Monthly Archives: October 2017

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Carlos Dunlap

Carlos Dunlap

CINCINNATI — Everyone associated with the Cincinnati Bengals knows that Carlos Dunlap is good at batting down passes. His total of 13 batted passes last season, more than any other edge defender in the past 10 years, speaks for itself.

But Dunlap’s knack for batted passes often comes at the wrong time. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis even grabbed Dunlap at one point during Vontaze Burfict: “We always tell Carlos, ‘Stop jumping. Stop jumping. Stop jumping — go rush the quarterback.’ And now we can tell him to keep jumping I guess.”

It’s a good thing Dunlap didn’t listen. Late in the fourth quarter, he batted Jacoby Brissett’s pass in the air and caught it as it came down, rushing toward the end zone for a touchdown that sealed the game.

Dunlap said they anticipated Brissett would try a quick throw to avoid the Bengals’ rush. With the thought that he wouldn’t be able to get to him in mind, Dunlap decided to try to go for the ball.

“We were ready for the quick throw because they were scared of our rush,” Dunlap said. “We’ve got great pass rushers, so I tried to do the next best thing. Obviously I would love to rush. But when I see an opportunity to get my hands up and get them on the ball, I want to capitalize.”

Said Brissett: “It’s just one of those freak plays. He’s one of those freak athletes that make those plays, you know.”

As soon as Dunlap hit the end zone, he was mobbed by his teammates.

“It felt like 1,500 pounds because the whole team was on top of me,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap’s touchdown was a huge moment that ignited a team that was in danger of losing its second straight game and falling to 2-5. The Colts had scored 10 unanswered points, while the Bengals’ offense was going nowhere.

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked three times on the previous drive alone. With the rest of the team struggling, Dunlap’s play was the game changer.

“We needed that,” wide receiver A.J. Green said.

Added Dunlap: “The sideline exploded. Everybody tackled me in the end zone. It was a great moment to spend with my guys. We worked all week. We know if the defense scores or special teams blocks a kick, the percentage to win goes up. I saw a moment and jumped in it.”

Right before the play happened, the defense got together and urged each other to make a turnover happen, knowing how much it was needed.

“Before that series, we were telling each other, ‘We’re going to have to score. We’re going to obviously have to get the ball back to the offense in good field position.’”

Dre Kirkpatrick swears he was the one who predicted it would happen.

“If you ask him, he’ll tell you I called it,” Kirkpatrick said. “I said, ‘Carlos, you’ve got to get a pick-six.’ Where it came from, I don’t know. I was like, ‘We’ve got to get a turnover. They’re not throwing the ball outside and somebody’s got to make a play.’ I told Carlos, ‘Get your hands up boy, you’re about to get a pick-six.”

Dunlap wasn’t so sure about Kirkpatrick’s theory.

“I’m not sure, because I was talking to Chris (Smith) and we were trying to get Chris home,” Dunlap said. “I was trying to hype up the whole defense. We talked about it as a defense, getting a game-changing play on defense. I don’t know if he said that specifically or what, but we were talking about it.”

Whoever predicted it, it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Bengals, or for Dunlap.

“Friday and Saturday practices, he’s always with the receivers. We’ll run fade routes to the back of the end zone. He would always come over and run it [with us],” Green said. “This week he had like three of them go through his hands. He was due for something.”

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 Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore Ravens

A little more than a month ago, the Ravens stood 2-0 with perhaps the best defense in football and robust hopes for the rest of the 2017 season.

The ensuing weeks have not been kind, however, with John Harbaugh’s team dropping four of five games and a different problem emerging in each loss. As they prepare to host the Miami Dolphins in prime time Thursday before a national TV audience with CBS’ No. 1 broadcast crew, the Ravens are searching for answers on both offense and defense. Their home-field advantage has been nonexistent, and ticket holders left blocks of seats empty the last time the Ravens played at M&T Bank Stadium. If the Ravens don’t right their ship quickly, they could fall out of postseason contention for the third year in a row and the fourth time in five seasons.
Ravens favored by a field goal over Dolphins in Week 8 matchup

The offense, debilitated by injuries to key linemen and receivers, has fallen short of subterranean preseason predictions, ranking 31st in the league in yards per game. That’s down from 17th last year, when it was already viewed as a toothless attack.

