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Broncos’ players believe Adam Gase would be a good head coach

Trent Baalke might have driven Jim Harbaugh back to college, but he doesn’t scare Adam Gase.

Baalke and Gase worked together with the San Francisco 49ers in 2008. Baalke is now the 49ers’ general manager and is searching for a new head coach. Gase is the Broncos’ highly successful offensive coordinator who will interview with Baalke for the 49ers’ top coaching job later this week.

Gase, 36, is a hot assistant coach who is a top candidate to fill the head coaching void in San Francisco or Atlanta.

Per NFL rules, the Broncos are allowing Gase to interview for head coaching jobs so long as contingents from San Francisco and Atlanta meet with him in Denver while the team is not practicing during its first-round playoff bye week.

Gase probably will interview Friday and Saturday for the head coaching positions.

“We’ve been through this many times,” said Broncos coach John Fox. “It will be done in a way that they have to come here, and it won’t bother our coaches as far as their prep. All their focus is on what we’re trying to accomplish. Yet, during the bye week, it’s an opportunity to do those things.”

Once the Broncos’ players return Sunday for light conditioning work and meetings in preparation for the second-round playoff game Jan. 11, Gase is off limits to others until Denver’s playoff run is finished, or the bye week between the AFC championship game and Super Bowl, should the team make it that far.

In Gase’s two years as Denver’s offensive coordinator, the Broncos ranked No. 1 in scoring in 2013 by compiling an NFL-record 606 points (37.9 points per game), mostly by throwing the ball with quarterback Peyton Manning.

BRONCOS MAILBAG: Pose a question for Mike Klis

This year, the Broncos implemented an older-school running game into their offense, starting in Game 11, and they still finished No. 2 in scoring at 30.1 points per game.

Gase will finish this season with the Broncos, but he might have options once it is finished.

“Of course he has what it takes,” Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “Whatever happens, he’ll do what’s best for him and his family. If he does, that would be sad for me, but we’ve still got goals that we want to achieve together. Hopefully if it does happen, he’ll go to one of those jobs with a Super Bowl ring on his finger.”

Which of the two jobs, San Francisco’s or Atlanta’s, would be most appealing to Gase? Each has shown a potential red flag in upper management. The 49ers, with Baalke and owner Jed York, ran off Harbaugh, who turned around a franchise that had eight consecutive nonwinning seasons into one that went to three consecutive NFC championship games.

Harbaugh is expected to be announced as the new head coach at the University of Michigan on Tuesday.

Gase, though, was an offensive assistant to San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike Martz in 2008, which was Baalke’s first year as the 49ers’ director of player personnel.

In Atlanta, general manager Thomas Dimitroff is staying on amid reports his power in personnel decisions will be reduced.

On balance, the 49ers appear to have a more talented roster than the Falcons. Another consideration is the respective quarterbacks. Would Gase believe it’s easier to win the Super Bowl with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan or with the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick?

Ryan is limited physically but is closer in style to Manning. Kaepernick’s athleticism is unmatched, but his passing accuracy is erratic.

“I know whoever gets him, they’re going to get a coach who is very smart,” running back C.J. Anderson said. “He knows the game very well. He’s determined. He has that ‘(heck with) you’ attitude. Let’s get out there and get it done. He’s the type that puts his hard hat on every day and goes to work.”

Would the courtship of Gase be a distraction to the Broncos’ offensive players?

“I don’t think so,” Sanders said, “as long as you guys keep it down.”

Meanwhile, no team has asked the Broncos for permission to interview defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. The Oakland Raiders figure to be interested at some point, although they historically wait longer than other teams in filling their head coaching vacancies.

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Sacramento Kings need overtime to squeak by New York Knicks

December was supposed to be the month the Kings fattened their record with a schedule heavy on home games.

It didn’t work out that way.

DeMarcus Cousins got sick. Coach Michael Malone was fired. The 5-1 start to the season became a distant memory as losses piled up.

The last chance to salvage playing 11 of 15 December games at Sleep Train Arena was Saturday night, when the Kings hosted the struggling New York Knicks.

The Kings, who entered the game losers of seven of their last eight, blew a 15-point lead as the Knicks forced overtime, but Sacramento recovered for a 135-129 overtime win.

