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Cowboys' wideouts a bit shakier than steady Witten

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Cowboys' wideouts a bit shakier than steady Witten

IRVING, Texas (AP) Dez Bryant dazzles one play and drifts the next. Miles Austin piles up touchdowns when he's not hurt. Kevin Ogletree stars on a big stage then virtually disappears.

Tony Romo has one of the ugliest numbers in the NFL with 13 interceptions, easily the most even though there are five rookie starters throwing plenty of passes. Still, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback is at least sharing the blame with wide receivers showing to be shaky alternatives to steady tight end Jason Witten.

Even when Bryant makes a brilliant play, something goes wrong. His leaping catch in the back of the end zone appeared to complete a crazy comeback against the New York Giants on Sunday, but the touchdown was overturned when replay showed his fingers hit the ground first - inches out of bounds.

Earlier, Bryant wasn't sharp enough on a crossing pattern and cost Romo the first of four interceptions against the Giants. He caused the first of five picks by Romo against Chicago by running a ``go'' route when Romo was expecting a ``stop.'' The easy touchdown that resulted sparked a Bears blowout.

``We trust him to run the right routes, the routes that we ask him to do,'' said coach Jason Garrett, whose team visits undefeated Atlanta on Sunday night. ``He's gotten a heck of a lot better at it. He just needs to do it more consistently.''

The Cowboys posted plenty of pleasant numbers against the Giants. Romo threw for a career-high 437 yards, and Dallas had three 100-yard receivers in a game for the second time in franchise history. The other was in 1963. Witten set a team record with 18 catches and had a career-high 167 yards, while Austin caught nine passes for 133 yards and Bryant five for 110.

But even Garrett, not one to talk specifics very often, brought up one of the balls Austin didn't catch. Romo's second interception against the Giants was a throw the quarterback hopes - sometimes even expects - to be an incompletion at worst. Austin didn't react quickly enough, and wasn't in position to knock the ball away from New York's Corey Webster.

The play reminded Garrett of Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, the favorite target of Hall of Famer Troy Aikman.

``Michael Irvin's greatest trait, Troy Aikman would turn and throw it, 1-on-1, nothing bad is going to happen,'' Garrett said. ``He's going to catch it or he's going to knock it down. Somehow, some way, 1-on-1 at the end of the day, Miles has got to knock that ball down.''

Witten was actually part of the problem early in the season when he was trying to play with a lacerated spleen. He was dropping passes and understandably having a hard time getting around. It didn't him long to turn back into Witten, though. He's been the team leader in catches three of the past four games and is third in the NFL with 51.

``They're almost like running plays when you throw the ball to that guy, because he's so consistent and so reliable,'' Garrett said.

Those words have not been used to describe Dallas receivers in recent years. Bryant's production has been sporadic since he fell to the Cowboys late in the first round of the 2010 draft because of character questions. Since then, he's been the target of lawsuits over unpaid jewelry bills, and still has criminal charges pending after a domestic disturbance involving his mother.

Austin battled hamstring issues and declining production for two years after a breakout season in 2009. He's on track for a third 1,000-yard season if he stays healthy, and he's still scoring touchdowns. But he never explained his role in a clock management breakdown when the Cowboys had to settle for a 51-yard field goal that they missed in a 31-29 loss at Baltimore.

A week later, a fumble by Austin on a long completion against Carolina gave the sluggish Panthers life in the first half before the Cowboys rallied to win in the fourth quarter.

``We have to do a lot of things better,'' Romo said. ``It not just one thing. We need to throw it better. We need to run routes good. We need to block. It comes down to a lot of things that make for turnovers sometimes.''

Ogletree has held on to the third receiver spot essentially because he had a career day in the opening win against the Giants. Since those eight catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns, he has just 13 grabs for 134 yards and no scores. He was shut out in the rematch with New York.

``Production for me is wins,'' Ogletree said. ``We've got to do a better job of closing ballgames.''

Bryant thought he had closed the game against the Giants, and that was after he helped dig the 23-0 hole for Dallas with a botched punt return that led to one of six turnovers. Then there was the botched route on the Romo throw, which he acknowledged.

