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FFL: Offseason | NFL: Superbowl

Deja vu: Bengals' Zac Taylor tries to solve Patriots D again

Thu Dec 12 1:29pm ET
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer

Players: Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, John Ross, Joe Mixon

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, center, argues a call in the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)


New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady lands on the turf after being sacked by Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)


CINCINNATI (AP) Zac Taylor watched helplessly on the Rams' sideline as Bill Belichick's defense thwarted everything they tried to do in the Super Bowl. The first-year Bengals coach has even fewer options at hand when they go head-to-head again.

The Patriots can clinch their 11th straight playoff appearance Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium by thwarting Taylor's best designs. He was the Rams' quarterbacks coach when New England won the title.

This time he'll be calling the plays and knowing what to expect from that deflating Super Bowl experience.

''That was a heck of a day in a lot of ways,'' Taylor said. ''They do a great job adapting to their opponent. They always have a great plan in place, and that's what makes them difficult.

''They do a great job evolving because they've been together for so long.''

Taylor's Bengals (1-12) haven't done much against lesser defenses this season. They're reliant on running back Joe Mixon to get yards. The NFL's only one-win team has to play nearly perfect to pull off the upset.

''They're very opportunistic,'' said Andy Dalton, who threw a pick-6 in a loss at Cleveland last weekend. ''When they see a tipped ball that's up in the air, they're coming down with interceptions. They're great at forcing fumbles, and all that stuff.''

The Patriots (10-3) see few similarities between the Bengals' offense and the one they mastered in the Super Bowl.

''It's not really the same offense,'' safety Devin McCourty said. ''There's some crossover in there, but I would say you gotta kind of watch Cincinnati for Cincinnati.''

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION

The matchup got a little extra intrigue when a video crew affiliated with the Patriots was caught taping the Bengals' sideline from the press box during their loss at Cleveland. The Patriots acknowledged the crew improperly videotaped while doing a feature on a scout. The Bengals were curious to see how the NFL responds.

SLIDING OFFENSE

New England's persistent issues on offense have gotten worse in the last five games. The Patriots are 2-3 over that stretch, averaging only 17.6 points. They've also had big problems on third down and in the red zone. For the season the Patriots rank 17th in third-down conversion percentage (37.4%). They are also scoring on only 48% of their trips inside the 20-yard line, which ranks 27th in the league. The Bengals' defense has improved significantly the last four games, giving up 20 points or less, and it's been particularly good in the red zone, allowing only 19 touchdowns this season.

QUIET ROOKIES

Of the seven 2019 draft picks currently on the Patriots' roster, only punter Jake Bailey and edge rusher Chase Winovich have received significant playing time. Receiver N'Keal Harry, chosen 32nd overall, is slowly being integrated into the offense after sitting out the first eight games with an ankle injury. Since returning in November he has appeared in the past four games with two starts.

Belichick said he has been pleased with the contributions of Bailey and Winovich, who is second on the team with 5 1/2 sacks. He said the lack of playing time for other rookies isn't an indication of a lack of trust in them.

''Things change week to week based on game-plan situations,'' Belichick said. ''We're 10-3, I wouldn't say we're a terrible team. But there's a lot of other good players out there.''

MIXON'S MOMENT

The Bengals' best chance for the upset is to make some space for Mixon. He has been by far their best player on offense and is coming off a career-best 146 yards rushing in the 27-19 loss in Cleveland. The Bengals changed their blocking schemes and started running toss plays with Mixon at midseason, and he's become a threat again. In the past five games, he's picked up 469 yards - third-most in the league - and he leads all running backs with 105 carries over that span.

''I think we are starting to build an identity,'' Mixon said.

ROSS' RETURN

Bengals receiver John Ross III returned last week after missing eight games with a shoulder injury. He had only two catches for 28 yards and dropped the other pass thrown his way. The Bengals have lacked a deep threat with Ross hurt and A.J. Green recovering from ankle surgery. They could use a big game from Ross against the Patriots. Injuries have limited him all three years in the NFL, so he wants to have a strong finish to this one.

''That's the biggest thing I want do to, to be able to finish, and I've got the chance these last couple games,'' Ross said.

Player Notes
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Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox was credited with a 61-yard interception return for touchdown at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.

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Jack Doyle Jan 26 6:33pm ET

Indianapolis Colts TE Jack Doyle posted three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown on four targets for the AFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.

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T.J. Watt Jan 26 6:33pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers DE T.J. Watt posted an 82-yard fumble return for touchdown in the fourth quarter for the AFC at the Pro Bowl in Orlando on Sunday, Jan. 26.

