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How the Orioles built the majors’ most improved pitching staff in 91 years: ‘This is a special group’

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How The Orioles Built The Majors’ Most Improved Pitching Staff In 91 Years: ‘This Is A Special Group’
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The 1931 Philadelphia Phillies were not a particularly compelling baseball team. They had a record of 66-88-1 in the franchise’s last of 14 straight losing seasons. Their leader in innings pitched, James Elliott, was nicknamed Jumbo.

Thanks to their predecessors, that team holds a major league record. The 1930 Phillies posted a collective 6.70 ERA, the worst in American and National League history, and the next year’s club improved on that mark by 2.12 in its mediocre campaign. Since earned runs became an official stat in 1913, no team has improved its ERA from one year to the next by more, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The 2022 Orioles rank second on that list. Through a combination of key acquisitions, improved game-planning and players’ applications of the team’s resources, Baltimore has built the majors’ most improved pitching staff of the past nine decades.

In the two full seasons before this one, the Orioles had their two worst team ERAs since arriving in Baltimore in 1954. But a pitching staff largely composed of second-chancers has unexpectedly steered them into the wild-card race, entering this weekend’s series with the Toronto Blue Jays with an ERA of 3.88 that’s nearly two full runs better than last year’s franchise-worst figure.

“We’ve had a couple of really difficult pitching years,” manager Brandon Hyde said, “and we’re making big strides.”

Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias first sensed the possibility of improvement on opening day. In overseeing the Orioles’ rebuild after taking over the club’s baseball operations department before the 2019 season, Elias has supplied Hyde with inexperienced pitching staffs, typically featuring players cast aside by other organizations and often leading to disastrous results. This year, it appeared, would be more the same. On the cusp of the regular season, Elias traded away Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott, two of Hyde’s high-leverage relievers from the 2021 season. Baltimore’s opening day bullpen featured four pitchers who joined the team as waiver claims and another who was cut as a teenager amid a decade-long minor league career.

But sitting behind home plate at Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field in April, Elias watched the energy and stuff Bryan Baker and Cionel Pérez, two of those waiver claims, displayed on the mound. Even in what became a season-opening sweep at the hands of a Rays team they’re now chasing for a playoff berth, they and the other pitchers Hyde sent to the mound showed Elias that change could be coming.

“Just sitting back there, you could see the talent,” he said. “It looked different.”

Making this turnaround all the more impressive is that the pitcher who started that first game, team ace John Means, had only one more appearance before undergoing season-ending Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. Expected to be a midseason addition, Grayson Rodriguez, the sport’s top pitching prospect, suffered a Grade 2 right lat muscle strain on the verge of a promotion in June.

The Orioles have made do in their absences.

“It’s not the pitching staff you used to play with them,” Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Fastballs in different places, angles. Their secondary stuff, it’s elite. … ‘18,’ 19 you play them, you can get to them in the last third of the game. Now, they have the lead, and the game is almost over. It’s a testament to who they are.”

‘Tossed aside’

The core of the Orioles’ pitching staff is not without pedigree. Right-handers Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish and Dillon Tate were significant parts of trade returns. Left-hander Keegan Akin was a second-round draft pick. Right-hander Jordan Lyles is in his 12th major league season, having signed the largest free-agent deal Elias has given out.

But the group is largely castoffs. Tyler Wells, second behind Lyles in innings, was left available as a prospect to all 29 other teams by the Minnesota Twins and passed over by each until Baltimore took him in the second round of the 2020 Rule 5 draft. Baker, Pérez, Joey Krehbiel and Austin Voth were acquired via waivers in the past year, with their previous organizations dropping each off their respective 40-man rosters; Pérez said the group often marvels at how they all reached Baltimore the same way. All-Star closer Jorge López also arrived on waivers back in 2020, thriving after moving to a relief role before the Orioles traded him to Minnesota in early August. Part of the reason they did so was their comfort in Félix Bautista’s ability to handle the role. Released by the Miami Marlins as a 19-year-old, Bautista went 10 years between when he first signed and this breakout season.

Those seven pitchers have combined for a 2.76 ERA this year with Baltimore.

“It’s cool to see all these guys that kind of have been tossed aside a little bit, and they’ve got talent, and then just seeing this organization come and pluck them away and utilize their best strengths,” Voth said. “They’re pretty good at that.”

Voth is only one example of the Orioles showing off an ability to maximize pitchers’ abilities. He’s made some slight mechanical tweaks, starting his motion more closed off and facing farther toward third base, then driving into the ground on his hind leg as he pitches. The club has also emphasized, as they do with each pitcher, that Voth do what he does best. In his case, that’s throwing his hoppy fastball high in the strike zone and tunneling his curveball off that, making better use of his best secondary pitch. After posting a 10.13 ERA for the MLB-worst Washington Nationals before being designated for assignment, Voth has a 2.78 mark with Baltimore.

At the time he was let go, Voth had the fifth-worst ERA of any pitcher who had thrown at least 100 innings over the previous three seasons. He said the Nationals were more hands-off in their work with him, adding “their analytics department is not as advanced as the Orioles’,” a sign of Baltimore’s progress under Elias and assistant general manager for analytics Sig Mejdal.

