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Ryan Finley era gets off to rough start for Bengals – Cincinnati Bengals Blog



CINCINNATI — The evaluation of rookie Ryan Finley as the Cincinnati Bengals‘ franchise quarterback got off to a rocky start on Sunday.

Finley had some good moments but also had two turnovers that were returned for points as the Bengals were walloped by the Baltimore Ravens 49-13. In his debut as Cincinnati’s starting quarterback, Finley, a fourth-round pick out of North Carolina State, completed 16 of 30 passes for 167 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

When Bengals first-year coach Zac Taylor made the switch from veteran Andy Dalton to Finley, the move was partially made to figure out what they have in Finley ahead of the 2020 draft. After Sunday’s loss, the 0-9 Bengals remain the lone winless team in the NFL and should be in contention for one of the top selections in the April draft.

Finley isn’t competing against anyone on Cincinnati’s roster to be Dalton’s successor as the Bengals’ top quarterback. He will likely have to fend off Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or LSU’s Joe Burrow, two potential options who could be on the board when the Bengals make their first pick.

Finley’s first start came hours after Burrow and Tagovailoa went throw-for-throw in LSU’s 46-41 victory over Alabama. Burrow, an Ohio native, was 31-of-39 passing for 393 yards and three touchdowns in the Tigers’ first win over Alabama since 2011.

Finley showed some elusiveness under pressure and made timely throws as he moved the Bengals’ offense into Baltimore territory on multiple occasions. But Finley also was intercepted by Marcus Peters, who returned it for an 89-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Finley also coughed up a fumble that was scooped up by Tyus Bowser and returned for a 20-yard score in the third quarter.

Looking good against the AFC North leaders was always going to be a tough task for Finley, especially given the Bengals’ current state. Cincinnati has struggled to defend the pass rush all season, and two of their top wide receivers, A.J. Green and John Ross, are out with injury.

Because Taylor and the Bengals made the switch early, Finley will have more opportunities to prove he should be the starter in 2020 and beyond. But to do that, he has to have better performances than Sunday’s outing against the Ravens.

Biggest hole in the game plan: As much as Lamar Jackson torched the Bengals’ defense, the Ravens used tight ends in their aerial attack. Of the Baltimore quarterback’s 17 targets, 13 of them went to a tight end. Mark Andrews caught six of his seven targets for 53 yards and two touchdowns. But it wasn’t just Andrews. Nick Boyle caught all four targets for 78 yards. Even Hayden Hurst notched two catches for 20 yards.

Silver lining: Running back Joe Mixon cleared the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time since 2018. Mixon had a career-high 30 carries for 114 yards, with a decent chunk of that coming as the Bengals tried to bleed the clock in the fourth quarter. But even at the beginning of the game, Mixon was effective and found small openings to pick up modest gains. It’s a bright spot for a Bengals rushing offense that entered Week 10 as the worst in the NFL.

Eye-popping Next Gen stat: The Bengals were credited with only three pressures, according to NFL Next Gen. Jackson’s only throw under duress was a 20-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown.

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Rob Gronkowski’s reign as WWE 24/7 champion ends in own backyard



After his 58 days of holding gold, Rob Gronkowski‘s championship reign in the WWE has officially come to an end.

WWE aired a vignette Monday that showed Gronkowski walking into his backyard in Foxborough, Massachusetts. R-Truth, who has been the most prolific holder of the WWE 24/7 title since its inception in May 2019, won the belt for the 36th time by disguising himself as a landscaper and blindsiding Gronkowski for the pin.

The primary attraction of the WWE 24/7 championship is that it is to be defended anywhere, at any time, without warning.

Gronkowski won the 24/7 championship during the broadcast of WrestleMania 36 on April 5. A few weeks later, Gronkowski ended his NFL retirement and was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In addition to serving as the host for WrestleMania 36, which took place at the WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, because of changes necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, Gronkowski played an on-screen role at WrestleMania 33, when he jumped into the ring to help his friend Mojo Rawley win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.

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What’s going on with the Raiders’ move to Vegas? – Las Vegas Raiders Blog



ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Las Vegas Raiders are in the ultimate hurry-up-and-wait mode. Sure, they officially rebranded themselves with a renaming ceremony in the shadow of Allegiant Stadium on Jan. 22. And plans were for the team to hold its draft, rookie minicamp and OTAs at its Alameda facility before holding mandatory minicamp June 16-18 at the team’s new facility in Henderson, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas.

Training camp would have been in Napa, California, with the Raiders making the final move to southern Nevada upon the breaking of camp. But now, with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down the nation for the past two-plus months, and with the Raiders still straddling two different states and, thus, two sets of health regulations to follow, more questions than answers have flowed regarding the team’s plans. We attempt to answer some here …

What’s the latest on the team’s move?

