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Around the NFL: Buffalo Clinches Elusive Division Title, Mayfield Continues Hot Streak

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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

Buffalo Bills 48 Denver Broncos 19

Josh Allen and the Bills kept their dream season rolling Saturday night, as the rising star quarterback led his squad to their first division title since 1995.

Stopping Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs was going to be a tall task for Denver to begin with, but the Broncos clearly got more than they bargained for. The third-year starter passed for 359 yards and scores four total touchdowns (two passing, two rushing), with the bulk of his completions and yardage going to Diggs per usual. Buffalo’s top weapon caught eleven passes for 147 yards Saturday, and has now posted double digit receptions in four of his last five outings.

The Bills’ run game was strong beyond Allen as well. Running backs Zach Moss and Devin Singletary combined for 149 yards and a score on the ground. As a team, it was Buffalo’s largest rushing total since their Week 8 win against New England.

The defense built on their strong showing against Pittsburgh, and held up their end of the bargain to stifle Denver’s youthful offense. Buffalo sacked quarterback Drew Lock three times, including a strip sack by cornerback Tre’Davious White that defensive end Jerry Hughes returned for a 21-yard score. The Broncos were able to find some slight success on the ground of their own, with running back Melvin Gordon rushing for 61 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Buffalo will look to extend their win streak to five games when they visit New England on Monday Night Football next week.

Indianapolis Colts 27 Houston Texans 20

Indianapolis secured a season sweep and remained in the thick of the AFC playoff race with their win over Houston.

Colts quarterbacks Philip Rivers was near flawless through the air, while rookie running back Jonathan Taylor continued his hot run of form on the ground. Rivers completed 79% of his passes for 228 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both to wide receiver Zach Pascal. Taylor followed up his career day in Week 14 with 83 yards and a touchdown. He now has 414 yards over the last four games.

Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson may have had himself a day as well, but it was the key plays of the Colts defense that secured the victory in the end. Watson passed for 373 yards and two touchdowns, his eight 300-yard outing this season. Still, Indianapolis’ outstanding defense neutralized Watson’s big day, holding Houston to just 83 yards rushing and sacking him five times. Defensive end DeForest Buckner recorded three of those sacks, but it was star linebacker Darius Leonard that forced this game-sealing fumble.

Winners of three-straight, the Colts put their win streak on the line when they visit the Steelers next Sunday. Houston hosts Cincinnati in Week 16.

Kansas City Chiefs 32 New Orleans Saints 29

Patrick Mahomes outdueled another future Hall of Fame quarterback Sunday, as the Chiefs topped the Saints in New Orleans for their ninth-straight victory.

Mahomes was marvelous again, tossing for 254 yards and three touchdowns on a strong Saints defense. It was Mahomes’ 21st career game with three scores through the air, tying Pro Football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner for the second-most in league history through a player’s first three seasons. Only fellow Hall of Famer passer Dan Marino has more with 27. His performance Sunday was even more impressive beyond the numbers, as Mahomes was up to his usual superhuman antics, like this pinpoint throw to wideout Mecole Hardman.

Their passing performance may have been par for the course, but the Chiefs did finally spark their running game by taking advantage of a porous Saints rush defense. Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushed for 79 yards, his largest rushing performance since Week 6, but left the game in the fourth quarter with a discomforting lower body injury. Former Steeler Le’Veon Bell added 62 yards and scored his second touchdown as a Chief. If Edwards-Helaire is to miss extended time, Kansas City’s mid-season acquisition of Bell could prove more of a necessity than a luxury.

Drew Brees made a surprise return after missing the previous four games with a rib injury, shaking off a rough start to throw three second half touchdowns. He looked out of sync and rusty early, at one point starting the game zero for six with an interception. Still, Brees’ turnaround and Taysom Hill’s rushing score proved all for naught, with the Saints offense unable to overcome going a dreadful 1-11 on third down.

Kansas City will pursue ten in a row when they host Atlanta next Sunday. Losers of back-to-back games for the first time since Week 3, New Orleans will attempt to right the ship at home against Minnesota on Christmas.

Cleveland Browns at New York Giants, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was surgical Sunday night, as Cleveland earned their first ten-win season in 13 years with a win over the Giants.

Mayfield continues to play the best football of his young career, as he made light work of a fairly formidable Giants defense. He carved the G-men up for 297 yards and two touchdowns, while completing 27 of 32 passes, good enough for the second-best, single game completion percentage of his career. Mayfield has now thrown ten touchdowns with a single interception over the last four games.

The Cleveland defense demonstrated significant improvement from its rough showing against Baltimore last week, albeit against an undermanned New York offense. The Browns held the Giants to just 74 yards on the ground, while holding their opponent without a touchdown for the first time since Week 2 of last season. Still, their strong pass rush never found a way to take advantage of New York’s vulnerable offensive line and consistently pressure quarterback Colt McCoy, sacking him just once.

The Browns inched a step closer to snapping their 17-year postseason drought Sunday, which they will have the chance to end when the return to the Meadowlands to face the lowly Jets next week. The Giants travel to Baltimore with their own playoff hopes in series jeopardy.

REST OF THE SCHEDULE

  • Los Angeles Chargers 30 Las Vegas Raiders 27 (OT)
  • Green Bay Packers 24 Carolina Panthers 16
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31 Atlanta Falcons 27
  • Seattle Seahawks 20 Washington 15
  • Dallas Cowboys 41 San Francisco 49ers 33
  • Tennessee Titans 46 Detroit Lions 25
  • Miami Dolphins 22 New England Patriots 12
  • Chicago Bears 33 Minnesota Vikings 27
  • Baltimore Ravens 40 Jacksonville Jaguars 14
  • New York Jets 23 Los Angeles Rams 20
  • Arizona Cardinals 33 Philadelphia Eagles 26
  • Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns, Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

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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