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Bengals in playoffs after 13-10 win over Steelers

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Bengals in playoffs after 13-10 win over Steelers

PITTSBURGH (AP) Marvin Lewis raised his hand, wiped his brow and let out a ``whoo.''

There used to be a time when the Cincinnati Bengals coach would make a bad decision and his team would lose.

Only that doesn't happen anymore. Not with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green changing the Bengals' woeful history one gut-check victory at a time.

The second-year quarterback and wide receiver connected for a 21-yard completion in the final seconds, setting up Josh Brown's game-winning 43-yard field goal in a 13-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday to send the Bengals back to the playoffs.

``Obviously we know the history is that we haven't been (in the postseason) two years in a row for the last 30 years,'' Dalton said. ``But since I have been here I haven't known that. My class, me, A.J., some of these other guys, we come in and expect to go to the playoffs.''

A place the Bengals (9-6) are heading to once again after another late-game gaffe by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger tossed an interception on the second play of overtime a week ago in a loss to Dallas. This time his pass to Mike Wallace sailed high and Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson returned it to the Pittsburgh 46.

Two plays later, Cincinnati clinched a wild-card berth while the Steelers (7-8) saw their postseason hopes disappear after losing for the fifth time in six games.

`'We should be (in the playoffs) if it wasn't for me,'' Roethlisberger said.

Roethlisberger's mistake helped the Bengals bail out their coach, who allowed Brown to attempt a 56-yard field goal in the swirling Heinz Field winds with 3:18 to go. The kick never had a chance and gave the Steelers a chance to put together a potential game-winning drive.

Looking back, Lewis admits he probably made the wrong choice.

``I make decisions to try and win the game,'' Lewis said. ``Today it kind of backfired on me.''

Just not on his team, which is heading to the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1981-82, six years before Green was born.

``This has been our goal coming in at the beginning of the season,'' Green said. ``A lot of people talked about we hadn't been in in back to back seasons in 30 years. I don't worry about that stuff. I've been here two years and we made the playoffs all two years. That's all we can control.''

Shredding the label as erratic - and sometimes comical - losers one improbable victory at a time, the Bengals, their precocious duo of Green and Dalton and their quickly improving defense have Cincinnati in uncharted territory.

The Bengals have been around since 1968. This is the first time they'll make the postseason in two straight non-strike years.

``I know they just think that there's some complex; there's no complex, you've just got to come play and win,'' Lewis said. ``This group in there has very little history of anything.''

Maybe that's why Bengals aren't doomed to repeat it.

Dalton completed 24 of 41 for 278 yards and two interceptions for the Bengals, which snapped a five-game losing streak to Pittsburgh. Green caught 10 passes for 116 yards and Cincinnati's defense never let the Steelers get comfortable. The Bengals sacked Roethlisberger four times and allowed Pittsburgh to complete just 2 of 14 third downs.

``Not our day and thus, not our year,'' Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. ``Just not enough significant plays at the moments. Sounds like a broken record but reality as we sit here.''

Pittsburgh did a decent job of keeping Dalton and Green in check, posting season highs with three turnovers and six sacks. The Bengals couldn't run the ball at all, managing just 14 yards against the NFL's top defense. Still, it wasn't enough for the Steelers, turning a season that looked so promising before Election Day into a muddled mess.

Instead of making playoff plans, the team that was 6-3 on Nov. 4 needs a win next week against Cleveland to avoid the first losing season in Tomlin's six-year tenure.

``It hurts bad, not making the playoffs,'' Pittsburgh cornerback Keenan Lewis said. ``We're going to be home with the rest of them, watching.''

Not Cincinnati, which took another step forward behind a young core intent on changing the perception of a team known not so long ago as ``the Bungles.''

``I grew up in Cincinnati so the city should be buzzing,'' punter Kevin Huber said. ``We have a big game next weekend. New we have to get ready to go to the playoffs.''

