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New York Jets to start QB Mike White vs. Cincinnati Bengals; QB Joe Flacco’s status unclear

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Mike White will make his first NFL start Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets coach Robert Saleh confirmed Wednesday. The status of their newest backup, Joe Flacco, is uncertain.

Flacco, acquired Monday in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, wasn’t at practice Wednesday. He was excused for a personal reason, won’t report to the facility until Friday and might be inactive for Sunday’s game. He’s participating in meetings virtually, according to the Jets, who said they knew about Flacco’s personal issue when the trade was made.

It has been an eventful few days for the reeling Jets (1-5), from Zach Wilson’s knee injury to the Flacco trade to the questions regarding Flacco’s absence. The only certainty is that White, a former practice-squad player, will face the Bengals (5-2) at MetLife Stadium.

“Mike has done a hell of a job and he has earned his right to play on Sunday and show what he’s capable of,” said Saleh, who nevertheless wouldn’t commit to White beyond this week.

Wilson is expected to miss two to four weeks with a sprained PCL.

White, who made his regular-season debut in Sunday’s 54-13 loss to the New England Patriots, received strong praise from Saleh on Monday. But a few hours later, the Jets traded a 2022 conditional sixth-round pick for Flacco, raising questions about their immediate plan.

A source said they brought in Flacco, 36, to be a backup, the role he held last season with the Jets. Still, the timing was curious, considering they had decided a few months ago to go without a seasoned backup. They said journeyman Josh Johnson, 35, on the practice squad, would provide experience in the quarterback room, mentoring Wilson and White. They apparently had second thoughts. Because of Flacco’s late arrival, the Jets might have little choice but to activate Johnson to be the backup on Sunday. Saleh sent a mixed message.

“Josh will be up this week and he’ll be ready to go if he has to step in,” said Saleh, noting that Flacco would be inactive. Moments later, Saleh backtracked, saying they will take it day-by-day and assess the situation after Flacco practices on Friday.

“We’re assuming the worst, all right?” said Saleh, explaining the rationale for the trade. “We’re still trying to make sure the quarterback room is exactly where we need it to be. Obviously, Zach got hurt and an opportunity came and it was a good one, so we took advantage of it.”

Saleh said they always want to have three healthy quarterbacks. There’s a chance that Wilson might land on injured reserve, which would mean three games on the sideline. The Jets will make that decision by the end of the week.

They professed their faith in White, 26, who has been cut three times by the Jets and once by the Dallas Cowboys, who drafted him in the fifth round out of Western Kentucky in 2018. In Sunday’s relief role, he completed 20 of 32 passes for 202 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

“We have all the confidence in the world in Mike,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said.

At least the Jets are getting healthier on defense. Middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, who missed last week with a hamstring injury, is expected to play. Linebacker Jarrad Davis, who suffered a severe ankle sprain in the preseason, returned to practice and could be activated for the game.

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Jacksonville Jaguars special-teamer Lerentee McCray arrested, charged with fleeing police after high-speed pursuit

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Lerentee McCray was arrested in Central Florida early Sunday morning following a high-speed pursuit after police attempted to pull him over, records show.

McCray was booked into the Lake County Jail in Tavares, Florida, just before 8 a.m. ET Sunday and released at 9:11 a.m. after paying a $5,000 bond. He was charged with fleeing/eluding police with disregard of safety to person or property, a second-degree felony, and also issued a citation for speeding, according to the booking report.

“We are aware of the situation and are gathering more information,” the Jaguars said in a statement. “We have no further comment at this time.”

According to a Fruitland Park Police Department report, a patrol officer observed a white Dodge Ram pickup truck traveling at 88 mph in a 50 mph zone just before 1 a.m. local time Sunday. The officer tried to initiate a traffic stop but the driver used “an expletive hand gesture using their middle finger” and continued driving, the report said.

The first officer was joined by a second and they pursued the vehicle at speeds up to 100 mph before calling off the chase because the vehicle was being driven recklessly and swerving across three lanes of traffic, according to the police report.

