Ohio Sports

Hurting Mayfield, Browns score late, outduel Bengals 37-34

By MITCH STACY AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) — Baker Mayfield brushed aside all the outside noise about his dismal performance last week. Then, nursing sore ribs, he shut up all the critics.
“What criticism? What are you talking about?” Mayfield quipped after throwing five touchdown passes and leading the Browns past the Cincinnati Bengals 37-34 on Sunday.
The quarterback actually overcame a terrible start against the Bengals. He went 0 for 5, including an interception on his first attempt of the game . Mayfield then completed the next 22 of 23 passes. The last was most important, a leaping grab by Donovan Peoples-Jones in the end zone with 15 seconds left to win it for the Browns (5-2).
“He’s such a competitor,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “He doesn’t give up. That first throw, we wanted to take a shot there, and they made a nice play. He didn’t back down, and every time I looked at him on the sideline he had that steely look in his eyes.”
Mayfield, roundly slammed after a poor performance in Cleveland’s loss to Pittsburgh last week, engineered the win without injured running back Nick Chubb, tight end Austin Hooper and receiver Odell Beckham, who left Sunday’s game early with a knee injury and didn’t return.
Cincinnati rookie Joe Burrow turned in another terrific game, but again it wasn’t enough. He hit 35 of 47 passes for a season-high 406 yards and three touchdowns, including a 3-yard scoring pass to Giovani Bernard on fourth-and-1 to give the Bengals a 34-31 lead with 1:06 left.
But the Bengals’ defense couldn’t stop Mayfield, and Browns receivers who made some great catches as they worked down the field. On the first play of the drive Mayfield slipped out of a near sack to complete a 13-yard pass to Peoples-Jones.
“We got on the field and everyone was saying, ‘We’ve got to get to the 30 for a field goal,’ and I told the guys, ‘Screw that, we’re going to win it,'” Mayfield said.
The top overall draft pick in 2018 was 22 for 28 for 297 yards. Rashard Higgins had six catches for 110 yards, and tight end Harrison Bryant had two touchdown catches.
With running back Joe Mixon out with an injured foot, the Bengals relied on Burrow, who has thrown for more than 300 yards in five of the seven games of his rookie year. Cincinnati managed only 81 yards on the ground, and that included 34 from Burrow.
Tyler Boyd had 11 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown for the Bengals (1-5-1).
Another big day statistically didn’t matter to Burrow.
“To me, football is about letters, not numbers — you know: ‘W’ and ‘L,'” he said.
This was the first game the Bengals were permitted by the state of Ohio to have a slightly larger crowd. The reported attendance was 9,732 with fans spread out through all the decks of Paul Brown Stadium with plenty of social distancing.
The Bengals had lost Mixon and cornerback William Jackson III (concussion) to injuries during the week. Their offensive line took another blow when they lost more starters to injuries in Sunday’s game: OT Jonah Williams (neck) and C Trey Hopkins (concussion) in the second quarter. Tackle Bobby Hart also left with an injury but there was no update.
Bengals veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap has been vocal about his reduced role, even while the rest of the defensive line has been affected by injuries. The trade rumors have been rampant and after getting on the field sparingly Sunday, he apparently had enough. Soon after the game, he tweeted that he was putting his 6,000-square-foot apartment up for sale, noting helpfully that he’ll sell it furnished or unfurnished. He was not made available for interviews after the game.
Browns: WR Odell Beckham Jr. hurt his knee in the first quarter and did not return. The team said he will have an MRI on Monday.
Browns: host the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.
Bengals: host the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
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Ohio Sports

