Bucs Best Saints in Divisional Game

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By Terrance Turner

Jan. 17, 2021

In what may be Drew Brees’ final game, his New Orleans Saints battled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the New Orleans Superdome. The Buccaneers cashed in on four turnovers to win out over the Saints, 30-20.

There wasn’t a ton of offense early on. Saints kicker Wil Lutz kicked two field goals for New Orleans. Bucs kicker Ryan Succop made a field goal to make it 6-3. After the field goal, Brees was intercepted by Bucs’ Murphy-Bunting. Murphy-Bunting returned the pick for 36 yards. That set up a touchdown pass from Brady to wide receiver Mike Evans. That gave Tampa Bay a 10-6 lead.

Taysom Hill tossed the ball to Saints quarterback Jameis Winston, who threw deep across the field to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith. That 56-yard touchdown made it 13-10. The Bucs got the ball back and settled for a field goal after a would-be touchdown by Chris Godwin got overturned. Succop nailed the field goal to tie the game. It was 13-13 at the half.

In the second half, turnovers made the difference. Brees found Tre’Quan Smith for the touchdown. The Saints had a 20-13 lead, but it was all downhill from there. On the Bucs’ drive, Ronald Jones too off; the Saints defense surrounded him, but he still pushed forward for the first down. Then Bucs running back Leonard Fournette ran in for the touchdown. The game was again tied, at 20-20.

The Saints went three-and-out. But the Buccaneers had a socring drive. An incredible 15-yard catch by Tyler Johnson wowed observers, and Scotty Miller had a big catch after that. A 29-yard completion on 3rd and 5 helped set up another Succop field goal. That made it 23-20.

On the Saints’ next drive, Brees was picked by Devin White. That was his third turnover of the game, and Tampa Bay cashed in. Tight end Rob Gronkowski caught a pass from Brady — his first catch of the postseason. Gronk’s 13-yard catch put the Buccaneers at 1st and goal. Then Brady scored with a 1-yard touchdown run! That extended the Bucs’ lead.

With the fourth quarter ticking away, the Saints had little time to mount a comeback. But Brees got picked off again — the fourth turnover by the Saints. The Bucs held on to the ball just long enough to last past the two-minute warning. They won, 30-20. Brady is now on his way to his 14th conference championship. The Buccaneers will play the Green Bay Packers in next week’s NFC Championship Game.

During the game, word broke that this will be the last game Drew Brees plays at the Superdome. NFL analyst Jay Glazer reported today that Brees will retire after the season concludes. Brees will retire as the all-time leader in passing yards and completions. He helped bring New Orleans a Super Bowl title after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. And as he left the Superdome, Brees turned back, giving his home stadium of nearly 20 years one last look.

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UPDATE: NFL reporter James Palmer shared a video of Brady and Brees chatting on the field after tonight’s game. The two quarterbacks were joined on the field by their kids. Brady even played catch with one of Brees’ sons. After he caught the ball in the end zone, Brady remarked: “We could’ve used you tonight!” Palmer captured a sweet moment:

Lamar Jackson Earns Playoff Win (Finally) as Ravens Top Titans

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 10, 2021

Today, the Baltimore Ravens battled the Tennessee Titans in the NFL playoffs. It’s the second day of a two-day tripleheader. It was a tale of two defenses. Baltimore’s defense contained Derrick Henry, holding him to 40 yards, and Tennessee’s defense utterly failed to stop Lamar Jackson. The Ravens quarterback rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown as the Ravens defeated the Titans, 20-13.

Both teams went three-and-out on their opening drives. Tennessee rebounded with a scoring drive that featured two first-down catches by Titans receiver A.J. Brown. Tight end Anthony Firkser made a crucial first-down catch. That was followed by a one-handed grab by Brown for the touchdown. That made it 7-0.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson got intercepted by Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler. (That’s Butler’s second postseason pick, after the one he made for the Patriots during a Super Bowl.) Tennessee soon launched another drive. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill hit Firkser for 35 yards. That set up a 45-yard field goal by Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski. 10-0.

In the second quarter, Jackson took the Ravens to the red zone. They have struggled in this area against Tennessee, and this time was no exception. Jackson was sacked in the end zone (this time by Brooks Reed, former Texans linebacker). Tannehill, too, was sacked on the Titans drive.

Jackson led his team to take the lead. On 3rd and 9, Jackson took off, running into the end zone for the touchdown. That tied the game. It was 10-10 as the Titans’ next drive began. It went nowhere, and the Ravens’ next drive ended disastrously. WR Dez Bryant got tangled up with CB Malcolm Butler and got flagged for a late-hit after he knocked Butler over. That 15-yard penalty came near the end of the first half. It was tied 10-10 at the half.

