Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon celebrates after an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton looks to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) passes as he is pressured by Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree (48) in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
CLEVELAND (AP) Their margin for error is completely gone, and with one more loss, the Cleveland Browns can say goodbye to their playoff hopes as well.
They may have already.
Another demoralizing setback last week in Pittsburgh has left the Browns with no option but to win their final four games - starting with the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday - to have any chance of ending a 17-year postseason drought, the NFL's current longest dry spell.
December was supposed to be the Browns' runway to the playoffs. Instead, it might be a dead end.
''We have to buckle down and win each game from here on out,'' said quarterback Baker Mayfield, who suffered a bruised right throwing hand last week. ''It is just plain and simple. We can't have any slip-ups and we have to win.''
This season that offered such promise after so many dreadful ones in Cleveland has plummeted, leaving the Browns (5-7) to ponder what might have been.
''For everybody there's been a lot of disappointment,'' said star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who hasn't had nearly the impact forecast when he arrived via trade in March. ''There's areas that we expected more of ourselves, not like we didn't know we were going to have to go out and work for it, but we just expected it, and we were willing to go get it. We just didn't get it.''
For the Bengals (1-11), there's a glimmer amid gloom.
Seemingly on their way to an 0-16 season, they ended the longest losing in franchise history last week by beating the New York Jets 22-6. Cincinnati's return to the win column coincided with quarterback Andy Dalton's return to the starting lineup.
The veteran was benched three games by first-year coach Zac Taylor, but Dalton put his hurt feelings aside and showed he's still got some magic inside his orange-and-black striped helmet.
Dalton's hoping to conjure some more over the final four weeks.
''You have to have confidence in yourself,'' he said. ''Confidence is contagious. It's one of those things where, if you practice well, if you go into the week, guys are in the right spots, you're talking about everything, you're giving everyone else confidence that you're going to get a win on Sunday.
''That's the way I'm going to go about practicing for these last four games and these last four weeks and do whatever we can to make sure guys are feeling good for the games on Sundays.''
Mayfield's expected to play despite the hand injury, which he sustained when he smashed it on the facemask of a Steelers player last week. The second-year QB didn't throw until Thursday, and said he'd like to play without wearing a glove as he did in the second half on Sunday.
Mayfield's had an uneven second season - he led the league in interceptions through seven weeks - but it hasn't changed the Browns feeling that he'll develop into an elite player.
''He is a tremendous football player - competitor, smart, tough, has a rare competitive quality and a rare want to be great,'' said offensive coordinator Todd Monken. ''... in my mind, we have the right guy going forward.''
Wide receiver John Ross returns this week after missing eight games with a shoulder injury, giving the Bengals a much-needed playmaker.
Cincinnati has lacked a deep threat most of the season with A.J. Green sidelined by an ankle surgery and Ross can fill the void. He had touchdown catches of 33, 55 and 66 yards in the first two games, the start of what he'd hoped was a breakout season.
Ross got to work with Dalton on the scout team for two weeks while he was getting back into shape. Games will be a different, but welcomed experience.
''It's hard to simulate a game during practice because there's only so many things you can do,'' Ross said. ''It's not full-speed tackling and things like that. So I think that's something I'm going to have to adjust to real quick.''
For just the second time, the ''Battle of Ohio'' will feature two rookie coaches with Taylor matched up against Browns coach Freddie Kitchens.
The only other time it happened was in 1984, when Cleveland's Marty Schottenheimer was opposite Cincinnati's Sam Wyche, who five years later provided one of the most memorable moments in the rivalry's history when he scolded Bengals fans for throwing objects on the field by reminding them, ''You don't live in Cleveland.
Cincinnati's defense is coming off its best three-game stretch of the season, allowing no more than 17 points in any game.
The biggest improvement has been on the line, which was shoved around earlier this season. End Carlos Dunlap tied his career high with three sacks of Sam Darnold in last week's breakthrough win. The Bengals are on their fourth defensive coordinator in four years, which contributed to some of the issues earlier this season.
