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Ties between Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan, Miami Dolphins’ Brian Flores stretch to Boston College days



It may come as a text message this week, a conversation on the field at Hard Rock Stadium before the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins play on Sunday or, more than likely, a brief chat after. But at some point, the interaction and latest reunion will come.

Matt Ryan and Dolphins coach Brian Flores have known each other for almost 20 years, well before Ryan became an NFL MVP in Atlanta and Flores rose through the New England Patriots coaching system to land the head job in Miami. Nah, this goes back, coincidentally, to Boston. But not to the Patriots.

Instead, to Boston College. To the year 2003, when Flores was a fifth-year senior linebacker considered one of the leaders of the Eagles defense. One of the men preparing him daily to play on Saturdays was the freshman quarterback who ran the scout team — Ryan.

How those practices went depends on whom you ask.

Flores: “He was carving us up as a scout-team player and we wanted him out of there. That’s the true story.”

Ryan: “I just remember getting my ass kicked most days. Those are one of the years you want to, like, delete from your memory. Scout team getting pushed around, 18-year-old kid, probably 190 pounds getting pushed around. [Flores] was just tough, a tough football player.”

The truth, as it always tends to be, likely resided somewhere in the middle. Flores was a pain to block, then-freshman running back Jo-Lonn Dunbar said, because he always — always — was in the right spot, creating pressure when he needed to. Ryan was the player who fit in with the upperclassmen early, occasionally being invited along to outside-of-football events with a tight-knit group of players including Flores and offensive lineman Augie Hoffman.

“You could tell the kid was going to be different,” Hoffman said. “He was just a different type of kid, you know what I mean, in terms of his play.”

But he wasn’t yet Matt Ryan, the leader of the 2007 Boston College team that went 11-3, or Matt Ryan, Heisman Trophy candidate. The Ryan that Flores and his peers faced was a player with clear talent still learning everything, not quite the quarterback who would become one of the best players in BC history.

Boston College would become Ryan’s team. In 2003, it belonged to Flores and the upperclassmen.

The relationship between Flores and Ryan likely bloomed later because the reality of college football teams is that not everyone knows each other very well. It’s next-to-impossible with almost 100 players on the roster, as there were during the 2003 Boston College season, and the difference between someone who is 22 or 23 years old and an 18-year-old is massive, even with someone as mature as Ryan.

But the two had similarities — even if it didn’t show when they played together. Both were dependable. Both could command the attention of their peers. Both could inspire, and each wanted to make sure he was getting the best out of his teammates. They learned in the ways of Tom O’Brien, the then-Boston College head coach known for a disciplined, tough style from his time at Navy and in the Marines.

Flores, a quiet leader, embodied what they were looking for. He wouldn’t say much but made sure everyone was involved.

When Flores suffered a right quadriceps injury the week of practice leading up to the team’s bowl game against Colorado State — ending his career — it altered his team. The Eagles won their bowl game, 35-21, to finish the season 8-5, but there was a piece missing: Flores.

“‘Damn, that’s our guy,'” Hoffman said. “We want him to experience this last game with us. Not having the ability to do that, that was the hard part.

“And I can’t speak to how he felt about it, but I knew how we felt about it and that was tough.”

It wasn’t a win-one-for-Flores thing, but he had meant so much that his on-field absence was noticeable. The spark he played with, the power he hit with. Ryan Mattison, a defensive back in 2003 who is now the offensive coordinator at Brown, called Flores “a glue-type guy.” That went for on the field and off it. And for the entire roster.

Boston College had a new quarterback that year — not just Ryan, but BC’s starter, Paul Peterson. Peterson was different than many of his teammates: a junior college transfer and the only married player on the team at the time.

“[Flores is] really one of the only guys to reach out early on when I was there to be included and involved,” said Peterson, now the head coach at Dixie State. “I still remember after a summer workout he invited me along when they were going to a lake or something like that, and that meant a lot. He is a good person that way.”

In Dunbar, Flores found a player who listened to everything he said. Early in 2003, Boston College’s coaches approached Dunbar and asked him to consider moving from running back to linebacker. One of the first people Dunbar spoke to was Flores.

Flores offered to help with the adjustment. Even if he hadn’t, Dunbar said he would have tried to emulate him anyway. Instead, Flores became an extension of the coaches to Dunbar and another redshirting linebacker, Tyronne Pruitt.

Dunbar and Pruitt followed Flores everywhere. Watched tape with him. Worked out with him. Even after Flores finished his career and went to the Patriots, he continued mentoring Dunbar and Pruitt from down the road.

“We learned literally everything we can about football from Flo,” Dunbar said.

Some of those lessons manifested in 2007, when Dunbar and Ryan were captains of the Eagles. By then, it had become Ryan’s team. He had matured from when he first got on campus — as every player does — and blossomed into one of college football’s top players.

That he was a good quarterback surprised no one. That he went from being who he was on the scout team in 2003 to the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft did take some of his 2003 teammates by surprise.

Peterson, who saw how competitive Ryan was in the position room and when he became Peterson’s backup in 2004, still thought of him as the skinny kid who showed up on campus in 2003.