Both came from the Houston Astros, one of the sport’s premier pitching development organizations, and Elias felt adding someone in Baltimore familiar with Mejdal’s models, and thus able to discern that information to players, would be “would be a big shot in the arm.” Chris Holt, then Houston’s assistant pitching coordinator, was drawing interest from another club, and knowing he was about to lose Holt anyway, then-Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow gave Elias permission to interview him.

Holt became Baltimore’s minor league pitching coordinator, overseeing a program that had immediate improvement in strikeouts and ERA in 2019. His title changed to director of pitching ahead of the 2020 campaign, which he was supposed to divide working between the majors and minors before the latter’s season was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic. He retained that position as he also became the Orioles’ major league pitching coach in 2021, when the team posted a 5.84 ERA that was the worst in the majors and team history before this year’s massive step forward. In addition to the drop in ERA, the Orioles have slimmed their walk and home run rates while seeing increases in strikeouts.

The staff has also seen an uptick in velocity, especially in the bullpen. Orioles relievers have an average four-seam fastball velocity of 95.1 mph, seventh in the majors according to Baseball Savant. A year ago, they ranked 23rd at 93.5 mph. No bullpen has thrown four-seamers 98 mph or faster at a greater frequency, doing so at a rate nine times that of 2021. Bautista has thrown 179 pitches at least 100 mph; since pitch tracking began in 2008, all other Orioles have combined for 32 such offerings.

“Nobody is scared,” Tate said. “Everybody is ready to challenge anybody that is right in front of them.

“I think guys feel like they have something to prove.”

That lack of fear was echoed among the staff. Early in the year, Orioles catchers set up in the middle of the plate to encourage pitchers to throw strikes. The practice is no longer necessary.

“Now,” backup catcher Robinson Chirinos said, “they believe.”

Holt said he found no value in comparing this team to previous ones, but he continually praised this group’s work ethic, which he said has allowed them to take what they hear from him, their backstops, bullpen catchers and other members of the pitching department and translate it into on-field results.

“If you look at every guy that’s currently on this roster, every guy has taken a step forward in some respect this year,” Holt said. “Certainly, we have excellent resources, but those resources are nothing without the work ethic and the focus level and the determination level of the player. It’s a special thing. This is a special group.”

On the attack

Akin is a visual learner. For him to truly understand how his pitches play against opposing hitters, he believes there’s only one way: step in the box against himself.

“That’s, like, the one thing that’s almost impossible in this game,” Akin said. “The person that has that stuff doesn’t know how intimidating it can be.”

The Orioles, though, have found their workarounds. After Akin was drafted in 2016, the organization used TrackMan and other systems that could provide information on his pitches, “but we didn’t have anybody that could break it down and basically translate it to the players and make it dummy proof,” Akin said. “And now we have that.”

Before each series, Ryan Klimek, in his first year formally as Baltimore’s manager of pitching strategy as an evolution of his role as an advance scout, will go over an attack plan for the opposing team with the pitchers, using data from the team’s analytics department to detail hitters’ weaknesses and how the strength of various Orioles might match up with those. He “runs the show,” Bradish said, for pregame meetings with the starting pitcher, catcher, Holt and assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes on the plan for that night’s lineup. Pitchers go into each outing with an idea of what type of pitch and which location will give them the best chance of success in a given count against a particular batter.

Elias said Klimek’s new role is a byproduct of wanting to ensure Holt and Holmes can devote their focus to the pitchers’ development, with Holt an expert in pitch design and mechanics while Holmes’ time as a major league gives players a relatable resource on top of his background in biomechanics. Klimek has also been in the dugout during games, with Lyles and Chirinos among those suggesting he be there to go over plans for the upcoming inning with the catcher and starting pitcher while the Orioles are at bat. It becomes especially beneficial as a starter works through the lineup a second or third time, with Klimek providing a refresher on what a batter saw in his previous plate appearance and suggesting a sequence for the upcoming matchup. The Orioles declined to make Klimek available for an interview.

“It takes a little bit more thinking out of it for the rest of us,” said Akin, who has found a home as a long reliever. “You go out there and just kind of execute and not have to think, ‘OK, well, I threw him a fastball two innings ago with the first pitch.’”

The Orioles’ pitchers have more information than they ever have. The team has managed to avoid overwhelming them with it.

“The most important thing that they’ve done is have every guy that goes out there with a clear mind,” Kremer said. “There’s no mixed messages. There’s no unnecessary clutter in your head that will allow you to not focus on the task at hand when you’re out there.”

The steps ahead

Klimek’s work emphasizes the Orioles’ focus on individualization, detailing which specific player might be best suited to come in to face a certain batter. In past years, Hyde couldn’t necessarily navigate a lineup in that fashion, simply trying to get through nine innings however he could with a worn-down staff. He went into games with only a handful of available relievers, needing to extend each after a brief outing from the starter, then repeat the cycle the next game.

“We never would be able to catch up,” Hyde said.

This year, pitchers’ effectiveness has allowed him to deploy them in more advantageous situations. Jake Reed, the latest waiver claim to enter the Orioles’ clubhouse, has had more far success in his career in right-on-right matchups and said he was grateful that’s how Hyde has used him early in his tenure with the team. He said it’s communicated a message that he doesn’t have to be anything other than himself.

