Pick(ed) 6: Browns name rookie Baker Mayfield starting QB
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
Monday, September 24
CLEVELAND (AP) — Baker Mayfield’s heard all about the Browns’ quarterback misery, the horrid history of failures and flops since 1999.
From Tim Couch to Jeff Garcia to Derek Anderson to Johnny Manziel and so many others, 29 quarterbacks have started in Cleveland before Mayfield, who isn’t taking any pride in being No. 30.
“It’s 2018,” he said. “Don’t really care.”
But maybe 30’s a charm for Cleveland.
As expected, Browns coach Hue Jackson named Mayfield the team’s new starter on Monday, just days after the No. 1 overall pick replaced an injured Tyrod Taylor and dazzled in his pro debut by rallying the Browns to a 21-17 come-from-behind win over the New York Jets — Cleveland’s first since 2016.
Taylor’s concussion forced the Browns to alter their plans and play Mayfield sooner than anticipated.
The Heisman Trophy winner didn’t disappoint.
“He went out there into some tough situations, down 14 late in the second quarter, and handled all of that extremely well and went and played well. He checked off every box for me,” Jackson said.
“I am not surprised by what he did in the game. I do not think that his teammates are. I do not think that the coaches are. I think that we knew, once he got his opportunity, he would go in there and nail it.
“That is what he did.”
Under the national TV spotlight, Mayfield came in late in the first half and showed a seasoned veteran’s poise. He made quick decisions and even quicker throws while completing 17 of 23 passes for 201 yards in just more than one half.
It was quite an entrance.
Mayfield seemed to be the only one not enthralled with his performance, which ended with Browns fans signing his name as they partied outside FirstEnergy Stadium following Cleveland’s first win in 635 days.
He has bigger plans.
“I didn’t come here just to win one game and I didn’t come here just to start the next,” he said. “We’re building a franchise here and we’re turning it around. It’s about culture, so being that same person every day, which means finding that happy medium, never listening to the outside noise.”
Mayfield knows he’s been anointed as some kind of Cleveland football savior, and he’s not backing down from the job.
“That’s what I signed up for,” he said. “I’m living my dream and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Without pressure, I don’t think this would be very much fun, without all the people watching and finding joy in this game. I love this game, and without the competitive nature, I wouldn’t enjoy it.”
Jackson said he hopes Taylor will be cleared from concussion protocol in time to back up Mayfield on Sunday against the Raiders. If not, veteran Drew Stanton will be active.
As for Mayfield, Jackson has been impressed with his quick development and acknowledged the switch happened sooner than he anticipated.
But Jackson is also confident Mayfield is prepared to take the starting job and run with it — it’s why the Browns took him ahead of every other player in the draft.
Jackson has changed QBs before. This switch feels different.
“This was a guy that we picked together, that we went all-in on unanimously and said this is the guy for the future,” Jackson said, referring to general manager John Dorsey and his coaching staff. “The guy that we picked for the future of the organization is now the starter of the team.”
Taylor’s influence helped accelerated the learning curve for Mayfield. The Browns signed Taylor, who guided Buffalo to the playoffs last season, to serve as a “bridge” quarterback until Mayfield was ready. But although that connection is complete, Jackson said the team needs Taylor.
“He’s right here, not going anywhere,” Jackson said. “That’s important. Part of Baker being able to play like he did was because of Tyrod and Drew, so I don’t want to upset that room that way. Tyrod’s going to be needed. He’s the backup quarterback on this team if he’s healthy. He’s played and his teammates know who he is and the way he goes about the rhythm of his game.
“So I think it’s always good to have that kind of depth at that position.”
Mayfield’s elevation was welcomed inside Cleveland’s locker room by teammates who believe he’s destined for greatness.
After LeBron James left this summer, the city has been looking for someone to take the NBA superstar’s place.
Mayfield could be the one.
