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Bengals beat Ravens 23-17 in finale

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Bengals beat Ravens 23-17 in finale

CINCINNATI (AP) Baltimore opens the playoffs with an emotional home game. Cincinnati heads back to the place where it lost in the first round last year.

And really, that's all they really wanted to find out.

The AFC North rivals rested their stars Sunday in a finale that had a preseason taste. Carlos Dunlap's 14-yard interception return in the fourth quarter set up Cincinnati's 23-17 win. The teams had little at stake, and they played like it.

``I'm glad that's over,'' Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. ``That's a difficult situation to be in. I thought our guys handled it about as well as you can handle it.''

The Ravens (10-6) had already clinched their second straight division title and decided to use the final game to get healthier. They had several stars inactive and pulled quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice after only two series.

They'll host Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts next Sunday, reuniting them with former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. The Colts head coach has returned from three rounds of chemotherapy.

``Chuck's like a dad to me,'' Ravens safety Ed Reed said. ``He means a lot to me. I would have much rather seen them in the AFC championship game than the first game.''

The Bengals (10-6) are locked into the sixth seed as the final wild-card team. They'll open next Saturday at Houston, where they lost 31-10 in the first round of the playoffs last season.

``I think it will be good,'' said quarterback Andy Dalton, who grew up in suburban Houston. ``We played there last year and know the atmosphere and what it's going to be like. The experience last year will definitely help us.''

With hardly anything at stake, both teams went into preseason mode on a 26-degree afternoon with a wind chill of 16. The Bengals' reserves got them their seventh win in the last eight games.

Josh Brown kicked three field goals in the second half. Dunlap tipped one of Tyrod Taylor's passes to himself and returned it for a clinching touchdown with 6:06 left, jumping into the stands and sitting there for several seconds while fans smacked his back.

``I wanted it to be a highlight to remember,'' Dunlap said.

The Bengals are in the playoffs for the second straight season after beating rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore in back-to-back weeks - a breakthrough for a franchise that had been 0-6 against those top rivals the past two seasons.

The defense has led the way, scoring more touchdowns than the offense over the past two weeks. Cornerback Leon Hall returned an interception for the only touchdown against Pittsburgh, and Dunlap clinched the win on Sunday with his return.

Now, they get another shot at the Texans.

``There will be a lot of incentive,'' left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ``You get a chance to go wash a bad taste out of your mouth. Anytime you get a chance to do that, it's great.''

The Bengals wanted to get their running game tuned up for the playoffs, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a hamstring tighten up during pregame warmups and was held out of the game. Lewis didn't know how it would affect him in the playoffs.

The Ravens sat some of their banged-up playmakers and pulled others from the game after only two series. Receiver Anquan Boldin, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Terrell Suggs were inactive.

``It's an accomplishment to be in a position where you can afford to (rest stars),'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``If we would have been playing for more, like an opportunity to move up dramatically in seeding, then we would have played them more.''

The Bengals went with a conservative approach. Dalton didn't even throw toward Green until the final drive of the first half, keeping the Pro Bowl receiver out of harm's way. Bruce Gradkowski took over in the second half for Dalton, who was 10 of 15 for 78 yards with a pair of sacks.

Brown kicked field goals of 47, 32 and 38 yards. He'll be the Bengals' kicker in the playoffs with Mike Nugent sidelined by a calf injury. Brown is 11 for 12 on field goal tries since he signed as a free agent, the only miss on a 56-yard attempt in Pittsburgh.

Taylor, who had thrown only four passes all season, replaced Flacco and led a pair of touchdown drives by running away from defenders. Anthony Allen ran 2 yards for a touchdown, and Taylor scored on a 1-yard run.

NOTES: The crowd of 61,565 gave Cincinnati six sellouts in eight home games. The Bengals sold out only two games last season on their way to the playoffs. ... Baltimore's Justin Tucker missed a 45-yard field goal try and made one from 49 yards, leaving him 30 of 33 for the season. His 90.9 percent success rate set an NFL record for a rookie. ... The Bengals had four sacks, giving them a franchise-record 51 for the season. ... S Chris Crocker hurt his right thigh while trying to make a tackle in the first quarter and didn't return. He said the injury wasn't serious.

