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Bengals only .500 heading into tough stretch

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Bengals only .500 heading into tough stretch

CINCINNATI (AP) An ugly performance has left the Cincinnati Bengals in trouble.

The Bengals self-destructed in the second half of a 34-24 loss to the Browns on Sunday that dropped them to 3-3, which is not at all where they wanted to be heading into the toughest stretch of their schedule.

And their coach thinks a lot of it comes down to attitude.

Marvin Lewis suggested after the loss on Sunday that his team was too nice at times and needed to get tougher when it has a chance to put an opponent away. He didn't change his assessment after watching video of the loss.

``I told them: You've got to be able to stomp on the back of somebody's neck and go,'' Lewis said Monday. ``That's what this is all about. We don't get mulligans. We are playing for lunch tickets and we are playing for keeps. You've got to go when it is time to go you got to put them away in every way.''

The loss in Cleveland ended a stretch of five consecutive games against opponents with quarterbacks who were either rookies or in their second season. The Bengals went only 3-2 during that favorable part of the schedule.

Up next are home games against Pittsburgh, Denver and the Giants. Cincinnati finishes the season with games against San Diego, Dallas, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, which leads the AFC North at 5-1 and has already beaten the Bengals.

Cincinnati won a wild card berth last season with a 9-7 mark and lost to Houston in the first round of the playoffs. The goal this season was to try for the division title and only the second set of back-to-back playoff appearances in franchise history.

The Bengals were in good shape when they opened 3-1. They've crumbled in the second half of losses to Miami and Cleveland, dropping them back into the large pack of teams trying to get above break-even.

``It's not time to jump ship,'' offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ``We're 3-3 just like everybody else in our conference. At the end of the day, it's not about wins and losses, it's about who makes the playoffs.

``Our goals are all still right there in front of us. Somebody that's 3-3 has to go win some games and get in the playoffs. Why not be us?''

There are a few reasons why at the moment.

The offense has become overly reliant on big plays to get points. The Bengals had a couple more of those on Sunday - Andy Dalton threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Gresham and a 57-yarder to A.J. Green. But Cincinnati had trouble moving the ball consistently for the third game in a row.

During the last three games, Cincinnati is only 9 of 39 on third down conversions. The lack of a running game has been a major factor. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, brought in to replace Cedric Benson, is averaging only 3.4 yards per carry.

``I've been harping on it - it's about running the football,'' Lewis said. ``In the first half we had 10 carries and averaged about 4.5 yards per carry. It was a good start.''

Green-Ellis was limited to 17 yards on six carries in the second half, and the Bengals finished with a total of only 76 yards on the ground.

Dalton was 31 of 46 for 381 yards, but threw three interceptions, including one that Sheldon Brown returned for a touchdown that put the Browns in control. Dalton also was sacked and fumbled in the closing minutes, ending any chance of a comeback.

The Bengals have scored 10 points in the third quarter this season, a factor in the last two losses.

``If you look in the past, that's been a strength,'' Lewis said. ``I can look at years past, particularly last year, and it was a strength of ours. It was a strength of ours in the preseason. But right now, it's not. And it's not that the defense has been dreadful, it's just that we've been dreadful on offense in the third quarter.''

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Ravens vs. Buccaneers Week 15: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

Ravens vs. Buccaneers Week 15: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

The Baltimore Ravens (7-6) get set to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8) Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium with the postseason in sight.

The Ravens are 3-2 all time against the Bucs with a 1-1 record when playing in Baltimore. The last time these two teams met was back in 2014 when the Ravens handed Tampa Bay a 48-17 loss, marking the most points ever scored by the Ravens on the road.

Here's everything you need to know ahead of the Week 15 matchup.

New Era

Incase you've been living in a hole the last two days, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh announced that rookie Lamar Jackson will be starting Sunday and Joe Flacco would be the backup in what appears to be a new era in Baltimore. 

