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Around the NFL: Baker Mayfield Carves Up Titans, Colts Take Lead in AFC South

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Welcome to Around the NFL, where Cale Berger of Steelers Now will recap early-week action and take a look ahead at some of the most important matchups from the Pittsburgh Steelers perspective. 

AROUND THE NFL THIS WEEKEND

Cleveland Browns 41 Tennessee Titans 35

In a game that bolstered the league’s top two rushing offenses, it was the arm of quarterback Baker Mayfield that secured the Browns their first winning season in 13 years.

Mayfield was outstanding and started off hot, tossing four touchdowns to lead Cleveland to a 38-7 halftime lead. He finished with 334 yards, his highest yardage total of the season, and no interceptions. After struggling with turnovers throughout his young career, Mayfield has done an exceptional job of protecting the football as of late. The former top-pick has not thrown an interception since Oct. 25 against Cincinnati, a game in which he threw for five scores.

While overshadowed by their quarterback’s big day, the Cleveland supporting cast was just as crucial in their fourth-straight win. Running back Nick Chubb rushed for 80 yards and a score, while defensive end Myles Garrett recorded a sack, becoming the first player in Browns history to record three seasons of ten or more.

Tennessee’s slow start offensively did not do them any favors, but it was specifically running back Derrick Henry’s rare lackluster showing that did them in Sunday. Leading the league in rushing entering the day, Henry ran for just 60 yards and no touchdowns. It was the first time he had been held to 60 yards or less with no scores since Week 6 of last season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill did his best to dig the Titan out of their first half holes, but his 389 yards and three touchdowns still proved all for naught.

Cleveland looks to win their fifth-straight when they host Baltimore next week on Monday Night Football. Tennessee travels to Jacksonville, as they try keep keep pace with the newly division-leading Colts.

Indianapolis Colts 26 Houston Texans 20

Indianapolis captured first place in the AFC South on Sunday, as an errant snap deep in Colts territory dashed the Texans’ upset hopes late.

Colts quarterback Philip Rivers was once again strong and steady under center, but it was his supporting cast that allowed them to snatch the division lead. Rookie workhorse Jonathan Taylor rushed for 90 yards and caught a touchdown, while his partner Nyheim Hines added a score on the ground.

Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton joined the party as well, catching eight passes for 110 yards and a touchdown. Hilton has caught touchdowns in back-to-back weeks after previously not finding the end zone since Week 7 of last year.

Indianapolis’ stout defense pestered Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, sacking him five times on the afternoon and forcing a pair of turnovers. Still, Watson found a pair of reliable targets in his first game without the suspended Will Fuller. Young receivers Keke Coutee and Chad Hansen combined for 13 catches and 232 yards, and have temporarily put the concerns of Texan fans about their pass catchers at ease for the time being. Watson finished with 341 passing yards and a rushing score, while running back David Johnson accounted for 68 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in his return from injury.

Houston had no answers for the fearsome Indianapolis pass rush, as the seasoned duo of Justin Houston and DeForest Buckner combined for five sacks, four tackles-for-loss and six hits on Watson. Houston also recorded a safety, and is now tied for the most in NFL history with four.

The Colts will take their first ever trip to Las Vegas next week, while Houston attempts to get back on track at Chicago.

Miami Dolphins 19 Cincinnati Bengals 7

The surprising Dolphins kept their dream season rolling Sunday, while the Bengals continue to struggle in the absence of Joe Burrow.

Miami’s defense was suffocating again, holding an inept Bengals offense to just 196 total yards and picking off a pair of passes. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy posted a career day, recording eight total tackles, five tackles-for-loss and three sacks, while cornerback Xavien Howard intercepted his league-leading eighth pass. He has 20 interceptions over the last four seasons.

Offensively, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and running back Myles Gaskin were welcomed additions for the Fins after each missing previous games do to injury. Tagovailoa completed 26 of 39 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown. He is the second quarterback in the Super Bowl era with at least one touchdown pass and zero interceptions in each of his first five career starts, joining Jeff Kemp. Gaskin returned to his pre-injury form as well, accounting for 141 total yards and a score. Third-year tight end Mike Gesicki had an impressive day through the air, catching nine passes for 88 yards and a touchdown.

Bright spots for the Bengals were few and far between, but Pittsburgh native Tyler Boyd did catch a 72-yard touchdown, his fourth of the season. Cincinnati safety Jessie Bates III recorded a career-high 13 total tackles.

Miami faces their toughest test yet when they travel to Kansas City in Week 14. The Bengals will travel to Dallas, before hosting the Steelers on Dec. 21.

MONDAY NIGHT PREVIEW

Buffalo Bills at San Francisco 49ers, Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

Before a Sunday night showdown with the Steelers in Week 14, the Bills will first have to get through the shorthanded, but dangerous 49ers.

One of the quietest 8-3 teams in recent memory, Buffalo has flown under the radar all season, diminishing what has been a career year for quarterback Josh Allen. The former first-rounder has come into his own in his third season, completing an impressive 68.8% of his passes for 3,028 yards and a career-high 22 touchdowns. Also a capable dual-threat, Allen has rushed for an additional six scores. His 15 career games with both a passing and rushing score are the second-most by a player through his first three seasons in league history.