In the second half, Baltimore took the lead. Running back J.K. Dobbins had a 4-yard rushing touchdown to give the Ravens the lead. They were ahead 17-10. The Titans were stymied on their next drive, and the Ravens too had problems when Jackson suffered his fourth sack of the day. The Titans eventually found their footing, driving down to the red zone. But after reaching 1st and goal, the Titans struggled. Tannehill was tackled on 3rd and goal, forcing a field goal. Stephen Gostkowski drilled a 25-yard attempt to make it 17-13.

The Ravens attempted a field goal at the end of their drive, too. But kicker Justin Tucker’s 52-yard attempt was no good. Despite getting flagged for offensive pass interference on a subsequent drive, the Ravens made it within field-goal range. Tucker kicked a field goal to make it 20-13. That’s how it ended. With under two minutes left, Tannehill was intercepted by cornerback Marcus Peters. Baltimore players rushed onto the Titans’ logo, drawing a flag for taunting. But the Ravens ran downfield to nab a first-down and seal their win. They triumphed, 20-13.

Tampa Bay Edges Washington for First Playoff Win Since 2003

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 9, 2021

Tonight, the last game in a Saturday tripleheader kicked off on NBC. The Washington Football Team took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a stadium just 10 miles from the U.S. Capitol — the site of a deadly riot on Wednesday. Inside the (mostly empty) stadium, the game unfolded. Somehow, an 11-5 Buccaneers team had trouble competing with a 7-9 Washington team. But Tampa Bay held on, cementing its first playoff win in over 17 years,

Tampa Bay scored first with a field goal. Washington QB Taylor Heinicke started for the team; QB Alex Smith was out with a calf injury. Heinicke performed gamely, drawing several compliments from announcers Al Michaels and Tony Dungy. But he was intercepted by Bucs defender Murphy-Bunting.

Tampa Bay took over. Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady quickly made a first-down throw to Scotty Miller. Within minutes, Brady found WR Antonio Brown for the touchdown. The extra-point kick was blocked, but Tampa Bay still led, 9-0.

Washington ran right through the Tampa Bay defense, racking up yards on the ground and through the air. That drive culminated in a touchdown by Washington running back J.D. McKissic. It was 9-7 when the Bucs began their next drive. Tampa Bay had a 22-yard catch by Brown and another first down from running back Leonard Fournette before a touchdown by WR Chris Godwin. The two-point conversion attempt was no good. So it remained 15-7.

On their next drive, Tampa Bay made it to 1st and goal, but couldn’t score. They settled for a field goal, which kicker Ryan Succop drilled. Washington embarked on a race-against-time drive, but couldn’t convert before time ran out. That made it 18-10 at the half.

In the second half, Tampa Bay’s defense utterly failed to contain runs or passes. On what should’ve been a sack — Heinicke was surrounded by the Bucs defense — the QB somehow managed to break free and dive across the end zone for the touchdown. Tampa Bay’s subpar defense — and Heinicke’s deft escape — made it 18-16.

A touchdown by Bucs tight end Cameron Brate was overturned. But Fournette dashed into the end zone for the TD. That put the Bucs up 25-16. Heinicke suffered a shoulder injury on Washington’s next drive; he was seen running off the field. But after a brief spell in the locker room he returned to the field of play. He rallied his team to another score, lobbing a TD pass to Steven Sims. It was 28-23.

With their lead slimmed down, the Bucs put together another scoring drive. WR Mike Evans had a 40-yard catch, followed by a Fournette first down. The drive culminated in a 37-yard field goal by Succop. That gave Tampa Bay a 31-23 lead. Though Heinicke valiantly tried to lead Washington to victory, a questionable fumble by a receiver and a sack by the Bucs defense stymied him. Escaping pressure from the defense with under two minutes left, Heinicke heaved the ball on fourth down. But the pass was incomplete. That sealed the win for Tampa Bay. They won, 31-23, for their first playoff win since 2003.

Titans Blow 16-Point Lead, But Hold Off Texans For Incredible Win

Photo by the author.

By Terrance Turner

Today, the Tennessee Titans made the playoffs with a loss by Miami. They slugged it out with the Houston Texans today in an edge-of-your-seat match that went right down to the wire. Today’s match started off slow, with a field goal apiece by both teams. But at the start of the second quarter, the offense lit up. Titans running back Derrick Henry took off, breaking tackles — including one by defensive end J.J. Watt — to streak down the field for the touchdow. Henry scored the game’s first touchdown, putting the Titans ahead 10-3.

After another field goal by the Texans, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill found receiver A.J. Brown for the touchdown. That extended the Titans’ lead, making it 17-6. A touchdown on the Texans’ drive was overturned; receiver Brandin Cooks stepped just outside the lines as he caught the ball. The Texans settled for a field goal, which Fairbairn kicked through. It was 17-9 at halftime.

As the second half began, the Titans put together a drive that included a 29-yard catch-and-run by Brown (?) and a crucial catch by tight end Anthony Firkser. The Firkser catch took the team into the end zone. Then Tannehill handed the ball to Henry, who jogged untouched into the end zone for the touchdown. That made it 24-9.