“This organization does a really good job of helping guys find their avenue of success,” Baker said. “It’s a beautiful thing about the game. There’s a lot of different ways to be successful, and I think obviously with the mix of guys that we have, you can tell that guys are good at different stuff. I think the Orioles do a really good job of finding out what that is and really honing in on that.”

There remains progress to be made. The Orioles’ improvement in ERA still leaves them in the middle of the league for the year.

But the steps forward taken this season give hope for more. Wells, Kremer and Bradish, each starting down the stretch of a major league season for the first time, have grown in handling that role. Pérez has become a late-inning relief weapon after struggling to find the strike zone in stops with Houston and Cincinnati, with Bautista, Krehbiel and Baker also getting maiden experience late in major league game. Even Lyles, asked to be a veteran clubhouse presence and innings eater, has improved in how he navigates a lineup.

“You go one step at a time,” Holt said. “You can’t ever look too far ahead in the future. Right now, we’re working to do the best possible work we can one day at a time and do the next right thing with each guy. You can’t stampede into steps that are ahead.”

Still, it’s exciting to think of what could come. Next season should see Means’ return and Rodriguez’s full-on arrival. DL Hall, the organization’s top pitching prospect behind Rodriguez, could join the rotation, too, after this year’s late-season relief stint. Of the pitchers on Baltimore’s active roster, only Lyles, with a team option in his contract, isn’t guaranteed to return next season. Bautista described the group as a family, saying that support and bond has helped them thrive.

“That little curve of guys getting familiar with you and the league catching up to you just hasn’t really been there with these guys,” Lyles said. “I think the sky’s the limit for them, and I don’t see them stopping here shortly.”

With Elias previously saying payroll will increase this offseason, there will be new faces, as well, either from trades or free agency. The changes to Camden Yards’ left field wall, now deeper and taller, have certainly helped this year’s staff, and it could encourage pitchers to come to Baltimore, as well.

This year’s improvement won’t hurt that cause, either.

“We want this to be a place where people want to come play because you know you’re gonna get better here,” Elias said. “We’re already starting to hear that a lot, so that’s really exciting for me.”

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Week 3 recap: Chicago Bears offense struggles but Cairo Santos’ last-second field goal gives them 23-20 win

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Week 3 Recap: Chicago Bears Offense Struggles But Cairo Santos’ Last-Second Field Goal Gives Them 23-20 Win
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Roquan Smith came up with a big play just when the Chicago Bears needed it Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

Smith jumped in front of Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills’ pass to Rex Burkhead for an interception and returned it 18 yards to the 12-yard line with just more than a minute to play.

Kicker Cairo Santos followed with a 30-yard field goal to give the Bears a 23-20 victory to improve to 2-1.

With the score tied at 20, the Texans committed a holding penalty on a punt return and got the ball at their own 17-yard line with a chance to take the lead. But three plays into the drive, Smith came up with the play on a pass that defensive lineman Angelo Blackson defended.

It helped seal a game in which the Bears rushed for 281 yards but the passing game again struggled.

Filling in for injured David Montgomery, running back Khalil Herbert had 20 carries for 157 yards. Bears quarterback Justin Fields completed 8 of 17 passes for 106 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Texans safety Jalen Pitre intercepted Fields twice, the second on a pass to Darnell Mooney with three defenders nearby in the fourth quarter.

But Bears defensive lineman Justin Jones sacked Mills for a loss of 8 yards and Nicholas Morrow stopped Phillip Dorsett for a loss of 5 yards on third down to kill the ensuing Texans drive.

Herbert’s 1-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter gave the Bears a 20-17 lead. Herbert, filling in for injured David Montgomery, broke for a 52-yard run, and Justin Fields hit Equanimeous St. Brown with a 20-yard pass on the drive.

Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn made field goals from 39 and 23 yards in the third quarter. Before the latter kick, Smith stopped Dameon Pierce for a loss of 3 yards on third-and-1 from the 2-yard line.

Get our free Bears alerts | Get Brad Biggs’ 10 thoughts on the Bears first | More Bears news

Here’s how Week 3 unfolded.

Inactives announced

Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson will miss Sunday’s game against the Texans with a quad injury he suffered in practice Thursday.

But linebacker Roquan Smith, who missed practice all week with a hip injury, will play.

Linebacker Matt Adams, safety Dane Cruikshank and rookie wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. all are inactive with hamstring injuries. Tight end Ryan Griffin will sit out with an Achilles injury, and offensive lineman Ja’Tyre Carter also is inactive.

Johnson’s absence is big for a young Bears secondary. Opposing teams largely have stayed away from targeting Johnson, instead going after rookie Kyler Gordon, who moves between outside cornerback and nickel, and Kindle Vildor. Gordon had a rough night against Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Week 2.

For the Texans, tight end Brevin Jordan, wide receiver Tyler Johnson, defensive back Isaac Yiadom, linebacker Jake Hansen, offensive lineman Austin Deculus and defensive lineman Kurt Hinish are inactive.

