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Determined Dalton, Bengals prep for Pittsburgh

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Determined Dalton, Bengals prep for Pittsburgh

CINCINNATI (AP) Andy Dalton needs to play much better than he has in the past few weeks if the Bengals are going to pull off a franchise rarity.

Dalton was indecisive and repeatedly missed throws during a 34-13 win in Philadelphia that was set up by the Eagles' fumbling. Despite their struggles on offense, the Bengals (8-6) moved into playoff position with the victory last Thursday.

They can clinch a spot on Sunday by beating the Steelers (7-7) in Pittsburgh, something that's been very tough for them to do. A lot of it will come down to whether Dalton pulls out of his recent slump.

``I've had chances and I haven't hit them,'' Dalton said on Wednesday. ``I expect to play better myself, and I'm going to play better.''

The second-year quarterback is 0-6 against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. During the three losses to Pittsburgh, he has completed only 40 of 82 passes and never thrown for more than 170 yards in a game. The Bengals have only 38 first downs in the three games.

Dalton has been on a downturn in the last three games - wins at San Diego and Philadelphia, as well as a home loss to Dallas. His passer ratings of 65.2, 76.1 and 74.2 are his lowest for a three-game stretch this season. He has thrown for three touchdowns, been intercepted three times and gotten sacked 12 times.

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said some of the sacks have been the result of Dalton holding onto the ball too long. He was 13 of 27 for 127 yards with six sacks in the loss at Philadelphia, one of the worst showings of his career.

``We expect to see progress and not regression, and he kind of took a step back,'' Gruden said. ``That's disappointing. But in fairness to him, it's a road game, a Thursday night game against a pretty good defensive front and they have two good cornerbacks and they did a good job. They played hard and spirited and took it to us.

``But we had some plays that should have been made that weren't.''

Dalton's passer rating has been lower only one other time this season. He was 14 of 28 for 105 yards with a game-turning interception and a 56.4 passer rating during a 24-17 loss to Pittsburgh at Paul Brown Stadium on Oct. 21. Dalton managed only one completion to A.J. Green as the Steelers took away quick throws to the Pro Bowl receiver.

Dalton and Green never got comfortable against Pittsburgh's defense.

``There were a couple of opportunities,'' Green said on Wednesday. ``But their scheme is so good it's hard to guess what they're doing.''

The rematch is a decisive game for both teams.

A loss would eliminate the Steelers. The Bengals would clinch at least a wild card berth with a victory and make a little franchise history. Only once during their 44 previous seasons have they gone to the playoffs in back-to-back years. They were a wild card last season as well, losing to Houston in the opening round.

Only twice in franchise history have the Bengals followed a playoff appearance with a winning record the next season. A victory in Pittsburgh would mark the third time it's happened.

Cincinnati finishes the season at home against Baltimore (9-5), which leads the AFC North and has already clinched a playoff spot.

If the Bengals lose to the Steelers, they would have the same record but Pittsburgh would have the head-to-head tiebreaker by sweeping the season series. Essentially, the season comes down to this game.

``There's really not much else to say except we've got to come play our best,'' Dalton said. ``And we've got to do whatever it takes to win the game.''

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NOTES: Some players wore hats with Chris Henry's No. 15 and had photos of the former Bengals receiver in their lockers on Wednesday. Henry died in December 2009 after falling out of a pickup truck driven by his fiancee. His former teammates do something every December in his memory. ... Josh Brown will likely do the kicking for the third straight game. K Mike Nugent said Wednesday he's still bothered by a strained right calf that has prevented him from kicking a ball hard. ``You don't want to have something react and kind of go through the whole process for another however many days,'' Nugent said. ``One of those things - just being very patient with it.'' Brown has made all of his six field goal attempts, including a 52-yarder.

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Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard out against Wizards

Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard out against Wizards

The Wizards will catch a break on Saturday night when they host the Toronto Raptors in the second game of their regular season, as Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard is being held out due to rest.

Leonard, who has been dominant so far for the 2-0 Raptors, is being limited in back-to-backs after he missed 73 games last season due to a quadriceps injury. The Raptors played the night before against the Celtics.

With Leonard out, the Raptors will likely rely on C.J. Miles and O.G. Anunoby at the small forward position. Shooting guard Delon Wright is also out with a shoulder injury.

Though Leonard and Wright are out of the mix, Toronto still has plenty of talent including All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry is averaging 21 points, seven assists and 3.5 rebounds through two games. 

Serge Ibaka has been their third-leading scorer with 15 points per game to go along with 6.5 rebounds. They also acquired Danny Green in the Leonard deal and he's off to a strong start with 12.5 points and five rebounds per game.

Leonard's absence may be noticed more on the defensive end, as he is one of the best in the NBA on the perimeter. That could make things a bit easier for Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr.

The Wizards and Raptors next play on Nov. 23. That game is in Toronto.

 

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'It's a house divided': The Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is affecting these 'Skins' families

'It's a house divided': The Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is affecting these 'Skins' families

Zach Brown is a fearless player. Turns out, Zach Brown's dad is pretty fearless, too.

That first statement is one you can confirm by watching the Redskins linebacker play each time he takes the field, often times hurt.

The second statement, on the other hand, was confirmed earlier this week in an interview between Brown and JP Finlay about the Washington-Dallas rivalry.

"It got under our skin, knowing we got swept by them [last year]," the defender told Finlay after a weekday practice. "You just hate to go back home and hear them talk so much trash."

The leader of the brave "them" who actually taunt a 250-pound LB following a loss? Oh, just Brown's father, who's a diehard Cowboys supporter.

"My dad was giving it to me," he said while looking back on the 2017 season. "I said, 'Don't worry about it. Next year's gonna be a different movement.'"

"I'm gonna talk trash at the end of this season," Brown added. "It's a house divided."

Adrian Peterson knows what Brown's talking about. The Texas native even went as far as to break down exactly how his own house is divided.

According to him, 75-percent of his family are all about the Cowboys, 10-percent are looking for him to put up good numbers in a 'Boys victory and the final 15-percent have converted to the burgundy and gold.

Rookie corner Greg Stroman can relate as well. The Virginia kid who'll be making his debut in the series he's very familiar with said his grandma and her relatives fall on both sides of the matchup.

Stroman does have one advantage over Brown and Peterson, though. Unlike the two veterans, he was able to get his entire family's rooting interests in order for Sunday, at least.

"They all bought in now," he said.

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