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Bengals try to break playoff futility in Houston

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Bengals try to break playoff futility in Houston

CINCINNATI (AP) The Bengals are taking one of the longest streaks of playoff futility in NFL history back to the scene of their latest postseason loss.

A year older, they're hoping they've grown up enough to pull off a significant breakthrough.

Cincinnati (10-6) opens the postseason Saturday at Houston (12-4), where the young Bengals imploded during a 31-10 loss in the first round last year. Quarterback Andy Dalton was a rookie then and threw three interceptions that turned a close game into a blowout.

The drubbing kept the Bengals without a playoff victory since 1990, the league's longest current streak and tied for the ninth longest in NFL history, according to STATS LLC. They beat the Houston Oilers 41-14 at Riverfront Stadium in a first-round game in 1990, then lost to the Raiders in Los Angeles.

They've been back to the playoffs only three other times since then, losing lopsided games to the Steelers in 2005, to the Jets in 2009 and to the Texans last season. Winning in Houston would be a huge step for the franchise.

``No doubt,'' coach Marvin Lewis said. ``I think our guys realize that just being in the playoffs is not what we're here for.''

Their second straight season as a wild card team represents a major step by itself. It's only the second time in franchise history that they've made the playoffs in back-to-back years. The other time was 1981-82.

``This young team expected to be in the playoffs,'' offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ``In a year where we expected to be in the playoffs, we did.''

They've got a few things in their favor the second time around.

The Bengals were taken aback by the loud crowd at Reliant Stadium a year ago, caught up in the Texans' first playoff appearance.

``I think the atmosphere is the biggest thing,'' safety Chris Crocker said. ``It's like wow, Houston, that was crazy, that was nuts. I think guys saw that. I ain't never seen an atmosphere like that - regular season game, playoff game, never. That was just, wow. But once it gets going, it gets going.''

Cincinnati lost the 2005 and 2009 playoff games at Paul Brown Stadium. Last year was the first time that most of their players were on the road for a postseason game. It'll seem more familiar this time - 38 of those players are still on the roster.

``The difference is we know the atmosphere from when we went down there last year,'' Lewis said. ``(It was) the first time we had a playoff game on the road for any of the people here.''

Dalton, who grew up in suburban Houston, has learned how to win pressure games in his second season. Dalton's interceptions turned last year's game into a blowout, starting with J.J. Watt's 29-yard return for a touchdown.

If Dalton can avoid mistakes, the Bengals will have a chance to end that drought.

``We just have to take care of our business,'' Dalton said. ``If we do that, all of that stuff will take care of itself. We've done some good things. We went 10-6 this year and had a good year. We made the playoffs again. That was our goal going into it, and now our goal is to make a run at it.''

The biggest change for Houston is Matt Schaub will be at quarterback instead of T.J. Yates. The biggest change for the Bengals is their defense, which set a club record with 51 sacks and has steadied them down the stretch.

In wins over Pittsburgh and Baltimore the last two weeks, the defense scored two touchdowns - Leon Hall and Carlos Dunlap returned interceptions - while the offense managed only one.

``We are probably playing better this year than we have been in the past heading into the playoffs,'' said Mike Zimmer, in his fifth season as Cincinnati's defensive coordinator. ``This defense is salty right now.''

Unlike last season, the Bengals head into the playoffs with a lot of confidence. They lost three of their last five games last year, getting the final wild card because other teams lost even more. This time, they pulled out of a 3-5 start by winning seven of their last eight games, one of the best closing stretches in team history.

It was only the third time they'd won seven of their last eight games. They won their final seven in 1970 to reach the playoffs for the first time. They won seven of the last eight in 1981 and went on to play in their first Super Bowl, where they lost to San Francisco.

``It gets us going in on a big hot streak, that's for sure,'' defensive tackle Geno Atkins said. ``We are more mature this year. It's also not our first trip, so we can learn from our mistakes from last time as well.''

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Cousins and leadership, D-line potential

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Various sources

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Cousins and leadership, D-line potential

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, July 21, five days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington.

How the addition of Alexander affects the Redskins' DB depth chart—Adonis Alexander was brought into the NFL about a week and a half ago and in five days he’ll be on the practice field in Richmond. How much will missing OTAs and minicamp hurt him in comparison to, say, his former Hokie teammate Greg Stroman? I think that the plan is for this to be a “redshirt” year for Alexander to learn. But that was supposed to be the plan for Josh Harvey-Clemons and Chase Roullier last year and both ended up playing key snaps. 

Can the Redskins defensive line live up to its potential? Many NFL fans don’t appreciate the value of having a good defensive line. Redskins fans are not in that group because they have seen what you get when you try to build a defensive line with over-the-hill veteran free agents, low draft picks, and undrafted players. Fans will value the talent, youth, and depth on the 2018 D-line.  

10 Questions in 10 days: LB depth chart—This is another area where the Redskins have not invested much in recent seasons. At least this year they stepped up and re-signed starters Mason Foster and Zach Brown. They are the present. Are Shaun Dion Hamilton and Josh Harvey-Clemons the future? 

The pass rush must continue to be a strength for the Redskins—With the picture at the cornerback position is somewhat murky right now, the pass rush will be critical, especially in the early going. The outside linebackers lost a key reserve, putting the burden on Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan to continue to get pressure on Ryan Anderson to take a leap forward in his second season. 

Tweet of the week

Well, this tweet did sort of stir things up as did some of the things that Cousins said in an article by Dan Pompei on the Bleacher Report. The thing about Twitter is that there is no room for nuance. I was labeled a Kirk “hater” by some. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. On multiple occasions, I urged the team to sign him long term and highlighted the positive aspects of his play. 

But this thing about not having a “platform” to lead always struck me as a cop-out. Cousins talked about it during some press conferences while he was here. The length of your contract should not prevent you from embracing a leadership role. You’re getting paid to lead, just do it. Few in leadership positions in business or in the military know where they will be a year from now. They embrace the role while they have it and Cousins should have done the same. 

The fact that I don’t like this one aspect of Cousins doesn’t mean that I don’t like him overall. He’s a good quarterback and I think he will have success with the Vikings. I think that the price got to be too much for the Redskins and the decision to move on to Alex Smith was sound or at least the best they could do after it became apparent that he was not going to sign here. But it’s not all one or the other. It is possible to see the positive and negative of Cousins. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

Timeline

Mike Sellers, whose seven receiving touchdowns in 2005 were the most by a Redskins running back since the merger, was born on this date in 1975.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 5
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 19
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 42

The Redskins last played a game 202 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 50 days. 

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Vernon Davis pulls off memorable proposal in Ocean City

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USA Today Sports Images

Vernon Davis pulls off memorable proposal in Ocean City

Vernon Davis has long been a fan favorite in the D.C. area since his University of Maryland days. The 34-year-old is almost always well-dressed and respectful to the media. 

More recently, he has been outspoken about his interest in acting after his football career. A true renaissance man who just so happens to be a force in the National Football League. 

In April, NBC Sports Washington ran into Davis at the Team USA Awards where he was serving as guest speaker. 

He took his smooth nature to a whole new level Tuesday while vacationing in Ocean City, Md. with his girlfriend Kayla. 

Dressed in all white on the beach, Davis proposed in an epic way. 

The best motivation I ever had. #shesmyrock

A post shared by Vernon Davis (@vernondavis85) on

Check out the whole video produced below. We won't spoil it for you, but there were skydivers involved. Take a look: 

Davis will suit up for his third season with the Redskins when training camp opens July 26 in Richmond.