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Buffalo Bills turn monster mistake by Chiefs into early lead



After a series of breaks early in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Buffalo Bills got a massive one when Kansas City’s Mecole Hardman fumbled a punt.

Kansas City forced the Bills to punt on their second drive of the game, but Hardman’s miscue happened deep in Kansas City’s side of the field. Buffalo gunner Taiwan Jones recovered the fumble at the Chiefs’ 3-yard line, setting up a touchdown pass from Josh Allen to Dawson Knox on the first play of the ensuing drive. Rookie kicker Tyler Bass missed the extra point, but the Bills still took a 9-0 lead over the reigning Super Bowl champion midway through the first quarter.

It was the biggest of three early breaks that went Buffalo’s way early in the first quarter.

Allen nearly threw an interception on the Bills’ opening drive but wide receiver Cole Beasley knocked the ball out of Chiefs defensive back Juan Thornhill‘s hands as he went to the ground.

On Kansas City’s first drive, Tyreek Hill dropped what would have been a long gain on third down, forcing the Chiefs to punt.

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Dez Bryant plans to play two more years, but it won’t be with Ravens after his six-game stint in Baltimore



OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dez Bryant wants to play two more seasons but it apparently won’t be with the Baltimore Ravens.

In a series of tweets Tuesday night, Bryant explained why he never broke out of a limited role with the Ravens last season.

“I realized quick Baltimore wasn’t the place for me,” Bryant wrote. “No bad blood. That’s their way of doing things so you gotta respect it.”

Bryant, 32, returned after sitting out two seasons and totaled six catches for 47 yards and two touchdowns in six games with Baltimore.

A three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver during his time with the Dallas Cowboys, Bryant lacked explosiveness with Baltimore and never got consistently open. He finished as the No. 4 wide receiver for the league’s worst passing attack, ranking below Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin and Willie Snead on the depth chart. He managed a total of 129 snaps, or 21.5 per game.

Responding to a fan’s comment that he should’ve been given a better opportunity, Bryant wrote: “It’s hard. I’ve been off almost three years. I flashed my abilities to the point [Ravens coach John] Harbaugh asked was I ready to play because he thought I was ready …You have to learn the playbook …chemistry with the QB have to be on point.”

Asked if his chemistry was off with quarterback Lamar Jackson, “Our chemistry was good on and off the field. But it was guys there before me who understood the offensive concepts better than me. You can’t jeopardize that.”

Bryant became the second Pro Bowl wide receiver to miss two full seasons and return to the NFL since the 1970 merger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Josh Gordon was the first.

The Ravens first worked out Bryant in August, but he left without a contract because he was told to improve his conditioning. Baltimore brought him back and signed him to the practice squad on Oct. 28.

After being elevated off the practice squad twice, Bryant was signed to the 53-man roster on Nov. 28. He never eclipsed more than 28 yards receiving in a game and was held without a catch in the Ravens’ two playoff games.

“I wasn’t bothered about playing time,” Bryant wrote. “I enjoyed myself. I met some great teammates, guys I feel like I will be keeping in contact for a long time. I’m thankful for the opportunity Baltimore gave me.”

The Ravens weren’t expected to bring back Bryant. Upgrading the wide receiver group in free agency and the draft was considered one of Baltimore’s priorities.

Bryant, the No. 24 overall pick of the 2010 draft, played eight seasons for the Cowboys. In 113 games, he caught 531 passes for 7,459 yards and a Cowboys-record 73 touchdown catches before his release after the 2017 season.

When asked if he plans to play in 2021, Bryant wrote: “I plan on playing two more years and that’s it for me.”

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Alex Smith says his return put ‘wrench’ into Washington Football Team’s plans at QB



Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith said his comeback threw a “wrench” into the team’s plans this season and that he didn’t feel wanted by the organization this summer.

Smith, the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year, told GQ Magazine that he surprised the organization by being able to play.

“They didn’t see it, didn’t want me there, didn’t want me to be a part of it, didn’t want me to be on the team, the roster, didn’t want to give me a chance,” Smith told the magazine. “Mind you, it was a whole new regime, they came in; I’m like the leftovers and I’m hurt and I’m this liability.