But the Texans put together a winning drive of their own. Watson found Cooks for the TD. But kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn missed the extra point. That made it a nine-point game. Tennessee padded the lead again on their next drive. The key, again, was Henry, who broke three tackles and slammed into another Texans defender as he ran. Then, as a fifth Texans defender tried to tackle him, Henry spun and landed on the ground, near the five-yard line. Tannehill kept the ball and dashed into the end zone to make it 31-15.

Watson found Cooks for another TD. But the two-point conversion failed, making it 31-21. The Texans caught a break, however, on the Titans’ next drive. Henry fumbled the ball. The Texans recovered and rapidly made it to the goal line. David Johnson ran in for the touchdown. That made it a three-point game: 31-28.

A.J. Brown made a crucial catch for the first down. Texans’ Charles Omenihu hit Tannehill in the face just after he threw the ball. Omenihu was flagged for roughing the passer, which added 15 yards to the end of the play. Automatic first down. The Texans later scored. Pharoah Brown caught the touchdown, to give the Texans the lead. They led for the first time — 35-31 — after scoring 20 unanswered points.

With time ticking away, the Titans mounted a drive. A rushing touchdown by Henry was wiped out by a holding call from the refs — which even the announcers disagreed with. But no challenge flag was thrown. The clock ran down even further, hitting the two-minute warning.

As the clock ran under 2:00, Tannehill made a run for it, getting all the way to the half-yard line. The Texans defense kept him from crossing the goal line. Tannehill eventually scored. But the refs again took the touchdown away, alleging illegal formation by the Titans. But with just 1:42 left, Tannehill tried again. This time, it worked: running diagonally towards the sideline, Tannehill finally scored. That gave the Titans a tenuous 38-35 lead.

The Texans were flagged on the extra-point try (for illegal formation) and then again on their punt return (for holding). The latter penalty cost the Texans 10 yards. Then — in an eerie example of history repeating itself — Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler got another joint catch. In a play similar to that of the Titans-Colts game, Butler caught the ball at the same time as Cooks. The refs upheld the original call of a completed catch by Cooks. That gave the Texans a chance.

After a heart-stopping last-chance drive, the Texans were forced to kick a field goal. Ka’imi Fairbairn nailed a 51-yard field goal to tie the game!

With the game tied at 38, the Titans had 18 seconds to put together a drive. Just when he needed to, Tannehill reared back and hurled a 54-yard pass, which was caught by A.J. Brown. That incredible catch put the Titans in field-goal range; Henry ran a few more yards to put the Titans closer. With four seconds left, the Titans attempted a field goal. Their kicker Stephen Gostkowski was out; a rookie was taking his place.

Somehow, the rookie made good. Samuel Sloman’s 37-yard field goal was a showstopper: the ball veered to the right, bounced off the upright and somehow went through. The result shocked everyone, but Henry’s reaction was one for the books:

The Titans win, 41-38. With this win (their 11th), they have won the AFC South for the first time since 2008. Not only have they made the playoffs, they have won their division. As usual, their strong running game was a key to their success. (The Titans are now the only franchise to have TWO running backs both achieve over 2,000 yards in a season.) And as usual, the motor for their high-powered offense was Derrick Henry.

Henry has won the rushing title for the second straight year. Henry’s 2,027 yards are the fifth-most ever in one season, per NBC Sports. He is only the eighth player in NFL history to have 2,000 rushing yards in a single season. And according to Yahoo! Sports writer Frank Schwab, he’s the first to achieve that since Adrian Peterson in 2012. Henry, according to Fifth Quarter Stats, has now rushed for 200+ yards and multiple touchdowns for the 3rd time this season. He is the 1st player in NFL history to accomplish this feat.

But it was the climactic, heart-stopping field goal by Titans kicker Samuel Sloman that sealed the game. Players on both teams reacted with shock and awe. But for the Titans, that surprise quickly gave way to jubilation — and celebration.

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Titans celebrate their unforgettable win today. Photo from Twitter (@Titans).

J.J. Watt Delivers Epic Rant After Latest Loss for Texans; Watson May Seek Trade

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By Terrance Turner

Dec. 27, 2020 (Updated Dec. 30, Jan. 7)

Photo from Getty Images.

The Texans lost. Again.

It’s not the first time that’s happened this season. Two weeks ago, the Texans lost in a blowout: 36-7, to the Chicago Bears. That loss officially eliminated them from playoff contention.

Last week, the Texans lost to the Indianapolis Colts. With less than 30 seconds left, Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee fumbled at the two-yard line. It was the second time this season the team has lost to Indianapolis after a goal-line fumble. The Texans lost to the Colts, 27-20.

Today, they lost again, to the Cincinnati Bengals. Quarterback Deshaun Watson had his shoulder grabbed by Bengal Sam Hubbard, causing a strip-sack with 1:28 left. Cincinnati sealed their historic road win with a field goal. Despite Watson’s three touchdowns, the Texans lost, 37-31.