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Mark Andrews Jan 26 6:23pm ET

Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews ended up with a game-high nine receptions for an AFC-best 73 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.

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D.J. Chark Jan 26 6:23pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars WR DJ Chark Jr. registered two grabs for 67 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown in the third quarter, for the AFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.

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Davante Adams Jan 26 6:13pm ET

Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams ended up with a team-high six receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.

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Amari Cooper Jan 26 6:13pm ET

Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper finished with three grabs for 24 yards and a touchdown on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.

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Kirk Cousins Jan 26 6:03pm ET

Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins completed 13-of-22 passes for 181 yards, two touchdowns and one interception at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26

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Michael Thomas Jan 26 6:03pm ET

New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas hauled in five receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown with a team-high eight targets at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.

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Calais Campbell Jan 26 5:53pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars DE Calais Campbell had a solo tackle, a sack and a quarterback hit in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26, winning the Defensive Most Valuable Player award.

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Lamar Jackson Jan 26 5:53pm ET

Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson completed 16-of-23 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, winning Offensive Most Valuable Player. He also ran twice for six yards in the 38-33 win.

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Darren Fells Jan 26 2:13pm ET

Houston Texans impending free-agent TE Darren Fells is a player the Texans will try to re-sign this offseason, but he probably will receive interest from multiple teams in free agency.

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A.J. McCarron Jan 26 2:13pm ET

Houston Texans impending free-agent QB AJ McCarron is a candidate to be re-signed this offseason, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop.

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C.J. Mosley Jan 26 1:00pm ET

New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin), who is six weeks removed from groin/abdominal surgery, said he is jogging "a little bit" and is on track to take part in "spring football." Mosley has also started a vegan diet after playing in just two games last season because of his injury in his first year in New York. The 27-year-old should be ready for a full training camp heading into the 2020 season, and he should give Gang Green a steadying presence in the middle of the field next season. Mosley recorded 100-plus tackles in four of his five seasons in Baltimore before signing with the Jets in free agency last offseason.

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Eric Berry Jan 26 1:00pm ET

Former Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who did not play at all in 2019, plans to play in 2020 after intentionally taking the season off to rest his body and mind. Berry was cut by the Chiefs in 2018 and has only played in three games since 2016 due to injuries and a bout with cancer. The former first-round pick in 2010 has 14 career interceptions and five touchdowns and could provide a team with a veteran presence in the secondary in 2020. However, it remains to be seen if any team will take a chance on the veteran moving forward. Berry is unlikely to be an asset in IDP leagues if he gets picked up by a team.

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Drew Brees Jan 26 12:50pm ET

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who will become a free agent in March, said he is still waiting to decide if he will play a 20th season in the NFL. "Then, I'll kind of lay low for a little bit, get away and then assess. I kind of have a process in mind. And I'll give it a month or so," Brees said. If the 41-year-old does decide to return, it'll be for the Saints. General manager Mickey Loomis also said that the team would welcome him back if he decides to keep playing. Brees' arm strength is starting to deteriorate, but he still put up great numbers when he came back from a fractured thumb last season, and he should remain in play as a QB1 if he returns for the 2020 season.

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Will Fuller Jan 26 12:50pm ET

Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (hernia) underwent sports hernia surgery recently to fix a lingering groin injury that he suffered during the season, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly. The 25-year-old aggravated the injury in the Divisional loss to the Chiefs. Fuller missed five games with a chronic hamstring injury in 2019, and the Texans were 8-3 with him and 2-3 without him. He has 94 catches for 1,452 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 22 regular season games with quarterback Deshaun Watson, yet Fuller continues to struggle to stay on the field with regularity. Fuller is an excellent deep threat but is a frustrating player to own as a boom-or-bust WR3. He should be fully recovered in time for training camp this summer.

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Robert Quinn Jan 26 12:33pm ET

Dallas Cowboys impending free-agent DE Robert Quinn likely will not return to the Dallas Cowboys next season, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Todd Archer.

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C.J. Mosley Jan 26 12:13pm ET

New York Jets LB C.J. Mosley (groin) said he has been able to start jogging and is expected to participate in at least some of the offseason workouts.

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Drew Brees Jan 26 12:03pm ET

Updating a previous report, New Orleans Saints impending free-agent QB Drew Brees said he plans to 'give it a month or so' before determining if he will return to the team for the 2020 season or retire. He had previously stated that he is not considering playing for any other teams.

Fantasy Spin: Despite turning 41 years old earlier this month and missing several games in 2019 due to a thumb injury, Brees should still be under consideration as a low-end QB1 option in all fantasy formats if he chooses to return to New Orleans for another year.

From TheHuddle