Injury update

David Montgomery went down with a right leg injury midway through the first quarter. After the trainers tended to him for a few minutes, he walked off the field on his own into the medical tent. He then left the tent to go to the locker room.

The Bears announced Montgomery has a knee and ankle injury and is doubtful to return. Wide receiver Byron Pringle also is doubtful to return because of a calf injury.

Running back Khalil Herbert entered the game after Montgomery left and had carries of 8 and 11 yards and then scored on an 11-yard touchdown run to put the Bears up 10-0 midway through the first quarter.

At halftime

As the clock ran out in the second quarter with the Texans leading the Bears 14-13 some boos could be heard across Soldier Field.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields completed just 4 of 11 passes for 45 yards, no touchdowns, an interception and an 11.6 passer rating in the half, which ended with the Texans’ third sack as time ran out. The Bears had timeouts to use but didn’t to try to get in a deep shot.

Playing without David Montgomery, who left in the first quarter with right knee and ankle injuries, running back Khalil Herbert rushed for 64 yards and rookie Trestan Ebner rushed for 23 yards. Fields also had 47 yards rushing.

The Bears were threatening to retake the lead late in the second quarter but couldn’t come up with a big play.

On third-and-5, Fields hit tight end Cole Kmet with a 24-yard pass — Kmet’s first catch of the year — to get to the Texans’ 27-yard line. But the Bears offense stalled three plays later when Jerry Hughes sacked Fields for a loss of 9 yards. Bears kicker Cairo Santos made a 50-yard field instead to cut it 14-13.

Santos made a 47-yard field goal on the game’s opening drive for a 3-0 lead. And Herbert scored on an 11-yard touchdown run after Montgomery left the game to make it 10-0.

But Davis Mills’ 4-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Akins cut the Bears’ lead to 10-7. That drive included a 52-yard pass to Chris Moore.

And the Texans took a 14-10 lead on Dameon Pierce’s 1-yard touchdown run with 7:32 to play in the second quarter. Pierce had four carries for 41 yards on the drive, which started with Desmond King’s 30-yard punt return.

Bears safety Eddie Jackson forced a fumble and had an interception in the first quarter.

The Texans recovered the fumble, but the pick came at a key moment. With the Texans threatening to take a lead at the Bears’ 7-yard line, cornerback Kindle Vildor broke up Davis Mills’ pass to Brandin Cooks in the end zone. Jackson grabbed it out of the air but stepped out of the back of the end zone. The Bears got the ball on their 20.

Jackson’s pick came after Fields threw a pass to Kmet that Texans safety Jalen Pitre intercepted.

Soldier Field guide — and a weather report

There’s a slight chance of rain in Sunday’s forecast, but nowhere near the amount of precipitation fans endured in the Week 1 win over the 49ers (so, no Slip ‘N Slide celebrations this time around). The expected high is set for 69 degrees, with wind of the WNW at 19 mph.

Chicago experiences higher temperatures longer than outlying suburbs due to the heat-island effect. Its location next to Lake Michigan’s warm waters explains why the city and nearby suburbs freeze later in the year than their farther-out counterparts.

Locally, the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting temperatures leaning above normal and “equal chances” of above or below precipitation from October through December.

If you’re headed to Soldier Field, here’s our guide — including where (and what) to tailgate. And no, you won’t be hearing the Bear Raid siren this year.

Latest stadium news from Arlington Heights

Arlington Heights officials rejected a petition to ban village financial incentives for Chicago Bears or any other business, stating that the petition didn’t have enough valid signatures — and warning that such a move would hurt businesses and taxpayers.

The petition calls for the village to create an “Anti-Corporate Welfare Ordinance” that would prohibit any financial or other incentive to a business to operate in the village. The petition was submitted by Americans for Prosperity Illinois, part of a libertarian group backed by the conservative Koch brothers. Read the full story here and read all our coverage here.

OC defends the Bears’ run-pass balance

The comparisons were all over social media this week.

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields has 28 pass attempts in two games this season. Every other team in the league has at least 28 completions and 52 attempts.

The Bears’ measly passing-game numbers, which total 15 completions and 191 yards, have dominated talk, with coach Matt Eberflus saying the Bears need to strive for a better balance in the running and passing games.

Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy understands it: “I love to throw because I’m a quarterback guy, right?”

And surely Getsy knows Fields needs to throw to develop in his second season. But Getsy also believes in following a plan tailored to what a defense is presenting them. Read the full story here.

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QB Lamar Jackson dazzles again, defense makes big plays late to lead Ravens over Patriots, 37-26

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Qb Lamar Jackson Dazzles Again, Defense Makes Big Plays Late To Lead Ravens Over Patriots, 37-26
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Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson threw for four touchdowns and ran for the decisive score late in a wild 37-26 road win Sunday over the New England Patriots.

Jackson’s 9-yard run on third-and-1 late in the fourth quarter punctuated his dazzling day and handed the Ravens a commanding lead on a topsy-turvy, injury-filled afternoon at Gillette Stadium. Cornerback Marcus Peters’ interception on the Patriots’ subsequent drive was the Ravens’ fourth takeaway of the game, all coming in the second half.

