AFCN game match-ups - week 9

This week in the AFCN, the Cleveland Browns (2-5) host the Tennessee Titans (2-6),the Baltimore Ravens (2-5) host the Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) travel to Lambeau Field to play the Green Bay Packers (1-6).

Complete Game Listing:

Sunday
Atlanta Falcons (5-2) at Miami Dolphins (3-4)
Carolina Panthers (5-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2)
Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) at Baltimore Ravens (2-5)
Detroit Lions (3-4) at Minnesota Vikings (2-5)
Houston Texans (1-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3)
Oakland Raiders (3-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-3)
San Diego Chargers (4-4) at New York Jets (2-5)
Tennessee Titans (2-6) at Cleveland Browns (2-5)
Chicago Bears (4-3) at New Orleans Saints (2-6)
New York Giants (5-2) at San Francisco 49ers (2-5)
Seattle Seahawks (5-2) at Arizona Cardinals (2-5)
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) at Green Bay Packers (1-6)
Philadelphia Eagles (4-3) at Washington Redskins (4-3)

Monday
Indianapolis Colts (7-0) at New England Patriots (4-3)

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Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) at Baltimore Ravens (2-5)
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GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 11/06/05
SURFACE: Sportexe Momentum
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker
SERIES: 18th meeting. The Ravens lead the series, 11-6. Baltimore has a 7-2 edge at home. The Bengals outscored the Ravens 24-6 in the fourth quarter last year at M&T Bank Stadium to win 27-26, snapping a seven-game losing streak in Baltimore. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, the former Ravens defensive coordinator in the Super Bowl run, is 2-2 against his former boss, Ravens coach Brian Billick.
2005 RANKINGS: Bengals: offense 4th (17th rush, 7th pass); defense 19th (22nd rush, 13th pass). Ravens: offense 25th (23rd rush, 18th pass); defense 2nd (9th rush, 2nd pass)

PREDICTION: Ravens 17-16

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals have to be concerned that this is the week Ravens RB Jamal Lewis finally busts out of his season-long funk. Lewis is averaging just 55.3 rushing yards per game, but the Bengals have struggled against the run and Lewis has rushed for at least 100 yards in all seven career games against Cincinnati. If the Bengals can contain Lewis, QB Anthony Wright will have to force the ball into the teeth of the Bengals' ball-hawking secondary (league-high 20 team interceptions). Baltimore again expects to be without SS Ed Reed and MLB Ray Lewis, but they did a decent job Monday night against the run and then getting after Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. They need another inspired defensive performance to prevent QB Carson Palmer from having time to test the secondary deep.

FAST FACTS: Bengals: Seek first 7-2 record since 1988, the last season they reached the Super Bowl. ... Palmer has 698 passing yards in two career games against Baltimore. Ravens: Wright has just four completions over 25 yards. ... Wright has won seven consecutive home starts.

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Bengals:
--T Willie Anderson (illness) is probable for the Ravens. He left the Bengals facility early Thursday to go home to rest, coach Marvin Lewis said.
--DT John Thornton (back) is probable. He did not practice Thursday but is expected to play Sunday at Baltimore.
--LB David Pollack (knee sprain) is questionable and did not practice Thursday for the fifth time in a row.
--WR Chad Johnson (shoulder) is probable and participated in the 11-on-11 team period Thursday.
--DE Justin Smith (elbow) is probable and was listed as practicing Thursday.
--RB Chris Perry (ankle) is probable. He did practice. It will be interesting to see how the Bengals use the versatile Perry against Baltimore's defense for the first time.
--RB Rudi Johnson (knee) is probable and practiced Thursday. He has not practiced for six consecutive Wednesdays to rest the knee.
--DT Matthias Askew (hamstring) is probable. He did not practice and is not likely to be active, healthy or not.
--LB Caleb Miller, currently on the physically unable to perform list, is expected to fill the remaining spot on the 53-man roster.

