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Mike Preston: With blowout of Ravens, Bengals now the hunted in AFC North race | COMMENTARY

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A year ago, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale was critical of the Cincinnati Bengals after they kicked a late field goal to ruin the Ravens’ shutout in a 27-3 victory.

On Sunday, the Ravens’ coaching staff was saluting the Bengals after a 24-point win that put Cincinnati (5-2) in first place in the AFC North after seven weeks.

There was much discussion about whether there was a shift in power brewing in the division before the season started, but the Bengals made it official Sunday. They crushed the Ravens, 41-17, and made Baltimore (5-2) appear as lifeless as the Los Angeles Chargers, who the Ravens whipped, 34-6, last week.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh has always been reluctant to wave the white flag. He has traditionally played his starting quarterbacks to the bitter end in almost every game, regardless of the score. But once Cincinnati went ahead 41-17 with about seven minutes remaining, Harbaugh pulled starter Lamar Jackson.

It was no más.

“They came into a division game on the road and played great, and they won and beat us,” Harbaugh said. “We were beaten soundly, and that’s what happened.”

It was a statement game. For the Ravens, this could be a preview of what happens when they play a defensive team with an athletic front four and Jackson can’t control the pace of the game. Without Jackson’s dominance, the Ravens’ weak running game and poor pass coverage are exposed.

As for Cincinnati, it was a coming-out party. They have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in second-year player Joe Burrow and a great complement on the outside in rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who toasted the Ravens’ top cornerback, Marlon Humphrey, on the way to 201 yards. Not only do the Bengals have Burrow and Chase, but they have some other highly skilled offensive players in running back Joe Mixon and tight end C.J. Uzomah.

If you’re waiting for the Bengals to fall apart like they have in previous years, you might be waiting a while. Cincinnati had only one penalty for 5 yards on Sunday. The Bengals converted one of two fourth-down situations, which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is when you’re the Bengals. With Cincinnati up 27-17 with 11:43 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Bengals actually made a stop on a fourth-and-7 at the Ravens’ 38-yard line.

They would have folded in previous years. These Bengals are for real.

“It’s a different team,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “We’re allowed to build and improve, and we just have a different mentality right now. We’ve done a lot of different things to get to this position, and I’ve given out a lot of tough speeches over time about great things to come and [to] keep working. And you hope and pray that the team believes in that. That’s the foundation of what we’re building, and this is the result. This is their moment.

“Everything we’ve talked about, we’ve earned. We’re starting to earn respect, but we still have a long way to go. Just winning one road game against a divisional opponent, that’s what you have to do if you want to compete in this league. We have a long way to go, but I’m really proud of the collective team effort. This was a complete game today by all three phases, and that’s what we need to come on the road to Baltimore with and beat them.”

Like Cincinnati, the Cleveland Browns have an athletic front four, and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ can be just as active. It’s not as if any of these division rivals have developed a special formula to stop Jackson, but they get off blocks and run to the ball. The Ravens’ offensive line is effective when they can make quick contact and Baltimore’s running backs get through the hole in a hurry.

But starting halfback J.K. Dobbins and top backup Gus Edwards are both out for the season with knee injuries. With the backs the Ravens have on their roster, they can still win 10 to 12 games, but it’s going to be tough to win in the postseason.

It’s not the Ravens’ fault. They were forced to sign aging players such as Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell, who don’t have the speed to be a threat off tackle or the consistent acceleration to pop a big run up the middle. With this running game, Jackson has to be the top threat outside the tackles.

With this offensive line, Jackson has to improvise and make plays in the pocket, which is why he often held onto the ball too long Sunday. Jackson rushed 12 times for 88 yards and completed 15 of 31 passes for 257 yards, but this wasn’t the Jackson we’d all come to expect in 2021.

Jackson never found his phone booth to become Superman. The Bengals, with five sacks, didn’t let him. Neither did the Ravens’ running game.

“We always have to have two guys on him, one inside shoulder [and] one outside shoulder,” said Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard, who had 2 ½ sacks. “So, you always have to have two people on the ball.”

Harbaugh doesn’t have many options with the running game. The Ravens are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. But it’s the defense that has been so puzzling.

The Ravens allowed 520 yards of total offense as Burrow completed 23 of 38 passes for a career-high 416 yards and three touchdowns and finished with a passer rating of 113.5. He threw touchdown passes of 55, 32 and 82 yards, and the Bengals had touchdowns runs of 21 and 46 yards.

The Ravens again had the tackling blues. They spent a lot of time tackling air or laying on the ground appearing to look for gophers.

“I guess I’ll look at the film and kind of figure it out,” Humphrey said of the poor play. “I think things just didn’t go our way early. So, as ‘Wink’ says, it’s not as bad as it seems; but right now, it seems pretty bad.”