“Very much needed win,” Kings coach Tyrone Corbin said. “Even though it wasn’t the prettiest basketball, we’ll take the win.”

The Kings gave up 24 points off 17 turnovers and allowed the Knicks to shoot 49.5 percent, which helped New York stay close.

But the Kings shot 55.1 percent, making 8 of 16 three-point attempts.

“We’ve been struggling to find a way to win,” Darren Collison said. “And really when you struggle so much, you really don’t know how to win because you’ve been struggling to get a win. It’s just good to get a win under our belt right now.”

The Kings led 89-80 entering the fourth quarter but didn’t play with the poise needed to close out the game.

After New York’s Tim Hardaway Jr. tied the score 117-117 with a layup off a turnover with 20.2 seconds left in regulation, the Kings had a final possession. How that possession played out upset Kings fans and, most noticeably, Cousins.

Rudy Gay dribbled out most of the clock before losing it on a turnover with one second to play. Cousins was irate over the play, repeatedly yelling at the Kings’ bench until overtime started.

“We wanted to make sure we got the last shot of regulation, and we wanted DeMarcus and Rudy in the play,” Corbin said. “Unfortunately, it ended up being a turnover for us. But I can’t say enough about how much I respect the guys for coming in overtime and taking over the game.”

The Kings regrouped and, with the score 126-126, went on a 9-0 run to put the game away.

It was New York’s seventh consecutive loss.

The Kings went 4-7 at home in December and are 4-9 this month. They begin a four-game trip Monday in Brooklyn with a 13-17 record.

Sacramento entered December 9-8, looking to build on a surprising start. But Cousins contracted viral meningitis in late November and eventually missed 10 games, eight of them in December because of the illness. He also missed Friday night’s loss to Phoenix because of a stomach illness.

Cousins led the Kings with a season-high 39 points and 11 rebounds. Gay had 29 points and three assists. Collison had a season-high 27 points and 10 assists.

The Kings registered a season high in points. But New York also scored a season high for a Sacramento opponent, surpassing the 128 the Warriors recorded in a victory Monday.

The Kings came out strong with one of their best offensive showings for a half. In the first quarter, Collison had eight assists, the most by a King this season. Cousins also had it going in the first quarter with 15 points, including his first attempted and made three-pointer of the season. His previous made three-pointer came March 28, 2013.

Sacramento made 24 baskets and shot 64.9 percent, both season highs for a half. Cousins scored 19 points, Gay 17 and Collison 15 in the half.

Carmelo Anthony led the depleted Knicks (5-27) with 36 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.

Former King Cole Aldrich had a career-high 18 points before fouling out, and Hardaway scored 19.

Amar’e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Andrea Bargnani are among the Knicks who would be in the rotation but are out because of injuries.

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Ex-Sox Hurler Jake Peavy Inks Two-Year Deal to Stay With Giants

Former Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy has changed teams a few times over the past two seasons, but for the first time since 2012, he’ll be staying in one city for an entire year.

The 33-year-old agreed to a two-year, $24 million contract on Tuesday to re-sign with the San Francisco Giants, the team that acquired the right-hander from the Red Sox at the trade deadline.

Peavy pitched well for the Giants down the stretch in 2014, going 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 12 starts. He made four starts in the postseason – including two in the World Series – as the Giants beat the Kansas City Royals in seven games to capture their third World Series title in five seasons.

The championship secured back-to-back titles for Peavy, as he also won a World Series ring with the Red Sox in 2013. He made 30 starts for the Red Sox after being dealt from the Chicago White Sox on July 30, 2013 through his trade to the Giants just under a year later, going 5-10 with a 4.48 ERA.

Peavy became one of the premier pitchers in baseball during his tenure with the San Diego Padres from 2002-09, when he posted a 3.29 ERA in 212 starts, was a two-time National League All-Star, and won the 2007 NL Cy Young Award.

Peavy got his first taste of the junior circuit in 2009, when the Padres traded him to the White Sox. He held a 4.00 ERA in 84 games with the White Sox and was named an AL All-Star in 2012.

