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Column: Justin Fields is set to return against the Green Bay Packers — and the rookie quarterback is in search of a little respect for the Chicago Bears

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Column: Justin Fields is set to return after missing 2 games with cracked ribs — and the Chicago Bears and their rookie quarterback are in search of a little respect

Justin Fields has the same vibe that most Chicago Bears fans have come to experience.

They’re not getting any respect.

The only thing the rookie quarterback and the Bears (4-8) can do to change the narrative is to win some of their five remaining games, beginning Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers (9-3) at Lambeau Field.

Fields this week was medically cleared to return from three cracked ribs and will start against the Packers after being knocked out of the Nov. 21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens and missing the next two games.

“I just think a lot of the times teams maybe don’t respect us or don’t give us credit,” Fields said. “I mean, you can’t blame them. We messed up sometimes in the games and we’ve pretty much messed up in a lot of games. … We’re going to attack every game like it’s our last game and we’re going to play through it all.”

The Bears are not getting much respect from the oddsmakers in Las Vegas as 12½-point underdogs, but that comes with the territory in this series. The Packers have won the last five meetings and 20 of the previous 23.

Maybe the Bears can sneak up on the Packers or other remaining opponents — the Minnesota Vikings (twice), New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks. The Bears figure to be favored only against the Giants.

“It feels good,” Fields said. “I like being the underdog. It just gives me an extra chip on my shoulder. I like when people doubt me. That just gives me a little extra motivation. So I love it.”

Being an underdog is new for Fields — he was 20-2 as the starter at Ohio State — but it’s all part of his maturation process in the NFL. The most important thing: He was cleared, meaning the Bears do not believe he’s at risk for more serious injury.

Fields said he’s still not certain when the injury occurred against the Ravens and didn’t believe it was on his final play. He said he normally wears protective padding on his midsection and will do so against the Packers.

“I’m going to have to be smart this upcoming game with not taking as many hits as I usually do,” he said.

“There’s pain there, but I mean, the pain’s just not unbearable. I know there’s going to be pain there, but it is what it is. As long as it’s just not crazy pain where I can’t bear it, I’m going to play and practice.”

Fields threw for 174 yards and a touchdown with one interception and four sacks when the Packers defeated the Bears 24-14 on Oct. 17 at Soldier Field. That started a five-game losing streak, and the organization has been in turmoil since.

The best way to calm the storm, if only temporarily, would be to stun the Packers, and the only chance the Bears have of rolling off some victories in the stretch run is getting their offense rolling.

“We really feel like he was improving as the games went by for him individually, our team, our offense,” coach Matt Nagy said. “There are still places where we can certainly improve. As a staff, we felt like we were really getting a good feel for where he was, and then he gets injured. So then for him to come back against a big division opponent and rival, I know that he’s excited for it.”

Meanwhile, Nagy was cryptic when describing a left hand injury that kept Andy Dalton out of practice Wednesday. Nagy declined to say whether Dalton suffered a broken hand, which a source said was the fear. The team plans to evaluate Dalton’s pain tolerance and possible swelling to determine if he or Nick Foles will serve as the No. 2 quarterback in Green Bay.

The Bears hope two weeks on the sideline gave Fields a different perspective that allowed him to get a slightly better feel for what to expect from opposing defenses — and maybe small elements of situational football that he can apply while he searches for the consistency that has been missing for the offense.

“I think he’s just, like most young players, you sometimes have got to go through some ups and downs and navigate your way through that,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “But he’s a very confident guy. He’s obviously very, very talented, not only as a thrower, but he’s got the added element that you can’t account for — his ability to make the off-schedule play.

“He’s more comfortable in what they’re doing. He’s a heck of a challenge to defend.”

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Man and dog die after being shot in Fenton on Sunday

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Man and dog die after being shot in Fenton on Sunday

FENTON, Mo. – A man and a dog have died after they were shot Sunday in St. Louis County.

Police said the shooting happened at about 3:25 p.m. in the 600 block of Greenhurst Court. When officers arrived, they found 25-year-old Austin Vines and a dog suffering from gunshot wounds. Vines was taken to the hospital for medical treatment, but has since died. The dog has also died from the gunshot injury.

St. Louis County Police Department Crimes Against Persons detectives are investigating this homicide. Contact the St. Louis County Police Department at 636-529-8210 to speak to investigators if you have any information regarding the incident. To remain anonymous or potentially receive a reward, contact CrimeStoppers at 1-866-371-TIPS (8477).

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White House: Texas hostage-taker not in terror database

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Texas synagogue hostage-taker had stayed in area shelters

By JAMIE STENGLE, JAKE BLEIBERG and ERIC TUCKER

COLLEYVILLE, Texas (AP) — The gunman who took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue in a 10-hour standoff that ended in his death was checked against law enforcement databases before entering the U.S. but raised no red flags, the White House said Tuesday.

Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen, arrived in the U.S. at Kennedy Airport in New York about two weeks ago, a law enforcement official said. He spent time in Dallas-area homeless shelters before the attack Saturday in the suburb of Colleyville.