AP Top 25: Indiana jumps in at 17; Ohio State moves up to 3

By RALPH D. RUSSO AP College Football Writer
Indiana jumped into The Associated Press college football poll Sunday after pulling off the weekend’s most dramatic upset and Ohio State moved up to No. 3 following a dominant season debut.
Clemson remained a rock-solid No. 1 and Alabama was No. 2. The Tigers received 52 first-place votes and the Crimson Tide got the remaining 10.
Ohio State leaped two spots after easily dispatching Nebraska as the Big Ten Conference kicked off its pandemic-delayed and abbreviated season.
No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 5 Georgia each slipped a spot behind the Buckeyes.
Indiana pulled off a stunner in overtime to jump into the rankings, beating then-No. 8 Penn State to earn the program’s first victory against a team ranked in the AP top 10 since 1987. The Hoosiers snapped a 25-year absence from the poll last season but stayed there only one week.
Indiana has its best ranking since 1993, when it also reached No. 17. With Rutgers coming up next week, the Hoosiers might see a longer stay in the poll than last year. Then again, the Scarlet Knights won their opener, too.
Penn State slipped 10 spots to No. 18 after losing to the Hoosiers for just the second time in 24 meetings since joining the Big Ten.
What’s up with Ohio State moving past Notre Dame after the Fighting Irish had their most impressive victory of the season, against Pittsburgh?
Remember, the Buckeyes were No. 2 in the preseason and a close second to No. 1 Clemson.
When the Big Ten postponed its fall season, Ohio State and the rest of the conference’s teams became ineligible for inclusion in the rankings. Then the Big Ten decided to play in the fall after all and those teams became eligible again. But some voters decided they would wait until teams played before being considered for inclusion.
That held back the Buckeyes and some other Big Ten teams for a few weeks. Now that all the voters are including Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, et al., those teams got an extra boost this week.
Wisconsin moved up five spots to No. 9, appearing on every ballot for the first time since returning to the rankings three polls ago. No. 13 Michigan also moved up five spots, though the Wolverines got a bounce from an impressive victory at Minnesota.
The other teams to move into the rankings this week are regulars.
— No. 24 Oklahoma is back after three weeks out. That is the longest run of polls that have not included the Sooners since 2009, when they were left out of the final six Top 25s.
— No. 25 Boise State made its season debut, along with the rest of the Mountain West Conference, and grabbed the final spot in the rankings. The Broncos were last ranked in the final poll of the 2019 season. Boise State has now made at least one poll appearance in 19 straight seasons, tied with Southern California for the seventh-longest active streak.
— Minnesota dropped out after getting thumped at home by Michigan.
— The Atlantic Coast Conference, which had the most teams ranked last weekend, lost two Sunday. Virginia Tech and North Carolina State both fell out after losing for the second time this season.
The only conference without representation in the Top 25 is the Mid-American, which doesn’t begin play until Nov. 4.
Big Ten — 5 (Nos. 3, 9, 13, 17, 18).
SEC — 4 (Nos. 2, 5, 8, 10).
ACC — 4 (Nos. 1, 4, 12, 15).
Big 12 — 4 (Nos. 6, 16, 23, 24).
Pac-12 — 2 (Nos. 14, 21).
American — 2 (Nos. 7, 22).
C-USA — 1 (No. 19).
Mountain West — 1 (No. 25).
Sun Belt — 1 (No. 20).
Independent — 1 (No. 11).
No. 3 Ohio State at No. 18 Penn State. The Nittany Lions didn’t hold up their end of what was set to be a top-10 matchup, but it’s still probably the toughest game on the Buckeyes’ regular-season schedule.
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Hard-luck Bengals keep letting close games slip away

