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🐅 Good morning to everyone but especially ...


A lot of people thought the Bengals' season was over when Joe Burrow went down with a season-ending injuryJake Browning (who?) wasn't one of them.

Cincinnati won a thrilling 34-31 overtime Monday night contest that turned into a battle of the backup quarterbacks after an ugly-looking ankle injury to Jaguars star Trevor Lawrence -- more on that in a bit -- to improve to 6-6 and remain in the AFC playoff hunt.

  • Browning was fantastic, earning his first win as a starting quarterback since 2018 at Washington ... the university, not the NFL franchise. He finished with 354 yards passing and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) and led scoring drives to take the lead both late in regulation (Evan McPherson from 54 yards) and in overtime (McPherson from 48 to win it).
  • Even with the Lawrence injury casting a dark shadow, this was an incredible game that featured an NFL season-high five ties, the last of which came via a field goal drive led by C.J. Beathard after Lawrence exited.
  • The Bengals also won despite running one of the worst trick plays you'll ever see.

Browning hit big passes -- including a 76-yard touchdown to Ja'Marr Chase -- and showed some real moxie, including a 21-yard, third-down scramble to set up McPherson's first field goal. He became just the 10th quarterback ever with at least 350 yards passing on at least an 85% completion percentage in a game.

Is it sustainable? Maybe. Maybe not. The Jaguars' passing defense isn't exactly a juggernaut, and there are some tough tests remaining. But things could have gone completely sideways for Cincinnati. Browning ensured, at least for one night, that they didn't.

👍 Honorable mentions

😬 And not such a good morning for ...

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What is there to say? The quarterback injury bug this year has been brutal and unrelenting across the NFL, but this one just seems cruel. This was the Jaguars' first Monday Night Football game in a dozen years. Lawrence was shredding the Cincinnati defense. And then in an instant, all of the good feelings were over.

Then, adding insult to literal injury, the Jaguars lost.

If there's a glimmer of hope, it's that Lawrence's injury -- caused by Walker Little stepping on Lawrence's right foot and then the leg getting rolled up on awkwardly -- was diagnosed as an ankle sprain and he was reportedly in "good spirits" with the ankle unwrapped (though on crutches) postgame.

It's not worth speculating any further. What we do know is Lawrence is a fantastic player, and fantastic players being out -- or not being as fantastic due to injury -- is a brutal blow, especially at quarterback. The numbers from SportsLine confirm that. All Jacksonville can do is wait ... and hope.

👎 Not so honorable mentions

🏀 Pacers, Pelicans advance to In-Season Tournament semifinals

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Diehard NBA fans already know him. Casual fans, get to know him: Tyrese Haliburton is a star, and he makes watching the Pacers a whole lot of fun. Indiana beat the Celtics, 122-112, to advance to the In-Season Tournament semifinals.

  • With the game tied late, Haliburton spurred a 9-0 run. First, he nailed a 3-pointer while getting fouled and made the free throw. On the next two possessions, he assisted a Buddy Hield 3-pointer and an Aaron Nesmith dunk.
  • Haliburton registered his first career triple-double and became the first Pacer ever with a triple-double and at least five 3-pointers. Haliburton also had no turnovers.

The In-Season Tournament has already been a success, notes Brad Botkin, with exciting finishes, great crowds (Haliburton complimented Indiana's postgame) and games that really do feel different. And now it's helping elevate players to stardom, too, writes Sam Quinn.

  • Quinn: "For the first time in his career, Haliburton played in a game that was nationally shown on TNT. It's initially a jarring stat that makes quite a bit more sense with a bit of thought. Haliburton has spent his career playing on bad teams in small markets. ... If Haliburton wasn't going to get on national television the old fashioned way, he needed a way to earn his way there through merit. He did just that by leading the Indiana Pacers to a 4-0 record in group play, setting up a big-time matchup with the Eastern Conference favorite Boston Celtics. By winning that game, Haliburton took the Pacers to Vegas, where he will likely be the biggest story at the biggest event of the regular season."

In the nightcap, the Pelicans roared back from an early deficit to defeat the Kings, 127-117. Brandon Ingram had 30 points for New Orleans.

🏆 Heisman Trophy finalists announced

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And then there were four: The Heisman Trophy finalists were announced Monday. Here's the field, with notes from Barrett Sallee.

  • LSU QB Jayden Daniels -- "Daniels has put up video game numbers similar to those of 2019 Heisman Trophy winner and LSU quarterback Joe Burrow ... Daniels has elevated himself and those around him with 3,812 yards passing, 1,134 yards rushing and 50 touchdowns."
  • Oregon QB Bo Nix -- "Nix threw for 4,145 yards, rushed for 228 yards, tossed 40 touchdowns and ran for six more for a team that went 11-2 and finished No. 8 in the final College Football Playoff rankings."
  • Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. -- "The 6-foot-3, 213-pound senior led the Huskies to a perfect season, the Pac-12 title and a berth in the College Football Playoff as the No. 2 seed. ... Penix threw for 4,218 yards and 33 touchdowns for a Huskies team that burst onto the national scene out of a loaded conference."
  • Ohio State WR Marvin Harrison Jr. -- "The Biletnikoff Award finalist caught 67 passes for 1,211 yards and 14 touchdowns for a Buckeyes team that entered rivalry weekend with an unblemished record prior to falling to Michigan. His 14 receiving touchdowns are tied for the second-most in the nation ..."

The nation's most coveted individual award will be given out Saturday night in New York.

🏈 Ranking every bowl game 1-41 and early expert CFP picks

We're approaching the most wonderful time of the year: bowl season. And that means one of the most wonderful pieces of content all year: Tom Fornelli ranking every single bowl.

Yes, the CFP semifinals are the top two. As Tom explains, though, it's very, very close.

  1. "Rose Bowl: No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 4 Alabama -- I mean, you can't ask for much more than this, can you? ... Michigan is the only college football program in history with 1,000 wins to its credit, while Alabama is the only program with roughly 1,000 national titles. And it'll all take place in our greatest college football setting: the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day. ... As for the matchup on the field, I'm not sure if I've ever been more confident about two teams while simultaneously feeling like I have no idea who they are."
  2. "Sugar Bowl: No. 2 Washington vs. No. 3 Texas -- Michael Penix Jr. and Quinn Ewers will be pivotal to this game, but they're not the only superstars. Both teams have outstanding weapons in the passing and run games on offense, and while Texas has the more recognizable names on the defensive line with T'Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy, ask Oregon's offensive line if the Washington defensive front should be taken lightly. I cannot wait to watch this game."

Tom somehow has the Pop-Tarts Bowl -- No. 18 NC State vs. No. 25 Kansas State -- ranked just 23rd despite it featuring an edible mascot, which should automatically make it top-10 at worst. And sorry to the Famous Toastery Bowl, Tom's No. 41 bowl.

We still have nearly a month before the CFP semifinals, but if you're like me, you can't stand to wait that long. So Dennis Dodd came to the rescue with his early thoughts on both games, which he says "may make for the best CFP semifinals in the 10-year history of the four-team field."

Finally, the end of the regular season coincides with the transfer portal heating up, and we've seen that already. Our transfer portal tracker is up and running, and Monday's headlines included ...

📺 What we're watching Tuesday

🏀 No. 11 FAU vs. No. 20 Illinois (M), 6:30 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Providence at No. 19 Oklahoma (M), 7 p.m. on ESPNU
🏀 Knicks at Bucks, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 No. 9 North Carolina vs. No. 5 UConn (M), 9 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Suns at Lakers, 10 p.m. on TNT