Bengals try to break playoff futility in Houston


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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One crazy stat that connects Dwayne Haskins with Cam Newton, but also Mark Sanchez

One crazy stat that connects Dwayne Haskins with Cam Newton, but also Mark Sanchez

The Redskins selected Dwayne Haskins with the 15th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. While his record at Ohio State was impressive, Haskins didn't log many starts. 

Washington head coach Jay Gruden talked about Haskins back in March during the league meetings, before the Burgundy and Gold drafted the quarterback, and said that because he played just one year in college he would need significant time to learn the NFL game. 

"You would like a guy to play more than a year to see how he’s developed over the years. Haskins has a unique skillset. He’s big, strong and can really throw it," Gruden said. Then, "Is he going to be ready for the first year?"

After OTAs and minicamp, it's obvious Haskins has all the talent needed to play quarterback in the NFL. He's made touch throws and he's rifled balls into tight windows. At the same time, he seemed confused in spots about play calls and struggled with the speed of the pass rush. 

All of that is normal for a player with just 14 starts. But it's that number, the one year of starting experience in college, that makes one statistic stand out about Haskins. 

That's some serious company, both good, bad and ugly. 

As a rookie in 2011, Cam Newton went 6-10 with 35 total TDs and 17 interceptions, not to mention a Rookie of the Year trophy. His running prowess made up for average numbers in the pass game. The more important comparison for Redskins fans is that Newton eventually developed into an NFL MVP and got the Panthers to the Super Bowl. 

For Mark Sanchez, the rookie numbers and the career comparison aren't as kind. Sanchez threw 12 TDs and 20 INTs in 15 games as a rookie, though he was at the helm as the Jets got to two straight AFC title games. Still, for his career, Sanchez threw more INTs than TDs and could not keep a starting job after his rookie contract. 

Trubisky is a different deal. He's only started 26 games since being the second overall pick in the 2017 draft with a record of 15-11. He's thrown 31 touchdowns against 19 interceptions, and run for another five scores. It's hard to describe Trubisky's game. At times he's terribly inaccurate, but in other spots, he looks like a future Pro Bowler. 

Newton is the sure thing, Sanchez is the poor outcome. Trubisky is still to be determined. 

For Haskins, it's not good company or bad company. With only 14 starts at Ohio State before the Redskins drafted Haskins, it's just the company he's in.


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Tomas Satoransky set to enter unpredictable free agent market for point guards

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Tomas Satoransky set to enter unpredictable free agent market for point guards

Of the Wizards' players set to hit free agency on June 30, one who has a good chance to return is point guard Tomas Satoransky. He and center Thomas Bryant are atop the team's priority list with Bobby Portis likely too expensive and Jabari Parker set to enter the market unrestricted.

Satoransky will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Wizards can match any offers made by other teams. And in talking to members of the Wizards' coaching staff and front office, they speak of Satoransky like he is part of their future.

Still, nothing can be assumed and especially in a year in which many teams have money to spend. As Kevin O'Connor of the Ringer noted this week, there is more cap room available this summer than the previous two combined. That could lead to 2016-level contracts where role players get paid like starters and average starters get paid like stars.

What will make Satoransky's market interesting, though, is the fact there are some much bigger names available at his position. At point guard, teams with the most money can go after All-Stars like Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving and D'Angelo Russell. There is then a robust second tier that includes Malcolm Brogdon, Terry Rozier and Ricky Rubio. Then you have Derrick Rose, Elfrid Payton, Patrick Beverley, Darren Collison and Rajon Rondo.

It is a great year to be a free agent, but maybe not the best year to be a free agent point guard. The position class is absolutely loaded.

Satoransky, though, will still draw plenty of interest and among the teams expected to check in on him are the Mavericks, Pacers, Magic and Celtics, NBC Sports Washington has learned.

The Celtics have already been tied to Satoransky by Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports. But they also have their sights set on some of the bigger fish at point guard with rumors linking them to Walker, in particular.

The Utah Jazz were also set to pursue Satoransky, but their trade for Mike Conley Jr. has taken them off the list. The Phoenix Suns could also emerge as a suitor, though they are being linked to higher profile free agents at this point.

Both the Wizards and Satoransky expressed interest in a contract extension midway through the 2018-19 season, as NBC Sports Washington reported, but those talks didn't get much further. The Wizards ended up putting a lot of things on hold once they drifted out of the playoff race and ultimately fired team president Ernie Grunfeld.

With senior vice president Tommy Sheppard serving in the interim, though, Satoransky has a big proponent calling the shots in the Wizards front office. Sheppard scouted Satoransky before the Wizards drafted him and was key in convincing him to leave Europe for the NBA.

Satoransky likes playing in Washington and recognizes an opportunity at point guard with John Wall set to miss most of next season due to Achilles surgery. But he also recognizes this as a chance to earn the biggest payday of his career.

How much money Satoransky will ultimately receive is hard to predict. Those in his camp are apprehensive to throw numbers out there because even they aren't sure.

One potential comparison could be Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, who makes just over $9 million per year. Though VanVleet is arguably better, Satoransky is hitting the market with more money to go around. 

Many have tried to project Satoransky's market in the past few months. Soon we will find out just how valuable he is.