“I keep saying this is the Baker Era and stuff,” wide receiver Rashard Higgins said. “If it pans out how it’s supposed to be, Baker might be the next big thing. He might be on the LeBron wall.”
NOTES: LB Christian Kirksey returned to practice after missing two games with a sprained ankle. … DE Myles Garrett was on a stationary bike during the portion of practice open to media members, but Jackson said the former No. 1 pick “is fine.” … Name change: The Browns signed TE Pharaoh Brown to the practice squad and released TE Pharaoh McKever. The 6-foot-6 Browed played at Oregon and went to high school in Cleveland.
Bengals’ defense surprised, flattened by Panthers
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
Monday, September 24
CINCINNATI (AP) — Down to its last chance, the Bengals’ defense dug in to stop the run. The Carolina Panthers ran the ball six straight plays, got a pair of first downs and finished them off.
This time, there was no big play to save a defense that’s given up a lot of yards in three games.
The Panthers ran for 230 yards — averaging 5.6 per carry — during a 31-21 victory Sunday that highlighted one of Cincinnati’s biggest concerns in the opening month. The defense is giving up a lot of yards to quarterbacks and runners.
Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco each threw for more than 300 yards in the first two games, but the Bengals were able to stop the run and come up with late turnovers to hold on for wins. In Carolina, they simply got run over all game and were unable to save themselves at the end.
“We felt like we were close,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “I hope it looked that way too. They did a lot of little things that worked to their benefit.”
Mainly, the NFL’s top running game took advantage of them. Christian McCaffrey ran for 184 yards — averaging 6.6 per carry — and Cam Newton ran for a pair of touchdowns. McCaffrey ran for 99 yards in the first half alone, when the Panthers got ahead 21-14.
The decisive possession came after Andy Dalton was picked off at midfield with 3:33 left and the Panthers up by seven points. McCaffrey had a pair of runs for 13 yards against a defense that knew he’d get the ball. Newton then faked a handoff and went 12 yards around left end, leaving the Panthers well inside field-goal range.
The Panthers ran three more plays to drain the clock, and they kicked the clinching field goal with 1:11 to go.
“Sometimes it’s just one of those days,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said Monday. “We had a stinker.”
The Bengals (2-1) held the Colts to 75 yards rushing in the opener and the Ravens to 66 yards rushing the following game, forcing them to throw. They didn’t expect a lot of runs from McCaffrey, who had carried only 18 times in the Panthers’ first two games but caught 20 passes.
“They did some things we hadn’t seen on film, and it kind of shocked us a little bit,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said Monday.”
The Bengals face another unfamiliar offense next Sunday when they travel to Atlanta (1-2) for their third road game in the opening month.
The Falcons lost to the Saints 43-37 in overtime on Sunday. Kirkpatrick plans to challenge his teammates in practice this week to get beyond the bad performance in Carolina and get ready for a wide-open offense.
“Everybody’s down now,” Kirkpatrick said. “We expect more.”
Coach Marvin Lewis provided no update on the status of A.J. Green, who suffered a groin injury early in the third quarter and didn’t return. The Bengals struggled to move the ball in the second half with him on the sideline, going 0 for 4 on third down. Green caught five passes for 58 yards.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict serves the final week of his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancers. He’s eligible to rejoin the team next week.
Roethlisberger shines, Steelers hold off Buccaneers 30-27
By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
Tuesday, September 25
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — It was not the way Ben Roethlisberger would draw it up, but the Pittsburgh Steelers will take it.
In desperate need of a win, the two-time defending AFC North champions capped a tumultuous week in which star receiver Antonio Brown made headlines by shouting at an assistant coach on the sidelines and getting into a spat on social media with a 30-27 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night.
The Steelers (1-1-1) built a 20-point lead held on for their first win despite not scoring after halftime.
“I don’t feel like we had the ball much in the second half. Three possessions maybe. We need to do a better job putting it away,” Roethlisberger said.
