Dec 29, 2020; Orlando, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback D'Eriq King (1) reacts after running the ball in for a touchdown which is called back for a penalty during the first half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the Cheez-It Bowl Game at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Miami QB King (torn ACL) expected to return in 2021

The University of Miami announced Thursday that quarterback D’Eriq King sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the Cheez-It Bowl.

King will undergo surgery at the UHealth Sports Medicine Institute at The Lennar Foundation Medical Center in Coral Gables, Fla.

Per the Hurricanes, a timetable for his return will be determined after the surgery, however he is expected to be available for the start of 2021 fall camp.

“We are obviously disappointed for D’Eriq but we know he is in great hands with our medical staff,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said. “D’Eriq is the leader of this football team and we know that he will approach his rehabilitation with the same tenacity that he has approached every facet of his game since he arrived on our campus.

“We can’t wait to see him back on the field leading our team in August.”

King, 23, sustained the injury during the second quarter of No. 18 Miami’s 37-34 loss to No. 21 Oklahoma State on Tuesday night. The Houston transfer completed 10 of 13 passes for 113 yards with one touchdown before leaving the game.

King started all 11 games this season for Miami. He threw for 2,686 yards with 23 touchdowns and five interceptions, while also rushing for 538 yards and four scores.

He has another year of eligibility remaining.

–Field Level Media

Nov 22, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Atlanta Falcons helmets on the bench during their game against the New Orleans Saints in the first quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons working virtually after positive COVID-19 test

The Atlanta Falcons were working from home Thursday morning after a positive COVID-19 test.

“The organization was informed of one positive COVID-19 test from a member of the Atlanta Falcons,” the team said in a statement. “Contact tracing protocols have commenced and at this time the team has stopped all in-person work at IBM Performance Field with all operations conducted virtually on Thursday.”

The team did not state who tested positive.

The Falcons (4-11) are scheduled to conclude the regular season on Sunday against the Buccaneers (10-5) in Tampa, Fla.

–Field Level Media

Sep 13, 2020; Baltimore, Maryland, USA;  Stop hate message on Cleveland Browns tight end Harrison Bryant (88) helmet against the Baltimore Ravens during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Leah Stauffer-USA TODAY Sports

Two more Browns test positive, facility shut down again

The Cleveland Browns closed their training facility for the second straight day on Thursday after two additional COVID-19 positive tests in the organization.

The individuals were not identified by the team, however NFL Network reported that linebacker Malcolm Smith and tight end Harrison Bryant tested positive. Bryant already was on the reserve/COVID-19 list after being in close contact with someone who tested positive.

“The Cleveland Browns were informed of two additional positive COVID-19 test results among our players this morning,” the Browns said in a statement. “The Browns facility is currently closed while contact tracing is conducted to identify any high-risk close contacts. The team will continue to work remotely this morning while following the NFL-NFLPA intensive protocols as the health and safety of our team, staff and the entire community remains our highest priority.”

The Browns also closed their facility on Wednesday after a coach and practice squad player tested positive for COVID-19. The team placed practice squad center Javon Patterson on the reserve/COVID-19 list that day.

It’s the latest COVID-19 issue to face the Browns (10-5), who can clinch their first playoff berth since 2002 with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in their regular-season finale on Sunday. Even with a loss, the Browns can make the postseason, dependent on the outcome of other games.

On Tuesday, the team put safeties Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo, as well as Bryant, on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Last Sunday, in a 23-16 loss to the New York Jets, the Browns played without most of their wide receivers, who were forced to sit out of the game because of contact tracing.

The Browns are hopeful the receiving corps, including leader Jarvis Landry (789 yards), will be able to return against the Steelers.

Coach Kevin Stefanski said Wednesday that rookie offensive tackle Jedrick Wills would return this week from a non-COVID-related illness, but the Browns weren’t sure when he would practice.

–Field Level Media

Nov 9, 2019; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Ryan Hilinski (3) warms up before the start during the first quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina QB Hilinski to transfer

South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski entered the transfer portal.

He entered the 2020 season as the incumbent starter but appeared in just two games, completing four passes for 34 yards. Collin Hill and Luke Doty assumed the quarterback duties for the Gamecocks (2-8).

A four-star recruit from Southern California, Hilinksi was the No. 2-ranked pro style quarterback in the Class of 2019, per the 247Sports composite. He committed to South Carolina soon after the January 2018 suicide of his brother, former Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski.

“Thank you for giving my family and I a home when we didn’t know where home was,” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “Thank you for the roars in Williams-Brice Stadium. Thank you for the smiles, hugs, handshakes and warm greetings. I will forever be grateful for this state and the life I found after losing my brother.”