By MITCH STACY AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) — Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow keeps putting up big numbers, and the Cincinnati Bengals keep letting the games slip away at the end.
The Bengals lost another close one on Sunday to the Cleveland Browns because again they couldn’t protect a lead and finish. It was another crusher for Cincinnati (1-5-1).
After Burrow threw a 3-yard scoring pass to Giovani Bernard on fourth-and-1 to give the Bengals a 34-31 lead with 1:06 left, the defense couldn’t slow down Baker Mayfield. The Cleveland quarterback completed four straight passes on the last drive, finishing with a 24-yard scoring toss to Donovan Peoples-Jones with 15 seconds on the clock.
“It hurt a lot, and I hate the situation, because I know we did everything we could do,” said Cincinnati receiver Tyler Boyd, who had 11 catches for 101 yards and touchdown.
“We scored every single possession the second half,” he added. “We did what we had to do. The defense I thought played a good game. All we needed was one stop. What I continue to preach, it’s the National Football League and it’s always going to come down to one possession and either you score or get a stop.”
Last Sunday the Bengals led 21-0 in the second quarter but allowed Philip Rivers and the Colts to rally and lost 37-21. In Week 3, Cincinnati had to settle for a tie with the Philadelphia Eagles after giving up a late touchdown. And three of the other four losses were by a combined 12 points.
Including last season, they are 1-12-1 in games decided by eight or less.
The Bengals talk about how they’re going to do better and turn the season around, but it’s getting late for second-year coach Zac Taylor. The injury-plagued defense has been on the spot all season.
“It’s obviously an emotional locker room for the right reasons,” Taylor said after Sunday’s loss. “We’re gonna stick together and get through this. There’s much better days ahead.”
It’s not going to get easier any time soon. The Bengals host the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans next week, then have to go play the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Burrow has been a bright spot for Cincinnati and provided some hope for the future. The 2020 first overall draft pick hit 35 of 47 passes for a season-high 406 yards and three touchdowns Sunday. It was his fifth game with 300 or more yards passing this season.
“We were dicing them up the whole game,” Boyd said. “They couldn’t stop us regardless of what we were doing. Everything we were calling was working. We took a hard loss and the offense played unbelievable, and I believe that in the defense as well, we just have to figure out a way to get one final stop or one more score.”
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Ohio Sports

Mayfield feeling outside pressure after brutal day at Pitt

By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — Baker Mayfield spent much of Sunday afternoon running from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On Monday, the critics were after him.
Mayfield’s poor performance — and coach Kevin Stefanski’s decision to pull him early to protect him from further injury — against another strong defense has renewed concerns about the quarterback’s long-term viability in Cleveland.
Playing with sore ribs that limited his practice time last week, Mayfield threw an inexcusable early interception that was returned by Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick for a touchdown and the Browns (4-2) were thrashed 38-7, their 17th straight loss at Heinz Field.
Mayfield’s present and future were heatedly debated on Twitter timelines, sports radio talk shows and office Zoom calls Monday by the arm-chair-quarterback clubs.
Some things never change in Cleveland.
After throwing two picks and scrambling for survival, Mayfield spent the last quarter watching from the bench. Stefanski didn’t want to expose Mayfield, who was sacked four times and took several hard hits, to any more punishment.
An argument could be made that Stefanski should have made the move earlier.
