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PITTSBURGH — In the uncomfortable position of needing help to make the playoffs, the Steelers are sending good vibes the Cleveland Browns’ way.

The Steelers can clinch the AFC North with a win Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals coupled with a Cleveland Browns win over the Baltimore Ravens.

“Pray for Cleveland. Pray for the Browns,” said safety Sean Davis with a smile, before stressing the Steelers are focused on beating Cincinnati.

Star receiver Antonio Brown took to Twitter to show an extra “s” on his nameplate on the back of his jerseys.

who else has their #84 @browns jersey ready for Sunday? pic.twitter.com/09WIfhCKPM

— Antonio Brown (@AB84) December 27, 2018
Davis added he might have to send Baker Mayfield a “little something, something” as a gift if the rookie quarterback and AFC Offensive Player of the Week can pull off the feat in Baltimore.

The Steelers (8-6-1) relinquished the North after losing 31-28 to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, their fourth loss in five games. Meanwhile, the Ravens (9-6) have won five of their last six games but face a hot Browns team that’s riding a three-game winning streak.

The Steelers also can make the playoffs with a tie against the Bengals and a Ravens loss, or a win over Cincinnati combined with a tie between the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans. The Browns last defeated the Ravens at Baltimore in 2015.

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Pittsburgh has won seven straight games against the Bengals, but four of those games were decided by seven points or less.

Coach Mike Tomlin said he won’t worry about what’s happening in other stadiums Sunday, and players are following suit.

“With the way [the season] has gone, it’s a little deflating. But at the end of the day, it’s not over. We realize that, too,” guard David DeCastro said. “You just have to know there’s a chance. As bad as you feel now, you’ll feel worse if Baltimore loses and you lose, too.”

With a top-shelf offensive line, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leading the league in passing (4,862 yards), a stellar receiver duo in Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster and an improving defense, the Steelers believe they can beat anybody. But they’ve also shown they can lose to just about anybody, falling short at Denver and Oakland during a pivotal three-game losing streak during November and December.

And now the Steelers root for Cleveland, and cornerback Joe Haden, a Brown from 2010 to 2016, believes in his former team.

“I’ve talked to a couple of them, just giving them some motivation,” said Haden with a smile. “But at the end of the day, I know those dudes, I know how they feel over there. Even if they may not be in the [playoff] picture, they want to end on a good note.”

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ATLANTA — Even in the preseason, Matt Ryan gets miffed about a poor showing.

He had nothing to complain about Friday.

Ryan guided the Atlanta Falcons right down the field for a touchdown on their first possession, hooking up with Austin Hooper on a 4-yard scoring pass , and led another impressive drive before calling it a night in a 28-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Ryan finished 5 of 7 for 90 yards, looking very much like the quarterback who won the MVP during the 2016 season even though receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman didn’t play for the second week in a row.

It was certainly an encouraging contrast to the preseason opener, when the Falcons (0-2) were blanked 17-0 by the New York Jets and Ryan played only one brief, dismal series .

“He wants to attack,” coach Dan Quinn said. “That’s what I saw tonight.”

With a resting Jones watching from the sideline, Calvin Ridley got a chance to shine for the Falcons. The first-round pick from Alabama hauled in the first touchdown of his professional career on a 7-yard pass from backup quarterback Matt Schaub .

Ridley finished with three receptions for 49 yards.

“It felt good making some catches and getting that first touchdown out of the way,” he said. “I’m ready to get some more.”

Kansas City’s new starting quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, had an up-and-down game but delivered one tantalizing pass.

Alex Smith’s replacement was intercepted on a deep throw by Falcons safety Damontae Kazee , who drifted over from the middle of the field to pick a ball intended for Sammy Watkins. Mahomes caught a break when another ill-advised throw into the end zone was dropped by Falcons cornerback Blidi Wren-Wilson, allowing the Chiefs to salvage a field goal.

But, with just 17 seconds left in the first half, Mahomes made the most of his final pass. Three Atlanta defensive backs inexplicably allowed Tyreek Hill to get behind them, and Mahomes delivered the pass in stride for a 69-yard touchdown .