In exchange for Peavy, the Red Sox acquired pitching prospects Heath Hembree and Edwin Escobar. Hembree posted a 2.70 ERA in seven appearances for Triple-A Pawtucket after the deal, while Escobar went 0-2 with a 4.28 ERA in five starts with the PawSox.

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DeSean Jackson relishes in milestone day against the Eagles, his former team

DeSean Jackson danced his way off the field and into the Redskins locker room, flapping his arms to mock the Philadelphia Eagles and kicking the air before skipping through the doorway.

The wide receiver had done his best to avoid talking about his former team in the days leading up to his second meeting with the Eagles. But he couldn’t hide his emotion after helping the Redskins to a 27-24 last-second victory at FedEx Field on Saturday.

Although Jackson didn’t want to speak of hopes for revenge during his mid-week interview, he did badly want to put a dent in Philadelphia’s chances of making the playoffs, and also avenge a 37-34 loss to the Eagles in Week 3.

Jackson and the Redskins did just that.

They handed the Eagles their third consecutive defeat and dropped their record to 9-6. The Eagles now need the Dallas Cowboys to lose their final two games, and they must win next week’s game against the New York Giants to make the postseason.

“It’s a great team win overall,” Jackson said with a smile as he stood at the podium. “I think the circumstances coming into this game: knowing that our playoff chances are kind of out the door, it was motivation early in the week, knowing that if we came out here we could spoil a couple teams’ hopes for the playoffs. I think overall, as a team, I think everybody was mentally focused on that and came in prepared for what we needed to do.”

Jackson didn’t make much of an impact in last week’s game, and he attributed some of that to his not yet being at 100 percent after missing the previous contest with a lower leg contusion. But the wide receiver regained his speed on Saturday and hooked up with Robert Griffin III for a 51-yard reception in the first half, and then hauled in a 55-yard pass in a second half. Both long passes set up touchdowns for the Redskins.

● Related: Jackson feature story: ‘If you have heart, you can do anything’

Jackson finished the day with four catches for 126 yards – his second-highest single-game yardage total of the season.

Jackson recorded his team-leading sixth 100-yard game of the season. In so doing, Jackson joined Bobby Mitchell and Art Monk as the only players in team history to record at least six 100-yard games in a single season.

And, Jackson went over the 1,000-yard mark and joined Mitchell, Henry Ellard, Laveranues Coles and Santana Moss as the only players to top the 1,000-yard mark in their first season with the Redskins.

Asked if he believed the Eagles – who released him this offseason despite the fact that he was coming off of a career year – missed him, Jackson said, “That’s a question you have to ask them. As far as my ex-teammates, I think a lot of the guys miss me,” said Jackson, whom coach Chip Kelly chose to release this offseason saying he wanted to go bigger at wide receiver. “I still have good relationships with a lot of guys over there. They constantly tell me how much they miss me and they wish I was still there. But, that’s a decision they chose to make in the front office.”

E-mail a Redskins question to [email protected], with the subject “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered Tuesday in the Mailbag.

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Bortles earns ‘mostly positive reviews’ from Jaguars

The Jaguars and Titans will square off Thursday night with identical two-win records, but Jacksonville has accomplished something of great importance this season: Finding a quarterback.

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday that Blake Bortles has earned “mostly positive reviews” after starting 11 games during his up-and-down rookie campaign.

The Jaguars came into the year planning to redshirt Bortles, but after he excelled in practice, Gus Bradley and his coaching staff “basically had no choice but to force him out there,” which raised the obvious risk of rendering the first-rounder shell-shocked after taking an outrageous 46 sacks, second most in the league.

“That is not the case with Blake Bortles,” Rapoport was told by Jaguars sources. “They believe it is a good decision, a positive decision for the long-term future of the franchise to have him play this year.”

Rapoport was told the team loves the rookie’s mental toughness, his deep-ball accuracy and the poise Bortles has shown late in games, specifically in guiding a game-winning drive against the Giants in Week 13.

“They believe he is their best player on offense physically,” Rapoport said. “That is another thing, which, of course, speaks to how many rookies they’re playing, but also, that’s what you want out of your quarterback of the future.”