Mayfield’s second pick of the first half was the result of another poor decision, and it came on the kind of play elite QBs just don’t make. Flushed from the pocket, Mayfield, who finished 10 of 18 for 119 yards, held on to the ball too long before forcing a long pass.
“There are of course plays that he could have done something differently,” Stefanski said. “Our plan was to keep him clean, and we did not do that.”
Stefanski actually did a better job protecting Mayfield than Cleveland’s offensive line.
“There are plays that we ran yesterday that I would not run again and there are things that I did yesterday that I would not call again,” he said. “I learned a lesson, obviously in a hard way.”
Mayfield wasn’t alone in making mistakes.
Cleveland’s line didn’t stop Pittsburgh’s relentless rush or open enough holes; Stefanski’s schemes didn’t fool the Steelers; and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t help matters by making a scene and pouting on the sideline.
Stefanski didn’t point fingers. He waved his hand.
“There is improvement to be had across the board,” he said. “I have a hard time singling one guy out in a game like yesterday,” he said.
Trouble is, Mayfield has had a few clunkers.
Sandwiched around Cleveland’s four-game winning streak are lopsided losses to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, the AFC North’s measuring sticks. The Browns were outscored 76-13 in those games and Mayfield threw three interceptions.
It’s a troubling pattern for the 2017 No. 1 overall pick, who has been inconsistent in 35 career starts, and sub-par against quality defenses.
In three games against Baltimore, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, Mayfield completed 52 of 94 passes (55 percent) for 505 yards with five interceptions. Take away an excellent first half against the Colts when he passed for 228 and two TDs, and the stats are more alarming.
Mayfield has shown some growth this season, but there are lingering questions about his ability to throw from the pocket and make good decisions.
For now, there’s no screaming for a quarterback change in Cleveland.
They’re mostly whispers. Every week they seem to get a little louder.
There weren’t many positives Sunday, but Cleveland’s defense did a decent job in holding the Steelers to 277 yards. The biggest issue was that the Browns offense converted just 1 of 12 third-down conversions and ran for only 75 yards — 113 below their average.
Missing starting right guard Wyatt Teller (strained calf), Cleveland’s offensive line was overmatched as the Steelers teed off on Mayfield.
“We have to play better,” said right tackle Jack Conklin. “We had to come out and set the tone, and we never really got in a rhythm, and that is on us. When he can’t get it out to our playmakers and let them do what they can do, it immediately falls on us.”
Tight end Austin Hooper is becoming Mayfield’s go-to guy. He had five catches for 52 yards against the Steelers, his fourth straight game with at least five receptions.
Beckham’s sideline antics — throwing his helmet, taking off his cleats, engaging with fans — isn’t a good look and only fuels unnecessary speculation. It’s laudable he cares about winning, but there are better ways to express frustration than always playing up to the TV cameras.
Stefanski said Mayfield should be able to practice more this week after being hindered by a rib injury sustained a week earlier against the Colts. Stefanski didn’t second-guess his decision to start Mayfield.
“It’s a fair question, but he was cleared,” Stefanski said. “He was obviously sore throughout the week but got better.”
Teller and safeties Ronnie Harrison (concussion) and Karl Joseph (hamstring) “are all progressing,” Stefanski said.
Zero and zero — The Browns’ defense didn’t force a single turnover after coming in tied for the league lead with 12 takeaways. Also, Cleveland was 0 for 3 on fourth down.
The Browns are in the same situation as they were in Week 2 — the Bengals are next. Cleveland followed its opening-game debacle in Baltimore by beating Cincinnati 35-30 in rookie quarterback Joe Burrow’s first road game. He attempted 61 passes and threw three TDs.
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Ohio Sports