It’s still full steam ahead, or have you not noticed the NFL carrying on with its virtual draft and the schedule release? Whether it’s whistling by the graveyard or giving fans a sense of normalcy and routine in uncertain times, the league and the team plan on playing in $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium, which will also serve as the home of UNLV football (the Raiders will play on a grass field that will slide in and out of the dome on a tray while the Rebels will play on artificial turf).

Now, whether the Raiders play in front of a full house of 65,000 fans in brand-new seats or social distancing guidelines mean there are far fewer or even no fans at all, will be decided as we get closer to the season. Besides, the Raiders already turned down their $10 million option to return to the Oakland Coliseum for one final (we really mean it this time) season, so it’s Las Vegas or bust, right? The team has already started to slowly pack up its Alameda facility and moving trucks have begun making the drive to the desert.

What if Allegiant Stadium is not ready?

Glad you asked. Surely, there are contingency plans in place should the team’s version of the unthinkable happen. But no one is talking about that, at least, not on the record. And you just know that Raiders owner Mark Davis, given the opportunity and need, would love the opportunity to play in San Diego, abandoned by the Chargers in their quest for the Los Angeles market. The Raiders are unbelievably popular in San Diego, but it is hard to see the Chargers and Rams allowing a Raiders residency in Southern California, no matter how short it might be.

The irony is in the reports stating that if SoFi Stadium in Inglewood is not ready, or if the state of California is still shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Rams and Chargers might need to play in Las Vegas. And the site where SoFi is going up is exactly where the late Al Davis planned on building his own stadium for the then-Los Angeles Raiders back in 1994.

Alas … Arizona? That might make geographical sense and there are no schedule conflicts with the Cardinals over the first four regular-season games (again, if the pandemic fades and games are indeed played).

Really, the most sensible option would be UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium, in a pinch. Especially if no fans are allowed, because the main issue with the erstwhile Silver Bowl in this scenario, besides antiquated locker rooms, is the lack of a true security perimeter around the grounds of the near 49-year-old facility. No fans, no need for extra security, right?

How’s the stadium coming along?

Construction was deemed essential at the onset of the pandemic and shelter-in-place orders. Despite cases of coronavirus hitting workers, building continued. The translucent roof is on. The lanai doors that open to the north and the Las Vegas Strip are up. Grass and artificial turf are being laid. Seats are being installed. The grounds are being prepped with trees. Signage has been hung. And the Al Davis memorial torch, on the concourse by the lanai doors, is being prepared. Indeed, barring an unforeseen delay, the Raiders fully expect the stadium to open on time (their preseason home opener is scheduled for Aug. 27, with their regular-season home opener on ESPN’s Monday Night Football on Sept. 21 against the Saints).

What about training camp?

Honestly, not even the Raiders know where it will be … yet. Yes, they still have their “reservation” at the Napa Valley Marriott in wine country, which is one of the best training camp setups in the NFL. But if the pandemic renders practicing in this part of California untenable, they will hold camp at their new Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center in Henderson. It is still technically under construction, but the Raiders do have their “certificate of occupancy” for the building, so they can begin moving in.

Given that the team was unable to hold any live events in Alameda and is already moving equipment to southern Nevada, it seems as though the Raiders are leaning toward holding camp in Henderson. While that might take away that certain “camp” feeling, it would enable the Raiders to get used to their new digs that much quicker. A decision could come as soon as this week. Stay tuned.

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Can Patriots’ offense improve without Tom Brady? Answers might surprise – New England Patriots Blog



Check out the latest NFL Power Rankings from any outlet, including ESPN’s most recent one, and the theme surrounding the 2020 version of the New England Patriots is hard to miss.

They’re worse.

Few, if any, are buying the Patriots as a clear-cut Super Bowl LV contender, let alone the favorite in the AFC East division they have dominated for most of the past two decades. That’s a hard fall for a franchise that is one year removed from winning Super Bowl LIII.

But is it accurate? Let’s go deeper with the “better, worse or the same” game — examining the roster on offense, position by position. We’ll do the same on Thursday with defense and special teams.


Additions: Brian Hoyer, J’Mar Smith, Brian Lewerke

Losses: Tom Brady, Cody Kessler

Returners: Jarrett Stidham

Better, worse or the same? Worse

Brady, 42, was still playing at a high level last season, even though it wasn’t close to the peak from earlier in his career. The lingering question is how much was Brady’s dip a result of his own doing or the limited personnel around him?

Then there’s the leadership void his departure creates, which can be viewed through two prisms: 1. Brady was an 18-year captain whose sheer presence lifted up everyone around him; 2. Brady had told NBC’s Al Michaels that he was the most miserable 8-0 quarterback at the midpoint of last season, and that created an emotional drain for some around the team.

Now it’s a clean slate for the Patriots, which comes with uncertainty.