Bortles is also responsible for 18 giveaways this season, third most in the league. He’s thrown for 300-plus yards just once and endured a string of rough starts, but we also see the requisite arm strength and physical makeup of a long-term NFL starter.

From that angle, Jaguars fans have something to cling to, no matter what happens Thursday night.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast discusses Jay Cutler’s benching and what it means for his future with the Bears. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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NFL Playoffs: How Green Bay Packers Can Clinch No. 1 Seed In NFC

The Green Bay Packers’ hopes of clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC took a huge hit in Week 15 when they lost to the Buffalo Bills. To make matters worse, the Packers looked horrible in the process. Despite what some people think (I’m looking at you Aaron Rodgers), the Packers still have a legitimate shot at clinching the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN Milwaukee that a No. 1 seed is probably out of the question. However, he did say that he believes the team can still grab the No. 2 seed, which will guarantee at least one playoff game at Lambeau Field, a location where the Packers are undefeated this season. Even though the odds have Green Bay clinching the No. 2 seed, I am here to shine light on another possible outcome.

The given is the Packers have to win their next two games to even think about homefield advantage. A matchup against the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be a good warmup for when the Detroit Lions come to Green Bay for the regular season finale. The Week 17 contest between the Packers and Lions will be for the division and a leg up in the playoffs.

Assuming Green Bay emerges victorious in both contests, they will finish with a 12-4 record. Most years, that would be good enough for the top seed in the conference. Unfortunately, there are at least five teams with a legitimate shot at coming up with the same record in the NFC, which means plenty of quality competition in the playoffs. It also means the Packers will need some help in order to get the top seed.

For starters, Green Bay must defeat Tampa Bay in Week 16. It would also be nice for the Lions to lose because that means they could possibly be bounced from the playoffs if the Packers defeat them in Week 17, but it has no effect on the final game one way or the other.

As far as the Week 16 Arizona Cardinals-Seattle Seahawks matchup, and this may sound crazy to Packers fans, Green Bay should root for the Seahawks to win. The reason is because a Seattle win over Arizona on Sunday and a Seahawks loss to the St. Louis Rams in Week 17 means the Packers clinch the No. 1 seed as long as they win out. Even if the Cardinals lose to the San Francisco 49ers in the last week of the season, they will still clinch the No. 1 seed as long as they defeat Seattle on Sunday. Essentially, Arizona is playing for the top seed in the conference this week.

To summarize: Packers winning out plus the Cardinals losing to the Seahawks in Week 16 plus the Seahawks losing to the Rams in Week 17 equals homefield advantage for a Packers team that will have gone undefeated at Lambeau Field in 2014.

I understand there are a lot of moving pieces, but the reality is Green Bay still has a shot at clinching homefield advantage. That is incredibly important because a trip to Seattle for a possible NFC Championship matchup would be very difficult to overcome. Likewise, no team wants to travel to Lambeau Field in January to reach the Super Bowl.

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Carolina Panthers outlast Tampa Bay 19-17, keep playoff hopes alive

Carolina Panthers backup quarterback Derek Anderson is a scratch golfer who plays a lot in the offseason, so it was appropriate he tuned in to the Australian Open

when he couldn’t sleep Saturday night.

Anderson finally fell asleep before the end of the tournament, so he missed Greg Chalmers’ win over Adam Scott on the seventh playoff hole in Australia.

Despite not getting much rest, Anderson proved Sunday for the second time this season against Tampa Bay he’s still pretty good at his primary sport, as well.

Subbing for an injured Cam Newton, an efficient Anderson helped the Panthers overcome a shaky red-zone performance and beat the Buccaneers 19-17 win at Bank of America

Stadium.

The Panthers (5-8-1) won back-to-back games for the first time since Weeks 1-2 and moved ahead of Atlanta (5-9) in the NFC South. The Falcons lost to Pittsburgh on

Sunday, and New Orleans (5-8) can retake the lead if it beats Chicago on Monday night.

Anderson’s start came five days after Newton sustained two fractures in his lower back in a two-car accident in uptown Charlotte. Newton stood on the sideline wearing

sweats, cheering on his teammates and offering friendly advice to Anderson between series.

Anderson, who also filled in during a Week 1 win at Tampa Bay when Newton was out with cracked ribs, completed 25 of 40 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown.