Ravens:
--DE Anthony Weaver practiced but did not participate in all drills. Coach Brian Billick called him the "biggest question mark" outside of linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed. Weaver, who has missed five games with a toe injury, will be replaced by Jarret Johnson.
--SS Ed Reed was essentially ruled out by coach Brian Billick. It would be the second career game he would miss. He will be replaced by Chad Williams.
--LB Tommy Polley played an extremely strong game in place of the injured Ray Lewis. He shook blockers and took great pursuit angles against the run.
--WR Mark Clayton practiced but did not participate in every drill. He is expected to return to the starting lineup after missing two games with an ankle injury.
--RB Jamal Lewis could break out of his season-long rut against the Bengals. He has gained 100 yards in each of his seven games against Cincinnati.
--T Jonathan Ogden is coming off his best game of the season, silencing Pittsburgh's Joey Porter. He should also dominate his matchup Sunday against Bengals DE Robert Geathers, who is athletic but doesn't have the size to beat Ogden.
--PR B.J. Sams had mixed results against the Bengals last season. He averaged 21 yards on four punt returns in the first meeting and then had minus-4 yards on two attempts in the second one.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Bengals:
Jamal Lewis, off to the worst seven-game start of his career, could get well in a hurry Sunday against the Bengals if the Bengals don't play well against the run.
Lewis finally could be rounding into shape just in time for the Bengals to come to town.
Lewis spent four months in prison in the off-season on a federal drug conspiracy sentence. He also had ankle surgery in February, right before getting locked up.
He could snap out of his slump any week now. The Bengals rank 22nd in the league against the run, averaging 125 yards a game, with a 4.7-yards-per-carry average. In their two losses, the Bengals allowed 181 rushing yards to Jacksonville and 221 to Pittsburgh.
"Jamal is running hard," Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton said. "It's just everybody is ganging up on him. You know he's going to break out some day, we just hope it's not this week."
Still, Lewis has averaged 55.3 yards a game, which is 27th in the NFL and the worst seven-game start of his career.
Some fans in Baltimore want to see more of backup Chester Taylor and less of Lewis. Taylor is getting more work than in previous years. He ran for 139 yards against the Bengals last December in Baltimore, in the Bengals' stunning 27-26 comeback victory. Taylor has 7.4-yards-per-rush average this year in 21 carries.
"They may pass the ball a little more (than Pittsburgh)," Thornton said of the Ravens. "They have the same makeup. They want to run the ball."
The Ravens, surprisingly, are ranked just 23rd in rushing offense at 93.3 yards a game.

Ravens:
There are few guarantees with running back Jamal Lewis these days.
He has yet to gain 100 yards in seven games this season, the longest rut of his career. He has uncharacteristically complained about not getting a new contract. And he doesn't have that same physical running style.
But he faces what has always been his perfect remedy: the Cincinnati Bengals.
Lewis has gained 100 yards in every one of his seven career games against the Bengals, which ties the league's longest such streak against one opponent.
"I hope he keeps that trend up," coach Brian Billick said. "And it's going to be important that we do. We need to hold onto the ball a good long time. We don't want to give them too many opportunities."
Lewis collected his first career 100-yard game against the Bengals in 2000 and he hasn't stopped since. His track record reads like this: 116, 109, 135, 121, 101, 180 and 186 yards.
When asked about this run, Lewis relied on the old adage that familiarity breeds success.
"It's one of those games where it's all about being physical because both teams know each other," Lewis said. "It's always the same type of game: we're going to hit each other in the mouth."
When it comes to these physical battles, Cincinnati has been the one down for the count.
The Bengals have the 22nd-ranked run defense and have given up 4.7 yards a carry, which is third-worst in the league.
In their two losses, they surrendered 181 yards rushing to Jacksonville and 221 yards on the ground to Pittsburgh. The Jaguars and the Steelers only had to make a combined 19 pass completions.
"We have to do a better job of defending the run," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "We can't hide or run away from that. It is important (because) we are playing a great running football team this week and it is important that we improve in those areas."
The Ravens' game plan would seem to be clear-cut.
Do they want to throw the ball against a Cincinnati pass defense that leads the NFL with 20 interceptions, or do they want to pound the ball against a leaky Bengals run defense?
The Bengals are not hoping for the latter.
"We're going to need some points to take them out of that," Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton said. "We don't want to sit there and do that all day, sitting there and banging them all day."
The Bengals' concerns are heightened by the fact that Lewis had his most physical game Monday night in Pittsburgh.
His legs were churning. And the hits were being delivered rather than absorbed.
"I think he's recognizing that he's got to get back to that a little bit more," Billick said. "I think he was anxious before about popping the big run and passing up some of the physical yards that are there for him and knew that he was going to have to do that against Pittsburgh. He knows he's going to have to do that against Cincinnati as well.
"Kind of like turnovers, (the big plays will) present themselves. If you're ready for it, you'll take advantage of it. But if you press, sometimes you are your own enemy that way."