''We're settling into each other I think,'' coordinator Lou Anarumo said. ''I've had no issues and no complaints with the guys all year. They are executing a whole lot better of late.''
A loss would relegate the Bengals to last place alone in the AFC North for the second year in a row. They haven't finished last in consecutive seasons since 2001-02. They've lost 13 of 14 overall and 18 of 20, including nine straight division games since a 34-23 win over Baltimore on Sept 13, 2018.
They were swept by the Browns last season, and a loss would give them three straight against Cleveland for the first time since 2001-02.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said that running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder) suffered a dislocated right shoulder in the NFC Championship win over the Packers on Sunday. Coleman had his shoulder popped back into place and Shanahan thinks that Coleman has a chance to play in the Super Bowl in two weeks. Only time will tell if the 26-year-old will be able to play against Kansas City. He ran the ball six times for 21 yards before his injury and had a season-high 22 totes for 105 yards and two touchdowns in the Divisional win over the Vikings. Even if Coleman plays, he'll be second fiddle to Raheem Mostert, who ran for over 200 yards and four scores against Green Bay. Matt Breida would spell Mostert in the backfield if Coleman doesn't gain clearance.
There has been buzz that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a possible landing spot for Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who will become a free agent in March. After his worst season since 2007, the aging gunslinger is unlikely to re-sign with the Bolts, and he recently moved his family from San Diego to Florida to be closer to his extended family in Alabama. The 38-year-old might have a year or two left of football in him if he continues to play, but the 2019 season showed that he's near the end of the line. Rivers would only be an option for Tampa if they choose not to bring Jameis Winston back for at least another season after he led all of football in passing yards last season.
Houston Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has been fired, and defensive line coach Anthony Weaver has been promoted in his place, according to league sources. Houston's defense was a liability for most of the year, especially their leaky secondary. The Texans allowed 51 points and seven straight touchdown drives to the Chiefs in the Divisional Round loss. During the 2019 season, Houston's defense allowed 388.3 yards per game (fifth worst), 267.3 passing yards per game (fourth worst), 121.1 rushing yards a game and 24.1 points per game. Getting J.J. Watt back healthy for a full season will be a start to the Texans rebounding on defense under Weaver.
The Carolina Panthers hired former Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Snow as their new defensive coordinator on Monday. Snow oversaw the defenses for Matt Rhule at both Baylor and Temple. He has 37 years of college coaching experience and has also served as a defensive coordinator at UCLA, Washington, Arizona State and Boise State. Snow coached four seasons in the NFL with the Lions from 2005 to 2008 when he worked with the team's linebackers. Snow will lead a Carolina defense in 2020 that will be without All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly, who recently announced his retirement from football.
Houston Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is not expected back in 2020. Defensive line coach Anthony Weaver is the top candidate to replace him.
Updating a previous report, San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) has a 'good chance' to be available for the Super Bowl, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Updating a previous report, Green Bay Packers CB Jaire Alexander (thumb) suffered a broken thumb during the team's NFC Championship Game loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Alexander is hopeful he won't need to undergo surgery.
The Green Bay Packers Defense recorded one sack and allowed 37 points in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers steamrolled past Green Bay's unit for 285 rushing yards and four rushing scores. To make matters worse, they couldn't generate much pressure or any turnovers. Despite the disappointing end, the Packers defense was much improved from last year, ranking 15th in sacks with 41 as well as third in interceptions with 17. They may not be among the top defenses drafted in 2020, though they should be on every fantasy managers' radar.
Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham caught four of five targets for 59 yards in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Graham was a big disappointment this season in a year filled with disappointing tight ends. The 33-year-old put up the lowest numbers since his rookie season and never really put together a good stretch of play until very recently. Graham has one year left on his contract worth about 7.5 million dollars. Given how much of a bust he was, perhaps Green Bay cuts ties with him and goes younger at the position in 2020.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison caught two of three targets for eight yards in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. There were big expectations for Allison heading into 2019 in both the real and fantasy football worlds. Unfortunately for him, he lived up to neither, failing to eclipse 50 receiving yards in all but one game all year. Green Bay, who is in desperate need of another receiver behind Davante Adams, will have a decision to make about the 25-year-old, who is an unrestricted free agent. It's hard to see Allison being back in Green Bay in 2020.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard caught three of four targets for 36 yards in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Lazard may not have made much noise in the two playoff games but flashed some potential in the regular season, including his first career 100-yard game. Rodgers started to develop a little chemistry with the 6-foot-4 wideout late in the season, as he looked his way 17 times in the last two contests. It would be surprising if Lazard were the number-two receiver for the Packers next year, though it still makes sense for them to bring him back in some capacity. Lazard has some sleeper potential if he's catching passes from Rodgers in 2020.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes' 87 passing touchdowns in his first 35 games, including playoffs, are the most in NFL history. His 11 passing touchdowns and 142 pass attempts without an interception to begin his playoff career are both the most on record, and he is one of just two players to have at least 250 passing yards, three or more passing touchdowns and at least 50 rushing yards in multiple career playoff games.
San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries in a 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 19, becoming the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 200 yards and four touchdowns in a playoff game.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams caught nine of 10 targets for 138 yards in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Adams operated as Rodgers' safety blanket yet again, capturing 79 more receiving yards than the Packers' next leading receiver. When healthy, this is what the 26-year-old did all year, as he compiled double-digit targets in all but four games, including the playoffs. Despite missing five games, Adams still almost put up a 1000-year season. It would behoove Green Bay to put together a stronger receiver group behind the star receiver. Even if they don't, a healthy Adams should be back in the discussion as an elite fantasy wideout in 2020.
Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams picked up just six rushing yards on three carries and caught two passes for one receiving yard in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Williams had a disappointing end to his season, as he failed to register at least 40 rushing yards in his last three games after eclipsing the mark in his previous three. The 24-year-old did show flashes at times of being the perfect complement to Aaron Jones. Still, it will be interesting to see if Green Bay hands the reins to Jones next year or continues to spell him with Williams. For now, consider Williams more of a handcuff option than a complement heading into 2020.
San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo completed six of his eight passes for 77 yards in a 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 19. RB Raheem Mostert rushed 29 times for 220 yards and four touchdowns and caught two passes for six yards, and RB Tevin Coleman rushed six times for 21 yards. WR Deebo Samuel caught two passes for 46 yards and rushed twice for 43 yards, TE George Kittle caught his only target for 19 yards, and WR Emmanuel Sanders was held without a catch on one target. DE Joey Bosa and DL Arik Armstead both recorded a sack.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones carried the ball 12 times for 56 yards and a rushing touchdown along with five catches for 27 yards and a receiving score in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Jones was running well and would have been able to do more damage on the ground if not for the 27-0 deficit at the half. The 24-year-old finished the year tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns with 19, then added four more scores in the playoffs. He (likely) won't score this many times next year, though Jones proved he's more than just a touchdown machine, racking up career-highs in both rushing and receiving yards. He'll be among the best options in 2020 for fantasy backs in all formats.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 31 of 39 passes for 326 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. At first glance, Rodgers' stat line doesn't look so bad, though the first half was a complete struggle for him and the offense. Down 27-0 at the half, the veteran signal-caller effectively used up garbage time to post these numbers. It's a disappointing end to the season for Rodgers, though he still put up his eighth career 4000-yard season as well as his 10th season with at least 25 touchdown passes. The 36-year-old has plenty of juice left in his arm but will probably need another threat on the outside next year besides Davante Adams if Green Bay wants to make noise.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers completed 31 of his 39 passes for 326 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions and lost one of his three fumbles in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 19. RB Aaron Jones rushed 12 times for 56 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes for 27 yards and a score. WR Davante Adams caught nine of his 10 targets for 138 yards, TE Jimmy Graham hauled in four of his five targets for 59 yards, WR Allen Lazard added three catches for 36 yards, and TE Jace Sternberger caught two passes for 13 yards and a touchdown. LB Blake Martinez led the team with nine tackles, including six solo stops.
Green Bay Packers CB Jaire Alexander (thumb) has been ruled out for the remainder of the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Jan. 19.