The FPPD officer was later notified by members of the Tavares Police Department that McCray had come to a stop and appeared to be in an “altered mental status.” He was taken to a local hospital for a medical evaluation.

According to the police report, when McCray was interviewed at the hospital by the FPPD officer who initially tried to pull him over, he acknowledged he was the driver of the vehicle in question and responded, “Oh that was you? My bad.”

After receiving treatment, McCray was arrested and transported to the Lake County Jail. He is scheduled to appear for arraignment on Feb. 14.

McCray has spent the past four seasons with the Jaguars as a core special-teams player and part-time defensive player. He has 37 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 47 games and is scheduled to become a free agent in March.

McCray played two seasons in Denver and one in Buffalo before signing with the Jaguars in 2017.

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QB Joe Burrow confident playoff success ‘is how it’s gonna be from here on out’ for Cincinnati Bengals

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CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow didn’t share the same joy as the rest of the city after the franchise’s first playoff win in 31 years for a pretty simple reason.

For a guy who is used to playing for championships, winning an early-round playoff game is the starting point.

“I tried to downplay it and all that because this is how it’s gonna be from here on out,” Burrow said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. “It was a great win for us. But now this is the standard for the bare minimum every year going forward.”

Burrow helped the Bengals snap the NFL’s longest drought without a playoff win when Cincinnati beat the Las Vegas Raiders in the wild-card round. The Bengals (11-7) will travel to face the Tennessee Titans (12-5), the top-seeded team in the AFC, in a divisional-round game this weekend.

Throughout his athletic career, Burrow has won at the highest level. He was a few plays away from winning a state championship at Athens High in southeast Ohio. He led LSU to an undefeated season and national title in January 2020.

So it makes sense that the second-year quarterback, the No. 1 draft pick in 2020, isn’t impressed with just one playoff win. In fact, he said he expected the success Cincinnati is experiencing to happen earlier.

“I thought it would happen last year,” Burrow said. “Unfortunately, I got hurt. But we weren’t super good last year. But this year, this is the expectation.”

Burrow is one of the leading contenders to win the Associated Press’s NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. After suffering a season-ending left knee injury in his rookie season, he led the Bengals to their first AFC North title and playoff berth in six years.

Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor wasn’t surprised by his quarterback’s nonchalant reaction to the playoff win.

Said Taylor: “He puts in the work to put himself in a great position, and consequently that’s leading the team to great things as well.”

If the Bengals beat the Titans in Nashville on Saturday, Cincinnati will face Buffalo or Kansas City in its first AFC Championship Game appearance since 1988.

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Has Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury reached his ceiling? – Arizona Cardinals Blog

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. — First, the good news.

Kliff Kingsbury has taken an Arizona Cardinals team that won just three games in 2018 — bad enough to have the worst record in football and cause the firing of then-coach Steve Wilks — to year-over-year improvements in each of his three seasons as head coach. He won five games in 2019, eight games in 2020 and 11 games in 2021. For a franchise that’s been mired in mediocrity for more than the 100 years it’s been in the NFL, this is no small feat.

Kingsbury should be applauded for what he’s done in Arizona as the fourth coach in Cardinals’ history to improve his record in three consecutive years.

Annual improvement is a rarity in the NFL. For the Cardinals, hiring Kingsbury as a first-time NFL coach paid off quickly: It got them to the playoffs this year for the first time since 2015 — and just the sixth time since they moved to Arizona in 1988.

Now, the bad news.

In doing so, the 41-year-old Kingsbury may have reached his ceiling as an NFL head coach.

This season the Cardinals had all the pieces to make a run deep in the playoffs, even possibly as far as the Super Bowl. But those hopes were dashed Monday night at SoFi Stadium, the same building that will house Super Bowl LVI. They lost in an embarrassing manor, 34-11 to the Los Angeles Rams. That game capped another late-season tailspin for Kingsbury in what’s becoming an all-too familiar scene for Cardinals’ fans. Arizona lost five of its final six games after starting 7-0. It finished 4-7.

