By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, right, and Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield talk after the Bengals defeated the Browns in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton celebrates after the Bengals defeated the Cleveland Browns 33-23 in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., right, catches a 20-yard touchdown pass under pressure from Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Darius Phillips, left, during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (21) catches an interception against Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross (11) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) rushes against Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (21) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens, left, watches during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) rushes for a 5-yard touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Cincinnati. Browns defensive end Bryan Cox (94) watches. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor watches during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) celebrates after a 3-yard touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Cincinnati. Quarterback Andy Dalton (14) smiles as he looks on. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Cincinnati Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah, right, and quarterback Andy Dalton (14) celebrate after a 15-yard touchdown by Uzomah during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Damion Ratley catches a 46-yard touchdown pass under pressure from Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Darius Phillips (24) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
CINCINNATI (AP) Andy Dalton took the snap and went to his knee, finishing a double-digit victory that might suffice as his farewell to Cincinnati.
On the Browns sideline, Freddie Kitchens hugged Baker Mayfield at the end of a disappointing season that would culminate a few hours later with the first-year coach's firing.
From the top of Ohio to the bottom, it was misery all-around on a gray, rainy afternoon. And now, it's time to figure out who's going to be around for the next try to get it right.
Dalton threw for a touchdown and ran for another Sunday in his farewell as Cincinnati's franchise quarterback. A Joe Burrow banner in the upper deck reminded him what comes next as the Bengals wrapped up one of their most miserable seasons with a 33-23 victory that didn't end the day's developments.
The Browns (6-10) returned to Cleveland on Sunday night and announced that Kitchens had been fired. Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslem said in a statement that they didn't see the necessary improvement this season.
Players had sensed there might be a change.
''We'll see what ownership does,'' receiver Jarvis Landry said after the game. ''Six-and-10 is definitely not acceptable.''
And so the Browns set off in search of their eighth head coach in 11 years.
The Bengals (2-14) will be looking for their next franchise quarterback with the first pick in the draft. Dalton wants to start somewhere next year, so this might have been his finale in tiger stripes.
''If that's the case, it was good to end it taking a knee,'' the ninth-year veteran said.
The two-win Bengals matched the worst record in their 52-year history. The last time they had the top pick in the draft was 2003, when they also were coming off a 2-14 finish and chose quarterback Carson Palmer.
For now, they ended a streak of 10 straight losses to AFC North opponents with Dalton leading the way.
''A true leader,'' said first-year coach Zac Taylor, who benched Dalton for three games at midseason. ''He's kept us afloat. You need your quarterback to lead by example.''
Cleveland was a chic Super Bowl pick with Mayfield coming off a sensational rookie season and Odell Beckham Jr. adding star quality to the offense. Instead, the Browns significantly regressed under Kitchens, who said after the game that he'd gotten no hint from management that his job was in jeopardy.
The intrastate rivals moved on with an uneven game that epitomized their seasons.
Dalton knew it was likely his final start for the Bengals after nine seasons without a playoff victory. A day earlier, Burrow threw seven touchdown passes in LSU's rout of Oklahoma, and the Bengals can take the Heisman Trophy winner if they wish.
A fan banner in the upper deck proclaimed: ''CHRISTMAS COMES EARLY! WELCOME JOE!''
Dalton threw a 15-yard touchdown pass and scrambled 5 yards for another score in the Bengals' highest-scoring first half of the season for a 20-16 lead. He finished 16 of 28 for 190 yards.
''There's been a lot of support for me and my family from this city, not just for what we did on the field but off it,'' Dalton said. ''This city has meant a lot to my family.''
The Browns hitched their hopes to Mayfield, who was inconsistent behind an offensive line that struggled to protect him. He threw three interceptions and was sacked a season-high six times Sunday.
Mayfield threw touchdown passes of 46 yards to Damion Ratley, 56 yards to Jarvis Landry, and 20 yards to Beckham. He also threw a pair of interceptions to Darius Phillips, one of which set up a Bengals touchdown, and finished with 21 for the season.
''It's quite frustrating and embarrassing to me,'' said Mayfield, who went 12 of 27 for 279 yards.
Cleveland will be looking for someone with more experience than Kitchens, who had never been a head coach before this season. He was elevated from running backs coach to offensive coordinator last season after Hue Jackson was fired.
Kitchens acknowledged Sunday that the first season involved a learning curve.
''Of course it's a big challenge,'' Kitchens said. ''There's a lot of firsts. I'm not making any excuses at all, but I think I learned during the course of the year so I can be a better version of myself moving forward. That's the only thing you can do.''
Mayfield took steps back, throwing five fewer touchdowns and seven more interceptions than in his rookie season. Mayfield said after the game that the Browns need more consistency and leadership, and he's going to work on providing both.