Front office veteran Krall will run Reds baseball operations

CINCINNATI (AP) — Cincinnati Reds general manager Nick Krall has been named director of baseball operations for the team.
The Reds announced Monday that Krall was being promoted to replace Dick Williams, who resigned Oct. 7 to assume a larger role in his family’s development business. Krall will still hold the GM title but now will report directly to owner Bob Castellini.
Krall spent 15 years working alongside Williams, including the last three seasons as general manager, and has been involved in all aspects of the day-to-day operations of the team.
The 2021 season will be Krall’s 19th in the organization. He was hired by the Reds in 2003 to oversee the team’s advance scouting preparation and has steadily advanced through the front office.
Before joining the Reds, the Rossville, Pennsylvania, native worked in various positions for the Oakland Athletics in 2001 and 2002.
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Ohio Sports

Despite blowing 21-0 lead, Bengals hope turnaround is near

By MITCH STACY AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals say they’re playing well enough to win most of the time, especially with the dynamic playmaking and big numbers put up by rookie quarterback Joe Burrow.
But the finish has been a problem for Burrow and the frustrated Bengals (1-4-1). On Sunday they blew a 21-0 second-quarter lead and ended up losing 31-27 to the Indianapolis Colts (4-2).
Cincinnati had to settle for a tie with the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3 after giving up a late touchdown. And three of the other four losses were by a combined 12 points.
“It doesn’t matter if you feel like you’ve done better than that,” coach Zac Taylor said. “It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to go earn these wins.”
On Sunday, Cincinnati was driving in Indianapolis territory for what would have been a winning score when Colts safety Julian Blackmon picked off Burrow’s pass at the 22-yard line with 46 seconds left. Game over.
“I played well for three quarters and 14 minutes,” said the rookie from LSU, who had his fourth 300-yard game and is among the top 10 in the league in passing yards with over 1,600.
The Bengals have talent at the skill positions around Burrow and are responding to the spark the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner brought to Cincinnati. Now, if the leaky offensive line and inconsistent defense will just cooperate. All at once.
Taylor insists the organization is “not hitting the panic button” and changing the way it’s doing things.
“At one point, the time is going to turn, we’re going to gain some momentum and we’re going to make believers of everybody outside the building,” he said. “Because we got the guys inside the building.”
Sunday’s late interception not withstanding, Burrow has the confidence and poise of an NFL veteran. He’s making the passing game work and can make all the throws. Rookie Tee Higgins is emerging as a weapon, catching six passes for 127 yards against the Colts. Burrow is gradually staying in the pocket longer and took just two sacks Sunday. He was 25 for 39 for 313 yards, but Bengals receivers dropped at least four passes that hit them in the hands. He also ran for a score.
The Cincinnati secondary allowed Colts receivers to run wide open, and Philip Rivers had no problem finding them. Rivers was 29 for 41 for 371 yards and three touchdowns. Some of the throws were made way too easy. “It’s frustrating,” safety Jessie Bates III said. “(We) play very well in that first quarter. Then we kind of fall apart when the game matters.”
WR A.J. Green said he felt like his old self Sunday. After missing all of 2019 because of injuries, he’s been hurting this year, too, and had not been a factor. He caught eight passes for 96 yards against the Colts, all but one going for first downs. He made a great catch for 10 yards on fourth-and-9 with 1:48 left to extend the Bengals’ final drive.
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. After the Bengals ran up a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, the defense saw Rivers begin picking them apart. The secondary struggled. For whatever reasons, veteran sack specialists Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins spent more time on the sideline than usual. The Bengals had one sack and that was credited to Xavier Williams, who was signed as a free agent last week to plug a hole on the injury-decimated defensive line.
RB Joe Mixon left the game with a right foot injury in the second quarter but returned and didn’t seem to be hurting. Taylor said Monday he didn’t know if Mixon will be affected this week.
8 — Third downs converted by the Bengals on 17 tries.
Burrow will try to push the Bengals over the line on Sunday at home against the Cleveland Browns (4-2), who are coming off a 38-7 loss to the Steelers. The Browns beat Cincinnati 35-30 in Week 2 and were rolling before the trip to Pittsburgh. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is nursing sore ribs.
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Ohio Sports