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Tennessee Titans (2-6) at Cleveland Browns (2-5)
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GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 11/06/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Don Criqui, Steve Beuerlein
SERIES: 60th meeting. Browns lead the series 32-27. Cleveland has won the last two meetings, the most recent a 31-28 OT game in 2002.
2005 RANKINGS: Titans: offense 18th (20th rush, 13th pass); defense 16th (12th rush, 15th pass). Browns: offense 26th (25th rush, 22nd pass); defense 24th (27th rush, 19th pass)

PREDICTION: Browns 19-14

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Browns have held their past five opponents under 20 points, but they are 1-4 during that span because their offense is struggling mightily. The weakness of the Titans' defense is in their pair of rookie starting cornerbacks (Adam "Pacman" Jones and Reynaldo Hill), but Browns QB Trent Dilfer has struggled the past month. The Browns will lean on RB Reuben Droughns (5.1 yards per carry past two games) early, and he must carry the load with backups Lee Suggs and William Green likely out. Tennessee's offense also needs production from RBs Chris Brown and Travis Henry. The Browns will almost certainly load up to stuff the run with the Titans frighteningly thin at wide receiver and TE Ben Troupe also hurting.

FAST FACTS: Titans: QB Steve McNair needs 14 rushing yards to pass John Elway (3,407) for fourth-most all-time among quarterbacks. ... Team is 39-1 (.975) when entering the fourth quarter with a lead under coach Jeff Fisher. Browns: Have allowed only one touchdown in five consecutive games. ... Have allowed just eight touchdowns in 22 red-zone possessions by opponents.

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Titans:
--QB Steve McNair (back) took the full load at the Titans' Thursday practice, which was pushed back to the evening and held at the Coliseum. He said he felt good.
--WR Drew Bennett (left thumb) is out of the Titans game in Cleveland.
--WR Brandon Jones (knee) did some work with the receivers early in Thursday's practice but did not work in full team periods.
--LB Peter Sirmon (ankle) was held out practice for the second day in a row on Thursday.
--FB Troy Fleming (ankle) is expected to return to the lineup in Cleveland after missing three games with an ankle injury.
--TE Ben Troupe is dealing with a high ankle sprain and was in an immobilizing boot for the second day in a row on Thursday.
--DT Albert Haynesworth has not been himself because of calf and knee injuries, but he's not on the injury report this week, which should be a good sign.
--CB Andre Woolfolk (hamstring) ran on the side during the Titans' practice Thursday. If he does play in Cleveland he will work as the nickel back, if he doesn't Michael Waddell will fill that role.