The more startling downturn has occurred on the other side of the ball, where the Ravens’ historically stingy run defense is allowing more rushing yards per game than any other team in the league. The Ravens ranked fifth in the league in rush defense last year and have fallen out of the top half of the league just once in Harbaugh’s 10-year tenure.

That hasn’t been the only blow to the team’s core identity. The Ravens have traditionally held one of the strongest home-field advantages in the NFL. But they’ve lost two of three games at M&T Bank Stadium this year, one a 26-9 stomping by the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers and the other a sloppy overtime loss to the Chicago Bears, who came to town 1-4. Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky became the first rookie quarterback ever to beat a Harbaugh team in Baltimore.

Also at the Bears game, an unusual number of seats remained empty, a reality not reflected by the announced sellout crowd of 70,616.

Despite all the bleak tidings, the Ravens do not sound like a team on the verge of crisis.

At an appearance in Ocean City last week, owner Steve Bisciotti said of Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome: “I don’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”

The dean of the locker room, linebacker Terrell Suggs, said the team’s defense can still be “magical.”

“You want to be good. You want to dominate everywhere, every facet of the game,” Suggs said at his locker Tuesday. “Now, we’ve just got to tighten the screws a little bit. We’ve just got to stop the leakage. We’re not hitting the panic button just yet. We’ll be all right.”

Suggs also said “there is no stadium like M&T,” a vote of confidence in a home crowd that hasn’t always filled the seating bowl and that booed the Ravens after they knelt in prayer before the national anthem in Week 4.

The organization is concerned about waning fan enthusiasm after two consecutive home losses and two straight years not making the playoffs. Empty seats are always more likely in such scenarios, said team president Dick Cass.

“There’s no question we tend to see more no-shows in years when the on-field performance is disappointing to our fans,” Cass said. “You always worry when you sell a ticket and the buyer doesn’t see it as worthwhile to come to the game. That might mean they’re less likely to want to buy season tickets in the future.”

Cass said he’s recently talked to fans who are worried the team won’t reverse its fortunes this season. He’s prepared to see more empty seats Thursday night, because many fans aren’t fond of late games, even under the best circumstances.

The Ravens are fortified by the fact that most of their fan base is locked in to permanent seat licenses and season-ticket plans. That means reported attendance is unlikely to decline. They’ve also still sold more general-admission tickets this season than all but three other NFL teams.

But data from the secondary-ticket market supports concerns about reduced interest.

The $158 average asking price for tickets on the secondary market is down 22.5 percent from the beginning of this season alone, according to TicketIQ, a New York-based company that monitors the market. More strikingly, the average asking price has hit a six-year low, down 46 percent from a peak of $293 in 2013. The average price for tickets to Thursday’s game is $137, the lowest of the team’s remaining home games.

Cass said prices inevitably fall when the team’s not playing well. “So far, knock on wood, it hasn’t affected our season-ticket sales,” he said.

The home crowd has traditionally maintained a symbiotic relationship with a defense that has given the franchise its identity since the Ravens’ first Super Bowl season in 2000.

From the front office down to the players, the Ravens thought they might field another historically good defense in 2017. They re-signed defensive tackle Brandon Williams and brought in veteran defensive backs Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr in the offseason. They devoted their draft to making the defense younger, faster and more dangerous to opposing quarterbacks.

That effort appeared to be paying off when the Ravens forced 10 turnovers and allowed just 10 points over their first two games. But their performance has eroded over the past five games, especially against the run. A 100-yard rushing day used to be a scarce commodity against the Baltimore defense. In the Ravens’ past three losses, however, Steelers star Le’Veon Bell ran for 144 yards, Jordan Howard of the Bears ran for 167 and Minnesota’s Latavius Murray ran for 113.

Williams, the Ravens’ best interior defender, missed four games with a foot injury. Even with him back in the lineup, the Ravens allowed the Vikings to run for 5.1 yards per carry Sunday.

Beyond their struggles against the run, the Ravens have lost to a rookie quarterback in Trubisky, a backup in Minnesota’s Case Keenum and one of the NFL’s most maligned starters in Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars. They’ll face another backup Thursday in the Dolphins’ Matt Moore.

But data from the secondary-ticket market supports concerns about reduced interest.