This isn’t the first time a Kingsbury-coached team has fallen off in the second half of a season. It’s actually the ninth consecutive time. As much as Ray-Ban sunglasses and stylish haircuts have come to define Kingsbury, so have second-half slumps.

It’s happened in each season he’s been a head coach, starting in 2013, his first season at Texas Tech. Last season, Arizona started 5-2 and finished 3-6, missing the playoffs in the process after losing two win-and-your-in games. In 2018, Arizona lost seven of its last nine to finish 5-10-1.

The first seven games have been the line of demarcation for Kingsbury. In three seasons with Arizona, he is 15-5-1 in Games 1 through 7 but 9-19 the rest of the season. At Texas Tech, he was 27-15 in Games 1 through 7 and 8-25 after that.

Great teams, championship-caliber teams, get better and stronger as seasons continue. Kingsbury’s don’t. They go the other way. Arizona’s collapses under Kingsbury have looked similar. An injury to All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins exacerbated an offensive drop off filled with costly penalties, missed kicks and mental errors.

Kingsbury chalked up Monday’s loss to “crucial mistakes at the wrong time,” adding, “I’m not sure if we were pressing or not accustomed to be in that position, whatever it was. We got to look at it this offseason to figure out how we get better down the stretch.”

Later, though, he said: “We just got to keep looking at it, keep trying to find new ways to improve later on in the season, whatever that may be. It’s definitely a priority this offseason.”

The Cardinals have most likely wasted quarterback Kyler Murray‘s rookie contract now that he’s eligible to sign an extension having completed his third season. With how much quarterback contracts have inflated in recent years, the window to win for teams with young quarterbacks keeps shrinking. They surround them with a lot of talent — some expensive, some not — and try to squeeze out a championship, or at least a few playoff runs. None of that happened in Arizona in the past three years and now Murray will most likely gets his pay day soon.

There’s always the chance that the Cardinals decline to extend Murray after this year, pick up his fifth-year option this offseason and then wait and see. There’s both a risk and reward to that. The risk is that Murray may not be happy with that decision and the Cards could be creating a rift in their relationship with Murray. The reward is that Arizona would buy itself another year or two to see how Murray can develop and grow before backing up a Brinks truck.

A deep run this year would’ve likely secured a contract in the neighborhood of Buffalo’s Josh Allen, who last summer — following his third year in the league — received a six-year extension worth $258 million, with $150 million guaranteed, which came out to an average of $43 million per year.

A large deal for Murray will trickle down to the rest of the roster in some way, regardless of how creative the Cardinals are with cap numbers. The time for Arizona to win on the cheap has likely passed.

This year, though, was more than just losing games in the second half of the season. It was squandered opportunities. The Cardinals either had or shared the best record in the NFC through Week 14, and they were in first place in the NFC West until Week 15. A week later, the Rams claimed the top spot and never looked back.

Kingsbury brought the Cardinals to the brink only to see it slip away. In some ways, that was a blessing in disguise this year. Arizona was 8-1 on the road but just 3-5 at home, a phenomenon that neither Kingsbury nor players could explain.

Yes, injuries — including major ones to J.J. Watt and Hopkins — nagged at the Cardinals all season. Losing Hopkins changed the complexion of the offense and not having Watt altered Arizona’s interior defense. But, offensively, at least, Kingsbury didn’t seem to adapt. The Cardinals scored 225 points in their first seven games, an average of 32.1, compared to 224 in their final 10, an average of 22.4. Injuries will happen and if a coach can only win with a full complement of players, his team likely won’t be hoisting a Lombardi Trophy.

A Monday night audience saw the Cardinals’ season end with, as Watt put it, a “massive failure.”

Murray didn’t think the Cardinals put up much of a fight against the Rams.

“[We] prepare all week, all season to be where we are and then the game wasn’t competitive at all,” Murray said. “It’s disappointing that we didn’t make it a game and come out and play football we know we’re capable of playing and that’s really the most disappointing part.

“Losing is one thing but when you don’t even make it competitive, it’s another thing. So, disappointing.”

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