Anderson said somebody predicted before the game he’d throw four touchdowns against Tampa Bay, which fell to 2-12. Anderson wasn’t hearing any of it.

“I said, ‘I don’t care how many touchdowns I throw. If it goes across the goal line and we get points, I’m happy,’” Anderson said. “Ultimately, that’s the

goal. If you win by 40 or you win by 2, it doesn’t matter.”

Anderson’s lone touchdown was a 2-yarder to wideout Jerricho Cotchery early in the third quarter, two plays after a takeaway by the Panthers’ defense gave the

offense possession at Tampa Bay’s 4.

It was the only touchdown for the Panthers in four trips at or inside the Bucs’ 20. The other three ended in a Jonathan Stewart fumble at the Tampa Bay 3 and two of

Graham Gano’s four field goals.

The Panthers dominated the game between the 20s. They racked up 28 first downs – tied for the second most in team history — finished with 390 total yards and held a

15-minute edge in time of possession.

All 11 of Carolina’s drives ended in Tampa Bay territory, including four that began on the Bucs’ side of the 50.

But their failure to capitalize on scoring chances continued a season-long theme – they were 27th in the league with a red-zone touchdown percentage of 45.9 before

the game – left Panthers coach Ron Rivera wanting more.

“The unfortunate part is we got down in the red zone and we didn’t put it in. We had to kick field goals and that’s disappointing,” Rivera said. “You get the ball

in positions to score touchdowns, you have to. This shows you why – you allowed a team to stay in the game.”

The Panthers trailed 10-9 after a first half in which both players and coaches felt the intensity level was lacking. Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and a

couple of defensive linemen told the defense at halftime the group was missing the fire it played with during the Week 14 win at New Orleans.

“That was before the coaches walked in and the very first thing the coaches said – (defensive) coordinator (Sean McDermott) and Coach Rivera – was we weren’t

playing with that same passion and we need to get back to it,” rookie cornerback Bené Benwikere said. “We were able to take that onto the field. We knew we were

going out on the field first and were able to take care of things.”

The Panthers wasted no time setting the tone.

On the Bucs’ third snap of the second half, ends Charles Johnson and Mario Addison combined on a sack, with Addison stripping quarterback Josh McCown of the ball.

Defensive tackle Kawann Short recovered at the Tampa Bay 4.

“The fumble killed us,” McCown said. “That was really what tilted the game.”

This was a red-zone chance even the Panthers couldn’t mess up.

Cotchery’s first touchdown catch in Carolina gave the Panthers a 16-10 lead they never relinquished. Cotchery, a former N.C. State standout, had a career-high 10

touchdown catches last year for Pittsburgh.

The recharged defense forced the Bucs to go three-and-out on their next three possessions after the fumble by McCown, who played for the Panthers from 2008-09. The

Panthers sacked McCown three times and forced him into three turnovers.

“Guys were just rushing. The secondary was making him hold the ball,” Johnson said. “He didn’t have his first target he was looking at. So anytime you can take

away the first target and he has to hold the ball, it’s good.”

Meanwhile, much like he did in his first game against the Bucs, Anderson worked the middle of the field against the Tampa-2 zone coverage and its two deep safeties.

Tight end Greg Olsen was Anderson’s favorite target, catching 10 passes to match the career high he set last week at New Orleans.

Olsen (110 yards) and Kelvin Benjamin (eight catches for 104 yards) became the first two Panthers to go over 100 yards receiving in the same game since Steve Smith and

Jonathan Stewart in a loss to Green Bay in 2011.

Anderson was sacked three times and was not intercepted, although he had a couple of near-picks on the Panthers’ first drive of the fourth quarter.

Rivera said Newton would be reevaluated before this week’s game against Cleveland. Anderson went to the Pro Bowl as a member of the Browns in 2007, but might not get

to face his former team if Newton heals quickly.

“I know what kind of person he is, what kind of competitor he is,” Anderson said of Newton. “If he feels like he can play and go out there and win a football game

for us, he’ll do that.”

That is what Anderson did Sunday, no matter how sleep-deprived he might have been.