The $158 average asking price for tickets on the secondary market is down 22.5 percent from the beginning of this season alone, according to TicketIQ, a New York-based company that monitors the market. More strikingly, the average asking price has hit a six-year low, down 46 percent from a peak of $293 in 2013. The average price for tickets to Thursday’s game is $137, the lowest of the team’s remaining home games.

Cass said prices inevitably fall when the team’s not playing well. “So far, knock on wood, it hasn’t affected our season-ticket sales,” he said.

The home crowd has traditionally maintained a symbiotic relationship with a defense that has given the franchise its identity since the Ravens’ first Super Bowl season in 2000.

From the front office down to the players, the Ravens thought they might field another historically good defense in 2017. They re-signed defensive tackle Brandon Williams and brought in veteran defensive backs Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr in the offseason. They devoted their draft to making the defense younger, faster and more dangerous to opposing quarterbacks.

That effort appeared to be paying off when the Ravens forced 10 turnovers and allowed just 10 points over their first two games. But their performance has eroded over the past five games, especially against the run. A 100-yard rushing day used to be a scarce commodity against the Baltimore defense. In the Ravens’ past three losses, however, Steelers star Le’Veon Bell ran for 144 yards, Jordan Howard of the Bears ran for 167 and Minnesota’s Latavius Murray ran for 113.

Williams, the Ravens’ best interior defender, missed four games with a foot injury. Even with him back in the lineup, the Ravens allowed the Vikings to run for 5.1 yards per carry Sunday.

Beyond their struggles against the run, the Ravens have lost to a rookie quarterback in Trubisky, a backup in Minnesota’s Case Keenum and one of the NFL’s most maligned starters in Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars. They’ll face another backup Thursday in the Dolphins’ Matt Moore.

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins

Editor’s Note: This is The MMQB Extra, a sneak peek from Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column, which will be published in full early Monday morning.

Miami’s first three games this year:

• Beat the Chargers in Los Angeles when Younghoe Koo missed a 44-yard field goal with five seconds left that would have won the game, after the Dolphins decamped to California to avoid the hurricane that strafed Florida.

• Got embarrassed by the Jets, 20-6, in New Jersey.

• Got embarrassed by the Saints, 20-0, in London.

Football is a funny game. Then Miami won ugly over Tennessee 16-10. Then Miami fell behind Atlanta by 17 at the half and scored 20 unanswered to grab a 20-17 win. Then, on Sunday, Miami trailed the Jets by 14 after three quarters, lost starting quarterback Jay Cutler to a chest/rib injury, and backup Matt Moore led the Dolphins to 17 fourth-quarter points. Miami 31, New York 28.

Not just a Miami win, but one that could result in some quarterback questions. Cutler was getting an X-ray and possibly an MRI on his chest/ribs area Sunday night. With a Thursday night game looming at Baltimore, Gase might have a decision to make. If Cutler, the hand-picked quarterback Gase brought out of retirement when Ryan Tannehill was lost for the season in training camp, had some damage that would need healing time, Moore would certainly play against the Ravens. But if Cutler is okay to play, who would Gase choose: Cutler, who’d led Miami to a puny average of 10.5 points per game in the four games prior to Sunday, or Moore, who brought a spark to the offense and led Miami to 17 points in the last 13 minutes of a game they looked to have no business winning.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reported Sunday night the team believes Cutler suffered cracked ribs and could miss at least one game. But we’ll know the medical results Monday, and the quarterback situation will be clear then.

Whatever the quarterback status, this is one wacky season, and it’s not even half over. When Dolphin players were leaving Hard Rock Stadium at dusk Sunday evening—if any of them cared to look—this is what the AFC East standings looked like prior to the Sunday night game between the Falcons and Patriots:

Miami, 4-2
Buffalo, 4-2
New England, 4-2
New York Jets, 3-4

“It’s crazy,” Moore said from Florida on Sunday evening. “Crazy. There’s no other word for it. Who can explain this? Who can explain this season?”

Wideout Kenny Stills, who caught the two fourth-quarter touchdowns that tied the game, tried to explain.

“Honestly,” Stills said by phone, “we’re a young team, but we’re a very football-smart team. After that loss to the Saints, we just went back to basics. That sounds like a cliché, but it’s real. Just honestly—we listen to the man [coach Adam Gase]. He’s sort of got us brainwashed. It’s one day at a time. But the guys listen.”