''Going to come back a different animal come springtime,'' Mayfield said.
STATS & STUFF
Cleveland's Nick Chubb came in leading the NFL in rushing but managed only 41 yards and slipped behind Tennessee's Derrick Henry for the title. Henry ran for a season-high 211 yards to finish with 1,540, finishing 31 ahead of Chubb. Chubb's 1,509 yards were the most for Cleveland since Jim Brown had 1,544 in 1965. ... For the first time, the Browns had two receivers (Beckham, Landry) and a running back each top 1,000 yards in a season. ... Cincinnati's Joe Mixon ran for a career-high 162 yards and topped 1,000 for the second straight season. Tyler Boyd topped 1,000 yards receiving for the second year in a row. ... The Bengals ended a streak of three straight Browns victories in the intrastate series. Cincinnati leads the series overall 51-42.
The Bengals averaged 47,178 fans at Paul Brown Stadium this season, their lowest since it opened in 2000.
Browns: In 2020, Cleveland will try to end the NFL's longest active streak of failing to reach the playoffs - 17 straight years.
Bengals: In 2020, Cincinnati will try to end its 29-year streak without a playoff win, the fifth-longest in NFL history.
Interview with a Champ
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) said that he has been cleared from the league's concussion protocol, which makes him good to go for the AFC Championship against the Bills on Sunday. He was on the practice field on Friday, and head coach Andy Reid said that Mahomes took all of the snaps in Wednesday's practice and most of them on Thursday. The All-Pro signal-caller didn't actually suffer a blow to the head when he was forced to leave the Divisional Round against the Browns, so it was expected all along that he'd be available this weekend. The 25-year-old might be a tad bit more risky given his high DFS price against Buffalo, but Mahomes should be all systems go and has as much upside as any QB this weekend among Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Josh Allen.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are officially activating defensive tackle Vita Vea (leg) from Injured Reserve on Friday, and he will be eligible to play in the NFC Championship game against the Packers on Sunday, according to a source. Vea has been out of action since fracturing his leg in Week 5, but he'll be in the trenches for Tampa's strong defensive front in an effort to slow down quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense. Rakeem Nunez-Roches has been holding down the fort at defensive tackle with Vea out this year. We wouldn't be surprised if Vea is limited in how many snaps he can play in his first game back, though, so don't be surprised if Nunez-Roches continues to play a big role. Either way, it's a slight upgrade for a Buccaneers Defense that has a tall task ahead of them at Lambeau Field.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) has been ruled out for the NFC Championship game against the Packers. Brown's knee injury that he suffered in the divisional round win over the Saints wasn't deemed serious- though he was unable to take the practice field on Wednesday and Thursday. While head coach Bruce Arians said that his star wideout wouldn't need to practice to play, he also noted this morning that the knee would swell from the team's flight to Green Bay, so playing him wouldn't make much sense. Fellow wideouts Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller will take on a larger role in the offense. Miller makes for a potential value DFS play, as he and Tom Brady showcased the ability to make big plays down the field earlier this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald announced his retirement from the NFL on Friday. McDonald was a second-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2013. He spent four years with the Niners before being traded to Pittsburgh shortly before the 2017 season. McDonald played in 101 career games (77 starts) and finished with 181 catches for 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns. In his four years with the Steelers, McDonald reeled in 117 passes for 1,170 yards and eight touchdowns in 53 games (47 starts). His best season came in 2018, when he caught 50 passes for 610 yards (12.2 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. The 30-year-old dealt with his fair share of injuries in eight seasons. His retirement will save the team $5.2 million in salary cap space heading into the 2021 season.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees' (foot, shoulder) wife Brittany revealed that the 42-year-old signal-caller was playing through a torn rotator cuff and a torn fascia in his foot. "He's as courageous and as tough a player as I've ever been around," head coach Sean Payton said, via The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Brees' injuries likely played a part in his struggles pushing the ball downfield, and he threw three interceptions in what will be the final game of his storied career in the Divisional Round loss to the Buccaneers. He has yet to make his retirement official, but it's expected to come eventually, especially after playing through other injuries that we didn't know about. If this is the end, Brees will go down in NFL history as one of the greatest to ever play the position.
Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams led the NFL with 23 red zone receptions and 14 red zone touchdowns in 2020, and his 46 red zone touchdowns since 2016 are 17 more than any other player.
Fantasy Spin: Adams led the NFL with 18 receiving touchdowns, tied for second with 115 receptions and finished in a tie for fifth in receiving yards. His status as the unquestioned go-to target for Aaron Rodgers should continue to make him one of the safest fantasy options at any position for the foreseeable future.
Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry led all running backs with 75 forced missed tackles this season, and his 1,490 rushing yards after contact were the most in the league.