Same old Browns? Cleveland can quiet critics in Pittsburgh

By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The trappings of a rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns have lingered even as the results have grown remarkably one-sided.
Bad blood. Trash talk. Emotionally charged games. The only thing the long-running series has lacked for the better part of a quarter century returns Sunday when the unbeaten Steelers (4-0) host the surging Browns (4-1).
Actual stakes.
Pittsburgh is off to its best start in 41 years, but has gotten there by beating teams with a combined record of 3-15-1. The Browns haven’t been this good a month into the season since Bill Belichick was roaming the sidelines in something other than a hoodie with the sleeves cut off.
Yes, this is different. So different that Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett’s first visit to Pittsburgh since he ripped off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet and swung it at him last November is not a major part of the narrative but simply outside “noise” both sides intend to tune out.
“What transpired doesn’t really matter to me,” Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward said.
The same goes in Cleveland. There’s simply too much on the line.
A year ago, the preseason hype train surrounding the Browns disintegrated as Cleveland devolved into a hot mess that cost then head coach Freddie Kitchens his job. Kevin Stefanski’s arrival has brought a sense of stability and professionalism not to mention a punishing running game and an approach that relies more on accountability than swagger. The constant drama the Browns couldn’t seem to escape in 2019 — drama that reached its peak with Garrett’s now infamous helmet swing — is gone. Mostly.
“Myles is a great player, a great person and a great teammate,” Browns running back Kareem Hunt said. “You just learn a lot going through situations like that. You just have to come ready, forget about all that stuff and do whatever you can. This one is for Myles. This one is for Cleveland Browns fans. This one is for a lot of things.”
Respect being perhaps at the top of the list for a franchise that hasn’t reached the postseason in 18 years or won in Pittsburgh in 17.
“Once again, we are not worried about the past,” Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “We are worried about right now. The next game is the most important one, and we have a very good division opponent we are going up against in their house.”
A house where the Steelers have treated Cleveland the way Lucy treats Charlie Brown, forever dangling the football in front of them before pulling it away at the last second. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has never lost to the Browns at Heinz Field and is off to a red-hot start in his return from right-elbow surgery that cost him most of 2019. Roethlisberger, an Ohio native, is 23-2-1 all-time against the team that bypassed him in the 2004 draft. Still, he’s wary while facing Garrett, whose six sacks lead the NFL.
“You can say what you want about past records and times played, but those are previous years,” said Roethlisberger, who has 10 touchdown passes against just one interception. “This is a new football team, new coaching staff, but they obviously have a new staff. We’re a new team. They’re a new team. They’re a good football team, really good.”
Mayfield was limited in practice this week while nursing tender ribs. For Cleveland to pull off the upset, the offensive line will need to keep Mayfield out of harm’s way and do it while facing the team that’s tied for the league lead in sacks with 20.
The group in front of Mayfield has been pretty steady so far. Mayfield, who has been effective on roll-out throws, has only been sacked seven times and the 22 pressures allowed are a league-low.
“I believe in our guys, first and foremost, no matter who we are facing,” he said. “Obviously, the challenge with the Steelers defense is that we are going to have ups and downs throughout the game. It is not going to be perfect, and we know that. That is what comes with these challenging games and when you play great teams.”
Pittsburgh rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool is coming off a record-setting performance against Philadelphia in which he became the first Steelers player to score four times in a game since 1968. Claypool’s rapid development gives Roethlisberger another target in an offense that has scored at least 26 points in its first four games for the first time in franchise history. It also means, however, that the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Canadian can no longer fly under the radar of opponents.
“The thing I told him after the game is he isn’t going to be able to sneak up on anybody,” Roethlisberger said. “So how is he going to rise to the occasion now that people are going to be watching him?”
Stefanski and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin share roots stretching to Minnesota.
They were both on the Vikings staff in 2006, Tomlin as the team’s defensive coordinator and Stefanski as an assistant to then-coach Brad Childress.
In fact, Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea and Steelers defensive line coach Karl Dunbar also coached in Minnesota.
Stefanski has remained friends with Tomlin and admires the consistency of his teams in Pittsburgh.
“They are always prepared,” Stefanski said. “He does everything. They win football games any which way they need to. He is a very outstanding coach.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
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Pitt-iful: Browns try to end 16-game losing streak at Heinz