“When Tom Brady came out and he has that picture from the combine and he’s in those gray shorts, that’s what Matt looked like at that time,” Peterson said. “So just skinny, underdeveloped, but had a ton of potential. You knew that.”

In training camp and as his redshirt season went on, Ryan’s personality and future leadership started peeking through.

He was still deferential to the older players even as he was trying to make plays on them in practice. But when he received chances to run the third team, the fiery, super competitive side of Ryan showed up.

“He’s running with it and he’s talking crap and that’s what you want,” Dunbar said. “As a player, that’s what you want out of your leader. That’s what you want out of your quarterback, especially if he’s going to do the right thing and make the right plays and you can trust him.

“You want that kind of stuff you can get your hands dirty with.”

It’s the type of player Ryan has always been, from when he became the starting quarterback at Boston College to his senior year, when Dunbar said the defense believed if it got three stops in any game they’d win because Ryan was that good and efficient on offense. Then through Ryan’s 14 seasons as the Falcons’ starting quarterback. It’s the player Flores will know all too well on the opposing sideline Sunday. Flores was the same way when he played. Same way now as a coach.

But they both did something else. As hard as they might go after you in a practice or a game, once it ended, it ended. Dunbar remembered hitting Ryan once as he slid — not purposely — during a Saints-Falcons game. Ryan cursed at Dunbar. Dunbar cursed back. After the game, they caught up as old friends.

So don’t be surprised if that happens again Sunday. Flores and Ryan are going to do everything they can to beat each other. And after, they might just go and hug it out as the old friends they’ll be for many more Sundays to come.

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Buffalo Bills make playoff history with 7 touchdown drives in blowout win vs. New England Patriots



ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills didn’t just beat the New England Patriots. They made a statement to the entire NFL.

The Bills dominated the teams’ third meeting in 41 days, winning 47-17 at home to move on to the Divisional round of the playoffs. Buffalo scored a touchdown on all seven of their possessions, becoming the first team in the Super Bowl era to score a TD on each of their first seven drives of a playoff game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

With the win, the Bills have beaten the Patriots twice by double-digits in a single season (33-21 in Week 16), becoming the first team to do so since Bill Belichick became head coach.

Dating back to that game in Week 16, the Bills’ last 13 drives against the Patriots have yielded 11 scores (10 touchdowns and one field goal). During that stretch, the only thing that stopped the Buffalo offense was the clock.

Not only did the offense put up an impressive performance, but the Bills continued to show improvements in areas that have caused issues throughout the season. The running game was effective and the offensive line that has had a rollercoaster year set the tempo.

But the most impressive part of the game for the Bills was the performance of quarterback Josh Allen. Coming into the game, one of the big questions was if Allen could step up in freezing temperatures. He did far more than that with temperatures below 10 degrees throughout the game, putting together one of the best performances of his career.

Allen continued his stellar performance against the Patriots from a few weeks prior, completing 21/25 passes (84%) for 308 yards and five touchdowns, in addition to six carries for 66 yards. It is the highest completion percentage in a playoff game with 25 or more attempts since Aaron Rodgers in the 2010 Divisional Playoffs (86.1%)

He became the third player in the Super Bowl era with at least 150 pass yards and 50 rush yards in a single half of a playoff game, per Elias, and joined Drew Brees (2009) and Russell Wilson (2020) as the only quarterbacks to throw for five touchdowns against a Belichick-coached team.

Allen’s performance included two touchdown passes to tight end Dawson Knox and one to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The score was Sanders’ first touchdown in the postseason, coming in his 14th career playoff game with his fifth different team.

Allen’s fifth touchdown was a one-yard throw to reserve offensive lineman Tommy Doyle. All five of his touchdown throws came in play-action, the most by any player in a regular-season or playoff game since 2006 when ESPN began tracking play-action. He has gone four straight games without being sacked.

Running back Devin Singletary ran for two touchdowns behind an offensive line that dominated the line of scrimmage throughout the game.

The defense limited rookie quarterback Mac Jones throughout the game, including forcing two interceptions.

The Bills will now head to the Divisional round of the playoffs for a second straight season with a perfect record in home playoff games under McDermott. With a Chiefs win on Sunday night, the Bills would head to Kansas City, the site of last year’s AFC Championship loss.

Buffalo is 0-3 in road playoff games since McDermott became head coach (0-3). With a Pittsburgh Steelers win, the Bills would host the Cincinnati Bengals next week.

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Derek Carr, Maxx Crosby want Rich Bisaccia back as Las Vegas Raiders’ head coach



CINCINNATI — Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and Pro Bowl defensive end Maxx Crosby both heartily endorsed Rich Bisaccia retaining the head-coaching job permanently following Las Vegas’ season-ending 26-19 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the opening round of the playoffs on Saturday night.

Bisaccia was promoted from special teams coordinator to interim head coach following Jon Gruden’s resignation on Oct. 11.