Fantasy Spin: Henry has been a fantasy monster since Ryan Tannehill took over as the Tennessee quarterback. His massive workload will likely take a toll at some point, but there is no reason he shouldn't deliver another RB1 campaign in 2021.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers led the NFL with 1,242 yards on passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield during the 2020 season.
Fantasy Spin: Rodgers also led the league in touchdown passes in a season that could net him MVP honors for the third time and a second Super Bowl ring. After seeing his numbers dip a bit the last couple of years, he is back in the mix of top-five fantasy options at the quarterback position heading into next season.
Things are trending in the right direction for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) to play in the AFC Championship against the Bills on Sunday. Mahomes was limited in practice for the second straight day on Thursday and took the majority of the snaps on offense, a good sign that he didn't suffer a setback after practicing on Wednesday. The hope is that he's a full participant in practice on Friday, which means he'd likely be on his way toward being cleared from the league's protocol before Sunday. The 25-year-old former MVP will be a tad more risky at his elevated DFS price against Buffalo coming off a head injury that knocked him out of the Divisional Round game against the Browns, but Mahomes should put up numbers in what could be a high-scoring affair this weekend as long as he doesn't suffer another head injury.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to hire Darrell Bevell as their new offensive coordinator, according to sources. Several teams were trying to hire Bevell after he finished the 2020 season as the Detroit Lions interim head coach. The 51-year-old was the offensive coordinator in Detroit the last two years, with the team averaging 22.5 points per game and 348.5 total yards per game in his two seasons at the helm. Bevell became the Seahawks offensive coordinator in 2011, 11 seasons after breaking into the NFL as an assistant quarterbacks coach with Green Bay. He made back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl with Seattle in 2013-14 and won one championship. His biggest task will be working with a likely rookie quarterback -- expected to be Clemson's Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall selection in the draft -- to mold Jacksonville's offense to the young signal-caller's strengths.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (quadriceps) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Godwin should be ready for the NFC Championship game as long as he does not suffer a setback. He will see plenty of targets against the Green Bay Packers and can be a starting option in all fantasy leagues.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans (knee) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Evans continues to be one of the main options in the passing game when healthy and is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues if active.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones (finger, quadriceps) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Jones shared playing time with Leonard Fournette in the last game but may see a few more touches this week. He can be a starting option in most fantasy leagues.
Green Bay Packers RB Jamaal Williams (ankle) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Williams received 12 carries in the Divisional Round playoff game and probably will receive a similar workload against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He can be a possible flex option in some leagues but is not a must-start option.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Vita Vea (ankle) participated in practice Thursday, Jan. 21, and 'looked fit and didn't appear to be having any challenges getting in and out of stance.' according to ESPN's Jenna Laine. 'Vita moved around pretty good today when it was full speed,' head coach Bruce Arians said.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown (knee) did not practice for a second consecutive day Thursday, Jan. 21, and is expected to be a game-time decision for the NFC Championship game versus the Green Bay Packers, according to head coach Bruce Arians.
Fantasy Spin: As Arians told reporters, Brown is "veteran enough" to handle his business Sunday without getting in any practice this week if it comes to that. Either way, a limited Brown is enough of a reason to back off of him in all fantasy formats, especially because the Buccaneers are deep at receiver. Scott Miller and Tyler Johnson would likely split snaps if he is unable to go.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin is poised for a great showing against the Packers in the NFC Championship game. Godwin has 19 targets in the Buccaneers' two playoff games, a mark that leads the team. He could be in line to receive more work than usual, as Mike Evans will likely have to deal with star corner Jaire Alexander and Antonio Brown (knee) is a game-time decision. The drops have been an issue for Godwin in the postseason, but Tom Brady's trust in him hasn't wavered. He won't be as pricey as Stefon Diggs or Davante Adams, but he could provide similar production, making him a great DFS value play this week.
Buffalo Bills WR Cole Beasley (knee) was added to the injury report and limited in practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: There has been no indication as of yet from Buffalo's beat writers that Beasley had a setback Thursday, but his name was a curious omission from the injury report on Wednesday considering he is far from 100 percent. Friday's practice report will be telling in terms of what fantasy owners and DFS players should expect, but the likely absence of rookie Gabriel Davis may help Beasley bounce back from his bagel against the Baltimore Ravens in a big way.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans will likely face off with Packers' star corner Jaire Alexander in the NFC title game. This is fresh off of being held to one catch by Marshon Lattimore- though his lone reception was a touchdown. Evans and Alexander went toe-to-toe in Week 6, with Alexander following him on 76 percent of the routes, holding him to zero catches, per Pro Football Focus. Evans is talented enough to beat any corner, but this is legitimately a matchup to fear. He should be faded in DFS tournaments this weekend.