Much of Allen’s improved play can be attributed to his retooled, diverse receiving core of Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis and Cole Beasley. Diggs has been especially good in his first stint with Buffalo, catching 80 passes for 945 yards and four touchdowns. His streak of at least six catches in eight-straight games is the longest active in the league.

While double-digit players on injured reserve has certainly hampered a 49ers squad that was in the Super Bowl last February, they have over-achieved all year and find themselves just a game under .500. The Niners snapped a three-game losing streak last week against the Rams, in large part due to the four turnovers they forced. Unfortunately for head coach Kyle Shanahan, his offense has struggled to hold onto the ball themselves. San Francisco has committed 19 turnovers the last eight games and has seven the last two weeks.

The Niners will have to steal possessions and retain the ball themselves if they hope to pull off their second upset of a playoff-bound team in as many weeks.

REST OF THE SCHEDULE

  • New Orleans Saints 21 Atlanta Falcons 16
  • Detroit Lions 34 Chicago Bears 30
  • Minnesota Vikings 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 24 (OT)
  • Las Vegas Raiders 31 New York Jets 28
  • Los Angeles Rams 38 Arizona Cardinals 28
  • New York Giants 17 Seattle Seahawks 12
  • Green Bay Packers 30 Philadelphia Eagles 16
  • New England Patriots 45 Los Angeles Chargers 0
  • Kansas City Chiefs 22 Denver Broncos 16
  • Washington at Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday, 5:00 p.m., WPGH-TV
  • Dallas Cowboys at Baltimore Ravens, Tuesday, 8:05 p.m., WPGH-TV

NFL

Baltimore Ravens Sign WR Deon Cain to Reserve/Future Contract

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The Baltimore Ravens have signed former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Deon Cain to a Reserve/Future contract, the club announced Friday.

Cain spent the last two seasons with Pittsburgh, spending the majority of the 2020 season on the practice squad. He appeared into two games this past season, including the season finale loss to the Cleveland Browns, but recorded no stats.

Cain saw more extended action in 2019, where he appeared in six games and made three starts. He tallied five receptions for 72 yards a season ago.

A star for the Clemson Tigers, Cain was selected in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He caught 130 passes for 2,040 yards and 20 touchdowns during his Clemson career.

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NFL

Washington’s Alex Smith Beats Ben Roethlisberger for PFWA Comeback Player of the Year

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Washington quarterback Alex Smith has been named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America, edging out Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

After suffering a significant leg injury in 2018 and subsequent infection that nearly took his limb, Smith made his unlikely return to the field in 2020, leading Washington to a division title and playoff appearance.

Smith passed for 1,582 yards and six touchdowns with eight interceptions, but led Washington to a 5-1 record in his six starts. He is the first Washington player to win the award since its inception in 1992.

Roethlisberger was also believed to be a worthy candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, leading the Steelers to a 12-4 campaign and AFC North title after missing the majority of 2019 with a season-ending elbow injury. The 38-year-old threw for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdowns with ten interceptions.

Running back Jerome Bettis (1997) and quarterback Tommy Maddox (2003) are the only two Steelers to have previously been awarded Comeback Player of the Year.

Smith was not the only quarterback recognized by the PFWA on Friday, as Buffalo’s Josh Allen was awarded Most Improved Player of the Year.

Allen made a remarkable jump in 2020, passing for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns with ten interceptions. He also accounted for eight scores on the ground.

Not only were his 37 touchdowns seven more than in his first two seasons combined, but Allen also completed a career-high 69.2% of his passes, a ten percentage-point increase from a season ago.

Allen will have another opportunity to demonstrate his jump in play Sunday when the Bills visit the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC Championship game.

Two Steelers have previously been named the league’s Most Improved Player, quarterback Kordell Stewart in 2002 and running back Le’Veon Bell in2015.

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NFL

Browns’ Kevin Stefanski Named PFWA Coach of the Year

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Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has been named 2020 NFL Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America, the organization announced Thursday.

Stefanski led the Browns to an 11-5 record and their first playoff win since 1994 in his first season as a head coach. He is just the second Browns head coach to win the award in franchise history, joining Marty Schottenheimer in 1986.

A loaded Browns offensive reached its full potential under the play calling and tutelage of Stefanski, finishing as the league’s third-best rushing team and committing the fourth-fewest turnovers.

Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield also took a leap forward in 2020 under Stefanski, passing for 26 touchdowns and a career-low eight interceptions. Mayfield’s 95.9 passer rating was also the best of his young career.

The Buffalo Bills also earned a pair of honors for their outstanding 2020 performance. General manager Brandon Beane was named PFWA NFL Executive of the Year, while offensive coordinator was awarded Assistant Coach of the Year.

The Bills owned the NFL’s second-ranked offense, as quarterback Josh Allen became a bonafide MVP candidate under Daboll. Allen completed a career-high 69.2% of his passes, while also tossing 37 touchdowns, seven more than through his first two seasons combined.

Beane was the mastermind behind Buffalo’s addition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs form the Minnesota Vikings, who proved one of the most successful trade acquisitions in recent memory. Diggs was named a First-Team All-Pro after leading the league with 127 receptions and 1,535 yards. He also caught eight touchdowns.

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