Oh, it was bad. Ugly.

Instead of looking at the video, maybe the Ravens want to burn the film and move on. They’ve already proven they can play at a high level in last week’s rout of the Chargers. After Sunday’s game, Harbaugh tried to find the words to sum up the loss.

He said the NFL is a week-to-week and game-to-game league. Basically, it comes down to which team is hot at the end of the regular season and can carry that momentum into the playoffs.

“There never is any running narrative, it just doesn’t exist,” Harbaugh said.

But we do know that the AFC North race is going to be hard-fought. If Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield ever steps up his game, the Browns have as much talent as any team in the league. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has seen his best days and his arm will tire before the end of the season, but you can never count out Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

As for the Ravens, they have issues with their running game. The defense seems to have a personality disorder. One week they play like the 1985 Bears, and the next week they play like the Bad News Bears.

Regardless, the Ravens can’t be as bad as they played Sunday. In fact, they looked like the Chargers last week, who were also headed into their bye week.

The Ravens just waved bye-bye and took a break a week early.

©2021 Baltimore Sun. Visit baltimoresun.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Santos, Taunton take down Mansfield in key Kelley-Rex boys hoops showdown

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Santos, Taunton take down Mansfield in key Kelley-Rex boys hoops showdown

MANSFIELD — In the first half of his boys basketball team’s showdown with Mansfield, Taunton’s Trent Santos played well on defense, made a couple steals and rebounds, and generally had a solid floor game.

However, the Tigers rely heavily on Santos for scoring, and the usually-hot guard was cold as can be with no points.

But it did not stay that way, and Taunton rode Santos’ resurgent jumper in the second half to a 59-56 win over the host Hornets Friday night.

“It’s a tough gym to play in, and they played really good defense,” Santos said. “A couple (shots) went in and out, and I just tried to stay confident. I know I worked really hard. I just stayed confident and kept shooting. Eventually, they kept falling.”

Santos finished with 17 points — all in the second half — and backcourt mate Tristan Herry added 16 points as Taunton improved to 8-1 overall and 8-0 in the Hockomock League. Mansfield falls to 8-2 overall and 6-1 in the league.

The entire game was close, but Taunton began to find its groove in the third quarter. Santos hit a 3-pointer with just under six minutes to go for his first basket. Before the end of the quarter, Santos hit two more from long range, then assisted on another by his younger brother, Troy, as Taunton took a 40-37 lead heading into the fourth.

The older Santos hit another three, then Herry nailed a fallaway and another three, again with Santos on the assist, as the Tigers took a 50-44 lead.

But Mansfield kept battling back. Senior guard Matt Hyland (19 points) made consecutive steals, leading to layups by him and Dante James, as the Hornets sliced the deficit to 52-50.

Santos answered with a fallaway 3-pointer before Chris Hill (19 points) dunked one home for the hosts. The teams traded baskets and a Santos free throw gave Taunton a 58-56 lead.

Mansfield could not answer, though, as Faisal Mass drew a charge on Hyland with three seconds to go. Another Santos free throw provided the final margin.

“Last three years coming here, it’s been real tough to get wins in this gym because they’re a very good team, and it’s a tough gym to play in,” Santos said. “So to get that win, we didn’t shoot the ball very well, but we still stayed tough, played good defense, moved the ball, and got a big win.”

“They just don’t beat themselves,” Taunton coach Charlie Dacey said of Mansfield. “They just don’t beat themselves. You hope for a mistake, and you don’t get it. They get a good, solid shot every time down the floor. That’s about all you can ask for from a high school team. Good, solid shots. They don’t rush the clock. They grind, and they grind, and they grind. You make a defensive mistake, they make you pay.”

 

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Fisher: Dartmouth under fire after canceling live event over Antifa threats

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Fisher: Dartmouth under fire after canceling live event over Antifa threats

Dartmouth College canceled a planned in-person appearance by conservative journalist Andy Ngo Thursday night in response to threats of violence from the left-wing activists who call themselves Antifa.

Now a pro-free-speech watchdog group says it is investigating the liberal college’s handling of the event.

Ngo is best known for his aggressive coverage of violence committed by groups on the political left like Antifa. He has been the victim of physical attacks and threats as a result. Ngo and former Antifa activist Gabe Nadales were scheduled to discuss extremism in America Thursday night on the Hanover, N.H., campus. The event was hosted by the Dartmouth College Republicans and conservative activists at Turning Point USA.

A college security officer told a reporter for InsideSources covering the event that it had been canceled and was moved to an online appearance. When asked why, he replied, “That’s a decision above my pay grade.”

Dartmouth College’s Associate Vice President for Communications Diana Lawrence said the event was moved online after it became clear it could not be held safely in person.