“Heck no, they didn’t want me there. At that point, as you can imagine, everything I’d been through, I couldn’t have cared less about all that. Whether you like it or not, I’m giving this a go at this point.”

Smith’s words call into question his desire to remain with the organization and how much frustration he still harbors. Washington is open to retaining Smith and building up more of the offense, but the team is also exploring other options at quarterback because of the question of whether Smith can remain healthy for a full season.

Smith has a $24.4 million cap hit and Washington would save $13.8 million if it released him.

“We’re still in a situation where we are looking at all of our options,” coach Ron Rivera said earlier this month.

Smith has not said for certain that he’s going to return, but sources told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that he wanted to continue playing. And Smith’s own words in multiple interviews strongly suggest that’s the case. He and Rivera had multiple conversations earlier this month, although neither has said much about them.

“I got more left,” Smith said in the GQ interview. “I got more to get there, too. So I really do really wanna get in the meat of this offseason and see where I’m at and push it. I want to push my body harder. I want to push my leg harder. The harder I push it, it does respond. At some point, I’m obviously going to have to sit down with my wife and have a very real conversation, and do we want to do this? She deserves a ton of input. So we’ll see.”

The team declined to respond to Smith’s comments.

In training camp, Rivera said he was going by what doctors told him about Smith’s recovery. Also, Washington was entering what it thought was going to be a rebuilding year and a 35-year-old quarterback in Smith’s situation, coming off a broken right tibia and fibula, did not mesh with trying to plan for the future. Rivera inherited a 3-13 team and wanted to see if second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins could develop into a long-term starter.

Washington wanted to place Smith on injured reserve before final cuts, which would have ended his season. That week, Smith and Rivera had a long meeting, and then Smith met the next day with Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner to convince them he should be on the roster.

The doubts were widespread. Smith admitted there was a “very small group” of people that thought he could do this. Multiple sources in the organization said after watching his documentary on ESPN that they didn’t think a doctor would clear him for contact.

Smith opened camp on the physically unable to perform list, although his personal doctors had cleared him to return. One of those doctors, Robin West, serves as Washington’s head orthopedist.

Slowly, their minds changed. Smith stayed on the PUP list until Aug. 16 as he was showing coaches that he was no longer injured and simply needed to test himself on the field. Still, there were sources close to him at the time who also wondered if Smith would be able to play — or to what level. His injury left him with drop foot, which cause his foot to drag at times. It also required special orthotics in his cleats.

Washington gradually had him do more in practices, but did not put him in 11-on-11 full-padded workouts until late in training camp — after he pressed the coaches to give him a chance.

“I felt like I still hadn’t had my fair shake at that point,” Smith told GQ. “I wanted to see if I could play quarterback and play football, and I feel like I hadn’t been given that opportunity yet to find that out. It’s like getting this close to the end line of a marathon and they’re telling you that you can’t finish the race. It’s like, f— that. I’m finishing this thing. At least I’m going to see if I can. So, I’m thankful we worked through all that stuff but no, it wasn’t like open arms coming back after two years.”

Smith was the No. 3 quarterback for the first four games but was elevated to No. 2 when Rivera benched Dwayne Haskins. Smith returned to the field after Kyle Allen suffered a concussion against the Los Angeles Rams and was sacked six times. Allen suffered a season-ending ankle injury three weeks later against the New York Giants, forcing Smith into the starting lineup the next week against the Detroit Lions.

Washington went 5-1 in games started by Smith. His stats were modest — he threw five touchdowns to five interceptions as a starter. It was six and eight, respectively, overall. But his impact was evident to a young team in need of on-field guidance. Smith was a near unanimous pick as the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.

Smith suffered a bone bruise on Dec. 13 and played only one more game, a division-title clinching win over Philadelphia in the regular-season finale. He lobbied hard to play in the wild-card playoff game against Tampa Bay, but Rivera opted for Taylor Heinicke, fearing that Smith’s lack of mobility with the lingering leg issue would result in problems vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ defense.

Whatever the coaches felt about Smith in August, their thoughts evolved as the season unfolded.

“When you see what Alex has gone through and just his desire and drive to get back and the joy and thrill he gets from playing, it’s been very inspirational for me to watch him,” Rivera said in December.

He also praised Smith’s leadership.