“The thing about this league is no one’s going to feel sorry for you, as you know,” Moore said. “But a game like today goes a long way toward reinforcing what [Gase] has told us. We got back from London, and it was pretty bad, and he just said, ‘Finish. Finish. If we’re going to change, if we’re going to turn it around, you be the change.’”

On Sunday, even though Cutler played fairly well and led Miami to two touchdown drives in a half of play, there seemed to a palpable change when Moore came into the game. Moore is a confident guy, but not a particularly inspirational one. When Cutler got lit up on a hit as he released a pass two minutes into the third quarter, all Moore said in the huddle was, “Hey, we’ll be fine. We’re gonna be good. Let’s go.”

Moore threw a pick on his first full series on an aggressive throw downfield, leading to the Jets’ final touchdown. But on his third series, Moore hit Stills perfectly down the right side for a 28-yard score. And midway through the fourth quarter, he capped a 54-yard drive, under some heavy pressure throughout, with a two-yard scoring throw that Stills nabbed, Beckham-style, one-handed in the end zone.

“That’s my fault,” Stills said. “I slowed up to avoid hitting someone, and if I’d just run through my route, it would have been an easy catch. But Matt threw me a perfect ball.”

Moore said he’d take whatever came his way; that’s the life of a backup quarterback. “You know it’s out of my hands,” he said. “When they got Jay, obviously it was tough for me, because I wanted to play. But I know how this game works. I wasn’t going to be miserable. That’s not who I am. I hit it off with Jay, and we’ve gotten along great, and whatever happens, I’ll deal with it. It’s good.”

There might be better teams in the NFL this year than the 4-2 Dolphins. But there aren’t many with higher highs and lower lows. It’s going to be a fascinating final 10 weeks for this team.

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Buffalo Bills

Buffalo Bills

NFL Week 7 Power Rankings

By Ryan Talbot | Contributing writer

The Buffalo Bills return to action on Sunday following a Week 6 bye. The week off didn’t benefit or harm the Bills’ status in various power rankings. Here’s a look at where Buffalo sits entering Week 7.

USA Today: No. 9

Movement: Down 1

Analysis:

Luck plays huge part in any team’s season. It may be smiling on Buffalo, which draws battered Jameis Winston, Derek Carr next two weeks.

Pro Football Talk: No. 10

Movement: No movement

Analysis:

Rex Ryan vowed to end the playoff drought in his first year with the team. Sean McDermott may be the one to get it done.

NFL.com: No. 11

Movement: Up 1

Analysis:

Members of the #BillsMafia were off this past weekend, given a reprieve from complaining about the offense. Tyrod Taylor is probably the most confusing quarterback this side of Cam Newton. Whereas Newton is an up-and-down player, everyone keeps wondering if Taylor is an undervalued player mired in a bad offense or a quarterback who is merely jussst good enough to get you beat. Not everything can be blamed on supporting cast. Sometimes a passer has to take chances downfield and let the chips fall where they may. Witness Alex Smith this season. Wonder what would’ve happened if Buffalo had drafted Patrick Mahomes …

Sporting News: No. 11

Movement: Up 2

Analysis:

They went into the bye with a reeling offense, but their surprising start has been anchored by a defense playing better on every level under Sean McDermott. Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy need to put the team on their backs.

This week: vs. Buccaneers, a defense built for them to exploit

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The Green Bay Packers’ championship hopes are on hold.

Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone in the first quarter of Sunday’s 23-10 loss at Minnesota. There’s a “chance” the two-time NFL Most Valuable Player could miss the rest of the season, the team announced via Twitter.

Rodgers was miffed at Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr for the tackle, which came outside the pocket and drew no penalty flag. The Packers’ superstar quarterback appeared to land hard on his shoulder with Barr’s weight driving him into the turf. When backup Brett Hundley came over to offer a “high-five,” Rodgers was forced to answer left-handed.

The injury is reminiscent of the early-November collarbone fracture sustained by Rodgers in 2013. Although Rodgers returned after seven weeks to lift Green Bay into the playoffs with a thrilling victory over the Bears in Week 17, there’s an important distinction this time around. Whereas the previous injury was near Rodgers’ left shoulder, this one is to his right (throwing) shoulder.

