Healthy Titans RB Henry will see banged-up Bengals D-line
CINCINNATI, Ohio — If Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry returns for the playoffs Saturday, he’ll be running into a Cincinnati Bengals defensive line that is already banged up.
The Bengals had been relatively healthy until last week in the first-round playoff win over the Las Vegas Raiders.
Stalwart defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi suffered a foot injury that will sideline him for the rest of the playoffs. Edge rusher Trey Hendrickson, the team’s sacks leader, had been in concussion protocol all week but has been cleared to play Saturday.
Defensive end Sam Hubbard has sore ribs, and defensive tackle Mike Daniels left the Raiders game with a groin injury and and likely will be out Saturday. Defensive tackle Josh Tupou is hobbled by a sore knee.
Henry, the 6-foot-3, 247-pounder who was the AP Offensive Player of the Year in 2020, is expected to return for the playoff game Saturday against the Bengals in Nashville. He’s been out since breaking his right foot on Oct. 31.
“He definitely weighs on you,” Bengals defensive tackle D.J. Reader said. “He’s a big back, but you’ve got to do your job of not letting him get going out there and put hits on him. Make sure we’re wearing on him just as much as he’s wearing on us.”
Reader and B.J. Hill will occupy the middle of the Cincinnati line, and if Hendrickson isn’t able to go, rookie Cam Sample and second-year player Khalid Kareem will need to step up. To add some depth, the Bengals this week signed defensive tackle Zach Kerr from the Arizona Cardinals practice squad. Coach Zac Taylor said Kerr could play Saturday.
“I think everybody’s excited about it, but it always starts with us up front,” Reader said. “So we’ve got to always create that special moment up front and just create the game going from there. It’s going to start and end up front, every game.”
Henry said he felt good in full-contact practices this week, even with a steel plate in his foot. He said he doesn’t know how much he’ll play Saturday. It’s likely he’ll split time with D’Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard, the backs who carried the load while he was out.
“They did a great job this whole year,” Henry said of the Bengals defense. “Watching them against the Raiders, I feel like they did a great job. They had a couple guys go down, but overall they are physical penetrators.”
Rodgers’ latest playoff drive starts as Packers host 49ers
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers understands time is running out on his hopes of winning a second Super Bowl title with the Green Bay Packers.
The 38-year-old quarterback’s latest postseason run begins Saturday night as he tries to beat the team that has served as the three-time MVP’s biggest playoff nemesis.
Rodgers owns an 0-3 playoff record against the San Francisco 49ers, though he’s beaten them in the regular season each of the last two years. The top-seeded Packers (13-4) and 49ers (11-7) face off again Saturday night in an NFC divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field.
“I think football mortality is something that we all think about,” Rodgers said. “And we all think about how many opportunities we’re going to be afforded moving forward, and each one is special.”
Since stumbling to a 3-5 start, the 49ers have won eight of 10 while showing a knack for delivering away from home. They secured a playoff berth by rallying from a 17-0 deficit to win an overtime road game with the Los Angeles Rams, and followed that with a 23-17 wild-card victory at Dallas.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo says San Francisco’s slow start caused the 49ers to adopt a playoff mentality ahead of schedule.
“Putting that pressure on your team early, it creates a mindset,” Garoppolo said. “It creates an atmosphere in the locker room of a sense of urgency that we have to win now and we have to make some plays.”
The Packers beat the 49ers 30-28 on the road back on Sept. 26, with the 49ers erasing a 17-0 deficit to take the lead in the final minute before Rodgers drove Green Bay into position for Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal as time expired. The Packers also beat the 49ers 34-17 on the road last season.
But the 49ers can lean on their successful postseason history against Rodgers’ Packers, including a 37-20 victory in the NFC championship game two seasons ago.
“This is a special opportunity,” Rodgers said. “We’re not going to make it bigger than it is. We’ve gotten this far being level-headed and even-keeled and not rising a roller coaster of emotions and we’re going to keep on doing the same thing. So if it was good enough to get us this far, it’s good enough to get us past this point.”
Brady, Bucs host the Rams in quest for repeat title
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Von Miller remembers every detail of each time he has sacked Tom Brady, starting all the way back in his second NFL season a decade ago.
He savored and catalogued their meetings over their years, highlighted by the AFC championship game in which Miller dropped Brady 2 1/2 times in the Broncos’ win over the Patriots in January 2016.