Both Flacco and Jackson handled the news with class as the decision wasn't that big of surprise considering Jackson has led the team to three wins in their last four matchups. Harbaugh wouldn't divulge if and how they would utilize Flacco's talents, but alternating between the two throughout the matchup could trip up a lot of defenders. On top of that, the Buccaneers' defense is bottom of the barrel ranking 30th in the league in points (29.5), 27th in yards (387.9), 27th in passing yards (268.5) and 20th in rushing yards (119.4). 

Another Defensive Challenge

While their 5-8 record may not show it, the Buccaneers' offense could present a challenge for the Ravens' No. 1 scoring defense. Heading into Week 15, Tampa Bay is ranked 10th in the league in points (25.5), second in yards (430.1), first in passing yards (331.4), but 27th in rushing yards (98.7). Their 4,308 passing yards are the third-most through the first 13 games in NFL history and their 5,591 total yards are the eighth-most through the first 13 games in NFL history.

Wide receiver Mike Evans is currently tied for sixth in the league in receiving touchdowns over the last two seasons at 22, while Cameron Brate is tied for third in the league in receiving touchdowns among tight ends in 2018 at six. The Bucs also have seven different players to score at least five touchdowns so far this season making them just the fifth team to accomplish that .

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson has missed the last two games as he deals with a left thumb injury sustained in the season opener and re-injured against the New York Giants in Week 11. The injury has left him unable to squeeze a football with that hand, so don't expect D-Jack on the field Sunday. 

Postseason In Sight

The Ravens have found themselves in this situation many times before. With three games to play, the Ravens sit in the sixth and final AFC playoff spot and half a game back of the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC North title.

In typical fashion, it's going to come down to the wire. The Ravens are in a four-way race with the Colts, Titans and Dolphins for the final playoff spot. A win Sunday against the Buccaneers is a must as they head to Los Angeles in Week 16 to face the Chargers, who just handed the Kansas City Chiefs a rare loss on Thursday Night Football and the Cleveland Browns in Week 17. 

Claiming the division and playing January football for the first time in three seasons is on the horizon, and with two quarterbacks to use at their disposal the Ravens are truly in control of writing their own ending. 

Click here to see the Ravens-Bucs injury report. 

Ravens vs. Buccaneers Week 15 How to Watch:

Who: Baltimore Ravens vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What: Week 15 regular season

When: Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, 1:00 p.m. ET

Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Md

TV Channel: FOX

Live Stream: Watch Now with fuboTV - Try free trial

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090 and 98Rock

Weather: 47 degrees, mostly cloudy with some rain

Ravens 2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Week 1: Sun., 9/9. Ravens vs. Bills. Win, 47-3 (1-0)

Week 2: Thur., 9/13 Ravens at Bengals. Loss, 34-23 (1-1)

Week 3: Sun., 9/23 Ravens vs. Broncos. Win, 27-14 (2-1)

Week 4: Sun., 9/30 Ravens at Steelers. Win, 26-14 (3-1)

Week 5: Sun., 10/7 Ravens at Browns. Loss, 12-9 (3-2)

Week 6: Sun., 10/14 Ravens at Titans. Win, 21-0 (4-2)

Week 7: Sun., 10/21 vs. Saints, 4:05 p.m. Loss, 24-23 (4-3)

Week 8: Sun., 10/28 @ Panthers, 1:00 p.m. Loss 36-21 (4-4)

Week 9: Sun., 11/4 vs. Steelers, 1:00 p.m. Loss 23-16 (4-5)

Week 10:  BYE week

Week 11: Sun., 11/18 vs. Bengals, 1:00 p.m. Win 24-21 (5-5)

Week 12: Sun., 11/25 vs. Raiders, 1:00 p.m. Win 34-17 (6-5)

Week 13: Sun., 12/2 @ Falcons, 1:00 p.m. Win 26-16 (7-5)

Week 14: Sun., 12/9 @ Chiefs, 1:00 p.m. Loss 27-24 (7-6)

Week 15: Sun., 12/16 vs. Buccaneers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 16: Sat., 12/22 @ Chargers, 8:20 p.m. ET

Week 17: Sun., 12/30 vs. Browns, 1:00 p.m.

