Wed Dec 4 5:22pm ET
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
File-This Aug. 18, 2018 file photo shows Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross, center, making a catch to complete a two point conversion between Dallas Cowboys cornerback Marquez White (39) and safety Jameill Showers (28) during a preseason NFL Football game in Arlington, Texas. Ross returns this week from a shoulder injury, giving the Cincinnati Bengals the deep threat theyve lacked. He was injured during a Monday night game in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman, File)
CINCINNATI (AP) John Ross III spent a couple of weeks catching passes from Andy Dalton on the scout team during Bengals practices, something neither of them imagined doing when the season began.
Ross was recovering from a shoulder injury. Dalton was banished to backup role while coach Zac Taylor got a look at rookie Ryan Finley for three games.
Ross and Dalton put their time to good use, re-establishing their timing on pass routes. They're back together again Sunday when the Bengals (1-11) play in Cleveland (5-7) with an offense that's starting to look familiar.
''It was fun,'' Ross said. ''Once I got clear (to practice), Andy was fired up. I was fired up.''
The Bengals set a club record by dropping their first 11 games, with the offense struggling to run the ball or complete deep passes. They lost both of their deep threats when A.J. Green tore his left ankle during training camp and Ross landed hard on his right shoulder and dislocated it during a 27-3 loss in Pittsburgh the fourth week of the season.
It was an especially difficult setback for Ross, a first-round pick who missed 16 games his first two seasons because of shoulder, knee and groin injuries. He was sidelined for much of camp this year with a hamstring injury, but finally emerged as a threat in the first four games.
Ross had 16 catches for 328 yards - a 20.5 average - with three touchdowns, including a 55-yarder in the season opener in Seattle and a 66-yarder in the second week against San Francisco. Two weeks later, he was back to rehabilitating an injury.
''You feel like you've finally got it and you finally figured it out and I felt like I was so ready and everyone could see it was going up,'' Ross said. ''Then to have it at a standstill kind of sucks.''
Ross spent a lot of time in the offseason conditioning so he could avoid the muscle injuries that slowed him the first two years. The latest injury was the result of landing wrong on his shoulder while being tackled.
''I felt like I had done everything I was supposed to do to prevent a lot of soft tissue injuries and then I go out and get something that is a rare injury,'' Ross said. ''It's almost like sometimes woe is me.''
Ross got past the woeful feeling and gets to be part of what the Bengals hope will be soothing final month in their fourth straight losing season. Although Green will miss the game in Cleveland, Ross' return gives the offense a big-play dimension it has lacked with both of them hurt.
''The whole speed factor,'' Dalton said. ''Regardless of what he's doing, wherever he lines up, they're going to know that he's the fastest guy in the league. His ability to play at that level and to have that speed on the field helps us out a lot.''
Tyler Boyd has been the only consistent threat, catching 68 passes for 758 yards and three touchdowns despite being the focus of opposing secondaries.
''The thing is, we get John Ross back,'' running back Joe Mixon said. ''That helps me a lot, and that helps Tyler a lot and also Andy.''
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan expects Ross' role to expand as he gets more playing time.
''He'll have a spot on the offense moving forward for sure,'' Callahan said. ''He's got speed that people fear. We would like to get that back on the field.''
Notes: Defensive end Sam Hubbard was held out of practice Wednesday with a sore knee, but Taylor expects him to play in Cleveland. Linebacker Nick Vigil (ankle) and safeties Shawn Williams (ankle) and Brandon Wilson (hand) were limited. ... Receiver Damion Willis signed onto the practice squad. The rookie had nine catches for 82 yards in 10 games. He was waived Tuesday to open a spot on the active roster for Ross.
Five Hot Plays: Week 8
Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley (foot) had X-rays on his injured foot, which were negative. He'll have an MRI to determine his fate for the next few weeks.
Fantasy Spin: Ridley will have about 10 days to heal up before Week 9, and the team has a Week 10 bye. He has been one of the few bright spots on the struggling team and remains a WR1.
New England Patriots WR Julian Edelman (knee) is likely headed to the Reserve/Injured list after having surgery to clean up his knee.
Fantasy Spin: Ian Rapoport also went as far to say that Edelman's knee was a bone-on-bone situation, which spells doom for a football player. You can stash Edelman on an IR spot for now in hopes of getting something from him in the stretch run, but this was a grim report for a gritty player.