It’s their fourth straight loss. After a season in which their coach was fired, their best receiver was traded, and their offense stifled, the Texans have lost 73% of their games. They are now 4-11.

Defensive end J.J. Watt was visibly frustrated after the loss. In a postgame press conference, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year delivered an angry, emotional rant peppered with curses. He expressed recognition of his privileged position and sympathy for Texans fans. But Watt also called out his teammates for a lack of professionalism.

“We’re professional athletes getting paid a whole lot of money,” Watt said. “If you can’t come in, put in work in the building, go out to the practice field, work hard, do your lifts and do what you’re supposed to do, you should not  be here. This is a job. We’re getting paid a whole lot of money. There are a whole lot of people that watch us and invest their time and money into buying our jerseys and buying a whole bunch of s–t. And they care about it; they care every single week. We’re in Week 16, and we’re 4-11, and there’s fans that watch this game, that show up to the stadium, that put in time and energy and effort and care about this. So if you can’t go out there and you can’t work out, you can’t show up on time, you can’t practice, you can’t want to go out there to win, you shouldn’t be here.

Because this is a privilege. It’s the greatest job in the world. You get to go out and play a game. If you can’t care enough, even when you’re in week 17 — even when you’re trash, when you’re 4-11 — if you can’t go out there and give it everything you have and try your hardest, that’s bulls–t,” he said. “There are people every week that still Tweet you, that still come up to you and say, ‘Hey, we’re still rooting for you, we’re still behind you.’ They have no reason whatsoever to. We stink. But they care, and they still want to win and they still want you to be great. That’s why. Those people aren’t getting paid. We’re being paid handsomely. That’s why. That’s who I feel the most bad for, are our fans, the people who care so deeply in this city, and love it and who truly want it to be great. And it’s not. And that sucks as a player, to know we’re not giving them what they deserve.”

Watch the now-viral moment below.

UPDATE (Dec. 30): The Texans have closed their facility today after two players (safety Eric Murray and linebacker Whitney Mercilus) tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. According to the Houston Chronicle, players were not allowed to enter the team facility. Instead, they did a walk-through on the practice field and then met virtually.

“Because we have had some positives, we are basically not letting the players into the facility,” Texans interim coach Romeo Crennel said on Zoom from NRG Stadium. “But we are having a walkthrough where we’ll work for about an hour and then they’ll leave. They are not using the facility. They come in. We walk through and they leave. We are hoping to cut down on the interaction with players when you’re not on the football field. Everybody is wearing masks and we’ll get some fundamental work done we need to get done.”

UPDATE: The Texans lost their final game of the season to the Tennessee Titans (who win the AFC South). After the Texans’ 41-38 loss on Sunday, Watt and quarterback Deshaun Watson shared a poignant moment. A video has surfaced of the two walking back to the locker room after the loss. “I’m sorry,” Watt tells Watson. “We wasted one of your years.”

UPDATE (Jan. 7, 2021): Rumors are swirling that Watson may be seeking a trade. NBC Sports’ ProFootballTalk intimates that “Watson has quietly broached with teammates the possibility of requesting a trade.” Trading him would result in a cap charge of $21.6 million. 

Veteran Houston Chronicle sportswriter John McClain seems convinced that Watson’s not going anywhere, and a KHOU sports reporter tonight snarkily remarked that the trade story “was written for some clicks on a website.” But just moments ago, NFL reporter Ian Rapoport revealed that Watson is unhappy with the Texans organization (who isn’t?) after being left out of crucial personnel decisions:

“Watson offered his input on potential general manager candidates, but the Texans neither considered nor consulted with those endorsed by their franchise quarterback, league sources told ESPN. “Additionally, the Texans did not inform Watson that they intended to hire Caserio, and he found out about the hire Tuesday on social media. That contributed to Watson taking to Twitter that night to post “some things never change….”

Albert Breer says that Watson advocated for Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to be head coach — but the Texans refused to even interview him, further irking Watson. Over the weekend, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Watson is still angry about the Texans’ “insensitivity to social justices, including hiring practices,” alluding to the team failing to interview Eric Bieniemy. (UPDATE: the Texans finally did request to interview Bieniemy today, Jan, 12. But the window to contact him has closed.)

Rapoport adds that Watson has not spoken to Texans brass in days — though they have tried to call him. This gives new grist to the rumor mill that Watson may be looking for greener pastures. At least one former Texans player is suggesting that some teams may be interested in Watson:

UPDATE: A Texans legend has weighed in on the situation. Legendary Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson set tongues wagging with a tweet today: “If I’m @deshaunwatson I will stand my ground,” Johnson wrote. “The Texans organization is known for wasting players careers. Since Jack Easterby has walk into the building nothing good has happened in/for the organization and for some reason someone can’t seem to see what’s going on. Pathetic!!!”