NOTES: Cincinnati's 14 yards rushing were the second-fewest in franchise history. The Bengals had 4 yards rushing against Baltimore in 2000 ... Pittsburgh TE Heath Miller left game in the fourth quarter with a right knee injury ... Brown is 8 of 9 since taking over for Nugent three weeks ago ... Five of Pittsburgh's eight losses this season have come by three points ... Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall had 50 yards rushing in his return after serving a one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.

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Ravens fans celebrate new energy injected by Lamar Jackson-run offense

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USA Today Sports

Ravens fans celebrate new energy injected by Lamar Jackson-run offense

Lamar Jackson is the most popular man in Baltimore. 

In his second season with the Ravens, it’s impossible to *not* see his name everywhere you look. His number eight jersey is quickly becoming as synonymous with the Ravens as Cal Ripken Jr.’s was with the Orioles.

Jackson has taken the NFL by storm in 2019, forcing himself into the MVP debate.

Longtime fan Rick Gibson said the Jackson era has a different feel than the previous Joe Flacco-led team.

“It’s fun coming to games,” he said before Sunday's matchup against the Texans. "A lot better than it has been in the past, so it’s more exciting.”

With the flip of a switch -- or rather, the draft pick of a quarterback -- fan enthusiasm is all of a sudden at an all-time high.

And it starts (and ends) with number eight.

“It’s incredible,” said Ravens fan Jonathan Greene. “Most excited for a Ravens team, and I’ve been a fan for years. It’s awesome. He has elevated this team.”

The words fans use to describe Jackson’s game are all similar. Phenomenal. Awesome. Incredible. Spectacular. Magic.

Jackson’s stats this season speak for themselves: 2,036 passing yards and 15 touchdowns against just five interceptions. A 65.9 completion percentage. 702 rushing yards -- 11th-most in the NFL -- and six touchdowns. And of course, a 7-2 record.

Even those who would discount Jackson’s performance as beating up on weak competition are forced to recognize his brilliance. Against the winless Bengals, for example, Next Gen Stats estimated an average quarterback should have a completion percentage of 57.7%, based on how covered his receivers were, how much pressure he was under, and more. 

His actual percentage? 88.2%, or 30.5% higher than what was expected. It was the best difference for *any* quarterback in *any* game in 2019.

Fans are excited for the future as well. Not just for the Ravens but for young football fans across the city.

“He’s only 22 years old,” another fan, John Ford, said. “I think he appeals to the younger generation coming up through the high school and college ranks, because they can relate to him...I think he’s a role model for a lot of young kids coming up. And you watch him on the sidelines, he does some great things, but he takes it in stride. So he’s not celebrating too much, he knows what he’s got to do. That’s a unique thing for a young man, only 22 years old, at this level.”

The near future looks more daunting than in the long term. The Ravens enter Week 11 on a five-game winning streak, hoping to win six straight for the first time since 2000. 

They are beginning a tough slate of four straight against playoff contenders, but with Jackson leading an unstoppable offense, three or four wins doesn’t seem far-fetched. Regardless of what happens, Jackson has emphatically won over the city of Baltimore and the NFL writ large.

One longtime Ravens fan, Stan Nasiatka, put it best when asked about Jackson.

“That’s all we’re talking about," he said. "It’s everywhere.”

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Mr. Consistency Justin Tucker misses first field goal of the season

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Mr. Consistency Justin Tucker misses first field goal of the season

Justin Tucker is the best kicker in the NFL. That much hasn’t changed.

Now that we’re on the same page, it’s time to admit something. He hasn’t looked totally himself as of late. While most of his kicks have still found their way between the uprights, many have looked closer than they should.

That trend culminated with his first miss Sunday against the Texans. Tucker’s attempt on the Ravens’ first drive of the game -- from 43 yards out -- bounced off the right upright.

The miss snapped a streak of 22 consecutive made field goals for Tucker, who is the NFL’s all-time leader in field goal percentage. He is the only kicker in NFL history to convert more than 90% of his field goal attempts.

It’s too soon to be concerned about Tucker going forward. For now, just pick your jaws up off the floor and go back to feeling confident in the Ravens’ most consistent player the next time he jogs out onto the field.

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