By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer
The Browns have been pitiful in Pittsburgh — for half a century.
Whether playing in old Three Rivers Stadium or at Heinz Field, with its tricky winds and rowdy, towel-twirling fans, most of Cleveland’s trips down the Turnpike and across the Pennsylvania state line over the past five decades have not ended well.
The Browns are 6-41 in visits to the Steel City since 1970.
That haunted history of failure isn’t scaring Baker Mayfield.
“We are not worried about the past,” said the Browns quarterback, who is dealing with bruised ribs. “We are worried about right now.”
Off to their best start in 26 years, the Browns (4-1) carry a 16-game losing streak into Pittsburgh for Sunday’s matchup against the unbeaten Steelers (4-0), who will be seeing sensational defensive end Myles Garrett in person for the first time since he clobbered quarterback Mason Rudolph over the head with a swung helmet last November.
Garrett’s appearance only adds spice to a rivalry not needing any extra salt. Although it’s been lopsided for a while, there’s plenty of history and bad blood between the cities and their fans.
The Browns are one of the NFL’s surprise teams this season. The Steelers are, well, the Steelers. They’re 4-0 for the first time since 1979.
Although he’s an absurd 23-2-1 in his career against Cleveland, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knows better than to overlook the Browns.
“A lot of those guys — I looked at their roster today, they only have two guys that have 10 years of experience in the league,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s not like these guys have been playing us for years and years and years and worrying about how many times the Steelers have won.
“That’s not what it’s about. It’s a new season, new teams, and they’re a really good football team.”
This will be the first taste of Browns-Steelers for tight end Austin Hooper after coming to Cleveland from Atlanta, where he experienced another of the NFL’s nastier rivalries.
“Falcons-Saints,” he said. “That would be a good one. You get all the fans in New Orleans fresh off Bourbon Street in there.”
Of course, there will be only 5,500 fans — and not the usual 68,000 — on hand on Sunday because of COVID-19 restrictions, and Browns coach Kevin Stefanski wasn’t sure if that would benefit Garrett and his teammates.
“It is hard for me to say,” he said. “I do know this: in our building, I heard all 12,000 of them.”
The Browns’ long losing skid at Heinz extends back to 2003, when quarterback Tim Couch had one of his finest moments in an orange helmet while leading Cleveland to a 33-13 win.
It’s been putrid in Pittsburgh since as the Browns have dropped 16 straight and gone 2-18 overall in their archrival’s hostile home since returning as an expansion team in 1999. Surprisingly, one of that awful Cleveland team’s two wins that season was a last-second, 16-15 victory at Pittsburgh.
They’ve had plenty of close calls, with three of Cleveland’s past five losses at Heinz coming by four points or fewer.
There could be plenty of reasons why the Browns have struggled in Pittsburgh, but Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio said there’s a basic bottom line.
“No. 1 is that they are a good team,” Bitonio said. “They have good players, they have a great defense, Big Ben and company on offense. And it is just a different atmosphere. You go down there and the fans do a good job of getting loud. It is kind of on the river right there, you get the wind coming in.
“I think kickers kind of think about that kind of stuff. But from a player’s perspective, it is just another game. I think the No. 1 thing for home-field advantage is, is your team good? And then they have a pretty good team over there.”
Before their horrors at Heinz began 17 years ago, the Browns had a 16-game losing streak from 1970 to 1986 at Pittsburgh. Once they finally ended a slide many Cleveland fans viewed as a jinx, the Browns won three in a row at Three Rivers, capped by a 51-0 blowout in the 1989 season opener.
A win this week could do wonders for these Browns.
“Obviously, division games are always meaningful for us, but they are undefeated and we are 4-1,” Mayfield said. “It is an extremely important game, but that is because it is the next one. We have to handle it that way, and we are on the road in somebody else’s house.”
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Claypool’s climb: Steelers rookie WR drawing raves