Carolina Panthers WR Curtis Samuel caught four passes for 31 yards and a touchdown during the team's Week 8 game against the Atlanta Falcons. Samuel also carried the ball three times for 23 yards and a score.
Fantasy Spin: Samuel scored both of Carolina's touchdowns on Thursday night, one on a run up the middle and the other on a flea flicker. The fourth-year pro is a valuable do-it-all option for the Panthers offense, but gadget guys are tough to count on from one week to the next. Still, Samuel should be able to offer value as a flex most weeks.
Carolina Panthers WR Robby Anderson caught five passes for 48 yards against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday, Oct. 29. Anderson was targeted eight times.
Fantasy Spin: Anderson led the way in targets and receptions but most of his work was underneath as, outside of a 27-yard grab, his four catches covered just 21 yards. Atlanta simply refused to let Carolina's WRs get over the top and seemed to be a step ahead of the Panthers protection schemes all night long. Nobody delivers every week at the receiver position, but Anderson remains a steady WR2 going forward.
Carolina Panthers WR D.J. Moore caught two passes for 55 yards against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 8. He was targeted six times.
Fantasy Spin: Moore hauled in a 42-yard jump ball on Carolina's final drive to salvage a little respectability from a game where he was otherwise a complete nonfactor. You can blame some of it on the elements, but the offensive line didn't help matters either as Teddy Bridgewater seemed to be constantly under pressure. Keep Moore in your lineup in Week 9 and hope for a better performance.
Carolina Panthers RB Mike Davis had 13 carries for 66 yards against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday, Oct. 29. Davis also caught one pass for 11 yards.
Fantasy Spin: Davis looked physical against the Falcons Thursday night in what's likely to be his last start since Christian McCaffrey is expected to return in Week 9. While that should be the end of Davis' immediate value he's proven to be a quality handcuff for all Run CMC owners. A disclaimer: don't drop Davis until it's confirmed that McCaffrey will play against the Chiefs. Setbacks happen.
Carolina Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater (neck) completed 15 of his 23 passes for 176 yards, a touchdown and an interception against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday, Oct. 29. He also ran five times for 30 yards.
Fantasy Spin: Even before exiting the game temporarily following a nasty hit to the head, Bridgewater wasn't getting much done, settling for a steady diet of shallow crossing routes amid surprising pressure from the Falcons. Entering the final drive he'd barely topped the century mark in passing yards and his final throw was a terrible interception that had zero chance to be completed. It'll be interesting to see if the offense adjusts significantly following the expected return of Christian McCaffrey in Week 9.
Atlanta Falcons RB Brian Hill had 11 carries for 55 yards against the Carolina Panthers in Week 8. He also caught two passes for nine yards.
Fantasy Spin: Thursday represented the second time in three games that Hill has hit double digits in carries, and he's averaging a respectable 46 total yards per game over the last month. That's not enough to give him standalone value most weeks, but given Todd Gurley's workload and injury history Hill is certainly someone you could feel good about stashing on your bench.
Atlanta Falcons TE Hayden Hurst logged five receptions (on seven targets) for 54 yards in a Week 8 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Fantasy Spin: While he hasn't quite been the second coming of Austin Hooper, Hurst has topped 50 yards receiving in five of his first eight games with the Falcons and is becoming a fairly reliable contributor at a position that's severely lacking in that department. Consider him a decent TE1.
Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley (ankle) had three receptions for 42 yards on Thursday, Oct. 29, against the Carolina Panthers before leaving the game with an ankle injury. He was targeted four times.
Fantasy Spin: After the game, head coach Raheem Morris had no official update on Ridley's condition but indicated he's hopeful that the extra few days of rest will be enough to get Ridley back on the field for Week 9. If Ridley can heal up in time he'll deserve a spot in your lineup as a WR1/WR2. If not, Russell Gage should inherit a larger role. Given the team is off in Week 10, make sure to have a contingency plan in case the Falcons decide Ridley is better off with an extra couple weeks off to recover.
Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones caught seven passes for 137 yards against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday, Oct. 29. He was targeted a team-high 10 times.
Fantasy Spin: Jones had little trouble shaking man coverage or finding soft spots in the zone on Thursday night, and the result was his second game of exactly 137 receiving yards in the past three weeks. Even at 31, Jones is nearly unstoppable when healthy and remains a WR1.