Jackson finished 18-for-29 for 218 yards, four touchdowns and an interception and added 11 carries for 107 yards, including the late score. He’s the third player in NFL history to record four touchdown passes and 100 yards rushing in a single game, joining Cam Newton and Randall Cunningham, according to ESPN Stats and Info. All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews caught eight of his 13 targets for 89 yards and two first-half touchdowns, moving past Torrey Smith for the second most touchdown receptions in team history with 32.

One week after a fourth-quarter collapse in a home loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Ravens (2-1) overcame another spotty day on defense. Quarterback Mac Jones finished 22-for-32 for 321 yards, an impressive day undone by his three costly interceptions. The Ravens also allowed 28 carries for 145 yards (5.2 per carry) and three touchdowns.

The Ravens took a 28-20 lead in the third quarter on back-to-back touchdown catches by tight end Josh Oliver, the first of his career, and wide receiver Devin Duvernay, who toe-tapped for a 4-yard score in the back of the end zone. After an interception by inside linebacker Josh Bynes, kicker Justin Tucker hit a 56-yard field goal — the 50th from at least 50 yards in his career — to extend the Ravens’ lead to 11.

Then the game swung in the Patriots’ favor. New England (1-2) got within single digits on a 1-yard touchdown run, their 75-yard drive helped by an improbable fourth-and-1 scramble by Jones that led to an 8-yard completion to tight end Jonnu Smith. Their 2-point-conversion attempt was ruled no good after an overturned call on another improvised pitch.

After a fumble by wide receiver Rashod Bateman (two catches for 59 yards), the Patriots started knocking on the door again. But on third-and-goal from the 10-yard line, Jones threw his second straight questionable interception, a jump ball to the corner of the end zone that cornerback Marlon Humphrey brought in like a punt return. The pick preserved the Ravens’ 31-26 lead.

Another crucial turnover helped turn back the Patriots. Safety Kyle Hamilton’s chase-down strip midway through the fourth quarter jarred the ball loose from wide receiver Nelson Agholor on a long catch-and-run, and cornerback Marcus Peters, somewhat improbably, recovered the ball before he or the ball were out of bounds.

A resurgent running game carried the Ravens for stretches Sunday. In addition to Jackson’s efforts, running backs Justice Hill and J.K. Dobbins, in his first game since January 2021, combined for 13 carries for 83 yards.

The Ravens’ pass defense, however, even with the return of Brandon Stephens and the improved health of fellow cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, struggled mightily for the second straight week. With leading Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers sidelined by a knee injury, DeVante Parker stepped up. In his first two games, Parker had one catch for 9 yards. On Sunday, he had five catches for 156 yards. Each reception was for 20 yards or more.

The Ravens’ first half was full of fits, starts and injury breaks. On their first and third drives, they went three-and-out. On their fourth drive, Jackson threw an interception into double coverage. On their second and fifth drives, though, they rolled through the Patriots’ defense like it was nothing.

Andrews ended both marches in the end zone. He took a shovel pass on third-and-1 for a 5-yard touchdown to give the Ravens a 7-0 lead. On his second score, Andrews outjumped safety Devin McCourty for a 16-yard touchdown to help the Ravens retake a 14-10 lead.

Injuries mounted for the Ravens in the first half at hard-hit positions. In the first quarter, emergency left tackle Patrick Mekari — starting because first-stringer Ronnie Stanley (ankle) was again inactive and backup Ja’Wuan James (Achilles tendon) landed on season-ending injured reserve after Week 1 — exited the game with an ankle injury.

That left rookie tackle Daniel Faalele, who didn’t play a single snap at left tackle over his college career at Minnesota, to contend with the noise inside Gillette Stadium and the speed crashing down Jackson’s blind side. Faalele allowed two sacks in the first half. On the right side, Morgan Moses had two false-start penalties.

Early in the second quarter, the Ravens announced that outside linebacker Justin Houston had left the game with a groin injury. Houston was one of two outside linebackers on the Ravens’ 53-man roster, along with Odafe Oweh. Brandon Copeland (Gilman) had been promoted from the practice squad.

On the Patriots’ go-ahead touchdown drive midway through the second quarter, defensive tackle Michael Pierce left with an arm injury. He was carted off just minutes before Jones scrambled for a 3-yard touchdown, the first rushing score of his career giving New England a 10-7 lead.

Mekari, Pierce and Houston did not return.

This story will be updated.

Week 4

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Dolphins finally take down division-behemoth Bills in game that had it all

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Dolphins Finally Take Down Division-Behemoth Bills In Game That Had It All
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There are no division titles handed out in Week 3 — and sure, the Miami Dolphins didn’t get the Buffalo Bills at full strength.

But with everything lined up for the Dolphins to finally take down their AFC East rivals — from the myriad Bills injuries to having them swelter in early-season South Florida heat and humidity — Miami handled its business, even as quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was momentarily knocked out of the game and a late safety put the outcome in doubt.

Overcoming remarkable play form Bills quarterback Josh Allen until he short-armed a late throw for a potential go-ahead touchdown and ran out of time on Buffalo’s final chance, the Dolphins topped the division behemoth Bills, 21-19, on Sunday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium.

And Miami, off to its first 3-0 start since 2018, is in first place in the AFC East through three weeks.