He continued: “This has been the hardest decision I have had to make in my entire life. It pains me writing this letter knowing what I am leaving behind. It is with a heavy herat that I have decided to enter the transfer portal to fulfill the promise I made to myself and my brother.”

Former coach Will Muschamp put Hilinski into the starting spot in the second game of the 2019 season after Jake Bentley suffered a season-ending foot injury on the final play of the opening game. In 11 games, he completed 236 of 406 passes (58.1 percent) for 2,357 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions in leading the team to a 4-8 mark.

Muschamp was fired on Nov. 15. Shane Beamer was named the Gamecocks head coach on Dec. 6.

–Field Level Media

Dec 30, 2020; Arlington, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Theo Wease (10) runs for a touchdown after catching a pass against Florida Gators defensive back Tre'Vez Johnson (16) in the second quarter at ATT Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

No. 6 Oklahoma runs over No. 7 Florida in Cotton Bowl

Rhamondre Stevenson ran for 186 yards and a touchdown as No. 6 Oklahoma blew out No. 7 Florida 55-20 in the Cotton Bowl on Wednesday night.

The Sooners ran for a Cotton Bowl-record 435 yards.

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask, a Heisman Trophy finalist, had thrown just five interceptions all season coming into the game.

But Trask threw interceptions on the first three Gators drives to help the Sooners jump up 17-0 quickly.

After Oklahoma scored on the game’s opening drive, Tre Norwood picked off Trask’s pass on the Gators’ second offensive play and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown to put the Sooners up by two scores less than three minutes into the game.

On the next drive, Brian Asamoah picked off Trask, leading to a field goal.

After those first two picks, Trask and Emory Jones rotated at quarterback, helping the Gators get going a bit offensively, though Trask threw another interception on the third drive.

Then Oklahoma’s offense started struggling, turning the ball over twice itself as Florida came back to make it a four-point game.

Just like in the Big 12 Championship Game in the same stadium less than two weeks earlier, though, a big kick return late in the first half helped reignite the Sooners’ offense.

Charleston Rambo’s 40-yard kick return helped kickstart a drive that ended with Theo Wease’s 36-yard touchdown catch.

After a stop and another score, the Sooners took a 31-13 lead into the break and the Gators never again challenged the lead.

Spencer Rattler threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns for the Sooners (9-2).

But it was the running game that got Oklahoma going. Marcus Major ran for a career-high 110 yards and Seth McGowan had a 73-yard run on his only carry of the game.

Florida finished with 521 total yards but it couldn’t overcome the early turnovers. Trask and Jones shared time with Trask going 16 of 28 for 158 yards and was held without a touchdown pass for the first time this season.

–Field Level Media

Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) gestures in the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Saints go for historic NFC South sweep vs. Panthers

The New Orleans Saints still have things to accomplish in the final game of the regular season on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

The Saints are on the verge of dominating the NFC South in an unprecedented fashion when they visit Charlotte, N.C.

That’s just part of the objective.

“I just want to be playing our best football,” New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said. “I want to be as sharp as we possibly can, understanding that obviously we’re still missing a few guys that hopefully we’ll have when we get to the playoffs.”

The Saints (11-4) can clinch the overall No. 1 seed in the NFC and a subsequent first-weekend bye in the playoffs if they win at Carolina (5-10) along with a Seattle (11-4) victory at San Francisco (6-9) and a loss by Green Bay (12-3) at Chicago (8-7).

“We just have to keep playing our game,” Saints offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk said. “… The stakes are high right now.”

Already, New Orleans has secured its fourth straight NFC South title. A victory against the Panthers would mean the Saints complete a six-game sweep of the other NFC South teams, which is something no team in the division has ever accomplished.

“You understand how hard it is to win the division,” Brees said. “Week-in and week-out, there are so many battles. … That would be a great accomplishment. At the end of the day, it’s just getting another win, which just better positions ourselves for the playoffs.”

Carolina won for just the second time in a 10-game span with last weekend’s conquering of Washington. Yet the Panthers are accustomed to taking on first-place teams as this will mark their fifth game in a nine-game stretch against a divisional leader.

With a first-year staff under new coach Matt Rhule, the Panthers are trying to set a foundation that will be beneficial in the future.

“For us to have this new staff, new players, it’s about building each and every week,” Carolina safety Tre Boston said. “I told y’all a few weeks back: When that wall on the house is just one wall, everybody is going to say stuff about it, but as we build this house and make it a home, we’re going to be one to reckon with.”

The Panthers, who posted a November shutout of the Detroit Lions, held Washington without a touchdown until the last two minutes.

“A lot of points this season, we were really searching to find our identity and find out what we do and what we have — and that’s what we’re doing,” Carolina cornerback Donte Jackson said. “We were in a search trying to find our identity, but we found it.”

The Saints aim to build on their reputation and be in position for a long playoff run.