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Why the Redskins sat Montae Nicholson and whether it's time HaHa Clinton-Dix loses some workload

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USA Today Sports

Why the Redskins sat Montae Nicholson and whether it's time HaHa Clinton-Dix loses some workload

The Redskins defense clicked earlier this season when the team seemed playoff-bound. This same group with scant personnel changes then started getting clocked starting with a Week 9 loss against the Falcons.

Everyone began wondering why. 

The most notable switch, HaHa Clinton-Dix replacing Montae Nicholson at safety, received additional scrutiny in the loss against the Giants on Sunday. 

Through seven games, Washington won five of seven games and allowed 322 yards per game. The Redskins have since lost five of six including four in a row while surrendering an average of 426 yards. The primary struggles exist on the ground, though the Redskins allowed seven touchdown passes over the last three games.

The start of the current six-game stretch coincided with the addition of Clinton-Dix. Washington traded a 2019 fourth-round pick to Green Bay on Oct. 30 for the one-time Pro Bowl safety. Clinton-Dix, 25, played 100 percent of the defensive snaps over the last five games. Despite the heavy workload, an adjustment period remains.

"I think he's finding his way, really,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said this week of Clinton-Dix.

His arrival sent Nicholson to the bench. Last May Gruden praised the 2017 fourth-round selection turned starter during his rookie season. “Montae I think is really an important piece,” Gruden said at the NFL Combine. “Very similar to the way Jordan Reed is on [offense], Montae is on defense.”

After playing all but 440 of 445 defensive snaps during the initial seven games this season, the second-year safety played on 26 snaps after Clinton-Dix’s arrival. He hasn’t taken the field defensively for the last three games.

NBC Sports Washington sought an explanation for the safety swap from NFL analytics website Pro Football Focus.

“HaHa has actually been a reliable tackler when he actually makes contact,” PFF analyst Trey Cunningham said via email. “He's saved several [touchdowns] with tackles where others were beat. Of course, the most notable gaffes for him have come when he's taken bad angles as the last line of defense and not even been able to attempt a tackle."

Cunningham cited both Amari Cooper's long catch-and-runs touchdowns in the Cowboys Week 12 win over the Redskins and Giants running back Saquon Barkley's 78 yard TD run last week as examples. Clinton-Dix was blocked during two touchdowns against Atlanta and knocked down on Darren Sproles’ touchdown run in Week 13 against the Eagles, according to Cunningham. 

Tackling concerns and "average" speed were considered issues during Clinton-Dix's time with the Packers, though PFF rated him among the top safeties in coverage at the time of the trade.

Yet Cunningham noted Clinton-Dix provided pop with a forced fumble against Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins. He also reasons why the Redskins may have felt compelled to seek safety help in the first place.

“Aside from health concerns with Montae Nicholson, his biggest flaw when he was starting was missed tackles - nine in the first four games including an astonishing five in the (win over the) Packers,” Cunningham said. “His primary coverage numbers weren't great either. Allowed 13 of 17 targets to be complete for 192 yards and a TD.”

Nicholson’s struggles continued after Clinton-Dix’s arrival. Cunningham recalled the safety taking a bad angle as the last line of defense on Falcons’ receiver Calvin Ridley's long catch-and-run touchdown in Week 9 among his errors.

While Clinton-Dix hasn’t wowed, perhaps the Redskins appreciate him limiting the mistakes.

“I would personally say Clinton-Dix has been an upgrade on Nicholson,” Cunningham said, “but that upgrade didn't come with any game-changing plays.”

Gruden hinted this week at a possible Nicholson return especially as the regular season winds down. Clinton-Dix enters free agency in 2019.

"Yeah, we have to look at Montae again,” Gruden said. “I think nobody gave up on Montae, we traded for a good player, a Pro-Bowl type player in HaHa and we wanted to give him every opportunity to come in and play. It wasn’t that we were down on Montae at all, we just needed depth at that position, got him in here and we liked what we saw, so we put him out there early.

“But, Montae does have a chance to play in the next three weeks quite a bit if we choose to that route because he is a good player with great speed."

The Redskins have perhaps three more weeks to determine how good Nicholson is or enter the offseason wondering if a new safety plan must emerge.

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