Stidham, the 2019 fourth-round pick from Auburn, is the favorite to start after coach Bill Belichick chose him over Hoyer for the No. 2 spot after last preseason. Belichick has made the point the Patriots have been in this situation before; they are 13-6 in games without Brady since he became the starter in 2001.

Running back

Additions: J.J. Taylor

Losses: None

Returners: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, Damien Harris

Better, worse or the same? Better

Former Jets and Dolphins general manager Mike Tannenbaum called this the best position group in the NFL during a recent appearance on ESPN’s Get Up! program. Some might argue that point in part because Michel, as the No. 1 option, hasn’t been a huge factor in the passing game. But the depth from top to bottom is solid, as evidenced by Harris — a 2019 third-round pick from Alabama who totaled 3,070 yards and set the Crimson Tide record with a 6.4 average per carry — spending his rookie season primarily as a game-day inactive.

That’s why this might be the skill-position group the Patriots ultimately rely on more than any other.


Additions: Danny Vitale, Dalton Keene, Jake Burt

Losses: James Develin

Returners: Jakob Johnson

Better, worse or the same? Same

The position is definitely deeper, which is important when factoring how vital it has become to the attack. Last season, when Develin landed on season-ending injured reserve following a Week 2 neck injury that ultimately led him to retire, the Patriots turned to Johnson and then linebacker Elandon Roberts.

This season, they’re more equipped to handle a run of injuries, and also appear to be more versatile. Whereas Develin and Johnson were more of the old-school, smash-mouth players, Vitale and Keene can fill that role while also adding more of a pass-catching presence.

The Patriots ran 17.4% of their offensive snaps last season with two backs on the field, which ranked eighth in the NFL, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information research. That likely would have been even higher if not for injuries.

Offensive line

Additions: C David Andrews (IR), OT Yodny Cajuste (IR), G Hjalte Froholdt (IR), G Michael Onwenu, OT Justin Herron, C Dustin Woodard

Losses: C/G Ted Karras, OT Marshall Newhouse, C James Ferentz

Returners: LT Isaiah Wynn, LG Joe Thuney, RG Shaq Mason, RT Marcus Cannon, G/T Jermaine Eluemunor, OT Korey Cunningham, G Najee Toran

Better, worse or the same? Better

Getting Andrews back as the starting center should immediately upgrade the unit after he spent 2019 on injured reserve because of blood clots in his lungs. Andrews said he has received clearance to play, and assuming there are no setbacks, that might turn out to be the team’s most important “addition” of the offseason.

One of the understated keys to the unit’s success will be getting the right side — Mason and Cannon — back to playing at their 2018 level. That seems like a reasonable possibility with a better health outlook for both.

The retirement of longtime assistant Dante Scarnecchia is a notable storyline, but Scarnecchia relayed that the unit is in good hands with Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo taking over.

Tight end

Additions: Devin Asiasi, Keene

Losses: Ben Watson

Returners: Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo

Better, worse or same? Better

The Patriots finished last in the NFL in targets to tight ends and receptions by tight ends, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information research. That should change in 2020, in part because of the significant investment the team made in trading up in the third round for Asiasi, their top-rated player at the position in the draft. Keene might ultimately factor in more at fullback but has some crossover to this spot, as well, and the Patriots traded up for him late in the third round.

In all, they traded five picks for two players, which is telling in terms of how the Patriots view their upside.

One other factor here: This might be a spot where Brady’s departure potentially helps the offense, as there were times he seemed to lose patience working with younger players.

Wide receiver



Mike Reiss gives details behind Marqise Lee’s phone call with Patriots management and explains why the receiver is hungry for a fresh start in New England.

Additions: Damiere Byrd, Marqise Lee, Will Hastings, Sean Riley, Isaiah Zuber, Jeff Thomas

Losses: Phillip Dorsett II

Returners: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu Sr., Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Devin Ross, Quincy Adeboyejo, Matthew Slater

Better, worse or same? Same

The optimistic view would be that Harry is primed for a second-year jump and Sanu should be more effective with a clean bill of health, but there’s also a balance to strike in that go-to-guy Edelman, 33, is coming off shoulder and knee surgeries. Also, the Patriots don’t seem to have a dynamic, speedy, home run threat who could possibly help take pressure off Stidham with the ability to score on catch-and-run plays.

A Byrd-for-Dorsett swap could be an upgrade if Byrd shows up in the return game and on Cordarrelle Patterson-type designed run plays. And if Lee returns to health, he could prove to be a shrewd low-risk, high-reward free-agent signing.

The emergence of unproven younger players — Meyers, Olszewski, Ross, Adeboyejo, Hastings, Riley, Zuber and Thomas — could significantly alter the current perception of a group that is deep in numbers but comes with plenty of questions.

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