“Whenever he decides to retire, those are the sacks that you’re going to remember,” Miller said. “You remember the sacks going against the great quarterbacks, against the great teams. These are the type of sacks that I’ll tell my son about.”
Miller has the chance to add to his memory bank Sunday when his Los Angeles Rams visit Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a berth in the NFC championship game.
Miller is in position to chase Brady again precisely because he’s done it before. The Rams (13-5) added the three-time All-Pro linebacker to an already solid pass rush at great cost this season because they believe elite players give them the best opportunity to beat Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Kyler Murray and the rest of the NFC’s top quarterbacks on the way back to the Super Bowl.
The Rams have spent a half decade making salary cap contortions and sacrificing draft picks because they believe stars will light their path to the top. While some teams patiently stockpile homegrown talent and hope to hit the jackpot, Los Angeles attempts to make its own luck by paying any price necessary to land the best players.
Miller, Jalen Ramsey, Matthew Stafford and Odell Beckham Jr. all joined the Rams over the past two-plus years, three of them arriving in blockbuster trades that cost the Rams multiple draft picks. They’ve already delivered an NFC West title and a playoff victory to a team with five consecutive winning seasons under coach Sean McVay, and the Rams have won six of their past seven games overall.
But paying top prices for premium players means the Rams have high stakes in January. They realize this team-up will be widely perceived as a failure unless they reach their hometown Super Bowl next month — but nobody in the Rams’ training complex seems worried.
In fact, the Rams’ big names uniformly welcome the pressure. They didn’t get where they are today by flinching under outside scrutiny.
“It’s the nature of it,” said Beckham, who got his first playoff TD catch and postseason victory last week. “These are the moments that you, as a kid, you waited for, you prayed for, and now have the opportunity to play for. And that’s really what matters, is being great in these moments. Regular season is cool, but ... I don’t want to say it doesn’t mean anything, but everything is about (the playoffs).”
The Rams’ acquisitions aren’t the only big names in horned helmets, since two of their three All-Pros are their own draft picks: defensive tackle Aaron Donald and NFL receiving leader Cooper Kupp. The top of the Rams’ depth chart is undeniably impressive, but every one of their big names has embraced the team-first mentality required by McVay, Donald and the Rams’ team captains.
“All those guys are our leaders, and they’re also our best players,” offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell said. “And when they’re doing those two things, leading you with their performance, but then also with the standard they set as leaders, that does so much for all of us.”
Bills headed to KC for high-profile AFC title game rematch
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Stefon Diggs walked off the field inside Arrowhead Stadium back in October with two very distinct feelings: elation that his Bills had avenged an AFC title game loss to the Chiefs and the conviction that they would meet again.
Get ready for the latest throw-down between two of the league’s best teams Sunday night.
Fresh off a near-perfect 47-17 blowout of New England last weekend, Diggs and the Bills are headed back to Kansas City for the divisional round of the playoffs. And awaiting them are Patrick Mahomes and the high-flying Chiefs, who turned around their season after a lackluster start and then throttled Pittsburgh 42-21 in their wild-card matchup.
“They’ve got all the talent in the world,” Diggs said. “They’ve been playing at a high level. They’ve been to the Super Bowl twice. They have a hell of a quarterback, hell of receivers, good defense — they’re a great team.”
Turns out he wasn’t the only one that anticipated another showdown, either.
“We’ll probably play them a lot of times. It’ll be great competition,” Mahomes said, “and it’s definitely going to be a great challenge for us as a team to compete with them.”
Indeed, it’s difficult to find a game with more star power than this one.
Josh Allen threw five TD passes against the Patriots to set a Bills playoff record, while Diggs and resurgent running back Devin Singletary give him plenty of playmakers. On the other side, the Buffalo defense featuring All-Pro safety Jordan Poyer and running mate Micah Hyde led the league in just about every meaningful statistical category.
Buffalo, which has lost eight consecutive playoff games away from home, scored on each of its first seven drives against the Patriots and became the first NFL team to finish a playoff game with no punts, field goals or turnovers.
“It’s tough to have a perfect game,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “and they did a nice job with it last week.”
As for the Chiefs? Well, they’ve merely won their past five playoff games at Arrowhead Stadium.