“Understand exactly what wins football games and let’s make sure we’re doing all those things,” said Brees, who pointed out it’s important for the offense to retain timing and rhythm.

Saints running back Alvin Kamara’s NFL record-matching six-touchdown performance against the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas night showed what the team is capable of doing with its talent-laden offense.

“Over time,” Brees said, “it wears defenses down.”

Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has another opportunity to face New Orleans. Last year with the Saints, he filled in for an injured Brees during a midseason stretch.

This is the final chance for Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn to make a case for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

“It has been my goal to finish the season strong,” said Chinn, who has 110 tackles, five passes defensed, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and a sack to go along with scoring two touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey won’t play in the finale. He appeared in just three games this season. Running back Mike Davis (ankle) and receiver Robby Anderson (groin) also sat out Wednesday’s practice.

The Saints defeated the Panthers 27-24 on Oct. 25, with the outcome not decided until a late-game field-goal attempt from 65 yards out was just short for Carolina’s Joey Slye.

New Orleans has defeated the Panthers in the last three meetings and in seven of the teams’ past eight games.

Attendance will be limited to 1,500, with only family and friends of team members permitted entry, because of increased concerns in the Charlotte area regarding the coronavirus pandemic. This is a change from most of the season, when more than 5,000 fans were allowed to purchase tickets for Carolina home games.

–Field Level Media

Dec 27, 2020; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Football Team running back J.D. McKissic (41) catches a touchdown pass as Carolina Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn (21) defends during the second half at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Washington seeks to claim NFC East by grounding Eagles

The battle for the last playoff spot comes down to the last game of the season and involves one of the last teams anyone thought would be in this position back in September.

The Washington Football Team (6-9), which began the season by abandoning a controversial nickname and ends it by moving on from a controversial quarterback, will clinch the NFC East with a victory Sunday night against the host Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1).

A loss to the Eagles will give the division title and No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs to the winner of Sunday afternoon’s game between the visiting Dallas Cowboys (6-9) and New York Giants (5-10).

Washington played well in two previous appearances in the national spotlight, roasting the Cowboys 41-16 on Thanksgiving Day and defeating the previously unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers 23-17 in a Monday game in Week 13. Both of those wins were on the road.

“The one thing I will say, the other two games we’ve been on the stage: our guys came out and played well and had fun,” said head coach Ron Rivera. “That’s the biggest thing. We’ve got to get back to having a little bit of fun. The truth of the matter is we’re playing with house money. That’s the best part about it.”

In his first season on the job, Rivera has Washington on the brink of its first playoff berth since 2015.

“Take the pressure off ourselves and go have fun. That’s the truth of the matter,” Rivera said. “We control our own destiny. It’s in our hands. All the cliches. We’re going to have fun with it and go with it.”

Second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins won’t be part of the fun. Washington released the 2019 first-round pick on Monday, the day after he committed three turnovers in a 20-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers and a few days after he was fined $40,000 and stripped of his captaincy for COVID-19 protocol violations.

Haskins passed for 178 yards and a touchdown in Washington’s season-opening 27-17 victory against Carson Wentz and the Eagles. Sixteen weeks later, Haskins is gone and Wentz is on the bench for the fourth straight game since losing his job to rookie Jalen Hurts.

Rivera is hoping Alex Smith will return after missing two games with an injured right calf. If not, Taylor Heinicke will run the offense for Washington. Smith did not practice Wednesday.

The Eagles, who have allowed 1,039 yards in their last two losses, want to make sure whoever is under center for Washington does not have any fun Sunday night.

Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz issued a “no-hat rule” this week, meaning he wants to make sure Washington doesn’t get to celebrate at Lincoln Financial Field.

“We’ve got to have a no-hat rule this week,” he said. “We can’t let opponents put division win hats on at the Linc. There’s a lot of pride in that, and all our focus has to be to accomplishing that this week.”

Nine players did not practice for the Eagles on Wednesday, including defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (neck), defensive end Derek Barnett (calf), wide receiver DeSean Jackson (ankle) and tight end Dallas Goedert (calf). Linebacker Duke Riley (biceps) was a limited participant.

In addition to Smith, leading rusher Antonio Gibson (toe) and leading receiver Terry McLaurin (ankle) were among the six players held out of practice Wednesday by Washington. Linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (ankle) and defensive tackle Tim Settle (shoulder) were limited participants.

–Field Level Media

Dec 6, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Rams safety John Johnson III (43) tackles Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Rams, Cardinals going all out in push for playoff spot

With their seasons on the line, a pair of NFC West rivals will meet on Sunday in what amounts to an early playoff game as the Arizona Cardinals face the Los Angeles Rams at Inglewood, Calif.