Browns:
--G Joe Andruzzi missed a day of practice on Wednesday after hurting his knee in the loss to Houston. Andruzzi was fortunate he was not seriously injured when he was twisted over a pile, and if there's any way he can play against Tennessee he will.
--DE Alvin McKinley hyperextended an elbow in the loss to Houston and is listed as questionable. His absence would be noticed. McKinley has been a pleasant surprise in the 3-4 defense after moving from tackle in the 4-3.
--S Chris Crocker is listed as questionable on the injury report, but probably will play against Tennessee. The dropoff if he can't play would be significant. Second-year player Sean Jones has struggled, and Brodney Pool is still a rookie.
--WR Braylon Edwards, the team's first-round pick, now is part of a three-for-two rotation at the position, coach Romeo Crennel said. Edwards' playing time will increase as he alternates with Dennis Northcutt opposite Antonio Bryant.
--QB Trent Dilfer appears to have grown weary of the criticism he's heard the last few weeks. Dilfer has nine turnovers the last four games, but for the season his passer rating is above his career figure.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Titans:
Titans rookie cornerback Pacman Jones hopes he leaves Cleveland Sunday with a little souvenir from Braylon Edwards.
Edwards, the Browns' rookie receiver, was drafted third overall, three spots ahead of Jones.
"He called me (Tuesday) night talking trash," Jones said. "We had made a bet before the draft that if he scored on me he'd get to keep my chain, if he don't, I get to keep his chain. He's got a king chain, I can't really explain it. It spins. It's a pretty nice chain, it's going to look good on me."
In Nashville, Jones has gotten a lot of negative attention after an extended training camp holdout and some struggles early on for a team that's 2-6 at the midway point.
"I'm going to get blamed for everything this year, so I've go to suck that up and be a man about it, but I'm all right, I'm not really complaining to nobody," he said. "... At the end of the day, I'm going to be one of the best ones to come through here. I just feel it's coming, that's all I can tell you."
The Browns will have bigger concerns than defense with Jones.
A week after he exploded on two big punt returns against Oakland, he'll face the NFL's worst punt coverage unit, which gives Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel plenty to ponder.
"You better believe it is (a concern)," Crennel said. "And we're working on it. Pacman, he poses some problems, because he has tremendous athletic ability, a knack for making guys miss, and then he just has that feel for finding that open lane and he can get to it. So, we're going to have to be on the top of our game to be able to slow him down."

Browns:
The Browns will be thin at running back when they play the Titans Sunday at home.
William Green is doubtful with an ankle sprain, and Lee Suggs is out with a broken thumb.
That leaves Reuben Drouhgns as the team's only healthy back.
He will be backed up by backup fullback Corey McIntyre.
Droughns has run well this season, but he was arrested for an alleged DUI this past week. How that affects him remains to be seen.
The other concern: The Browns have re-committed to the running game the past two games, and doing that they used Green to spell Droughns.
Without Green, Droughns may see a lot more time.

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Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) at Green Bay Packers (1-6)
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GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 11/06/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Bonnie Bernstein
SERIES: 34th meeting. Green Bay leads series that began in 1933, 21-12, including 13-6 at home. The Steelers won their last meeting, 27-20 in Pittsburgh in 1998. Green Bay won the first 12 games of the series, through 1946.
2005 RANKINGS: Steelers: offense 18th (5th rush, 25th pass); defense 9th (5th rush, 20th pass). Packers: offense 14th (30th rush, 5th pass); defense 15th (10th rush, 18th pass)

PREDICTION: Steelers 16-10

KEYS TO THE GAME: With Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger out at least one game following knee surgery, backup Charlie Batch will make his first start since 2001. It's a big dropoff for sure, but the run-heavy Steelers have attempted a league-low 159 passes. RB Willie Parker will get plenty of work with Jerome Bettis battling a knee injury. Green Bay would love to stuff Parker, get a lead and force the game onto Batch's shoulder. It won't be easy considering the Packers have led in just three games. QB Brett Favre is coming off the first five-interception game of his career, but with little running game to speak of while going against a tough run defense, he will again have to force the ball downfield. The Steelers don't have intimidating corners, but they have allowed just five touchdown passes thanks to a strong pass rush that could prove problematic -- and painful -- for Favre.