As evidenced by last week’s masterful performance in a thrilling come-from-behind victory at Dallas, Rodgers had been carrying his offense to a greater extent than any quarterback in the league.

Where do the Packers turn now?

A 2015 fifth-round draft pick, Hundley led the NFL in preseason passer rating (129.6) as a rookie and reportedly drew trade interest during the 2017 draft. The coaching staff has expressed confidence that he can develop into a solid NFL starter.

That said, the dropoff in expected production from the MVP-caliber Rodgers to his inexperienced backup might be steeper than that of any QB1-to-QB2 depth chart in the league.

Considering the transcendent level at which Rodgers was playing, Green Bay faithful had reason to believe this was finally their year to bring the Lombardi Trophy home for the first time since 2011. Unless Rodgers can reprise his heroics to close out the 2013 regular season, those hopes might have been dashed Sunday on the same U.S. Bank Stadium turf that will host Super Bowl LII.

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Even with three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt sidelined last season, the Houston Texans managed to finish atop the NFL’s total defense rankings with a career year from linebacker Whitney Mercilus.

Now that both star defenders have lost the rest of the 2017 season due to injuries sustained in Week 5, general manager Rick Smith is bringing in a pair of established veterans to bolster his suddenly shallow pass rushing corps.

The Texans have agreed to terms with outside linebacker Lamarr Houston and signed defensive end Kendall Langford, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, via a source informed of the situation.

Although both players have spent the bulk of their careers as above-average starters, they were still languishing on the open market due to knee injuries that have arisen over the past few years.

After starting 60 of 64 games over four years in Oakland, Houston landed a five-year, $35 million contract from the Bears in 2014. Eight games into his Chicago career, he suffered a torn ACL. Just two games into the 2016 season, Houston tore the other ACL in his other knee. When Houston came down with knee soreness late this summer, the Bears released him with an injury settlement.

Now 30 years old, Houston figures to push undrafted rookie Dylan Cole as Mercilus’ replacement.

A 113-game starter across nine years, Langford had never missed a game in his NFL career until a nagging knee injury ended his 2016 season in November. He hasn’t been the same since, drawing his release from the Colts as well as the Saints over the past two months.

Langford will team with Christian Covington and Brandon Dunn in an attempt to fill the gaping hole left by Watt’s tibial plateau fracture.

With both Watt and Mercilus out, it’s unreasonable to expect a repeat of last season’s success on defense. With hotshot rookie Deshaun Watson leading a suddenly potent offensive attack, however, the Texans have plenty of firepower to make another run at the AFC South title.

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The worst-case scenario has arrived for the New York Giants.

Odell Beckham Jr. suffered a fractured ankle in New York’s 27-22 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, the Giants announced. Beckham will undergo an MRI to see if there is any ligament damage, a source informed of the diagnosis told NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones.

The injury likely will land Beckham on injured reserve for at least eight weeks, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. However, considering the nature of the injury and New York’s place in the standings, it is highly unlikely the wideout sees the field again this season.

With four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter against the Chargers, Beckham landed awkwardly after attempting to catch a high slant pass and left the field in a trainer’s cart. Wincing in pain, Beckham covered his face as the cart left the field.

Beckham was ruled out for the remainder of the game and was seen on crutches heading to Giants’ locker room.

So it goes for the Giants, who already saw Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Harris and Sterling Shepard exit with ankle and foot injuries. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Shepard suffered a sprained ankle, which will keep him out at least one week, if not longer.

This is a dreadful reality for a team that was already struggling. Beckham is the Giants’ offense. He is the only player fast enough to negate the constant duress Manning has faced. He is the only receiver on the roster capable of twirling out of double and triple teams. Beckham’s 48-yard touchdown catch Sunday, the product of a beautiful out-and-up double move, was one of two memorable offensive plays run by the Giants through the first three-and-a-half quarters.

With Beckham goes New York’s season. The winless Giants will be rudderless without their only consistent weapon, and their schedule doesn’t ease up on them. Considered a distraction during New York’s tumultuous start, Beckham, and his antics, will be sorely missed on the sideline this season as the Giants attempt to navigate a lost campaign without their top talent.