Johnson’s tweet took a shot at Texans VP of football operations Jack Easterby, which generated lots of online chatter. But former Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins backed Johnson up, quoting Johnson’s original tweet and adding: “When Dre speak listen.”

UPDATE: Former Texans tight end Joel Dreessen also backed Johnson. Asked for comment, Dreessen tweeted: “All I know is when Dre would speak, he was always worth listening to. I don’t know Easterby at all, but it pains me to see how badly the Texans have been put in reverse. Whether it was him or BOB [former head coach Bill O’Brien] who chased off players like Duane, Clowney, Hopkins…& gave up 1st round picks.”

Alvin Kamara Explodes For SIX Touchdowns; Saints Beat Vikings In Shootout On Christmas

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 25, 2020

In an unusual move, the NFL gave football fans the gift of football this Christmas. It would prove to be a memorable matchup. One team was battling to win the NFC South; the other was merely fighting to stay alive and get to the playoffs. But only one team would prove victorious.

This afternoon, the New Orleans Saints battled the Minnesota Vikings in a NFC showdown. The Saints scored right out of the gate: running back Alvin Kamara ran right through the Minnesota defense to score a touchdown. His 40-yard TD run put the Saints ahead 7-0. (No wonder he’s been named to his fourth straight Pro Bowl.)

The Vikings answered back right away with a running play of their own. Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook raced into the end zone for a touchdown, tying the game. New Orleans quickly put together a drive of their own: Jared Cook made a big catch, and RB Latavius Murray’s subsequent catch made it 1st and goal. After a pass interference call on the Vikings, the ball was moved to the one-yard line. Kamara scored again, pulling past defenders to cross the goal line. It was 14-7.

After the Vikings went three-and-out, the Saints took over again. This time, the Vikings defense prevented them from scoring a touchdown. But New Orleans tacked on a field goal to add three points. #23 for Minnesota found the end zone, cutting the Saints’ lead. It was 17-14. But then, Alvin Kamara scored again, rushing to the end zone for his third touchdown of the game. That put the Saints ahead 24-14 at the half.

In the second half, the Saints weren’t as dominant. A costly interception by Brees led to paydirt for Minnesota. The Vikings cashed in on the turnover. Irvin Smith, Jr. caught a TD pass from Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. They missed the extra point kick, though. So it was 24-20 with about 9:40 left in the third quarter.

But then…

With 4:38 left in the third quarter, Alvin Kamara scored his fourth touchdown of the day (!!!). Alvin Kamara is the first Saints player EVER to have four rushing touchdowns in a game, according to Bleacher Report. His historic achievement gave the Saints a 31-20 lead. But the Vikings clapped back with another TD, adding seven points before the third quarter ended.

The fourth quarter commenced, and it was all Saints. New Orleans’ already-explosive offense combusted in the final quarter. Kamara having yet another rushing touchdown. Kamara celebrated in the end zone, holding up his white-gloved hand and counting on his fingers: one, two, three, four, five.

The Saints powered down the field, deftly employing running plays and hurtling towards another 1st and goal. A catch by Burton took New Orleans all the way to the one-yard line. Kamara could’ve run in for another score, but coach Sean Payton elected to keep him out, drawing boos from the crowd. It was Taysom Hill who ended up scoring, with a 1-yard TD rush that made it 45-27.

The Vikings wasted no time getting into the red zone. A series of successful plays took them to 1st and goal. But the Saints defense broke up three consecutive plays. On 4th and goal, the Vikings went for it. Adam Thielen caught the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, but a Saints defender pushed him out of bounds from behind. A shoving match broke out between the Saints and the Vikings, and referees had to physically separate the players. In the end, the ruling on the field was for a touchdown, and two of the Saints defenders were flagged for unnecessary roughness. Those rulings drew boos from the crowd.

The referee ordered a two-point conversion from the one-yard line, but Cousins’ throw to Justin Jefferson was unsuccessful. The score was 45-33…but not for long. Saints Adam Trautman had a dramatic catch-and-run, evading Vikings defenders to reach the one-yard line. And then….the unthinkable happened. Alvin Kamara pushed past defenders to (barely) break the plane, scoring his SIXTH rushing touchdown. In doing so, Kamara ties an all-time record: That is the most rushing touchdowns by an NFL player in one game since 1929.

The Saints won, 52-33. With this win, they clinch their division. Their 52 points are the most that the Minnesota Vikings have allowed since 1963. The Vikings are eliminated from playoff contention with this game. The Saints win the NFC South for the fourth season in a row. They improve to 11-4.

So what was the key to Kamara’s sensational performance? “The O-line, kudos to them. They get the game ball, for sure. They did everything they had to do,” Kamara told Erin Andrews after the game. When asked about that Taysom Hill TD that could’ve gone to him, Kamara smiled. “I wasn’t worried about it,” he said. “Taysom was like, ‘Man, my bad.’ I was like, ‘Nah, it’s all good. We can spread the wealth.” And spread the wealth they did, for a phenomenal win.