FAST FACTS: Steelers: WR Hines Ward needs four receptions to break John Stallworth's (534) franchise record. ... TE Heath Miller has a touchdown reception in four consecutive games, tying Eric Green's (1991) team record for tight ends. Packers: Despite record, have outscored their opponents 158-139. ... Favre has a touchdown pass in an NFL-high 24 consecutive games.

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Steelers:
--QB Charlie Batch will make his first start since the 2001 season, when he was the starter for the Lions. He started 46 games in Detroit, but they released him in June 2002 and the Steelers signed him a few weeks later.
--RB Jerome Bettis was downgraded to doubtful Thursday with a quadriceps injury. Bettis missed the first three games with a calf injury and has been the backup to starter Willie Parker since then. He has 136 yards and a 3.2-yard average.
--RB Duce Staley will suit up for only his second game and replace Bettis as the backup to Parker. Staley, who had surgery Aug. 8 on his meniscus, was active only on Sept. 25 against New England. He did not have a carry.
--WR Antwaan Randle El will serve as the emergency No. 3 quarterback Sunday. Randle El, the starting quarterback at Indiana University, took a snap in the shotgun formation against the Ravens on Monday night and ran for 5 yards.
--FS Chris Hope, who had one interception last season, his first as a starter, leads the Steelers with three after seven games.

Packers:
--WR Robert Ferguson missed practice again Thursday and isn't likely to play Sunday against Pittsburgh. Ferguson is recovering from a torn lateral collateral ligament in his left knee, sustained Oct. 23. He is listed as doubtful on the injury report. Antonio Chatman would make his second straight start in Ferguson's place.
--TE David Martin also apparently will be sidelined for the second consecutive game, though he remains questionable for the game. Martin, No. 2 on the depth chart, is nursing a strained groin that he suffered Oct. 27 in practice. Donald Lee would back up starter Bubba Franks, who is probable for Sunday with a sore knee and has practiced the last two days.
--CB Al Harris returned to practice Thursday after missing a day because of a bruised knee he sustained in the last game. Harris is probable for Sunday and is expected to start.
--OLB Na'il Diggs said after practice Thursday that he's not expecting to play Sunday. Diggs, on the injury report as questionable, has received only a handful of snaps with the first-string defense the last two days. He's still not fully recovered from a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee, which has kept him out the last three games. Paris Lenon is the top candidate to replace Diggs in the starting lineup at the strongside spot.
--C Mike Flanagan split first-team snaps with Scott Wells in practice Thursday. Flanagan is expected to make his second straight start after making a quick recovery from Oct. 5 surgery for a sports hernia. However, just as in the last game, Flanagan may require a breather Sunday and have to give way to Wells for a series or two.
--OLB Robert Thomas practiced for the second straight day and is slated to start at the weakside spot Sunday. Thomas has been hampered by a shoulder stinger the past couple weeks and is on the injury report as questionable.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Steelers:
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Thursday morning and will miss Sunday's game in Green Bay and perhaps the Steelers' next game, against Cleveland.
Charlie Batch will make his first start for Pittsburgh and first since 2001, when he was the starting quarterback of the Detroit Lions. He becomes the third quarterback to start a game for the Steelers this season. Tommy Maddox started for an injured Roethlisberger against Jacksonville Oct. 16 and played so poorly in that loss to the Jaguars that he was demoted to No. 3 and Batch was promoted to No. 2.
Roethlisberger had part of the meniscus in his right knee removed after it was torn during the first series of Monday night's game against Baltimore, won by Pittsburgh 20-19. Roethlisberger never left the game and led the Steelers to the winning points on Jeff Reed's 37-yard field goal with 1:36 to go.
An MRI on Tuesday showed the damage to his knee but it took a second opinion by Dr. James Andrews and some convincing of Roethlisberger to have the surgery.
"He wants to play through everything," coach Bill Cowher said. "But just sitting down (Wednesday) night and talking about what the options were, I think there is no question that this was the right thing to do and to do it now."
The procedure took 15 minutes. It was the third injury to Roethlisberger's knees this season. His right knee was bruised in the opener and his left knee was hyperextended Oct. 10 in San Diego.
Roethlisberger, the NFL's leading passer with a 112.4 rating, is 19-2 as a starter in the regular season and playoffs, losing only to New England twice.
"He got hit (in the opener against Tennessee) and it's been off-and-on bothering him," Cowher said. "He's had good days and bad days. He was playing through it. The other night, it was really aggravated when it got twisted on the one throw. It got stuck in the ground. I felt good about the fact that we did what we did and took a proactive approach to it."
Wednesday, Cowher listed Roethlisberger as questionable for Sunday's game but that soon changed.
"I always want to play," Roethlisberger said. "I want to be out there for the guys."
Roethlisberger said he cannot allow worries about his future health to affect his desire to play now.
"You always worry about the future when it comes to injuries," he said, "but for me, no, you live one day at a time. I always try to do everything I can to help the team because my thought is this year. I understand everyone always worries about longevity and a long career and this and that but I'm living for this year right now. Let's see what we can do for this year."