“At the end of the day we just wanted to get out of here with a win,” cornerback Joe Haden added. “It wasn’t a good-looking win at all. They made a lot of plays on us, but at the end we made some big stops.”
Roethlisberger threw for 353 yards and three touchdowns, with all but 80 yards of that production coming while the Steelers were building a 30-10 halftime lead.
Vance McDonald scored on a 75-yard pass play and finished with four catches for 112 yards. Brown and Ryan Switzer also had first-half TD receptions for Pittsburgh, which had been winless through two games for the first time since 2013.
The Pittsburgh defense did its part, too, forcing four turnovers, including three first-half interceptions of Ryan Fitzpatrick, the 35-year-old journeyman who threw for 819 yards and eight touchdowns in two victories to begin Tampa Bay’s season.
Fitzpatrick, the only player in NFL history to open a season with consecutive games with over 400 yards passing and four touchdowns, tried his best to create “FitzMagic” again in his third start in place of the suspended Jameis Winston.
He led a long field goal drive in the third quarter, and then tossed fourth-quarter TD passes of 4 yards to Chris Godwin and 24 yards to Mike Evans to rally the Bucs (2-1) within 30-27 with 5:43 remaining.
“We obviously dug ourselves a pretty big hole,” Fitzpatrick said. “The great thing to me coming out of this game is again the belief in the huddle in the second half and guys not wavering and not blinking and having the feeling the whole time that we were going to come back and win the game.”
The Bucs got the ball back with just over three minutes left; however, the Steelers forced a punt and Roethlisberger ran out the clock.
Fitzpatrick, who sacked three times, finished 30 of 50 for 411 yards and three TDs.
“We just did so many things in the first half of that game that we haven’t been doing, so many things to beat ourselves,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said.
“I’m really proud of the way we fought. You’re down three touchdowns or three scores at halftime, it’s not easy to come back in this league,” Koetter added. “We gave ourselves a chance there at the end and just couldn’t pull it off.”
Roethlisberger was 30 of 38 with one interception, completing nine passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster for 116 yards and six to Brown for 50 yards.
The quarterback’s on-field chemistry with Brown appeared fine in the first game since Brown responded to a former team employee on social media by suggesting the club trade him if it wants to find out how productive he can be without Roethlisberger.
Fitzpatrick threw interceptions on three consecutive pass attempts during one stretch of the second quarter. The first stopped a promising drive at the Steelers’ 6, and linebacker Bud Dupree returned the last one 10 yards for a touchdown that put the Steelers up 23-7.
Roethlisberger also turned a fumble into a 27-yard TD pass to Brown and moved the Steelers 75 yards in nine plays just before the half to make it 30-10 on his 1-yard scoring pass to Switzer.
FLAGS, FLAGS, FLAGS
The teams combined for five roughing-the-passer penalties, most in an NFL game since 2001, as fans around the league continue to gripe about flags being thrown for what appear to be routine tackles. Pittsburgh was flagged three times for hits on Fitzpatrick, and the Bucs were called twice for roughing Roethlisberger. In all, the Steelers were penalized 13 times for 155 yards. Tampa Bay had nine penalties for 80 yards. The Bucs also had a holding penalty that wiped out what would have been an 80-yard punt return for a TD by DeSean Jackson.
RING OF HONOR
Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, who won a Super Bowl ring as player with the Steelers and as a first-time head coach transformed Tampa Bay from a laughingstock into a championship contender, was inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor at halftime.
He’s the 12th member, joining Hall of Famers Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks; coaches John McKay and Jon Gruden; late owner Malcolm Glazer; and players John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Doug Williams, Jimmie Giles and Paul Gruber.
Dungy and his wife, Lauren, accompanied Tampa Bay’s captains to midfield for the coin toss. Three of the couple’s children — Jade, Justin and Jason — led the team out of the tunnel as the honorary flag runners.
Steelers: Played without All-Pro guard David DeCastro (hand), right tackle Marcus Gilbert (hamstring) and safety Morgan Burnett (groin). Pittsburgh didn’t report any injuries during the game.