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Cardinals vs. Rams 2014 final score: 3 things we learned from Arizona’s 12-6 win

Thursday night’s matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams was the type of game that distinguishes the kind of football fan you are. If you’re someone who loves defense, you probably thought the Cardinals’ 12-6 win was a hard-hitting, quarterback-rustling, old-school classic. If you like long passes and boatloads of points, you probably switched the channel midway through the third quarter.

If you did, you missed an entertaining finish to an otherwise slow game. Having suddenly awakened to march down for a field goal on the previous drive, the Rams, trailing by six, began to get into an offensive rhythm under the three-minute mark. Shaun Hill began completing passes, driving his team to midfield. But on fourth-and-3 with 1:26 remaining, Hill’s pass was batted down by a blitzing Jerraud Powers to all but ice the game. St. Louis did get the ball back with about 20 seconds left, but its last-second desperation heave was picked off by Patrick Peterson well short of the end zone.

After it looked like they were slipping toward a late-season decline, the Cardinals have now pulled out two big wins in a row and sit at 11-3. The Rams saw their two-game win streak snapped and fall to 6-8.
1) Defense ruled the day.

The two offenses combined for just 554 yards, 26 first downs and 16 punts (and those numbers were boosted by a couple of semi-successful Rams drives at the very end). The two defensive lines were dominant, badgering each other’s quarterbacks and stuffing running lanes all night. The Rams, who came in having averaged 136 rushing yards per game over the last month, had just 69 yards on the ground and averaged 3.5 yards per carry.

The Rams’ best shot at getting into the end zone came midway through the fourth quarter when their offense abruptly raced down the field to set up a first-and-goal from the 7-yard line. But the Cardinals defense stiffened, and on third-and-goal they forced Shaun Hill to roll out and chuck the ball out of bounds. Trailing by nine, Jeff Fisher elected to kick the field goal. They never whiffed the end zone again.
2) The Cardinals lost another quarterback.

Midway through the third quarter, Drew Stanton, who has filled in under center since Carson Palmer went down with a torn ACL, had his leg buckle under him while being sacked by Aaron Donald. Stanton couldn’t put any weight on the leg as he hopped off the field, was carted into the locker room and didn’t return.

Interestingly enough, the Cardinals opted not to turn to Logan Thomas, the rookie fourth-rounder who is listed as Stanton’s backup on the official depth chart. They instead went with Ryan Lindley, a former sixth-round pick who hadn’t seen live action since making four starts back in 2012 and has nine career turnovers and no touchdowns.

Lindley fared no better than Stanton did before his exit, going 4-of-10 for 30 yards (Stanton went 12-of-20 for 109 yards).

The Cardinals all but clinched a playoff spot on Thursday night, but if Stanton’s injury turns out to be serious, they’ll have to worry about going one-and-done when they finally get to the postseason.
3) Chandler Catanzaro continues his lights-out rookie campaign.

In a night where no one could get into the end zone, the Cardinals rookie kicker was the star of the show. Catanzaro, coming off a game where he missed multiple field goals for the first time in his career, nailed all four of his attempts, including a 46-yarder midway through the fourth quarter to put Arizona up by two scores.

Catanzaro missed a pair of kicks against the Chiefs last week (he still went 3-of-5), but has otherwise been near-automatic. He made the first 16 kicks of his career and is now 26-for-30 (90 percent) on the season.

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Everything Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said during his conference call on Wednesday

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton held a conference call with Cleveland media today. Here is a transcript courtesy of Cleveland Browns media relations.

On what went so wrong when they played the Browns earlier this season:  “We couldn’t get anything going, and we couldn’t get one of those plays to keep our momentum. That’s why it turned out the way it did. They did a good job defending us, but we didn’t make any plays. We’ve seen that film. We’ve improved since then. We know that game isn’t an indication of who we are. We’ve moved on from that.”

On sharing the field with QB Johnny Manziel this Sunday: “He’s getting his first start. There’s been a lot of talk about him. He was a really good player in college. I’m sure he’ll be ready to go for his first start.”
On DB Joe Haden having success against Bengals WR A.J. Green and on Haden’s overall performance this season: “Joe’s done a good job. He’s a good player. He’s a smart player. There are times where he’s done some really good things against A.J., and there are times where A.J.’s gotten him on some things. It’s been a good matchup since I’ve been here.”