Dez Bryant Out for MNF, But Ravens Continue Wild Ride With Unforgettable Win

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 8, 2020 (first published Nov. 30; updated Dec. 14)

Tonight’s Ravens-Cowboys game started with high drama.

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Dez Bryant was pulled from pregame warmups before tonight’s game against the Dallas Cowboys (his former team). Bryant left practice in order to take a test for COVID-19. (NFL reporter Kevin Seifert says that Bryant had taken a test this morning that came back “inconclusive” after he took the field. That necessitated a follow-up test, which came back positive.)

Less than an hour before game time, Bryant tweeted that he had tested positive for coronavirus. This, of course, would prevent him from playing in tonight’s game. But according to Bryant, he may be out for the rest of the season:

This comes after a dramatic sequence of events for the Ravens. On Monday, November 23, multiple players tested positive for COVID-19 after the Ravens’ loss to the Tennessee Titans. (The players included running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, who tested positive for coronavirus on Nov. 23. Both players were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, per the NFL Network. The Ravens shut down their facility, the NFL said.)

On Wednesday, Nov. 25, a scheduled game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers was postponed. The match had been scheduled for Thanksgiving night (Nov. 26). But the day before, NPR reported that the game was being postponed, after at least seven Ravens players tested positive for the coronavirus or were in close contact with someone who was infected. The news was confirmed by team releases.

On Thanksgiving night, word broke that four players — including Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson — had also tested positive for COVID-19. The next day, the NFL made a major decision. On Friday, Nov. 27, the Ravens-Steelers game was rescheduled to Tuesday, Dec. 1. That decision came after more positive tests by players within the organization. (As a result, the Cowboys-Ravens game was moved to tonight, from its original scheduling of Dec. 4.) On Saturday, six more players were added to the reserve/COVID-19 list, per ESPN. That gave Baltimore at total of 17 positive tests.

Ravens’ game versus the Steelers had been rescheduled for Tuesday night, Dec. 1. But additional positive tests mandated another change of plans. On Nov. 30th, the game was rescheduled for the third time, due to COVID-19. This was the first match this season to be rescheduled three times, according to ESPN. (By that point, at least one Ravens player had tested positive for nine straight days, prompting the decision.)

The game was set for Wednesday at 3:40 pm. It was the first Wednesday NFL game since 2012, ESPN says. The game kicked off at 3:40 p.m. because NBC, which is broadcasting the game, wanted to honor its commitment to broadcast a Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on Wednesday night, sources told ESPN reporter Adam Schefter. The Ravens lost to the Steelers on Wednesday afternoon, marking Pittsburgh’s 11th straight victory.

Players who test positive must quarantine for 10 days. Two other players were put on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list that week, which means they either contracted the coronavirus or came into close contact with someone who had it, according to the Ravens’ roster.

The Ravens officially placed three more starters, including two 2019 Pro Bowlers, on that list last Monday. Tight end Mark Andrews, outside linebacker Matthew Judon and wide receiver Willie Snead IV were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. Andrews, who is also a Type-1 diabetic, has played every game this season and leads the Ravens in catches (38), receiving yards (454) and touchdown catches (six). Andrews and Judon are both 2019 Pro Bowlers, making it seven Pro Bowlers on the list for Baltimore. As of today (Nov. 30), 21 players have been placed on that list, per the Ravens organization.

Despite all this drama, the Ravens won! The team beat the Cowboys 34-17 in tonight’s game, racking up 294 yards on the ground. Quarterback Lamar Jackson rushed for a 37-yard touchdown, then threw another TD to wide receiver Marquise Brown. RB J.K. Dobbins (who also tested positive for COVID-19) ran in for a touchdown just before the two-minute warning.

Jackson threw for 107 yards and two touchdowns, in spite of his lingering COVID-19 symptoms. “I still can’t really taste or smell, but I’m good now,” he told reporters after the game. “I guess my taste or smell gon’ come back sooner or later…I wouldn’t wish that on nobody, though.”

Tyreek Hill Helps Chiefs (Barely) Beat Buccaneers

Terrance Turner

The offensive fireworks were in major supply as the Kansas City Chiefs played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today. At Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida, the two teams battled mightily for advantage in a hard-fought match. But it was the Chiefs who would prevail — barely.

The Chiefs scored first with a field goal. On a subsequent drive, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes stunned viewers with a 75-yard pass to wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Then Mahomes connected with Hill again! Hill made a huge catch, ran past defenders, and backflipped into the end zone for a touchdown that put Kansas City up 17-0.

But the Buccaneers weren’t going down without a fight. Mahomes hurled a pass to make it 1st and goal, but he fumbled the ball after a tackle by Berry. The Bucs recovered and launched their own drive. Holding penalties on both teams ensued. But the drive nonetheless generated four first downs. Bucs Tight end Rob Gronkowski made a pivotal grab near first down and then caught a dramatic 29-yard pass that set up 1st and goal. Then Ronald Jones scored a touchdown after a long-legged run to the end zone.