British media, including the Guardian, reported Tuesday that Akram was investigated by the domestic intelligence service MI5 as a possible “terrorist threat” in 2020, but the investigation was closed after authorities concluded he posed no threat.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Akram appears not to have set off any alarms in U.S. terrorism databases when he entered the country.

“Our understanding, and obviously we’re still looking into this, is that he was checked against U.S. government databases multiple times prior to entering the country, and the U.S. government did not have any derogatory information about the individual in our systems at the time of entry,” Psaki said.

She added: “We’re certainly looking back … what occurred to learn every possible lesson we can to prevent attacks like this in the future.”

The standoff in Colleyville, a city of about 26,000 people 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of Dallas, ended after the last of the hostages ran out of the synagogue and an FBI SWAT team rushed in. Akram was killed, but authorities have declined to say who shot him, saying it was still under investigation.

President Joe Biden called the episode an act of terror.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who was among the hostages, told “ CBS Mornings” that he had let Akram into Congregation Beth Israel on Saturday morning because he appeared to need shelter.

Cytron-Walker said the man wasn’t threatening or suspicious at first, but later he heard a gun click as he was praying.

One hostage was released hours later, and the rabbi and two others later escaped after Cytron-Walker threw a chair at the gunman.

During the standoff, Akram could be heard on a Facebook livestream demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who is suspected of having ties to al-Qaida and was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. The prison where Siddiqui is serving her sentence is in nearby Fort Worth.

An attorney in Texas who represents Siddiqui said the prisoner had no connection to Akram.

The investigation stretched to England, where over the weekend police announced that two teenagers were in custody in connection with the standoff. The teenagers are Akram’s sons, two U.S. law enforcement officials told The Associated Press. The officials were not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

On Tuesday, police in Britain said the teenagers had been released without charge. They were detained in Manchester, about 30 miles from Akram’s hometown of Blackburn.

Akram’s family said he had been “suffering from mental health issues.”

Federal investigators believe Akram bought the handgun used in the hostage-taking in a private sale, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still going on.

___

Stengle reported from Dallas and Tucker reported from Washington. Also contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Paul J. Weber and Acacia Coronado in Austin; Michael Balsamo in Washington; and Danica Kirka and Sylvia Hui in London.

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Becky Hammon: It was easy decision to leave NBA, return to WNBA

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Becky Hammon: It was easy decision to leave NBA, return to WNBA

Becky Hammon said she has always followed her heart and not worried about what other people think of her career decisions.

There were concerns when she chose to play at Colorado State instead of a bigger school. There was backlash about her playing for Russia in the Olympics and now she has heard rumblings about leaving the NBA and coach the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces.

“My heart was saying it was time to go. This is where I am supposed to be right now,” she said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “There were a lot of sleepless nights getting to this conclusion.”

She spent eight years as an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs becoming the first fulltime female coach in NBA history. She learned from one of the NBA’s best in Gregg Popovich and now feels it is time to for a different path, so she pivoted to the WNBA, where she played for many years.

“Las Vegas sees me as a head coach now,” she said. “The WNBA has called every year with job openings. … I’ve always said thank you I’m very flattered, but stayed on this path. This was first time where I was like I’ll listen.” ”

She’s proud of her still–being-written legacy as a trailblazer, having interviewed for several NBA head coaching jobs. But for now, her dream of becoming the first woman to lead an NBA team is on hold.

“Women are getting hired in all sorts of positions now. Not just the NBA, but across professional sports leagues,” she said. “For anyone to say the needle hasn’t moved is wrong. The process (interviewing) in Portland moved the needle. It was a great process for me.”

Hammon has heard the outside noise that taking the WNBA job is a step down and she takes umbrage with any who believes it.

“I think it’s an ignorant statement. To think I’ve outgrown the WNBA in a coaching capacity is ridiculous,” she said. “I’d rather be a coach in the WNBA and have my own organization and be running a team.”

There are still a half dozen women assistant coaches in the NBA. Hammon’s resume jas earned her plenty of respect: A person familiar with her contract says she will be the WNBA’s highest-paid coach. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because details of the deal has not been publicly announced, and they are still unclear.

“It’s a great opportunity to have a head coaching job at that level.,” Popovich said. “To prove herself. She’s already proven herself to me, but that doesn’t matter in the long run. She’s interviewed for a few jobs in the NBA, and she’s more than qualified and would have done a great job.”

Hammon will be pulling double-duty for the next few months until the Spurs’ season is over. One of the first things that she’ll have to do is hire her own coaching staff. She’s begun calling Aces’ players to get to know them.

“Right now I’m reaching out to all the players on the roster,” she said. “Establish a relationship with them and talk a little bit about roles what we’re doing offensively and defensively.”

The Aces finished with the second-best record in the WNBA last season at 24-8 before falling to the Phoenix Mercury in the semifinals. The franchise, looking for its first WNBA title, has a solid core led by former MVP A’ja Wilson.

Hammon was coy about what her on-court philosophy will be, only saying that the team which was last in 3-pointers attempted will definitely shoot more this season. The 44-year-old former WNBA player says she just wants to coach for now and not worry about being the team’s general manager.

“Down the road we’ll talk. I just want to coach. That’s it. Get out there, get with the players,” Hammon said. “Get in the foxhole with each other.”

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