On if he’s surprised the Browns made the move to Manziel this late in the season:”You never know. This is such a week-to-week business. They made that decision, and they felt like that was best for the organization.”

On how huge this week’s game is for the Bengals and Browns:”It’s a big game. These last three games that we’re going to be playing are going to be big. It’s always going to be a big game whenever you’re playing a division opponent.”

On DB Jim Leonhard filling in for DB Tashaun Gipson: “He’s done a good job. He’s been in the system for a long time, and he’s kind of been playing all over, whether it be safety or at the linebacker positions, the different spots that they’re putting him. He’s got a really good understanding of what they’re trying to do.”

On how he and the Bengals were able to bounce back from the Thursday night loss to the Browns earlier in the season:”Like I said, we knew that game wasn’t an indication of who we are. We got back to practicing well, doing some things. At that point, you can really focus on all the little things that you need to do to not perform like we did that Thursday night. We got back to doing the things that we know we can do. That helped with getting on the three-game win streak on the road.”

On if Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis’ ‘midget’ comment about Manziel is what he truly believes:”Obviously, he’s handled that situation afterwards. Obviously, he said some things that he didn’t mean to say, but Coach has handled all that.”

On his take on TCU missing the NCAA football playoffs: “Yeah, I’m a little disappointed. For them to be No. 3 the week before and then win by 52 points and get bumped back to six, it’s disappointing. It is what it is.”

On if it’s still hard for him to believe that he had a 2.0 passer rating last time he faced the Browns and if he gets grief about it:”I looked at the game. Obviously I wanted to play better, but we’ll bounce back. We’ve done some really good things since then.”

On what he saw in the matchup between DB Buster Skrine and Bengals WR Mohamed Sanu during their Thursday night meeting and why Sanu wasn’t able to do anything against Skrine:”I think they do a good job of getting around receivers and making them make tough contested catches. At the end of the day, we didn’t make enough plays and we didn’t make enough of those catches. We know we have to be better than that, and like I said, we looked at all that stuff. We know what we’re going to be going after, so it just comes down to the execution of it.”

On how DL Phil Taylor affected the last game:”He’s a good player, but he’s not in there anymore.”

On if he gives any thought at all to what FirstEnergy Stadium is going to be like with Manziel starting for the first time: “We expect there to be a lot of excitement around the game. We expect it to be loud, but we’ve played in loud stadiums before. We’ve just got to be prepared for the crowd noise.”

On if he has a little bit of curiosity as to what Manziel will be able to do at this level:”Yeah, I watched him in college. With him being a first-round pick, you wonder what he’s going to do, but obviously time will tell. We’ll see what kind of player he is.”

On what it’s like for a Texan to adjust to life as an Ohio football player: “Well, first you’ve got to get used to the weather. You don’t play in very many cold games down in Texas. I think that’s the big thing. I think (Manziel) will make his home there in Cleveland like I made my home here in Cincinnati.”

On if he sees any differences in the Browns defense since that Thursday night game: “They’ve done some really good things. They’ve been playing really well. We kind of know what we’re going to from that Thursday night. They obviously played really well against us, and they’ve continued that. We’ve got to be at our best on Sunday.”

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Final: Colts 25, Browns 24

Cleveland’s defense made stop after stop, big play after big play, against the NFL’s top-ranked offense throughout Sunday’s showdown with the Indianapolis Colts.

The Browns just needed one more on this day, as Andrew Luck drove the Colts 90 yards to score a game-winning touchdown with 32 seconds to play and escape FirstEnergy Stadium with a 25-24 win. It’s the first time all season the Browns have lost two consecutive games.

The Browns fell to 7-6 on a day when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens won and the Cincinnati Bengals lost.

“It’s a kick in the gut,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “It’s an opportunity that we let go.”

Luck connected with T.Y. Hilton on a 1-yard touchdown pass to cap the 11-play, 90-yard drive and give the Colts their first lead of the game. A 27-yard pass to Donte Moncrief on third down and a big pass interference penalty preceded Luck’s third-down completion to Coby Fleener, who moved the Colts to the 12. Luck followed with a scramble to the 3-yard line and Daniel “Boom” Herron put the Colts at the 1 with a 2-yard run on fourth-and-inches. Hilton quickly followed with his 10th and biggest catch of the game.