The throw actually traveled 70 yards in the air — ample evidence of Mahomes’ enormous potential .

“I don’t think I’ve ever thrown one that far in a game,” said Mahomes, who finished 8 of 12 for 138 yards. “I don’t know many people that would be able to catch that ball going that far in a game. I told (Hill) if I had thrown a spiral, he wouldn’t have been able to get to it. He disagreed with that.”

Chad Henne took over for at quarterback to begin the second half. He connected with Gehrig Dieter on a 27-yard touchdown that put the Chiefs (1-1) ahead for the first time, capping a 10-play, 76-yard drive.

Ben Niemann finished off the scoring with a 26-yard interception return for a touchdown after picking off a horrible throw by Atlanta’s third-string quarterback, undrafted rookie Kurt Benkert.

“He overthrew it and gave me a gift,” said Niemann, also an undrafted rookie.

While many Atlanta fans were still backed up in security lines outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Ryan began his impressive showing by converting on third-and-11 with a 29-yard pass to Hooper.

“Classic Matt,” Quinn said. “He buys some times, moves around in the pocket and rips one.”

Tevin Coleman, the other half of the Falcons’ dynamic 1-2 punch at running back, broke off a pair of 15-yard runs before Ryan rolled to his left and hit Hooper on the short scoring pass. The tight end showed impressive athleticism, hurtling into the end zone over cornerback Steven Nelson .

After the Chiefs went three-and-out, Ryan guided the Falcons deep into Kansas City territory once again. The big play was a 36-yard completion to Ridley , who beat David Amerson to haul in the pass.

On fourth-and-2 at the Chiefs 20, the Falcons passed on a field goal attempt, which was essentially irrelevant since 43-year-old kicker Matt Bryant skipped his second straight preseason game. Ryan’s pass for Ridley was broken up by Kendall Fuller, halting a seven-play, 69-yard drive.

INJURY REPORT

Nelson was kneed in the head by Hooper on Atlanta’s first touchdown and staggered off the field. He was evaluated for a possible concussion.

Another Kansas City player, linebacker Terrance Smith, sustained an ankle injury.

The Chiefs also were missing star safety Eric Berry, who didn’t dress while he continues to nurse a sore heel.

SARK ON THE FIELD

For the second week in a row, Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian called plays from the field.
That’s where Sarkisian prefers to be, but Quinn ordered him upstairs last season. Now, with Greg Knapp — a longtime offensive coordinator who was hired as Atlanta’s quarterback coach — working from the press box and passing along what he sees to Sarkisian, it seems everyone has found an arrangement to their liking.

“Right now, I’m comfortable with the way he’s seeing it and calling plays,” Quinn said.

ANTHEM UPDATE

There were no apparent protests during the national anthem.

UP NEXT

Chiefs: Hit the road again to face the Chicago Bears on Aug. 25.

Falcons: Travel to Jacksonville that same day to face the Jaguars in a matchup between 2017 playoff teams.

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CINCINNATI — John Ross played only 17 snaps for the Bengals last season, which was less than almost any offensive rookie drafted in 2017, let alone a top-10 pick.

His last playing time came in a loss to the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 14, a stint that ended after only six snaps. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis chided him afterward for “letting his team down” when the wide receiver pulled up on a deep route, thinking the ball wasn’t coming his way.

That pass from Andy Dalton did come his way. It sailed incomplete, which is the perfect word to describe Ross’ rookie campaign.
John Ross was all smiles on the field last week, in stark contrast to his rookie season. John Minchillo/Associated Press
It was a year of frustration, injuries and ultimately some soul-searching for Ross, who wasn’t able to fully participate until late in last year’s training camp while he recovered from offseason labrum surgery. A knee sprain and surgery to his other shoulder also contributed to derailing the speedster out of the University of Washington.

“Last year, I was just down, not being able to run full speed, not being able to do everything in the weight room,” Ross said. “Not to have excuses or anything, but I honestly just wasn’t physically or mentally ready for what I got myself into. There was so much going on.”

It was a humbling experience for Ross, who admitted there were times when he felt down or frustrated. But veteran wideouts A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell didn’t let him feel sorry for himself, often telling Ross to pick his head up if they ever saw it start to hang.