Buccaneers: Defensive tackle Beau Allen (foot) was inactive after being injured during Tampa Bay’s Week 2 victory over Philadelphia. S Chris Conte left in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return.
Steelers: Home vs. Baltimore on Sunday night.
Buccaneers: Visit Chicago on Sunday in the first game Winston is eligible to play.
Bears look for ways to speed Mitchell Trubisky’s progress
Monday, September 24
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — It’s not exactly a comfortable feeling for the Chicago Bears, despite their current lofty status.
Alone in first place in the NFC North for the first time since late in the 2013 season, the Bears (2-1) know they’ve shown enough flaws for concern about upcoming games.
And most of their problems revolve around the offense, and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
“Offensively after watching the tape, again, red zone-wise yesterday wasn’t good enough,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said Monday, following Sunday’s 16-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals. “We need to be better in the red zone, we need to get to a point to where we’re putting touchdowns up on the board and not kicking field goals.”
Chicago’s offense reached the end zone once in two games and twice in the other, and Trubisky turned the ball over twice in the first half against Arizona.
“We did a good job moving the football, getting first downs and controlling the ball,” Trubisky said after the win. “We just have to continue to find ways to get points.”
The Bears have scored touchdowns on only 40 percent of their trips into the red zone, placing them in the bottom quarter of the league.
Trubisky’s fundamentals while passing against pressure left something to be desired Sunday, as the Cardinals repeatedly blitzed.
“I thought that there were some good ones and I thought there were some he could get better at,” Nagy said. “That’s where we’re at. He’ll be the first to tell you that.
“We’ll do everything we possibly can each week to make sure we limit those inaccuracies.”
Trubisky threw for two touchdown passes for the first time ever in the Bears’ 24-17 win over Seattle, but then followed with a passer rating of 73.5 Sunday against Arizona.
One possible way to improve Trubisky’s effort would be to scale back the offense.
Considering he has started only 15 NFL games, it’s possible Trubisky is at his limit in comprehending all the nuances of the team’s new attack.
“I think that it’s probably getting close,” Nagy said.
Nagy added there are other factors slowing the offense besides his quarterback, but Trubisky must be completely aware of the best places to go with the football.
“When you feel like it’s getting close to that breaking point or too much, you’ve got to pull back,” Nagy said. “And so I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job so far with that.
“We’ll continue to monitor that and see where he’s at. We’ll talk to him, we’ll get feedback from him, as well as the other guys, and then try to figure out the ‘why’ part. Why aren’t we where we want to be?”
A way to solve some of the offensive woes would be to get the ball downfield more often. Although the Bears are happy with their 36:21 of possession time Sunday, they’ve struggled all year with getting yards after the catch or long completions.
Allen Robinson had Chicago’s season-long pass reception against Arizona with a 39-yarder to start a scoring drive.
“I think you can see what it does (with) the one we hit Allen down the sideline,” Nagy said.
“You feel it, you feel that energy, you get the momentum going, the guys feel it, it stresses a defense when you have that. So those are important to have and we need to start connecting on those.”
There are other problems, as well.
The defensive depth is being taxed after a hamstring injury to cornerback Prince Amukamara. His backup, Marcus Cooper, has a hamstring injury, as well.
By and large, though, the defense has been dominant thanks to Khalil Mack’s pass rushing.
In fact, it’s been so strong Nagy found himself being questioned about a potentially dangerous rift developing within the team as the defense carries too much of the load.
Nagy discounted this.
“As well and as dominant as our defense has been, there’s going to be a time this year — I can’t tell you when — but there’s going to be a time this year when they need the offense,” Nagy said. “I’ve been a part of both sides. I’ve been a part of where the defense is dominant and the offense is struggling.
“And you’ve got to make sure that you understand that there’s 16 games in a season. It’s going to balance out, typically.”