The Dolphins snapped a seven-game losing streak to the division-rival Bills (2-1). Miami also extended its home winning streak to eight games, the franchise’s longest since a 10-game stretch from Dec. 17, 1984 to Sept. 14, 1986 at the Orange Bowl.

Allen, who was 42 of 63 for 400 yards and two touchdowns, plus 47 yards rushing, bounced a pass to Isaiah McKenzie in the end zone on fourth down with his team trailing by 4, 21-17.

It proved to be far from over for the Dolphins, though. Having to punt backed up after the turnover on downs, Thomas Morstead’s boot went into the back of upback Trent Sherfield, going out of bounds for a safety.

With both teams out of timeouts, Allen completed a pass over the middle to McKenzie, who could not get out of bounds vying for extra yardage. Time ran out on the Bills.

Tagovailoa, who left momentarily in the first half after a late hit that resulted in a roughing-the-passer penalty, returned to action for the second half and finished 13 of 18 for 186 yards and a touchdown in a game where Buffalo dominated time of possession.

Tagovailoa made his throw of the day early in the fourth quarter on third-and-22, hitting an open Waddle deep over the middle for 45 yards. After two timeouts, two plays and an unnecessary roughness by Bills safety Jaquan Johnson on a pass to running back Chase Edmonds, Edmonds ran in a 3-yard score to give Miami a lead, 21-17, with 10:05 remaining.

Tagovailoa escaped pressure on a third-and-3 play right before the two-minute warning, threw a pass that was completed to wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, and was pushed to the ground after the throw by linebacker Matt Milano. The back of Tagovailoa’s head banged against the ground in a whiplash effect.

Tagovailoa was walked off the field and into the locker room, under his own power, with trainers alongside him. He was originally questionable to return with the head injury, but Tagovailoa cleared concussion protocol at halftime, according to the CBS broadcast.

The Dolphins and Bills were tied at 14 at the time of the injury and going into halftime. Tagovailoa was 8 of 10 for 76 yards with a touchdown pass when he exited. Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater then entered for Miami’s third-year signal-caller to finish off Miami’s final series of the first half. Tagovailoa then entered for the opening drive of the second half, completing his first pass for 22 yards to Tyreek Hill.

It’s the third consecutive time Tagovailoa has gotten hurt in a meeting with the Bills. In last year’s Week 2 meeting in Miami Gardens, an A.J. Epenesa hit sidelined Tagovailoa with fractured ribs and put him on short-term injured reserve to miss the ensuing three weeks. In the 2021 Oct. 31 game in Orchard Park, Tagovailoa finished the game but came away with a finger injury on his throwing hand that cost him the next one and a half games.

With the teams tied at 14 at the half, Buffalo ate up 9:22 on one third-quarter drive that resulted in a 30-yard field goal by Tyler Bass. The Bills went up, 17-14, covering 87 yards on 20 plays as Allen connected on a series and short passes and scrambled for a 19-yard gain.

The Bills missed an opportunity to extend the lead with their defense as Milano dropped an interception he could’ve scored on. Then, Bass missed a low field-goal attempt wide left to start the fourth quarter.

The Bills struck first on their opening drive Sunday that was capped by a fourth-down 1-yard pass from Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen to an open Devin Singletary in the end zone. Allen was 6 of 6 for 70 yards on the opening series after his first completion, a 28-yard strike over the middle to Stefon Diggs, was nearly a fumble lost with Diggs losing the back. It was ruled that cornerback Xavien Howard barely contacted the receiver.

The Dolphins defense set the offense up to tie later in the first quarter. Jevon Holland broke free on a safety blitz for a strip-sack on Allen, and outside linebacker Melvin Ingram recovered the fumble at the Buffalo 6-yard line. Miami scored on a Chase Edmonds plunge from a yard away after a pass to Trent Sherfield got the team to the 1-yard line.

Buffalo responded early in the second quarter with Allen again finding another South Florida product, Isaiah McKenzie, wide open for a short touchdown pass. The Bills picked up the Dolphins blitz on third-and-goal from the 8-yard line, with Singletary blocking Holland in the backfield.

Tagovailoa responded with a nine-play, 83-yard drive yard that was capped by a touchdown pass to practice-squad elevation River Cracraft, his second touchdown in as many weeks up from the practice squad. Tagovailoa threw a dart to Cracraft for the 11-yard scoring strike after also completing chunk plays to Waddle and Hill earlier in the drive.

The Dolphins have a quick turnaround for Thursday Night Football, facing the Bengals on the road in Cincinnati.

This story will be updated.

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Instant Analysis: Miami Dolphins 21, Buffalo Bills 19

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Instant Analysis: Miami Dolphins 21, Buffalo Bills 19
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Chris Perkins, Dolphins Columnist

The Dolphins answered the call in a big way and now they’re the top dog in the AFC East with Sunday’s victory over Buffalo. It was an excellent performance all the way around even if it was ideal in some ways. The Dolphins showed guts, grit and talent. They’re now the team to beat in the AFC East and one of the teams to beat in the AFC.

Keven Lerner, Assistant Sports Editor

The defense bailed out the Dolphins over and over again, and Miami escaped with an incredible win and a perch atop the AFC East…and the conference itself?

