Thu Dec 5 6:40pm ET
By JOHN WAWROW
AP Sports Writer
Buffalo Bills safety Micah Hyde (23) makes the stop after Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) caught a pass in the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrating his touchdown with teammate tight end Mark Andrews (89) in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) looks to pass the ball in the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Appreciating how difficult it is to contain Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens' bull-dozing offensive attack, Bills defensive tackle Jordan Phillips was put at ease watching TV last weekend.
After averaging 405 yards offense and 36 points in winning their previous seven games, the Ravens hit a speed bump in the form of the San Francisco 49ers. Though Baltimore eked out a 20-17 win on a rainy, windy afternoon on Justin Tucker's 49-yard field goal as time expired, Phillips took note how the 49ers limited Baltimore to 283 yards offense, including 125 in the second half.
''When San Fran's defense got going, that's all I needed to see,'' Phillips said. ''That put things in perspective.''
If the NFL's top-ranked defense could put a dent in the run-and-gunning Ravens (10-2), then why not the Bills (9-3) on Sunday, when the two AFC playoff contenders meet at Buffalo.
''We're built for an offense like this,'' Phillips said of a defense that's allowed the third-fewest yards in the NFL this season. ''Now, we just have to go out there and execute. Simple as that.''
Simple might not be the operative word when confronting Jackson's dynamic ability. The second-year starter leads the league with 32 touchdowns (25 passing) and oversees an offense that has scored a league-leading 49 TDs. Baltimore has an opportunity to become the first in NFL history to finish a season averaging both 200 yards rushing and passing.
The Bills defense appears to have cleaned up its issues against the run. Since allowing 492 yards over a three-game stretch, Buffalo has given up 211 - including 103 in a 26-15 victory at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day - in winning its past three.
Promising as that might sound, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier knows he's got his hands full in preparing to face a quarterback he compares to Michael Vick.
''Once he got out in the open field, there was really no catching Michael,'' Frazier said. ''And it's similar when you're watching Lamar.''
Frazier is also familiar with Ravens coach John Harbaugh; the two spent time together on Andy Reid's staff in Philadelphia. Frazier sees the Ravens adopting Harbaugh's aggressive mentality.
''It seems like they have a ton of confidence in their ability to run the ball on anybody,'' Frazier said. ''They play with a bravado about them, and I'm sure that has a lot to with their head coach.''
Harbaugh's confidence in Jackson was apparent when asked whether he believes any defense can stop him.
''Well, I don't know what it means exactly,'' Harbaugh said. ''If it means that they're going to solve him as a player or shut him down, no. I don't think that'll ever happen until he retires, because he's that good.''
The challenge, Harbaugh said, is continuing to adapt his offense to stay a step ahead of opposing defenses.
A number of things to look out for in a game that also features Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who was selected seventh overall in the 2018 draft, 25 spots ahead of Jackson:
The Ravens can clinch the AFC North with a win and a Steelers loss or tie. They can also clinch with a tie and Steelers loss.
The Bills can clinch their second playoff berth in three years with a win and an Oakland loss or tie, an Indianapolis loss or tie, and a Houston loss.
Jackson recalled playing cornerback in youth football when he was burned by Bills rookie running back Devin Singletary.
''He was like a little stocky, cocky running back and I'm like `I'm not about to hit him by myself,' so I tried to brush him off, and he just ran up the sideline and scored,'' Jackson said.
Bills coach Sean McDermott laughed upon hearing the story, and said: ''� think if Lamar's playing corner, we'd be better off.''
Ravens punter Sam Koch hasn't seen much action. With Jackson guiding a relentless offense and Baltimore going for it on fourth down 19 times, Koch has only 24 punts this year.
That doesn't mean he's been taking it easy. One of his two punts last week was downed at the 1 by Chris Moore. Koch also serves as holder for Tucker, who hit two field-goal and two extra-point attempts.
McDermott confirmed a report by NFL.com of the Bills placing a waiver claim for kicker Chase McLaughlin, only to lose out to Indianapolis, which was higher in the claim order.
McDermott denied the team's interest in McLaughlin reflected concerns in kicker Stephen Hauschka, who missed a 50-yard field goal and extra point at Dallas.
''It's just like any position, us continuing to try to add a player to our team that we feel could help us,'' McDermott said.
After winning five straight by a combined 202-62 margin, the Ravens had to squeeze past San Francisco. Baltimore held the ball for the final 6 + minutes before Tucker's field goal. The 3-point margin of victory was the smallest for Baltimore this year.
''These games are needed,'' defensive tackle Michael Pierce said. ''When you're trying to go on a run and get to the playoffs, you never expect a blowout. You need to be in those tight games to see how players respond at some point.''
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (shoulder) said that he's been playing through a torn labrum in his right shoulder since the start of the 2018 season. "So I dislocated my shoulder last year," Kittle said Sunday on the Pardon My Take podcast, "and my labrum is completely torn. So I don't get surgery on it -- [The protective sleeve] basically helps me, so it doesn't hurt all the time." He didn't miss any games in 2018 and set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,377. Kittle said there's "no chance" he has surgery in the future. The 26-year-old has been quiet in the postseason with four catches for 35 yards in two games, but the Niners haven't really needed him with their ground game humming. That could change in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs on Feb. 2.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt, who will be a free agent in March, emotionally admitted that he would fail a drug test to a police officer during a traffic stop recently. This was caught on video of the police officer's dash cam during the traffic stop. Hunt also admitted that the small amounts of marijuana found in the car were his, but the officer let Hunt off with just the speeding ticket. It remains to be seen if the NFL will consider a suspension for the 24-year-old from this incident. Hunt was released by the Chiefs during the 2018 season due to a domestic-violence incident, and he served a suspension before making his Browns debut in 2019. If he signs with another team this offseason and is given bell-cow duties in the backfield, Hunt could have RB1 upside.
The Los Angeles Chargers have "moved on from Philip Rivers," according to FOX Sports' Jay Glazer. Rivers is set to become a free agent in March, and the writing was on the wall when he recently moved his entire family from San Diego to Florida. Rivers will end a 16-year run with the Chargers, but it remains to be seen where he'll land on the free-agent market this offseason. The Buccaneers are a popular expected destination, but that'll only be if they move on from Jameis Winston. Rivers completed 66 percent of his passes for 4,615 yards, 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 2019 for a QB rating of 88.5. He might have a few more seasons left in him, but at 38 years old his arm strength is clearly deteriorating, and he'll probably be more of a QB2 in 2020, depending on where he winds up.
Baltimore Ravens defensive end Matthew Judon is a candidate to receive the team's franchise tag and could also be traded, according to league sources. The Ravens would like to bring Judon back in 2020, but they are also likely to listen to trade offers if another team shows interest. The Niners dealt a second-round pick to the Chiefs last year for defensive end Dee Ford, who then signed a five-year deal worth up to $87.5 million last March. The Chiefs also traded first- and third-round picks to the Seahawks last April for defensive end Frank Clark, who then signed a five-year, $105.5 million deal. Judon has emerged as a high-end pass rusher with at least seven sacks in each of the last three years. The 27-year-old had a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2019 and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox was credited with a 61-yard interception return for touchdown at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.