By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger predicted Chase Claypool’s breakout.
Now the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback is gearing the rookie wide receiver for what comes next.
Score four touchdowns in a game, as Claypool did in a 38-29 win over Philadelphia last Sunday, and you’re no longer a secret. Do it from four different positions in four different formations and you forfeit any notion of being overlooked by opponents.
So while Roethlisberger encouraged Claypool to drink in the moment after becoming just the third rookie in NFL history to score three touchdowns receiving and one rushing in the same game, Roethlisberger also made sure to remind Claypool the path to the end zone will get much tougher from here.
“The thing I told him after the game is he isn’t going to be able to sneak up on anybody,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “So how is he going to rise to the occasion now that people are going to be watching him?”
Claypool’s answer is a testament to his western Canadian upbringing and the blue-collar work ethic he’s brought to the Steelers since being selected in the second round of the draft.
“Confidence definitely builds with games like that,” Claypool said. “(But) I’m not trying to act any different because of a performance.”
So while his phone blew up with messages in the immediate aftermath, the 22-year-old’s routine has not. He spent some of the brief downtime the grind of the regular season provides playing video games with his friends.
“We don’t talk football which is nice,” Claypool said. “Keeps me grounded.”
Good thing, because if the 6-foot-4, 238-pounder from Abbotsford, British Columbia, keeps making it look so easy to score, stardom is coming.
The player his teammates have dubbed “Mapletron” — an ode to similarly built former Detroit Lions standout Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and Claypool’s Canadian roots — won the Steelers over in the run-up to the draft with his physical gifts. Still, it might be his mental acuity that’s helped him carve out a role so quickly.
In a way, the lack of a “normal” preseason because of the COVID-19 pandemic might have sped up Claypool’s education. No need to waste time trying to grasp the basics of the playbook for meaningless preseason games. Instead, Claypool and the other rookies were able to dive right into the details.
“The urgency increases when you’re getting ready for a regular-season game,” Claypool said. “I knew I had to have the playbook down before the first game, so that forced me to study more.”
Typically the Steelers like to break in their rookie wide receivers relatively slowly. Former All-Pro Antonio Brown was buried on the depth chart early in his career. Martavis Bryant sat on the bench during his first six games in 2014. James Washington is still trying to find consistent playing time a month into his third season. For as precocious as JuJu Smith-Schuster was in 2017 when he entered the league as the NFL’s youngest player, he wasn’t targeted 11 times in a game — as Claypool was against the Eagles — until early on in 2018.
“Sometimes, reps get sparse, and you can’t always get some of the young guys as many reps as you would like to get, especially without the offseason,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said. “(Claypool) has done a fabulous job of keeping his body right. He’s in great condition so it allows his mind not to wander. He’s been executing. Guys at practice, young guys at practice put the time in, generally good things happen, and you’re seeing the result of that.”
Consider the variety in which Claypool reached the end zone against Philadelphia. He raced in on an end around from 2 yards in the first quarter. In the second quarter, he lined up split out wide to the left and ran away from everyone for a 32-yard score.
In the third, he stood behind three teammates at the 5-yard line, caught a flip from Roethlisberger and picked his way through traffic. In the fourth, he was in the slot and didn’t miss a beat when Roethlisberger audibled to a route Claypool hadn’t run out of that formation. He sprinted past an overmatched linebacker and into the open to give the Steelers the cushion they’d need to improve to 4-0 for the first time in 41 years.
Coach Mike Tomlin downplayed Claypool’s impact, attributing his success as much to a matchup the team liked as anything else. It’s not an unusual tact for Tomlin, who rarely singles out individual performances no matter how eye-popping. That’s fine by Claypool, who plans to remain a willing participant on special teams or in any other area that keeps the Steelers in what figures to be a competitive AFC North race.
He expects the surging Browns (4-1) to keep tabs on him when Cleveland visits Heinz Field on Sunday. That’s fine by Claypool, who figures the more attention the Browns pay to him, the better it is for the other playmakers at Roethlisberger’s disposal.
“There might be a safety creeping over my side and corner might follow,” Claypool said. “That opens things up for other people as well. I’m not too worried about it.”
NOTES: G David DeCastro (abdomen), C Maurkice Pouncey (foot), TE Eric Ebron (hand), WR Dionate Johnson (hand) and Smith-Schuster (knee) did not practice on Wednesday. … LB T.J. Watt (shoulder) was limited. … FB Derek Watt (hamstring) and LB Marcus Allen (foot), who both sat out last week, were full participants.
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Ohio Sports

Cincinnati-Tulsa postponed due to Bearcats’ COVID-19 issues

By RALPH D. RUSSO AP College Football Writer
No. 8 Cincinnati’s game at Tulsa on Saturday has been postponed because of positive COVID-19 tests among Bearcats players.
The American Athletic Conference announced Thursday the game is being rescheduled for Dec. 5.
The number of players who have tested positive or have been quarantined through contact tracing has not been revealed by Cincinnati. The school has not been making those numbers public throughout its testing of athletes.
Cincinnati is next scheduled to play Oct. 24 at No. 17 SMU.
Overall, it is the major college fifth game that had been slated to be played this week to be rescheduled, and the fourth since Sunday. The Southeastern Conference has called off two games, including LSU at No. 10 Florida, the first postponements in the league since it began Sept. 26.
The SEC was also rocked this week by the news that Alabama coach Nick Saban tested positive for the virus ahead of the second-ranked Crimson Tide’s showdown at home with No. 3 Georgia. Saban said Wednesday he did not have symptoms. He is unlikely to coach Saturday against Georgia.
The number of games involving FBS teams to be postponed and canceled since Aug. 26 is now 30.
Tulsa has had three games postponed, including its opener against Oklahoma State, which it was able to make up. The Golden Hurricane have played only twice this season.
“I’m disappointed, first, for our football student-athletes and coaches, and obviously for our staff who has prepared so diligently, our campus and the city of Tulsa,” Tulsa athletic director Rick Dickson said. “This TU Homecoming game was a great opportunity to showcase our football program, the community and the American Athletic Conference against the nation’s No. 8 team.”
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