Steve Svekis, Sports Senior Content Editor

And, we thought last week was earth-shaking? The Dolphins, propelled by a truly great defensive performance.against a monster quarterback, got the two greatest consecutive regular-season wins in my memory. A legitimate AFC favorite.

This will be updated.

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Hyde10: Dramatic ending, Tua’s return, defense’s stand — 10 thoughts on Dolphins 21-19 win over Bills

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Hyde10: Dramatic Ending, Tua’s Return, Defense’s Stand — 10 Thoughts On Dolphins 21-19 Win Over Bills
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Big game. Big finish. Big statement by the Miami Dolphins, too.

The Dolphins beat the Bills, 21-19, in another dramatic finish to go 3-0 and – yes, it’s early – take first place in the AFC East.

Here are 10 thoughts on Sunday’s game.

1. Play of the game I: Fourth-and-goal at the 2. A minute, 49 seconds to play. Josh Allen has Isaiah McKenzie open in the corner and throws short – and this Dolphins defense completes another goal-line stand to go with their work at Baltimore. This one gives the Dolphins the ball at their 2 and …

Play of the Game II: Punter Thomas Morstead is at the back of the end zone with the ball on the 1-yard line and punts into the back of blocker Trent Sherfield. Safety. It’s now Miami 21-19 and a field goal can win it. Buffalo got the ball with 1:25 left, Allen getting a second chance and …

Play of the Game III: Allen, running to get his offense under center at the at the Dolphins 44-yard line, can’t do it quickly enough and time runs out. You had to wait for the ref to say, “That’s the end of the game,” to be sure.

2. Tua Tagovailoa eluded a blitz, completed a nice third-down pass in the second quarter and then got a shove from Bills linebacker Matt Milano that warranted a roughing penalty. In falling, Tua’s head bounced hard off the turf and he came up woozy. He immediately was taken out of the game and went to the locker room. The upshot? He was listed as questionable, didn’t return for the half, but then passed concussion protocol and returned to start the second half. His first pass was a he day, he completed eight of 10 passes for 76 yards an an 11-yard touchdown to River Cracraft. For the day, Tagovailoa completed 13 of 18 passes for 186 yards and the touchdown.

3. Stat of the game: Buffalo ran 88 plays to the Dolphins 39. That’s nuts. It’s reflected in the time of possession, too, as the Dolphins only had the ball for 19:20. The game began with injury issues especially to the Bills defense. As it went on both sides lost players to the heat. On a 20-play, 87-yard drive in the third quarter, the Bills ate up 9:22 and players from both sides dropped out (Xavien Howard was suffering from cramping for the Dolphins). But the number of plays and time of possession

4. Give this Dolphins defense full credit. Buffalo had scored 31 and 41 points its first two games. It was up against the quarterback in Josh Allen that looks like he’s the best in the game right now. Allen threw 63 passes and had 400 yards passing and two touchdowns Sunday. He ran for another 47 yards. This defense not only effectively got a turnover off Allen to make it a 7-7 game, but made him earn everything. Everything. The Buffalo scoring drives were 10, 14, 20 and 15 plays. Sure, they didn’t come away with the win and give Buffalo and Allen credit for going 10-for-16 on third downs. But this defense held up to perhaps the league’s best offense early this year and that’s a good mark for what’s coming.

5. Buffalo was without its entire starting secondary Sunday. The two rookie cornerbacks and two safeties who began the game had a total of three starts between them. So it’s no wonder the question was how this Dolphins passing game would attack them. And? Well, for much of three quarters the Bills had to be happy in only really giving up one touchdown drive (the second came after the defense got the ball at the Bills’ 6). But then in the fourth quarter Tua and the deep passing game went to work. He threw 32 yards to an open Jaylen Hill to start the drive. Then, on third-and-22, Jaylen Waddle got behind the Bills defense for a 45-yard gain to the Buffalo 6-yard line to set up the go-ahead touchdown at 21-17. Buffalo was pay special attention to Tyreek Hill as he only had four targets and two receptions midway through the fourth quarter. That left Waddle to work deep.

6. Left tackle Terron Armstead keeps showing his worth. Von Miller had two sacks in the first two games and disrupted play in each of the Bills wins. Miller wasn’t heard from Sunday. He lined up opposite Armstead all day. And all day Armstead stymied him. Midway through the fourth quarter, Miller had no tackles, no quarterback pressures and was only on the stat sheet because of a pass defensed. That’s what a star left tackle does.

7. Jevon Holland blitzed off the left side of the Bills line, sidestepped a block attempt by Devin Singletary and created the latest game-changing play by the defense. In the opener, it was a Brandon Jones sack against New England’s Mac Jones that caused a fumble which bounced into Melvin Ingram’s hands for a touchdown. This time it was Holland’s blindside hit of Josh Allen that allowed Ingram to recover the fumble at the Bills’ 6-yard line. Three players later, it was a 7-7 game.

