McCarron ready for big test in Bengals’ most important game


By Joe Kay - AP Sports Writer



Injured Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, left, celebrates with quarterback AJ McCarron after the team scored a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Injured Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, left, celebrates with quarterback AJ McCarron after the team scored a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)


Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron (5) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)


Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron (5) rolls out to pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)


CINCINNATI (11-3) at DENVER (10-4)

By The Associated Press

Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

OPENING LINE — Denver by 4 1-2

RECORD VS. SPREAD — Cincinnati 11-2-1, Denver 8-5-1

SERIES RECORD — Broncos lead 19-9

LAST MEETING — Bengals beat Broncos 37-28, Dec. 22, 2014

LAST WEEK — Bengals beat 49ers 24-14; Broncos lost to Steelers 34-27

AP PRO32 RANKING — Bengals No. 5, Broncos No. 9

BENGALS OFFENSE — OVERALL (11), RUSH (15), PASS (11).

BENGALLS DEFENSE — OVERALL (9), RUSH (8), PASS (18).

BRONCOS OFFENSE — OVERALL (23), RUSH (18), PASS (17).

BRONCOS DEFENSE — OVERALL (1), RUSH (1), PASS (1).

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Bengals have 11-21 record on Monday nights, including win over Denver in Cincinnati last December. … Broncos are 29-37-1 on Monday nights. … FS Reggie Nelson’s eight interceptions tied for league lead and double his previous career high. He needs two more to tie club record set by Deltha O’Neal in 2005. … In first NFL start, QB AJ McCarron completed 15 of 21 passes for 192 yards and one TD for 115.6 rating in win over Niners. … Gary Kubiak is perfect in five games against Bengals as head coach. Kubiak needs one win to tie Red Miller (1977) as only head coaches with 12 wins in first season with Broncos. … K Brandon McManus has missed kick in four consecutive games: three FGs and one PAT. … RB Ronnie Hillman leads team with career-high 711 yards rushing. … Since 2010, WR Demaryius Thomas has 46 TD catches, second most in AFC, including two last week. … WR Emmanuel Sanders coming off career-high 181-yard game at Pittsburgh that included TD. … OLB Von Miller has six sacks in last six games. … QB Brock Osweiler makes sixth straight start in place of Peyton Manning (foot), who’s 8-1 versus Cincinnati. … Osweiler threw career-high three TD passes last week and ran for score, all in first half. He’s first QB in NFL to do that since Manning in ‘13. … Osweiler aims for third consecutive game with 295 or more yards passing. … Broncos lost S David Bruton Jr. to broken right leg. He played 75 snaps with fractured fibula against Steelers thinking it was only bad bruise. He went on IR on Tuesday. … Fantasy Tip: Osweiler has thrown for 604 yards and three TDs combined in last two games despite Broncos blowing double-digit halftime leads in back-to-back weeks.

CINCINNATI (AP) — AJ McCarron didn’t make any big mistakes in his first NFL start, setting up a win.

He’ll need to do a lot more on Monday night to get the Bengals where they ultimately want to go.

The second-year quarterback didn’t have a turnover during a 24-14 win in San Francisco last Sunday, his first start in place of the injured Andy Dalton. He’ll be facing the league’s top-ranked defense on Monday night in Denver with a first-round playoff bye riding on it.

He needs to do more than just avoid mistakes in order for the Bengals (10-3) to get that bye. He needs to manage the offense in a tough place for visiting teams to win.

“All great quarterbacks — I’m not calling myself a great quarterback — just saying all the great quarterbacks in the history of the NFL have been a game manager of some sort, whether it’s knowing the clock, knowing the situation, when to take a sack, when to throw the ball away, when you can take a little more risk, when not to,” McCarron said.

McCarron is aware he’s still got a lot to learn while leading Cincinnati into the playoffs. The Bengals have clinched a playoff berth and would win the AFC North with a victory or a Steelers loss this weekend.

New England (12-2) is in line to get the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Whoever wins at Denver (11-3) on Monday night will be in position for the No. 2 seed, a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game.

It could come down to how well McCarron does against a defense that’s ranked No. 1 against the run and against the pass — a rare combination in the NFL.

When Dalton broke his right thumb during a 33-20 loss to the Steelers two weeks ago, McCarron took over and threw a pair of interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown that put Pittsburgh in control.

“You make those mistakes, you’ve got to learn from them,” McCarron said. “In my situation I’ve got to learn from them quick and play better.”