“In light of concerning information from Hanover police regarding safety issues, similar concerns expressed by the College Republican leadership and challenges with the student organization’s ability to staff a large public event and communicate effectively (including dissemination of the visitor policy and a prohibition on bags in the building), the college has requested that the ‘Extremism in America’ panel be moved online,” Lawrence said.

Ngo noted the irony of Dartmouth’s decision. “An event on violent extremism was threatened by violent extremists. It’s a cliche,” he told InsideSources. “Why did the college wait until two hours before the event to drop the ultimatum on organizers and speakers? Dartmouth College’s decision actually gives a blueprint for extremists to shut down future events.”

Now the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) says it is investigating the incident.

“Threats of violence are never an appropriate response to speech you oppose and must not dictate who may speak, or what may be said, on a college campus. Universities should not reward those who threaten violence by canceling controversial speakers,” said FIRE Program Officer Zach Greenberg. “We must remain vigilant against universities citing safety concerns as a pretext to censor unpopular expression, and must ensure that those seeking to impose a “heckler’s veto” cannot succeed in doing so.”

In the days leading up to the event, members of Antifa organized a counterprotest, with some making threats to stop Ngo at all costs.

“When you enter our home you play by our rules, not yours,” the Northeast Antifa social media account posted. “New England is anti-fascists, and we will hold that line till death.”

The Green Mountain John Brown Gun Club stated online it “called up reserves” of Antifa super soldiers to be on hand for the event. A member of a Portland, Ore., Antifa group, Jonathan Dylan Chase, offered money for anyone who managed to assault Ngo during his Dartmouth appearance.

Antifa is a decentralized organization of people who claim to be anti-fascists and has been at the heart of violent street protests for years, clashing with both innocent political protestors and aggressive white supremacists along the way.

Ngo has been accused of serving as a propagandist for the Proud Boys in exchange for protection at the protests, something he has denied. Ngo was assaulted by Antifa protesters in 2019 in an incident in which he was punched repeatedly and hospitalized.

Lawrence said the college strives to make sure all viewpoints are heard on campus, so long as it can be done safely.

“Dartmouth prizes and defends the right of free speech and the freedom of the individual to make their own disclosures, while at the same time recognizing that such freedom exists in the context of the law and in responsibility for one’s own actions,” Lawrence said. “The exercise of these rights must not deny the same rights to any other individual.”


Damien Fisher is a freelance journalist. This column was provided by InsideSources.

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Grasso’s Garage: 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is a re-invented masterpiece

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Grasso’s Garage: 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is a re-invented masterpiece

Calling all family adventurers!

As you are probably very familiar, I am a big guy and like a lot of space in my vehicles that I test. But not necessarily more seating or storage, just big comfort!

In this week’s test, we reviewed Nissan Motor Co. ‘s reinvented 2022 Pathfinder and you guessed it, big comfort is all the craze in Grasso’s Garage. Yes it has eight seats, yes it has four-wheel drive, yes it can tow 6,000 pounds and yes it is really comfortable. Cha-ching! All for a big price, right? Nope, with a base price of $33,680 for the S model, the Pathfinder is light on the wallet and a monster bang for the buck.

I cannot get over the interior of the Pathfinder, it has that robust, open design, where you sit nice and high in the SUV, but feel ultra low in the seat, just how I like it. Lots of headroom, a 12.3-inch digital driver dashboard with a 10.8-inch heads-up display create that spacious feel, but cockpit-like experience. On the 2022 Pathfinder, we also notice a center stack 9-inch color touchscreen infotainment system which is easily accessible by front row passengers and easy to use for all. SiriusXM comes standard with an excellent-sounding Bose Premium Audio System with dual subwoofers.

Wrapped in Two-Tone Boulder Gray Pearl, our Platinum four-wheel-drive tester was amazing. The exterior color was strong and stout while the black offsets really showed out in droves. LED lighting abounds on the Pathfinder as well as a Panoramic roof and roof rails that were standard.

A 3.5-liter dual overhead camshaft V6 direct injection engine came standard in the Pathfinder, producing 284 horsepower and 259 lb.-ft. of torque. This was more than sufficient on our test, and I am thrilled Nissan went with a six-cylinder and not a four-cylinder turbo. Paired with the V6 was a new nine-speed automatic transmission and not the ever-hated continuously variable transmission, we noticed no noise and smooth shifts from gear to gear in every mode.

Calling all consumers, not just the adventurous, family-oriented, people-moving, big-vehicle lover ones, but just about anyone and everyone can enjoy the Pathfinder and for years to come. Thirty-five years later, Nissan, I tip my hat to you!

Grasso’s Garage is here for you! Are you in the market for a new car? I would be happy to provide my honest input. All you have to do is email me: [email protected]

 

Nissan Pathfinder

MSRP: $48,090

As tested: $51,395

MPG: 20 city, 25 highway, 24.1 as tested

 

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