8. Second-year player Jaelan Phillips became a target of question and pass-rush concerns this week when it should have been an issue for the whole defense. There hadn’t been many Emmanuel Ogbah or Melvin Ingram sightings, either. Well Ingram changed that Sunday. He stopped a scrambling Allen short of the goal line to be credited with one sack, and then sacked him again in the first half to cause a fumble that the Bills recovered. Throw in that fumble recovery on Holland’s sack and Ingram had an impactful first half. As for Phillips, you need more from him, but let’s remember it’s not a straight-line progression for most pass rushers or edge players. In his third year, Jason Taylor had a half-sack through eight games. If that doesn’t tell you to turn down the volume on the second-year Phillips, nothing will.

9. Quick hits:

A. What was Buffalo doing just before halftime? With six seconds left at the Dolphins 34-yard line, Josh Allen looked like he could have spiked the ball and let Tyler Bass attempt a 51-yard field goal (his long the last two years was 58 and 57 yards). Instead, Allen threw a short pass to Stefon Diggs and the clock ran out. Why? Allen bobbled the snap and there’s a rule if you bobble a snap you can’t spike the ball. So he had to go through with the play.

B. Cornerback Keion Crossen knocked the ball loose of Bills receiver Gabe Allen to turn a touchdown into an incompletion. The Bills had to take a third-quarter field goal.

C. Ingram can expect a fine for kicking/leg-whipping Allen in the groin.

10. Next game: Dolphins at Cincinnati. The dreaded Thursday night away game. Actually, there’s no statistical evidence showing any undue bias for records on Thursday night, home or away (though Dolphins did lose, 22-7, on Thursday in Cincinnat in the 2016 season). Cincinnati might have had a Super Bowl hangover in starting 0-2. Or maybe it was Joe Burrow missing the preseason with appendix surgery. Or maybe they were just fortunate to make the Super Bowl? They played the New York Jets on Sunday.

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Instant analysis from Ravens’ 37-26 win over New England Patriots

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Instant Analysis From Ravens’ 37-26 Win Over New England Patriots
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Here’s what the Baltimore Sun sports staff had to say immediately after the Ravens’ 37-26 win over the New England Patriots in Sunday’s Week 3 game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts:

Childs Walker, reporter: The Ravens pulled out a tense road win thanks to a strong all-around performance from their offense, a pair of timely interceptions from Josh Bynes and Marlon Humphrey and a huge forced fumble by rookie Kyle Hamilton. They got their running game on track with J.K. Dobbins in the lineup, Justice Hill making the most of his opportunities and Lamar Jackson dazzling as usual. Mark Andrews delivered his typical big day, and Devin Duvernay showed what a valuable player he has become with a 43-yard punt return and a tough touchdown catch in the corner.

All of that said, this was another alarming day for the Ravens defense against an offense that hardly set the world on fire in Weeks 1 and 2. They avoided the catastrophic communication lapses we saw against the Miami Dolphins, but their cornerbacks could not cover DeVante Parker, and they struggled to bring down running back Rhamondre Stevenson once he cleared the line of scrimmage. Their run defense, so stout last season, has become a problem right along with their coverage.

They’re also in danger of losing the war even when they win battles. Can they go even one week without suffering a significant injury? Rookie Daniel Faalele had to step in for Patrick Mekari at left tackle, a position he looked unprepared to play until he settled down in the second half. Nose tackle Michael Pierce and edge rusher Justin Houston, both effective through the first two weeks, left before halftime. We saw how this played out last season; they can’t keep taking these blows.

Mike Preston, columnist: The Ravens were able to hang on for the victory, but this was a battle between teams that aren’t very good. They both have a lot of holes, but the Ravens have quarterback Lamar Jackson, who makes up for a lot of the team’s shortcomings. It’s good that it’s early in the season and both teams have time to improve, but will they? The Ravens’ weaknesses on the offensive line and at the linebacker positions are glaring.

Ryan McFadden, reporter: The Ravens’ defense redeemed itself after getting torched by the Dolphins last week. Baltimore forced four turnovers, including three in the fourth quarter. At one point, the Ravens appeared to be letting the lead slip away, but Lamar Jackson made sure his team didn’t repeat the past.

C.J. Doon, editor: The Ravens learned their lesson. With the Patriots threatening to erase another big fourth-quarter lead, cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s interception in the end zone and rookie safety Kyle Hamilton’s forced fumble on a big catch-and-run by Nelson Agholor kept the lead intact, and Lamar Jackson added the exclamation point with a 73-yard drive capped by a 9-yard touchdown run with three minutes left. With four touchdown passes and another 100 rushing yards, Jackson continued to build his MVP case while giving the Ravens’ defense some breathing room as it figures itself out.

Tim Schwartz, editor: Take a second and imagine what this team would be without Lamar Jackson under center. It seems like every week he is breaking team or NFL records and yet the Ravens still struggle to put teams away. Four timely second-half turnovers, thanks to several poor decisions by Patriots quarterback Mac Jones and a key forced fumble by rookie Kyle Hamilton, helped prevent a second straight devastating loss. But this is the Lamar Jackson show, and we’re all just witnesses. He is dominating defenses — he ran for 107 yards, surpassing 100 for the second straight week, and jumped right to the front of the MVP conversation while accounting for five touchdowns — and has put the Ravens on his back for a 2-1 start. With the mighty Buffalo Bills coming to town next week, this was a must-win.

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