Carolina Panthers kicker Joey Slye made one field goal and a pair of extra points in a 25-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Slye didn't get many opportunities in this one, as Carolina made just one trip to the red zone against a surprisingly resurgent Falcons' defense. There's not much that a kicker can do when he's simply not seeing the opportunities. With that said, Slye may be needed more in Week 9 against Kansas City, as the Panthers will probably have to put up a lot of points to win.
The Carolina Panthers Defense had an average day in a 25-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Carolina registered two sacks and an interception, holding strong on Atlanta's first two trips to the red zone. However, they couldn't stop the Falcons from marching down the field, ultimately surrendering 25 points to their division rival. At this point, there's nothing to suggest that the Panthers' defense is worthy of streaming for fantasy purposes. Don't even think about starting them in Week 9, as they face the Chiefs.
Atlanta Falcons RB Todd Gurley carried the ball 18 times for 46 yards and a touchdown in Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers.
Fantasy Spin: It was tough running for Gurley on Thursday night as he averaged just 2.6 yards per carry. That's the continuation of a trend for the veteran as he has averaged 2.6, 2.7 and 2.4 YPC in his last three games, respectively. Gurley is getting a lot of touches, however, and his nose for the end zone has served him well this season (even when it hasn't been in Atlanta's best interests). He'll get a few extra days to heal up before facing Denver in Week 9.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel enjoyed his most productive game of the season in a losing effort against Atlanta. Samuel caught four of five targets for 31 receiving yards and carried the ball three times for 23 rushing yards. The 24-year-old made a nice run in the red zone to start the scoring for the Panthers, then hauled in a deep pass from Teddy Bridgewater on a flea-flicker. It's Samuel's second straight game with a rushing touchdown. This was an encouraging performance from the former Buckeye, though it's worth noting that he was held under 50 receiving yards for the seventh time in eight games. He'll be a low-end flex at best in Week 9 against the Chiefs.
Carolina Panthers tight end Ian Thomas caught all three targets for 28 receiving yards in a 25-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. It was a juicy matchup for Thomas, but he certainly didn't exploit it, as his modest stat-line will support. His three targets were the most he's seen in weeks, though he seemed to surrender some playing time to fellow tight end Chris Manhertz. It's best to avoid Thomas completely until he picks up his production.
Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan completed 21 of 30 passes for 281 yards, no touchdowns and an interception against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday, Oct. 29. Ryan also ran for 27 yards and a touchdown on six attempts.
Fantasy Spin: Early on it looked like Julio Jones might go for 200-plus yards, but Carolina made some adjustments and weather conditions deteriorated, which led to more running from the Falcons. That won't help fantasy owners that rolled with Ryan, though, as the veteran has been pretty steady with yardage but wildly inconsistent when it comes to touchdown passes. Although Ryan carries QB1 upside every week, more often than not this season he has performed as a QB2.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore had a quiet game in a 25-17 loss to the Falcons on Thursday Night Football. Moore caught two of six targets for 55 receiving yards, including a huge 42-yard reception on a 3rd-and-17 in the fourth quarter. In a strange turn of events, Moore went without a catch until the final drive of the fourth quarter. Fortunately, the 23-year-old still saw six targets, second on the team to only fellow wideout Robby Anderson. There should be better days ahead for Moore, as he had compiled at least 93 receiving yards in three straight contests coming into this one. He'll get a Week 9 matchup against Kansas City in what could turn out to be a high-scoring affair.
Carolina Panthers running back Mike Davis carried the ball 13 times for 66 rushing yards and caught one of two targets for 11 receiving yards in a loss to the Falcons. The 27-year-old disappointed in likely his last ride as the Panthers' lead back, as Christian McCaffrey (ankle) is expected to return in Week 9 against Kansas City. Davis was a PPR machine in McCaffrey's absence, with at least six targets in four games as the starter. He was so impressive at times that it's possible he earned himself a bigger role, though it likely won't amount to much with McCaffrey around to gobble up the majority of the touches. Keep Davis rostered until we find out McCaffrey is back for sure.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage finished Thursday's win with two receptions for 25 yards on three targets. Gage continued to show his inconsistency on Thursday after coming into the game having gotten at least 54 yards in the past two contests. The WR is definitely streaky, which makes him a risky play most weeks. An ankle injury suffered by fellow wideout Calvin Ridley is worth monitoring. If Ridley cannot play next Sunday, Gage's value will surely go up, but it would still be hard to trust him for good production given his lackluster numbers this season.