Packers:
To get an idea of how long it's been since Charlie Batch last had a meaningful role in an NFL game, there are only two defensive players on the current Packers roster who were with the team at the time.
Well, defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and possibly outside linebacker Na'il Diggs, who's questionable to play with a knee injury, will renew acquaintances with Batch on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger won't play after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday. Thus, Batch will get his first start since late in the 2001 season, when he was at the end of an erratic four-year tenure with Detroit.
Despite a litany of troubles encountered by Batch against former division rival Green Bay in the past and Roethlisberger's near-infallible record, Packers defenders weren't jumping for joy over hearing the news of the quarterback change.
"They really weren't throwing the ball a whole hell of a lot to begin with anyways, so I don't think that's going to change our preparation any," safety Mark Roman said. "We've got to try to make them as one-handed as possible. We've got to take away something from them. That's the only way we're going to give ourselves a great chance to win."
So as the Packers took to the practice field Thursday afternoon, the emphasis remained on defending the Steelers' powerful running attack.
The Packers received another dose of good news when Pittsburgh declared bruising backup running back Jerome Bettis out for Sunday because of a knee injury. However, they still will have to contend with featured back Willie Parker, who has led the Steelers to 131.3 rushing yards per game - fifth in the league - and a beefy offensive line that Diggs rates as the best he and his teammates will see this season.
"These guys displace people pretty well. They knock you off the ball," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "I don't care how many people (a defense has) in the box, they knock you off the ball. What's happening is they're knocking people back, and there are people making the tackle, but they're making it 3 or 4 yards down the field."
Parker has burst onto the pro scene with three 100-yard games this season. The strength of the Packers' gradually improving defense under first-year coordinator Jim Bates has been its consistent ability to stop the run.
Green Bay ranks fifth in the league for average yards allowed per carry (3.4) and 10th in average yards allowed per game (100.9). Tampa Bay's Cadillac Williams, who churned out 158 yards in Week 3, is the only back to hit the century mark against the Packers.
The Green Bay defense, though, looks at Sunday's matchup as a better barometer of where it stacks up in the trenches.
"Yeah, we've had some success against the run, but this is a team that definitely brings some unique challenges," defensive end Aaron Kampman said of the Steelers. "These guys don't trick you too much. They pretty much say, 'Hey, this is what we're going to run. Stop us.'"
Should the Packers continue their staunch play and contain Parker as well as backups Duce Staley and Verron Haynes, the onus will be placed squarely on Batch to try to carry the offense with his rusty arm.
Although Batch went 3-3 as a starter against Green Bay from 1998 to 2001, the Packers more often than not devoured him. They intercepted nine passes and sacked him 18 times, including a career-high-tying seven in the 2001 season opener at Lambeau. Gbaja-Biamila had three of those sacks in Batch's last visit to Green Bay and dropped the quarterback once in the teams' second meeting later in the season.

 


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