“I think we can all think that he’s the right guy,” Carr said of Bisaccia. “He’s proven that people listen to him. Our team listens to him. And I love him so much, I’m thankful for him. All those things will be decisions that I don’t make; I don’t get to make. I just play quarterback … but with everything that went on, if you really look at what happened, all the pieces missing, everything that changed, yeah, he held it together.”

Carr referenced the Raiders losing starting guards Richie Incognito and Denzelle Good to injury in the preseason and opener, respectively. He also talked about receiver Henry Ruggs III being cut following his involvement in a high-speed car crash that left a woman dead. Carr also cited Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller missing five games down the stretch; Pro Bowl running back Josh Jacobs being dinged up and unavailable at times; and losing versatile running back Kenyan Drake to a knee injury in Week 13.

“You go on and on and on and on, and that’s just offense,” said Carr, who had driven the Raiders to the Bengals’ 9-yard line before being intercepted at the 2-yard line on fourth-and-goal with 12 seconds to play Saturday night. “The fact that that staff kept everything together and kept us competitive and kept us finding ways to win football games, I think that’s what our organization is about, right? So, we’ll see what happens. We know what we want to have happen. But, again, we’re Raiders. We’re going to play football, but we just hope it, obviously, we hope it’s for somebody special.”

Carr also said he would stay out of direct conversations when it came to his future with the team. He has one year remaining on the five-year, $125 million extension he signed in 2017.

He said his agent and the Raiders have a good relationship.

“Lord knows there’s been a lot of things to communicate about, right?” Carr said. “When the time comes, I never want a face-to-face. I’m going to play quarterback, but my message will be talked about.

“I’m not going to go to dinner and say, ‘We have to do something.’ I’m not that guy. I’ll let my voice be heard, but in a different way.”

Crosby, who was just named second-team All-Pro, called Bisaccia a “great leader” for the Raiders.

“If it was up to me, I think everyone in the world knows what my decision would be,” said Crosby, who had a sack among his six tackles on Saturday. “I love Rich. You know, I’m biased, obviously, but he’s, he’s a great coach … he came in and got us to 10 wins. We came on the road, on a short week, and gave Cincinnati everything they could handle.

“One of the best people I know. One of the most honest dudes I know. And I’ll go to bat for him any day of the week. I love that dude to death. He knows that. I appreciate everything he’s brought to the table. I hope we keep doing it.”

Raiders owner Mark Davis has remained silent on the team’s head-coaching search, as well as on the futures of Carr and general manager Mike Mayock.

Bisaccia, meanwhile, laughed when asked if he thought about being elevated to the full-time job.

“I’m just thinking about those guys in that locker room that played the game with their heart and soul out there like that,” he said, “and had a chance to win at the end.”

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Bengals win first playoff game in 31 years, set the table for a run at AFC title – Cincinnati Bengals Blog



CINCINNATI — Send those text messages. The Cincinnati Bengals have finally won a playoff game.

Cincinnati defeated the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19 at Paul Brown Stadium in an AFC wild-card game on Saturday. It was Cincinnati’s first playoff victory in 31 years, since before cell phones were capable of sending texts, as memes on the internet reminded folks in the days preceding the game.

But the win wasn’t just about ending the longest playoff win drought in the NFL. It was about the first step in making a run at the AFC title.

Over the course of the season, Cincinnati went from the projected cellar dweller in the AFC North to division champs, ending a six-year stretch without a playoff appearance. That journey included an overtime loss to the Green Bay Packers, one of the top teams in the NFL, and a Week 17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, the AFC representatives in last year’s Super Bowl.

Those performances indicated Cincinnati wasn’t just a team that could win a playoff game. They showed the Bengals can hang with the best in the NFL.

For the second time this season, the Bengals needed to hang tough against the Raiders in order to pick up a win. The first came on Week 11 and set the tone for the second half of Cincinnati’s season.

The second victory was much more significant. It gave the city of Cincinnati something it hasn’t experienced in decades and set the table for the Bengals to have a truly special postseason.

“We expect to beat everybody that we play, not just hang with them,” Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said after the game.

Burrow added: “I mean, it’s exciting. But this is expected. This isn’t like the icing on top of the cake or anything. This is the cake. So we’re moving on.”

Describe the game in two words: Curse ending. The Bengals ended the fabled “Curse of Bo Jackson” — the former Raiders running back’s final NFL game in January 1991 that also ended Cincinnati’s last playoff run that featured a win.

“I’m just really, really happy for the city of Cincinnati and that they get a chance to enjoy this,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “And now, just exhale and enjoy the ride we have. Because we’re not done yet.”

Pivotal play: On third-and-four at the end of the first half, Bengals quarterback Burrow scrambled and found Tyler Boyd for a 10-yard touchdown pass to give Cincinnati a 20-6 lead. Initially, it appeared Burrow was going to go out of bounds. A referee even blew an errant whistle. But the play continued and Cincinnati got a key red-zone touchdown.

QB breakdown: Burrow was efficient in his playoff debut. After throwing for 148 yards earlier in the season against the Raiders, Burrow finished Saturday’s win completing 24-of-34 passes for 244 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

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