The Chiefs regained possession and got to business on a workmanlike drive. Demarcus Robinson gained 10 yards on one play and nine on another;; Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce had nine yards on one play and eight on the next. A field goal by Harrison Butker made it 20-7 at the half.

The Buccaneers got the ball to start the second half. They soon began a field-goal drive of their own. A highlight-reel completion by Gronkowski went 48 yards and enabled a chip-shot field goal. Bucs kicker Ryan Succop drilled a kick through the uprights to make it 20-10.

After a tense moment of jawing between Brady and Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, the Chiefs took over. After an improbable nine-yard run by running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Mahomes took off on a 17-yard run. That opened the door for a touchdown. Mahomes found Hill AGAIN for a 21-yard score. This was Hill’s third touchdown of the day.

Hill finished the day with 13 catches for three touchdowns and 269 yards — the most ever versus the Bucs, according to writer Greg Auman. Mahomes would finish with 462 yards and three touchdowns.

The Bucs had a feast-and-famine drive. Brady threw a stellar 46-yard throw to Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin — then threw an interception. But the Chiefs failed to capitalize on the takeaway; they went three-and-out on their drive. Brady was later intercepted again, by Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu. But once again, the Chiefs did nothing with the turnover, going three-and-out.

The Bucs took advantage of that offensive stagnation. On 4th and 3, Brady found Mike Evans for a 31-yard touchdown. They nearly got the ball back after Mahomes was intercepted. But Tampa Bay defender Jason Pierre-Paul was flagged for roughing the passer. That left Mahomes with no picks; today Mahomes threw for 462 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions.

A first-and-goal stand by the Chiefs was gradually undone by two holding penalties (both on lineman Eric Fisher). Then the Chiefs began racking up defensive penalties: Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark was penalized TWICE for roughing the passer, costing the team valuable yardage. Those fouls placed the ball near the goal line, and the Bucs cashed in when Brady located Evans for their second TD of the day.

The Chiefs took over with just four minutes left and deftly worked the clock. On 3rd and 7, Mahomes threw to Hill — who saved his team by making the catch for a crucial first down. The Chiefs let the remaining time run out, strategizing successfully to manage the clock. That helped them seal a narrow victory. The Chiefs won, 27-24.

The Chiefs improve to 10-1. The only team with a better record in the NFL is the 10-0 Pittsburgh Steelers (who play the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday night). The Buccaneers fall to 7-5 after losing their second straight game, according to USA Today.

Derrick Henry Shines as Titans Avenge Colts

By Terrance Turner

The Tennessee Titans came to Lucas Oil Stadium today to battle the Indianapolis Colts (whom they lost to just 17 days ago). But the Titans had no intention of repeating history. Their offense exploded in the first half, led by running back Derrick Henry. What began as a shootout in the first half quickly turned into a dominant offensive performance by the Titans. With Henry’s help, they avenged the Colts with a big win.

Derrick Henry scored the game’s first touchdown, but the Colts responded with a touchdown of their own. The Titans scored out of nowhere when receiver A.J. Brown had a 69-yard catch and run. They went up 14-7. But the Colts clapped back when quarterback Philip Rivers found receiver Trey Burton for the touchdown. That tied the two teams at 14 points apiece.

The Titans took over and drove down the field. On 3rd and goal, Tannehill got sacked, but the Colts defense got flagged for illegal hands to the face. That gave the Titans a fresh set of downs, and Henry scored again to put them ahead 21-14. But he wasn’t done yet. With 1:41 left in the second quarter, Henry found the end zone again with an 11-yard run. He broke past defenders to score his third touchdown of the day, giving the Titans a 28-14 lead. (Henry is the first Titans player with 3 rushing touchdowns in the first half since Lorenzo White in 1999.)

The Colts’ woes continued as the second half came to a close. Special-teamer Matthew Adams was flagged for throwing a punch; he was disqualified from the game. Then the Colts defense struggled to contain the surging Titans. On 4th and 4, Titans receiver Corey Davis made a dramatic catch to place the Titans at 1st and goal. Derrick Henry came off the bench, and everyone (including the CBS announcers) expected him to run in for another score. But Tannehill faked a handoff to Henry and then ran into the end zone for the touchdown. The Titans led 35-14 at halftime.

The second half began inauspiciously. The Colts failed to score on either of their first two drives, and the Titans’ offense also slowed to a crawl. But Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski nailed a 49-yard field goal to extend Tennessee’s lead.

The Colts got life in the fourth quarter when Rivers hurled a pass to receiver T.Y. Hilton. But the aggressive Titans defenders stripped the ball from him. Upon review, however, the ruling of a fumble was reversed; Hilton’s knee was down. The Colts took advantage of the call and scored when Jacoby Brissett muscled his way into the end zone on a 1-yard run.