He was much better at San Francisco last Sunday, where he took sacks rather than risking an interception. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said the next step is to avoid the sacks and get rid of the ball rather than lose yards.

McCarron was 15 of 21 for 192 yards with one touchdown, four sacks and a passer rating of 115.6. Cincinnati finished with a season-low 242 net yards.

“I think it’s a heck of a challenge,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “A team that’s No. 1 in defense on the road with a backup quarterback, that is going to be a heck of a challenge for us. That’s great. That’s awesome. It’s fun.”

In addition to facing the league’s top-ranked defense, McCarron will be playing a cold-weather game. The two-time national champion at Alabama hasn’t had a lot of experience with the sub-freezing temperatures he’ll face on Monday.

“Going to prepare the same way,” the Alabama native said. “Instead of one long sleeve, I might just have two long sleeves. But I mean other than that, I think it’s pretty much the same way.

“It’s kind of weird because when you’re out there playing, it’s a lot different from when you’re standing on the sideline and you’re freezing and you’re trying to sit on the heater bench as long as possible or trying to stay warm any way possible. But when you’re out there playing, you stop thinking about it. You don’t even notice it until you go to the sideline and you kind of calm down a little and realize how cold it is.”

Notes: TE Tyler Eifert was still in the concussion protocol on Wednesday. He missed the game at San Francisco with a concussion. … The Bengals had a light practice, but weren’t required to give an injury report because of the timing with the game on Monday night. Their first report of the week will be on Thursday.

___

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Injured Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, left, celebrates with quarterback AJ McCarron after the team scored a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2015/12/web1_107801525-1f6274cfc5d841888886b800e387b287.jpgInjured Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, left, celebrates with quarterback AJ McCarron after the team scored a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron (5) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2015/12/web1_107801525-64481cd065cd4b559b6d047749b833b2.jpgCincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron (5) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron (5) rolls out to pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2015/12/web1_107801525-14c70966923f4599af70e5c22cc29939.jpgCincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron (5) rolls out to pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

By Joe Kay

AP Sports Writer

CINCINNATI (11-3) at DENVER (10-4)

By The Associated Press

Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

OPENING LINE — Denver by 4 1-2

RECORD VS. SPREAD — Cincinnati 11-2-1, Denver 8-5-1

SERIES RECORD — Broncos lead 19-9

LAST MEETING — Bengals beat Broncos 37-28, Dec. 22, 2014

LAST WEEK — Bengals beat 49ers 24-14; Broncos lost to Steelers 34-27

AP PRO32 RANKING — Bengals No. 5, Broncos No. 9

BENGALS OFFENSE — OVERALL (11), RUSH (15), PASS (11).

BENGALLS DEFENSE — OVERALL (9), RUSH (8), PASS (18).

BRONCOS OFFENSE — OVERALL (23), RUSH (18), PASS (17).

BRONCOS DEFENSE — OVERALL (1), RUSH (1), PASS (1).

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Bengals have 11-21 record on Monday nights, including win over Denver in Cincinnati last December. … Broncos are 29-37-1 on Monday nights. … FS Reggie Nelson’s eight interceptions tied for league lead and double his previous career high. He needs two more to tie club record set by Deltha O’Neal in 2005. … In first NFL start, QB AJ McCarron completed 15 of 21 passes for 192 yards and one TD for 115.6 rating in win over Niners. … Gary Kubiak is perfect in five games against Bengals as head coach. Kubiak needs one win to tie Red Miller (1977) as only head coaches with 12 wins in first season with Broncos. … K Brandon McManus has missed kick in four consecutive games: three FGs and one PAT. … RB Ronnie Hillman leads team with career-high 711 yards rushing. … Since 2010, WR Demaryius Thomas has 46 TD catches, second most in AFC, including two last week. … WR Emmanuel Sanders coming off career-high 181-yard game at Pittsburgh that included TD. … OLB Von Miller has six sacks in last six games. … QB Brock Osweiler makes sixth straight start in place of Peyton Manning (foot), who’s 8-1 versus Cincinnati. … Osweiler threw career-high three TD passes last week and ran for score, all in first half. He’s first QB in NFL to do that since Manning in ‘13. … Osweiler aims for third consecutive game with 295 or more yards passing. … Broncos lost S David Bruton Jr. to broken right leg. He played 75 snaps with fractured fibula against Steelers thinking it was only bad bruise. He went on IR on Tuesday. … Fantasy Tip: Osweiler has thrown for 604 yards and three TDs combined in last two games despite Broncos blowing double-digit halftime leads in back-to-back weeks.