``I don't want to say I let him down, because I know Romo believes in me,'' Bryant said. ``As you can see, as the game went on, he was still coming at me.''

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Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

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USA Today Sports

Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

The Ravens have reportedly agreed in principle to a new contract extension with head coach John Harbaugh, a move already being praised by national pundits everywhere. 

It was nearly a month ago that the Ravens announced Harbaugh would be returning as the team’s head coach in 2019, which was noteworthy considering his status as a potential lame duck head coach.

In the same release, the team announced they were working towards a contract extension with Harbaugh, whose current deal was set to expire next year.

Despite reports from national NFL insiders, including Jason La Canfora and Peter King, that Harbaugh might prefer to hit free agency as a highly sought-after head coach after the 2019 season, it appears the Ravens will keep him in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. 

This news comes on the heels of a busier-than-usual coaching carousel, with a quarter of the 32 NFL teams changing head coaches in the last month, including two AFC North rivals. Harbaugh almost certainly would have been the cream of the crop among coaching free agents no matter when he became available, so the Ravens were looking to lock him up long term.

After a tough November home loss to the Steelers that put the team at 4-5, Harbaugh was asked about his job security, and he remained steadfast and confident.

"I've never been someone who's worried about keeping a job," Harbaugh said. "It's always been, for me, [about] doing the job. I've got a bunch of great coaches and a bunch of great players that bust their tails every day to do the best job they can. I feel really good about the way this team has been coached for the last 11 years, and for the last number of weeks we've been in the season. So, there are no regrets. Never been any regrets here with me."

After that game, the Ravens rattled off six wins in seven games to make the playoffs, and many players credited Harbaugh with keeping the team together. It was prior to Week 16 when the front office announced Harbaugh would be returning no matter how the season ended, but the strong finish and AFC North title certainly made the decision easier.

A coach with a special teams background, Harbaugh is an anomaly in the current era of young, offensive-minded head coaches. He won Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, and holds a 104-72 career record in Baltimore.

The terms of the new deal have not yet been released, but it will be interesting how many years the team is committing to Harbaugh.

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Bradley Beal's agent says guard's not looking for a trade: 'He wants to win'

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Bradley Beal's agent says guard's not looking for a trade: 'He wants to win'

Bradley Beal, his agent Mark Bartlestein told Bleacher Report, would like to stay in Washington - even as he's a hot topic among front offices as the trade deadline approaches.

From Bleacher Report:

His agent, Mark Bartelstein, is not looking for a trade. "Brad wants to win, Bartelstein told B/R. "He wants to win at the highest level, and he wants to compete for championships. I think he's seeing progress, and he's going to do everything he can to lead this team. They got themselves into a huge hole, and he's going to do his best to get them out of it.

The Wizards are facing tough decisions when it comes to the future of the franchise as this season's trade deadline approaches. Beal, as NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig detailed this week, is among the most tradable assets they have, especially when it comes to their three major contracts. But owner Ted Leonsis took a firm stance against tanking while speaking to reporters in London, and Beal is integral to their playoff hopes with John Wall sidelined. 

This isn't the first time this season that Beal has denied wanting to be anywhere but DC. When drama swirled around the team earlier this season, Beal denied a report that he had requested a trade.

"That's nonsense," he said at the time. "I heard it earlier before the game and I was like, 'If it didn't come from the horse's mouth, it wasn't me.' I got this Washington jersey on and I come here and work everyday, you know, until otherwise. This is where I wanna be."

Earlier this season, it was reported that the Raptors were interested in Beal but couldn't afford what the Wizards were asking for him. According to the latest report on Beal from Bleacher Report, there are a number of teams who may still be interested. 

Again, from Bleacher Report:

There are so many teams in the mix trying to make that extra push that want Beal," a Western Conference executive told B/R.

But even if some fans are clamoring for a big trade at the deadline, the price tag for Beal - who had 26 points in the Wizards' comeback win over the Knicks this week - only seems to be rising. 

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