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Ravens' options in a potential Matthew Judon trade

Ravens' options in a potential Matthew Judon trade

According to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Ravens have expressed interest in moving on from Matthew Judon through a trade this offseason. 

Judon, who isn’t under contract for next season, was tied for 19th in the league in sacks with 9.5 — a team-high. He was also the team-leader in quarterback hits with 33. The next best pass-rusher was Tyus Bowser, who registered 10. 

Lined up for a big payday, and with a high-priced franchise tag an option, the Ravens could lose their second pass-rusher in as many years on the free agent market should they elect to not pay Judon the elite pass-rusher money he’ll likely command.

Which brings the Ravens to the report from Schefter that indicated the team could move on from Judon, 27, through the sign-and-trade route. 

Should Judon, or the Ravens, walk away from the negotiating table in free agency, two options exist: The Ravens could either let him walk freely to another team and likely receive a 2021 third-round pick as compensation, or place the franchise tag on Judon. 

With the franchise tag option, the Ravens could keep him for a season and essentially kick the can down the road for a year, or trade him for a return that would likely be greater than the compensatory third, and more importantly, the help would be immediate. 

A few weeks ago, coach John Harbaugh said re-signing Judon would be, “pretty hard,” but that the team was going to try.  

But if the Ravens aren’t able, or are unwilling, to sign Judon, a potential blueprint for a future trade might have been laid out last year by the Chiefs. 

Last season, the Chiefs traded Dee Ford to the 49ers for a second-round pick just a month before they sent first and third-round picks to the Seahawks for Frank Clark and a third-round pick.

Ford had 13 sacks in 2018 and 29 quarterback hits while Clark had 13 as well and 27 quarterback hits. They both immediately signed long-term, expensive contracts with their new teams. 

Baltimore could make a move similar to that with Judon and get better, and more immediate, compensation for him and later add a pass-rusher with the draft capital than the team added.

The Ravens have just under 29 million dollars in cap space, meaning they’ve got the space to sign Judon to a long-term deal or keep him on the franchise tag, but they’d need to make some moves to be able to field a full roster. And that full roster, if Judon isn’t in Baltimore in 2020, needs pass-rushing help. 

Baltimore had 37 sacks as a team, and just over a quarter of them came from Judon. It also had 111 total quarterback hits, and 29.7 percent came from Judon. 

So the report that the Ravens could move Judon could play out, perhaps the most interesting aspect of a Judon trade would be the replacement the Ravens would need to have lined up.

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With big decision looming, Ravens guard Marshal Yanda mum on retirement plans

With big decision looming, Ravens guard Marshal Yanda mum on retirement plans

Ravens guard Marshal Yanda has a decision to make on his playing future, but he's in no rush to make it.

The 35-year-old is under contract with the Ravens through the 2020 season, but will take the next month or so to decide if he wants to continue playing or hang up the cleats.

"I'm going to take my time now," Yanda told Ravens.com regarding his future. "Done playing for the year, just take some time over the next month and basically just go with my heart and see how I feel."

The eight-time Pro Bowler was a vital piece in the NFL's best rushing attack in 2019. Yanda, the leader of the offensive line, started and played in 15 games this season for Baltimore, missing the regular-season finale as the Ravens rested multiple starters with the No. 1 seed already clinched.

Following Baltimore's upset divisional playoff loss to the Titans, a visibly disappointed Yanda refused to address his future, but he was definitely thinking about it then.

But if Sunday's Pro Bowl was the last time Yanda put on the pads, he didn't treat the game or experience any differently.

"Not necessarily," Yanda said if he cherished Sunday's Pro Bowl differently. "You're not in that frame of mind. I definitely didn't think about [my retirement decision] too much today, just because it was the Pro Bowl. It's more of a relaxed game, not like a really intense game.

"I didn't have those feelings as much as the Tennessee game," he continued." Yeah, it's a possibility. But those feelings were more in the Tennessee game."

Even at age 35, Yanda remains one of the best guards in the game. He's made the NFL's second-team All-Pro squad the past two seasons and has been a Pro Bowler every season since 2011, minus the 2017 season where he played just two games due to a season-ending ankle injury.

There's no debate: Baltimore would greatly benefit from Yanda returning.

"You want people that want you back," Yanda said. "You want to be playing very well when you end. Nobody wants to fade out; you want to go out strong."

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