“There’s an intangible that some guys have and possess,” Rivera said. “Alex has it. Can it be replaced? Well, you’re going to have to find a guy that has those same types of intangibles. Those guys are special. They only come around every once in a while.”

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Texans’ roster dominoes waiting to fall: J.J. Watt’s departure just the beginning – Houston Texans Blog



HOUSTON — Despite the offseason conversation surrounding the Houston Texans mostly centered on quarterback Deshaun Watson, there are other big decisions that new general manager Nick Caserio has in front of him.

Last week, the NFL announced the 2021 salary cap will be no lower than $180 million, which is a drop from the $198.2 million cap in 2020. After granting J.J. Watt’s request to be released — and freeing up $17.5 million — the Texans’ total cap liabilities are close to $190 million.

Watt’s release was the first domino to fall this offseason for the Texans, but what other challenges does Caserio face going into his first free agency in Houston?

Will the Texans re-sign wide receiver Will Fuller V?

Through 11 games in 2020, it looked like Fuller was well on his way to proving he could not only stay healthy for a full season, but keep up his production and chemistry with Watson while doing so.

And then in November, Fuller was suspended six games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, meaning those questions about his durability are still unanswered. Fuller will also miss the first game of the 2021 season under the suspension.

In the 11 games he did play in, Fuller had 53 catches for 879 yards and eight touchdowns.

While Fuller was in line to sign a new deal averaging around $15 million a season, it seems more likely the receiver will sign a one-year, prove-it deal, especially in a season where the salary cap will decrease.

The Texans could also choose to use the franchise tag on Fuller, which would cost $16.4 million for the 2021 season if the sides do not agree to a long-term deal. While the team is still over the $180 million cap minimum, there are moves Caserio could make to fit Fuller’s salary.

Watson made it clear — even after Fuller’s suspension — that it was “very important” to him that the team re-signs Fuller. Now that Watson has requested a trade, could bringing Fuller back be a step toward mending the team’s relationship with the quarterback? Perhaps, but given the reasons Watson is upset, it’s hard to see that roster move being enough — at least on its own — to convince Watson to change his mind.

Will Houston do anything with wide receiver Brandin Cooks‘ contract?

Cooks was a bright spot for the Texans in 2020 after trading for him in April. Despite playing for his fourth team in five seasons, Cooks had 81 catches for 1,105 yards — the fifth time in his seven-year career he has surpassed 1,000 yards in a season.

If the Texans do not re-sign Fuller, Cooks gives Houston a solid No. 1 receiver. Cooks said in January that he wants to keep playing with Watson and isn’t “going to accept any more trades.” But if Watson is traded, will Cooks still want to be in Houston?

Cooks has three years left on his contract, but none of it is guaranteed. He is owed $12 million in 2021, but Houston could lower his cap hit either by signing him to an extension that guarantees his salary or restructuring his current contract to move the money to a signing bonus and freeing up cap space that way.

Will the Texans cut running back David Johnson?

Johnson currently has a cap hit of nearly $9 million in 2021, but just $2.1 million of it is guaranteed.

Bill O’Brien traded for Johnson as part of the deal that sent receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona, but the former general manager and head coach was fired just four games into the season. Johnson ran for 691 yards and six touchdowns and the Texans’ rushing offense ranked last in Football Outsiders’ Rush DVOA.

It would be hard to see the Texans keeping Johnson on his current contract, but if they don’t want to move on, they could try to restructure his deal to match his salary with his production. Houston does have backup running back Duke Johnson under contract in 2021, but with a cap hit of more than $5 million, the team could move on from him as well.

Any other moves?

Although Watt was the most logical candidate to release on the defensive side of the ball, there is another player who may make sense to move on from: inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney.

McKinney signed a five-year, $50 million contract in 2018 and his base salary isn’t guaranteed. If Houston moved on from him, it would save more than $6 million with just $1.5 million of dead money. Last offseason, the Texans signed inside linebacker Zach Cunningham to a four-year, $58 million contract that makes the pair combine for more than 10.5% of the Texans’ total cap in 2021.

McKinney played in only four games last season before needing shoulder surgery and in that short sample size, he had a Pro Football Focus grade of 53.4, lower than his 67.7 grade in 2019.

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