With the score 38-20, the Colts caught another break. Indianapolis receiver Zach Pascal caught the ball, but so did Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler. The two fell to the ground and wrestled for control of the ball. Butler eventually wrested control, but the call came down to the refs. After a long conference, the referee ruled that “the receiver and the defender made a simultaneous catch. By rule, the offense retains possession.” That call would lead to a pivotal sequence for Indianapolis.

The Colts began their drive. After a huge pass interference call on the Titans defense, the Colts were placed near the goal line. They cashed in. T.Y. Hilton made a crucial catch in the end zone for another Colts TD. But the two-point conversion attempt was no good.

Just when things were starting to look bad for the Titans, they caught an unexpected break. Out of nowhere, a 42-yard kickoff return by A.J. Brown gave the Titans yet another TD. They won the game 45-26. Tennessee now improves to 8-3 for the season.

Derrick Henry evades Colts defenders as the Titans battle the Colts on Nov. 29. (Photo from CBS Sports.)

Lawrence Returns in Clemson Comeback Win

By Terrance Turner

The Clemson Tigers returned to action today for their first action in three weeks as they battled Pitt. A scheduled game versus Florida State had to be postponed due to the pandemic. (Positive tests for COVID-19 led to the game being scrapped…for now.) Today was the first game quarterback Trevor Lawrence has played since testing positive for COVID-19. But he showed no signs of rust, leading the Tigers to a 52-17 win.

Clemson scored right out of the gate with a touchdown from wide receiver E.J. Williams. A later field goal put Clemson ahead 10-0. That lead increased even more after Lawrence threw a touchdown pass to receiver Cornell Powell. After a targeting call on the Pitt offense, the Tigers advanced to first and goal. They cashed in when running back Travis Etienne ran in for the touchdown. (He’s scored in each of the last seven games.) Etienne ranks first in the ACC in rushing touchdowns and rushing yards. The Tigers scored again near the close of the quarter, with a TD from Lyn-J Dixon. Clemson was up 31-0 at the end of the first quarter — their highest-scoring first quarter in history.

Pitt kicked a field goal in the second quarter, making it 31-3. A dramatic catch by Powell moved the chains. But on 1st and goal, a penalty (for ineligible man down field) pushed the Tigers back. Then a defensive pass interference call on Pitt took the Tigers to first and goal. Third-string running back Chez Mellusi ran into a stout defense, but his teammates surrounded Mellusi and pushed him into the end zone. That made it 38-3.

With just five minutes left in the quarter, Clemson had its first punt. On a Pitt drive that the Clemson defense was unable to stop the run, Pitt scored its first touchdown of the game (via #3). The first half concluded with two major calls. A catch by Powell was overturned on review, after a long conference by the referees that drew boos from the crowd. They erupted into even more boos after Pitt defenders ran into the Clemson kicker; there was no flag.

The second half began with a disastrous sequence by Clemson. Lawrence was tackled and fumbled the ball. Pitt cashed in on the takeaway with a touchdown that made it 38-17. On their drive, a Clemson TD was negated by two fouls on the offense. On fourth down, a 41-yard field goal attempt was no good. While Pitt went three-and-out on its next drive, so did Clemson. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney was irate on the sideline, yelling at various players.

But Clemson soon got its act together. On 3rd and 5, Lawrence took off on a daring run to get the first down, keeping the drive alive. That drive would culminate in 38-yard catch-and-run by Braden Galloway. The initial touchdown was overturned on review, but it still placed the Tigers at the three-yard line for first and goal. They scored when Etienne scored his second touchdown of the day.

Later, Mellusi notched a nine-yard touchdown to put Clemson up 52-17. That would be the final score. The Tigers threatened to score again late in the fourth quarter, when Patterson scooped up a dropped Pitt ball and returned it to the one-yard line. Still, Clemson had an impressive win. Trevor Lawrence threw for 403 yards and two touchdowns. Today he surpassed 10,000 total career yards, the third-most all-time in school history.

Today, Lawrence and other Clemson seniors were honored for Senior Day. This may very well be the last home game he and his classmates play for Clemson. “Just super grateful to be a part of Clemson University, and even more so, this program,” Lawrence said after the game, adding that “my years here have been amazing.”

Lawrence is expected to be drafted No. 1 in the NFL Draft. Should he enter, however, Lawrence will be entering a league upended by COVID-19. Today, Adam Schefter reported that none of the quarterbacks on the Denver Broncos roster are eligible for tomorrow’s game versus the Saints. According to Schefter, all four quarterbacks were deemed “high-risk contacts” due to not wearing masks. QB Jeff Driskel tested positive on Thursday, Schefter said. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson also tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and is among 19 players placed on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list. (THIS JUST IN: Analyst Jay Glazer reports that two more Ravens have been added to the list as of 7:29 pm.)