The short-handed Rams (9-6) need a victory or a Chicago Bears (8-7) loss to the Green Bay Packers to make the actual playoff field, but they maintain they will play Sunday’s game as if a loss means elimination. The Cardinals (8-7) are in a true win-or-go-home scenario.

The Rams will be without quarterback Jared Goff, who sustained a thumb injury last Sunday at Seattle and underwent surgery. John Wolford, who has not taken a snap in a regular-season game, is scheduled to start for a team that has lost consecutive games.

Also expected to be out is wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who tested positive for COVID-19, according to NFL Network. The Rams have not confirmed a positive test for their top receiver, who leads the team with 92 receptions and 974 yards.

The offense has other issues as running back Darrell Henderson (high ankle sprain) is out while running back Malcolm Brown (shoulder) has been limited at practice. Rookie running back Cam Akers (ankle) will try to get back on the field after not playing against the Seahawks.

“I believe in this team,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “I trust in their mental toughness and I think that the overarching message is let’s put everything that we have into this. Let’s not be afraid to put it all out there one more time. Get back up off the mat and keep swinging and have no regrets no matter how this thing ends up.”

The Rams are in their near do-or-die situation after failing to clinch a playoff berth in a Week 15 loss to the previously winless New York Jets before also losing at Seattle in Week 16.

The Cardinals were dealt a blow last week when they were completely taken out of their game in a 20-12 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The defeat came after consecutive victories over the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.

The Cardinals, who are trying to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2015, will have quarterback Kyler Murray at the helm even though he sustained a right leg injury on his final pass attempt Sunday.

“Yeah, I’ll be playing,” Murray said. “There’s no holding back. If we lose, I’ll be home chillin’. It’s my leg. I’m fine.

“It’s an opportunity that only we could ask for. It’s an opportunity to play in the playoffs, get in and we’re right where we want to be with everything that has happened this year.”

The Cardinals do have questions at running back with Chase Edmonds nursing a hip injury that has his status in doubt. Murray was a full participant in practice Wednesday, but Edmonds did not participate.

Also not participating for the Cardinals on Wednesday were wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins (hip) and Larry Fitzgerald (groin). Members of the defense missing at practice Wednesday were linebacker Haason Reddick (hip) and safety Chris Banjo (hip).

The Rams took linebacker Micah Kiser (knee) off injured reserve, but he still is not expected to play Sunday.

–Field Level Media

Dec 20, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs for a first down during the second half against the Detroit Lions at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Titans seeking to remain on playoff path against Texans

There were moments this season when Tennessee played with such force and vigor that a playoff berth seemed all but assured, something akin to a foregone conclusion given their offensive weapons.

But with five teams vying for four AFC playoff spots all sporting the same record, there are no guarantees for the Titans (10-5) on Sunday when they face the host Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.

“I think your approach is that you just have to do things that help you win,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of the pending sense of urgency. “You have to play complementary. You’ve got to take care of the football. You’ve got to try to get some turnovers, be sound in the kicking game. Not trying to do too much but go out and make plays and make plays to win the football game.”

The Titans rank third in the NFL in points (450) and fifth in yards (5,851) behind the imposing collective of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Derrick Henry and receivers A.J. Brown and Corey Davis.

Tannehill ranks fourth in passer rating (106.7) and seventh in touchdowns (32) while Henry is threatening to claim a second consecutive triple crown for running backs by pacing the league in attempts (344) and yards (1,777) while sitting one touchdown shy of co-leaders Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara (with 16 apiece).

Brown and Davis both have 60 receptions for 900-plus yards while Davis is tied for sixth in the league with 10 receiving touchdowns.

Yet Tennessee has been undone by its defense, which ranks 29th in yards allowed, and is now in need of relying on past playoff experience to navigate the potential landmines in Houston. In theory, the run to the AFC Championship Game last season should serve the Titans well on Sunday, but in a season where guarantees have been few and far between, nothing is certain.

“I don’t know that,” Vrabel said. “We’ve got to focus on the Texans and the challenges that they present and our ability to prepare. I think you try to take from the games that you’ve played and past experiences and try not to think that it’s going to guarantee success because it doesn’t. Each week and each play doesn’t mean anything about the next one. It’s just about finding a way to get there.”

The Texans (4-11) are aiming to get Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson through the season finale. Watson has taken his lumps in recent weeks yet has remained a dynamic force. But the blow he took to his throwing arm in the fourth quarter last Sunday against the Bengals was worrisome enough to lead some to suggest that Watson should sit and call it a season Sunday.

Watson has made it clear, however, that if he is healthy he will play. And by all accounts, he will.

“As far as I know, he’s doing pretty good,” Texans interim coach Romeo Crennel said. “I haven’t heard that he’s not doing well, and so since I feel like he’s doing good, I hope he does good on Sunday, too.”

–Field Level Media