Sun Jan 5 3:06pm ET
By JOHN WAWROW
AP Sports Writer
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) tries to throw a pass as he is tackled by Houston Texans' Whitney Mercilus (59), A.J. Moore Jr., right, and Vernon Hargreaves III (28) during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Buffalo Bills center Mitch Morse (60) walks off the field after an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Houston Texans Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Houston. The Texans won 22-19 in overtime.(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Buffalo Bills running back Patrick DiMarco (42) kneels on the sideline after an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Houston Texans Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Houston. The Texans won 22-19 in overtime.(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) is sacked by Houston Texans linebacker Jake Martin (54) during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Josh Allen expects he'll be carrying the weight and pain of his first playoff loss for the foreseeable future.
Standing at a podium in the Buffalo Bills' field house on Sunday, the second-year quarterback looked and sounded as dejected as he did 15 hours earlier, following a 22-19 overtime loss in an AFC wild-card game at Houston.
''I won't be over this until we start playing again,'' Allen said. ''I'm going to learn from it. I'm going to use it and I'm going to grow from it. This will be a chip on my shoulder until we start playing again.''
He and the Bills have plenty to be unhappy with following a game in which Buffalo unraveled by squandering a 16-0 lead over the final 16 1/2 minutes.
Allen, who scored a touchdown receiving on a pass from John Brown in the first half, was erratic in the second half.
Over the final two quarters and overtime, the second-year player went a combined 11 of 26 for 133 yards with a lost fumble, nearly lost another one on an ill-advised lateral attempt, and was sacked three times. Allen particularly looked panicked attempting to scramble out of trouble and was penalized for intentional grounding on third-and-13 from the Houston 28 with 1:41 remaining.
The outcome, and the way Buffalo collapsed, put a dent into what had been a feel-good season in which the young and developing Bills showed signs of progress in winning 10 games for first time since an 11-5 finish in 1999.
With a majority of the team's core group of starters returning, the challenge becomes transforming the hard lessons learned into something positive.
''I think you have one of two ways to do it,'' center Mitch Morse said of how Buffalo responds. ''You can kind of dig a hole and crawl in it. Or you can kind of learn from it.''
Though the Bills made their second playoff appearance in three years, a majority of the players on this year's team were newcomers as part of a major overhaul under coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane.
Their vision was freeing up many of the bloated payroll issues they inherited in 2017 and rebuilding the Bills on a foundation of youth. Beane then used his newly created salary cap space to supplement the roster with established veterans last offseason.
Among the additions were veteran running back Frank Gore, who sees the Bills' potential despite the loss in Houston.
''This team has a lot of young talent, and I think they've put themselves in a position to be the top dogs in this division for a number or years,'' the 36-year-old said. ''I'm telling you, Buffalo, they're in a good hands, man.''
Gore, who completed his 15th NFL season, said he believes he can still play but will take time to determine whether he intends to play next season.
Fourth-year defensive end Shaq Lawson, who had a career-best 6 1/2 sacks this year, told The Associated Press he is leaning toward testing free agency with his rookie contract set to expire.
''See where it goes, but, I mean, you've still got to find out what's right for you, where it takes you,'' Lawson said, without ruling out the possibility of re-signing with Buffalo. ''I like Buffalo ... but at the end of the day I still want to see what's out there.''
Including Lawson and Gore, the Bills have 12 players eligible to become unrestricted free agents this offseason. The group includes starting defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who had a team-leading 9 1/2 sacks.
One player not returning is linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who has already announced he's retiring after 13 seasons.
The Cleveland Browns took a break in their coaching search Sunday, and are scheduled to meet with Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll either Monday or Tuesday, a person familiar with the meeting told The AP.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meetings are private. Daboll, Cleveland's offensive coordinator under Eric Mangini in 2009-10, was initially scheduled to meet with the Browns on Sunday.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and the team's search committee have already interviewed four candidates: former Packers coach Mike McCarthy, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
Cleveland is expected to meet with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in the coming days after New England was eliminated following a loss to Tennessee.
HOW TO GET IT RIGHT
The Bills have the talent, but currently lack the know-how of consistently winning games in the clutch.
It's a deficiency apparent in Allen, who unraveled too often over the final quarter of the season with games on the line. And it also covers a coaching staff, which appeared panicky with its play-calling and time management.
Against Houston, Buffalo all but ignored its running game in the second half having Gore and rookie Devin Singletary combine for nine carries.
Another curious decision was having rookie receiver Duke Williams get 10 targets and play 56 snaps - five more targets and two more snaps than Cole Beasley, Buffalo's established No. 2 receiver - despite playing just his second game in 10 weeks.
The hope is, the young players and staff are better prepared from this experience.
With plenty of salary cap space for a second consecutive offseason, the Bills have an opportunity to address more needs to complement their roster.