49ers lose QB Jimmy Garoppolo to season-ending knee injury
By JOSH DUBOW
AP Pro Football Writer
Tuesday, September 25
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Jimmy Garoppolo’s addition last season immediately turned around the fortunes of the San Francisco 49ers. Now the 49ers will have to go back to life before Garoppolo for the rest of the season.
The Niners announced Monday that Garoppolo tore the ACL in his left knee while making a cut late in a loss at Kansas City, sidelining him for the rest of the season.
“It is very unfortunate,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It was hard waking up today. We were down and disappointed about it because we were looking forward a lot to playing with Jimmy this year and going through the good and the bad knowing that he’d benefit from all of it. Now we don’t get to do it. I know Jimmy is really down about it and so are we but it’s still going to be all right.”
The injury deals a serious blow to the 49ers (1-2), who had planned their rebuild around Garoppolo and now must turn again to C.J. Beathard at quarterback.
Garoppolo will undergo surgery in the next week or two after the swelling goes down and should be ready to play again next season. The 49ers are planning to promote Nick Mullens from the practice squad and also will bring several veterans in for tryouts this week, including Tom Savage, Kellen Clemens, possibly T.J. Yates and Matt Moore.
One quarterback who won’t be brought in is former 49ers starter Colin Kaepernick, who opted out of his contract with San Francisco in March 2017 after Shanahan decided he wanted to go with a style of offense that didn’t fit Kaepernick’s game.
“That’s what I said last year and it’s the same situation now,” Shanahan said. “I always look into what style of offense I want to do and what style of offense we’ve been doing the last two years.”
The Niners struggled with Beathard and Brian Hoyer last season before the midseason addition of Garoppolo changed their fortunes. San Francisco won the final five games last year after Garoppolo took over as starter and the team rewarded him with a $137.5 million, five-year contract.
The 49ers will have to wait another year to earn dividends on that investment. Garoppolo got hurt in the fourth quarter of a 38-27 loss Sunday when he was scrambling toward the sideline and decided to cut up field instead of going out of bounds.
Garoppolo’s left knee buckled just before Kansas City cornerback Steven Nelson delivered a big hit, ending what was supposed to be his first full season as a starter after just three games.
Shanahan said the play should serve as a reminder to quarterbacks about the importance of protecting their bodies.
“That’s something that Jimmy will probably look at differently going forward because now he’ll remember this the rest of his life,” Shanahan said. “Nothing against him. This happens with everyone. You see it every Sunday. It’s a reminder for everyone why it’s an obvious coaching point.”
Expectations were high in San Francisco this season that the team could end a four-year playoff drought after Garoppolo had a full offseason to immerse himself in Shanahan’s offense. But with Garoppolo and new running back Jerick McKinnon both knocked out for the season with torn ACLs in September, those high hopes have been put on hold.
Garoppolo had completed 59.6 percent of his passes with five TDs, three interceptions and an average of 8.1 yards per attempt for a 90 passer rating. While he hasn’t been quite as efficient as he was late last year after being acquired at the trade deadline from New England for a second-round pick, the Niners offense has been far more potent than it was before he took over as quarterback.
Beathard started five games as a rookie last year, completing 54.9 percent of his passes with four touchdowns, six interceptions, 19 sacks, 6.4 yards per attempt and a 69.2 passer rating that was second lowest in the NFL.
Beathard threw a touchdown pass to George Kittle on his first snap Sunday only to have it negated by a penalty and wasn’t in for any other plays in the game.
“I have a lot of confidence in C.J.,” Shanahan said. “I think C.J. got a lot of experience last year. We liked him a lot coming out of college. … He got thrown into as tough a situation as I could imagine a rookie quarterback being thrown in and the guy didn’t blink.”
NOTES: CB Richard Sherman will miss a couple of weeks with a strained left calf. … RB Matt Breida hyperextended his knee and is questionable this week. … RG Mike Person will be questionable with a sprained knee.
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