
But the U.S. never got the lead.
”In the second half we competed at a high level and that high level got us back in the game, but we just couldn’t get over the hump,” Van Gundy said.
The Americans (4-1) – who have already ensured themselves a spot in the second round of qualifying that starts in September – end the first-round series of games Sunday when they go to Havana to face Cuba (0-5). It’ll be the first time a U.S. men’s national team has played in Havana since the 1991 Pan American Games. Mexico (3-2) also wraps up its first round on Sunday, when it plays at Puerto Rico (3-2).
David Huertas had 18 points, Angel Rodriguez and JJ Barea each had 15 and Puerto Rico rallied in the fourth quarter in another qualifying game Thursday to top Cuba 84-80.
Under FIBA’s new qualifying format, teams are playing home-and-home games against teams in their region to earn places in the World Cup in China, which begins on Aug. 31, 2019. That tournament will qualify seven teams for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
This was the first time the U.S. played a true road game during this tournament. The Americans opened qualifying in November with an 85-78 win in what was a ”home” game for Puerto Rico – but the contest was actually played in Orlando Martinas Rankin Color Rush Jersey , Florida because of continued problems in San Juan following Hurricane Maria.
And this was very much a real road atmosphere.
Not only was the game played at Mexico City’s 7,500-foot altitude, but in a filled 5,000-seat arena that Mexican officials said sold out in only 45 minutes.
The tone was set by the U.S. turning the ball over on each of its first three possessions, and Mexico was off and running.
The U.S. routed Mexico back in November, winning by 36 points.
That was a very different Mexico team.
Only four players from the Mexican roster then were in uniform on Thursday night, with the team now able to add those who were playing in their various professional leagues and unable to take part when the qualifying rounds began. Cruz and Mendez-Valdez each had 13 points by halftime, and Gustavo Ayon was a big factor even without big numbers – four points, four rebounds and five assists by the break.
If their names are familiar to U.S. basketball aficionados, it’s for good reason.
Ayon appeared in 135 NBA games in parts of three seasons with four different franchises, and just helped Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid win the EuroLeague. Mendez-Valdez was part of the Western Kentucky team that went to the Sweet Sixteen in 2008, and he won the Sun Belt’s player of the year award in the following season. Cruz played at Wyoming and has played in pro leagues in Mexico, Latvia, Argentina and Spain.