The first priority is adding a downfield receiving threat after Williams and Robert Foster failed to establish themselves. Though Brown is a speedster, he and Beasley were mostly used as slot and mid-range receivers.
Another priority is adding a running back to provide a one-two punch alongside Singletary after the 36-year-old Gore showed signs of age.
Interview with a Champ
Free-agent wide receiver Corey Coleman has been suspended by the NFL for the first six games of the 2021 season due to a violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Coleman was the 15th overall pick of the Cleveland Browns back in 2016. He played in just 19 games for Cleveland in his first two seasons before joining the Giants in 2018. Most recently, the 26-year-old from Baylor was released from the Giants practice squad in November of last season. Coleman hasn't played in an NFL game in the last two years, and this off-the-field setback won't help him as he tries to land a gig with a new team heading into the 2021 season.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (knees) said he had surgery on both of his knees on Tuesday. He also said he would have been out for the season after Week 2, but instead he battled through his injuries and made the Pro Bowl. The second-year wideout did miss two games, but he managed to finish as the 10th-ranked fantasy wideout in standard scoring after catching 70 passes on 106 targets for 1,073 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 23-year-old is expected to be ready for the 2021 season and is an easy top-10 fantasy wideout after going over 1,000 yards receiving in his first two NFL seasons while hauling in 19 total touchdowns. On top of it all, Brown is one of the best pass-catchers in the league at racking up yards after the catch.
Buffalo Bills rookie running back Zack Moss (ankle) underwent a minor surgical "tight rope" procedure on his ankle on Tuesday. Moss is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for offseason workouts and training camp. The 23-year-old was injured in the wild-card win over the Colts and won't be available for the rest of Buffalo's postseason run. But Moss impressed as a rookie, carrying the ball 112 times for 481 yards and four touchdowns while also catching 14 passes on 18 targets for 95 yards and an additional score. He should continue to be featured alongside Devin Singletary in 2021, but Moss should be the more attractive RB3/flex if the Bills continue to use him more than Singletary in the red zone and near the goal line. With quarterback Josh Allen breaking out in 2020, Buffalo's offensive arrow is only pointing up, giving Moss plenty of room for improvement going into Year 2.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers designated running back Kenjon Barner (groin) for return from Injured Reserve on Tuesday, allowing him to resume practicing with the team. The team also placed linebacker Jack Cichy (arm) on Injured Reserve after he broke his arm in the Divisional Round against the Saints and signed linebacker Deone Bucannon from the practice squad to the active roster in a corresponding move. Barner will be allowed to practice with the team this week, but it doesn't mean he'll come off IR and join the active roster for the NFC Championship against the Packers on Sunday. Barner, a sixth-round pick of the Panthers in 2013, was active for six games this season but didn't receive a single carry and was targeted once in the passing game.
A misdemeanor battery charge against Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Mackensie Alexander was dismissed on Tuesday. The charge stemmed from last August in relation to the disappearance of his father. Alexander entered deferred prosecution on Dec. 8, which led to the charges being dismissed. Part of the terms of the agreement included 24 hours of community service and participation in an anger-management course. Alexander allegedly went to a man's house to discuss the incident with his father, hit him and caused minor injuries. He pleaded not guilty and completed the pretrial diversion program on Jan. 13. The fifth-year player started in 10 of his 13 games in 2020 and recorded 47 tackles and one interception.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) cleared "some big steps" on Monday, but he remains in the league's concussion protocol, and it's too early to say definitively that he will play in the AFC Championship against the Bills, according to sources. We'll have a better idea of Mahomes' chances of playing this Sunday once the Chiefs begin practicing on Wednesday, but he'll need full clearance from the protocol in order to play against Buffalo. If the 25-year-old cannot play, veteran Chad Henne would likely start under center after replacing Mahomes in the Divisional Round against the Browns. Mahomes threw for 225 yards and two touchdowns in the Week 6 win over Buffalo, but he'll be riskier than usual at his high price in DFS if he plays this weekend.