“A.J. and Brandon LaFell [told me] that I’m going to be OK,” Ross recalled. “They all said they’ve been through something crazy in their years. Anything can happen. There’s guys who have barely played, like T.J. [Houshmandzadeh].”

Ross’ favorite piece of advice came from former Bengals wide receiver Houshmandzadeh, who essentially told him that everything happens in its own time.

Ross asked Houshmandzadeh if the two could work out together in California this offseason. That’s when the former Pro Bowler reminded the No. 9 overall pick that his own rookie season wasn’t so spectacular, either.

“I think the best advice I got this year [was] T.J. telling me how he started his career. His rookie year, he barely played, and look how he blossomed. So it can happen to anybody,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of players who have something going on. Everybody goes through adversity.”

Everybody wants to know why Ross didn’t have a better rookie season.

“I couldn’t put a stamp on what was the problem, because there were so many problems,” he said. “I was focused on something new every week. That’s what I realized, it’s just not working for me right now. So I had a meeting with coaches and trainers to focus on where I needed to be and what was best for me moving forward.”

The problem certainly was never talent, which was evident from not only his college playing days but also his record-setting 4.22-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. However, from the minute Ross put on a Bengals uniform, it was clear that speed and talent wouldn’t automatically bring NFL success.

He wasn’t given many chances to prove himself, and when he did get them, they ultimately ended in disappointment, whether it was a fumble against the Houston Texans or the botched route against the Titans.

Ross didn’t even participate in organized team activities last year because he was finishing his degree at Washington. He wasn’t medically cleared from the offseason shoulder surgery until training camp already had opened, and by that time, it was a mad scramble to try to absorb an overwhelming amount of information with very little time to apply it.

“The steps forward are going to have to come out here,” Lewis said, referring to the practice field. “There’s nothing he did otherwise that’s going to show anything different but just coming out here, getting comfortable and playing football. And making the adjustments and all the things he has to do as a receiver.”

View image on Twitter
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Katherine Terrell

@Kat_Terrell
I can confirm that John Ross practiced and caught passes today.

7:04 AM – May 23, 2018
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The Bengals are counting on Ross to take a step forward this season. They finished last in total offense in 2017, in part because they didn’t have another threat outside of Green. If Ross can get on the field, the threat of his speed alone would force opposing defenses to account for him and perhaps draw coverage away from Green.

But right now, it’s just step one. Ross’ first career practice of OTAs, on May 22, could be considered fairly successful, as he flashed his speed in one-on-one drills and made several nice catches, including one in which he made an adjustment to bring in a deep pass. He was reminded by Lewis to always “finish” a route.
As he often did last season, even when he wasn’t playing, Ross faced a large group of reporters in the locker room after practice with his usual poise.

“It’s been something I’ve been waiting for, for a long time, and I felt really good out there,” Ross said. “I’ve been feeling good all year, and I wanted to have a good day today. I think it was OK. I had a drop and some things I’ll correct. It’s Day 1. We’ll get better.”

For the first time as an NFL player, Ross wasn’t trying to play catch-up. Now he has all the time he needs — and a whole year’s worth of knowledge under his belt.

“Feeling the way I feel now, it feels great. I feel better. I’m happy to be where I am,” he said.

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On Friday, a 17-year-old male opened fire at Santa Fe High School, killing 10 people and injuring others, per the Associated Press. The high school is located in the greater Houston area.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt informed the school that he will personally cover the funeral expenses for the victims of the May 18 tragedy. He tweeted about the tragedy Friday morning.
JJ Watt

@JJWatt
Absolutely horrific.

11:07 PM – May 18, 2018
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The Texans organization offered their condolences to the victims, their families and those affected.

“On behalf of the Texans organization, we are saddened by the tragic events at Santa Fe High School this morning and extend our thoughts and heartfelt condolences to the victims, their families and all those affected. We are grateful for the brave first responders, law enforcement officials and medical personnel. The Texans family will continue to pray for our neighbors.”

Watt, who was the 2017 recipient of the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, helped raise more than $37 million for people affected by Hurricane Harvey last fall.