Brian Hoyer’s long pass intended for Travis Benjamin on the ensuing drive was intercepted with 2 seconds to play to officially send the Browns what players described as a crushing loss.

“It’s very frustrating,” safety Donte Whitner said. “At the end of the day, we are a team. Special teams, offense and defense. It doesn’t go on one side of the ball. We have to get better and do the small things. That is going to help us win these football games.”

The frustration stemmed from another week of missed opportunities on offense. The Browns’ defense forced four turnovers and scored two touchdowns while bottling up the potent Colts attack for most of the game.

The Browns gained 61 yards, picked up just three first downs in the second half and ran 24 plays to the Colts’ 46.

“I know we’re going to look at certain plays here and there that could have been the difference in the game and that’s what’s going to hurt the most because it was so close,” said Hoyer, who was 14-of-31 for 140 yards and two interceptions. “Obviously, that’s a really good team we’re playing and when you play good teams, you can’t miss those opportunities.”

Cleveland held a lead from the start of the second half until Hilton’s second touchdown of the day and built its biggest lead of the game early in the third quarter after a big play from the its top 2014 draft selection.

Facing heavy pressure from Ahtyba Rubin, Luck sent a second-down pass intended for Reggie Wayne directly into the hands of Justin Gilbert. The eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft made the biggest play of his Browns career as he nabbed his first interception, darted to the other side of the field and scored on a 23-yard return.

“I thought the pick-six was a play that he missed an interception on a couple weeks ago on the same call and found it,” Pettine said of Gilbert, who was inactive last week because of an illness. “Then, obviously he showed his skills finding the end zone. Very proud of Justin. It’s a tough week. I thought he had a great week of practice, and it showed in the game.”

The Colts sliced the deficit to 21-10 on the following drive on a 51-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. The key play of the drive was a Browns penalty, as Paul Kruger was called for roughing the passer on what was originally a third-down sack.

The lead dwindled to 5 when T.Y. Hilton nabbed a 42-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter and to 21-19 when Vinatieri line-drived a 33-yard field goal 10 seconds into the fourth.

Hilton caught nine of his 10 catches for 141 of his 150 yards in the second half.

“They made some good calls,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “They were just able to make plays down the stretch.”

The Browns offense didn’t pick up a first down on its first three series of the second half and punted on four in a row. Its fifth, which started at the Colts’ 23 after a Jim Leonhard interception, ended with a 39-yard Billy Cundiff field goal, staking the defense to a 24-19 lead with 8:34 to play.

The Browns’ defense played one of its best halves of the season to limit the top-ranked Colts offense to 117 yards and one touchdown in the first half. With a heavy dose of blitzes and tight coverage on the perimeter, Cleveland held the Colts scoreless on their first six possessions. Indianapolis’ array of talented receivers caught just two passes for 11 yards.

The performance reached its peak when Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant combined on a sack near the goal line with Kruger forcing the ball loose. Linebacker Craig Robertson fell on it to put the Browns ahead, 7-0, late in the first quarter.

The Colts broke through midway through the second quarter when Luck used his legs to start and finish a touchdown drive. Sandwiched in between were short passes down the middle of the field to tight ends and running backs. His 11-yard scramble with 5:57 in the half tied the score, 7-7.

Luck, who threw for 294 yards, led the Colts with 37 rushing yards in a game that saw the Browns limit the Colts to 93 yards on 20 attempts.

“He used his legs to improvise, which enabled him to extend plays,” Haden said. “He did a very good job of that.”

The Browns bounced right back to take a 14-7 lead into the half. After Hoyer overthrew a wide-open Taylor Gabriel on a deep ball, he settled down and delivered three key throws to put the Browns inside the red zone. After a 12-yard Gabriel catch, Isaiah Crowell plowed 9 yards for his eighth touchdown of the season with 1:14 left in the half.

The Browns host Cincinnati next Sunday for their final 2014 regular season game at FirstEnergy Stadium.

“It’s all about winning games right now,” Leonhard said.