The Los Angeles Rams are focusing on former Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator/interim head coach Raheem Morris as their new defensive coordinator, according to sources. It's looking like Morris will be the one to replace Brandon Staley, who was hired as the Chargers new head coach. Morris was Atlanta's interim head coach for the last 11 games of the 2020 season after Dan Quinn was fired, and he went 4-7 to close out the year. The Falcons Defense allowed 30-plus points in four of their first five games, but they turned things around on that side of the ball once Morris took over. The 44-year-old was Tampa's head coach from 2009-11, with the team going 17-31 in that stretch. Morris worked with Rams head coach Sean McVay in Tampa and also in Washington.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (ankle) is likely to have surgery on the torn deltoid and other ligaments in his ankle this offseason, according to a source. Thomas knew it was likely quarterback Drew Brees' last year and didn't want to miss out on a possible Super Bowl run. A high-ankle sprain limited the All-Pro wideout to just seven games this year. He often was playing at far less than 100 percent, catching just 40 passes for 438 yards and no touchdowns during the regular season. The 27-year-old did find the end zone in the wild-card win over the Bears, but he was a massive fantasy bust as the first receiver off the board in the first round in most drafts after his 149-catch, 1,725-yard season in 2019. Thomas should be a top-10 wideout, if healthy, in 2021, but losing Brees will also be a downgrade for his overall outlook moving forward.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) did not suffer a serious knee injury in the Divisional Round win over the Saints, according to sources. Brown is considered day-to-day after undergoing an MRI exam on Monday. The 32-year-old should have a chance to suit up in the NFC Championship against the Packers on Sunday, but we'll keep a close eye on his practice participation throughout the week. If Brown is unable to go or is limited, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson could see more opportunities in the passing game behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Brown played only 27 offensive snaps last weekend, missing most of the second half with his injury. He caught one of three targets for 10 yards against the Saints. Brown will be a touchdown-dependent fantasy option if he plays against Green Bay.
The Atlanta Falcons officially named Terry Fontenot as their new general manager on Tuesday. Fontenot spent the last 18 years of his career with the New Orleans Saints, most recently completing his first season as the team's vice president/assistant general manager for pro personnel. He initially got his foot in the door as a marketing intern with the Saints. New Orleans won Super Bowl XLIV in 2009 and has claimed seven NFC South titles in the last 15 years while Fontenot was around. Fontenot will now move to a Falcons team that has not been to the playoffs since 2017. He will be replacing Thomas Dimitroff, who was fired during the 2020 season. Fontenot will be working with new head coach Arthur Smith, with one of the main priorities being to figure out whether quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones are part of the organization's immediate future.
The Washington Football Team is finalizing a deal with Marty Hurney on Tuesday to be its new general manager, according to sources. The move should be officially announced later in the day. Hurney will be reunited with head coach Ron Rivera after the two worked together in the early part of the last decade with the Carolina Panthers. Hurney will join the team with hopes of improving a team that released first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins after less than two full seasons. With Alex Smith potentially retiring, Washington faces plenty of uncertainty at the position in the short and long term. But Washington's defense proved to be a force in 2020 after the team finished 7-9 with a playoff berth.
Ohio State star quarterback Justin Fields announced on Twitter his intentions to forego his remaining eligibility and enter the 2021 NFL draft. He is considered one of the nation's top prospects after leading the Buckeyes to the national championship game, where they fell to Alabama. Fields beat Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the semifinals by throwing six touchdowns despite suffering a hip pointer in the game. The 6-foot-3, 228-pounder was 20-2 in his time as the Ohio State starter while completing 68.4 percent of his passes and a 63:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his two seasons with the Buckeyes. Fields also ran for 867 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and 15 touchdowns. Lawrence is projected to go to the Jaguars at No. 1 overall, but the Jets could snag Fields with the No. 2 pick this April.
Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff's recent inconsistent play has left his status as the starting quarterback for the 2021 season in the air and may lead the team to bring in someone who can push him, according to comments made by the NFL Network's Steve Wyche. 'The people I've spoken to said basically at this moment the relationship with Goff and (head coach Sean) McVay: not great. They need marriage counseling is what one person said to me. I think this is something that they're going to be able to work through, but there's got to be some healing and that's not just with Jared Goff's injured thumb,' Wyche said.
Fantasy Spin: Goff was very good in McVay's first two seasons (2017 and 2018), but it would seem that once opponents figured out how to slow down Todd Gurley late during the second half of the 2018 campaign, Goff started to get exposed. It's also possible that the defections of Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks have given defenses less to worry about vertically or that he is feeling the pressure of playing under his four-year, $134 million contract that he signed in September of 2019. Whatever the reason(s), fantasy owners should expect him to compete for his job in camp this summer.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Deone Bucannon, DB Javon Hagan and OG Ted Larsen were restored to the practice squad Monday, Jan. 18.
Green Bay Packers DT Brian Price and DB KeiVarae Russell were restored to the practice squad Monday, Jan. 18.
Los Angeles Rams cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant, Chicago Bears safeties coach Sean Desai and Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris are most likely candidates to replace Brandon Staley as the Rams' defensive coordinator, according to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic. Rodrigue is reporting a decision to fill the vacancy could happen as soon as Tuesday, Jan. 19.
New England Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore has forced 37 incompletions since 2018 - tied for the second-highest total in the league - according to Pro Football Focus.
New York Giants CB James Bradberry has forced a league-high 42 incompletions since 2018, according to Pro Football Focus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis has forced 37 incompletions since 2018 - tied for the second-highest total in the league - according to Pro Football Focus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Vita Vea (ankle) will return to practice this week, and the team hopes he will be available for the NFC Championship game.