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Hunt set for reunion in KC

AFC playoffs

Weekend schedule

SATURDAY

4:35 p.m.: Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers (FOX)

8:15 p.m.: Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills (CBS)

SUNDAY

3:05 p.m.: Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs (CBS)

6:40 p.m.: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (FOX)

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Kareem Hunt’s about to face the team that drafted and developed him before deciding to push the running back away.

The Kansas City Chiefs won a Super Bowl without Hunt. He wants to stop them from getting another one.

Hunt, whose career briefly derailed in Kansas City before being renewed with a second chance in Cleveland, expects to have “high” emotions Sunday when the Browns visit the Chiefs in the AFC divisional round.

He’ll run with anger, but said it won’t be aimed at the Chiefs. They’re just the next team in his path.

“I play with a lot of emotion, but this will probably be a little bit more,” he said.

This isn’t about revenge for Hunt, who insists he doesn’t carry a grudge toward the Chiefs for releasing him in 2018 after a disturbing video surfaced of him shoving a woman to the floor and kicking her during an argument.

He lied to them about his involvement and the 25-year-old paid the price. Then The NFL suspended him eight games.

Hunt says this return is simply about football.

“It’s a big game,” he said. “I came in with those guys over there. This is the first time playing against some of my best friends.”

Back in 2017, when Patrick Mahomes was still a rookie backup quarterback with a big arm and big potential, Hunt, a third-round draft pick from Toledo, seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the NFL in rushing.

He was a rising star on a rising team, but his off-field behavior snuffed any glow.

In the aftermath of the video, Hunt was released and appeared to be untouchable before former Kansas City general manager John Dorsey, who had moved on to Cleveland after his own messy separation from the Chiefs, signed him.

Back in his hometown, Hunt’s now part of a renaissance with the Browns (12-5), who knocked off the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card round.

It tore at Hunt last winter when the Chiefs won it all. He told a police officer after he was pulled over for speeding — his only misstep since joining the Browns — that it “hurts my soul’ that he wasn’t part of Kansas City’s win.

It’s not that he wasn’t thrilled for Mahomes, All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce and other ex-teammates he considers “family,” Hunt just wanted to share the experience. It’s what drives him now.

“My biggest goal coming into the NFL was to win a Super Bowl,” Hunt said. “The Super Bowl has been on my mind since I got drafted to Kansas City. They were able to get that goal, which they deserve. That is a good program over there, a good football team and good people.”

As this strange season has unfolded, Hunt, who has a combined 1,145 yards and scored 11 touchdowns, had a premonition the Browns would face the Chiefs.

“Kareem talked about this game all year like he knew it was going to happen,” said his running mate, Browns Pro Bowler Nick Chubb. “He’s excited for it. I am excited to watch him go out there and play. He’s ready for it.”

After last week’s win at Pittsburgh, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield thought Hunt was running “like he wanted to get to Kansas City.” Hunt then raised some eyebrows by posting that this week’s game was “personal.”

On Thursday, Hunt said his remarks were only meant that he was playing good friends — not to soothe any agenda. He’ll run hard. Always does.

“Bragging rights,” he said.

While he didn’t leave Kansas City’s organization on good terms, Hunt has remained close with its players and Chiefs coach Andy Reid.

“We love Kareem,” Reid said this week. “He was here. He’s a heck of a kid. I’m so happy for him that he’s doing well, and really when its all said and done, that’s the important thing — you put the game aside and hope these guys end up in the right direction so they can sustain that for the rest of their life.”

Just as they were against the Steelers, the Browns are underdogs. And, for the second week in a row, they’ve found some extra motivation.

Earlier this week, Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins responded to a fan on Twitter by saying he didn’t think the Browns would provide much competition. Steelers receiver Juju Smith-Schuster fired up Cleveland with his “The Browns is the Browns” remark, which has since become a rallying cry across Northeast Ohio.

“We’ll just see on Sunday,” Hunt said. “If he believes that, we’ll see what he thinks after the game.”

GAME NOTES: Browns Pro Bowl LG Joel Bitonio remains on the COVID-19 list. He’s eligible to return, but has yet to be cleared. … WR KhaDarel Hodge returned and practiced after missing three games with the virus. … All-Pro RT Jack Conklin, LD B.J. Goodson (shoulder) and TE David Njoku sat out their second straight practice.

Young QBs in charge

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Ravens coach John Harbaugh was immediately impressed by Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen’s competitive fire following their first face-to-face encounter in an NFL setting.

It happened in the 2018 season opener, when the then-raw rookie Bills quarterback was shoved into the Ravens’ sideline. Allen hopped up and exchanged words with players and Harbaugh before officials stepped in to separate everyone.

“He came up jawing and talking and shoving and pushing,” Harbaugh recalled as fifth-seeded Baltimore (12-5) prepares to face the AFC East champion Bills (14-3) in a divisional playoff Saturday night. “Rookie quarterback. Man, I love this guy.”

Allen was only in the game for mop-up duty after Nate Peterman was benched upon throwing his second interception, which led to the Ravens building a 40-0 lead in an eventual 47-3 victory.

What struck Harbaugh is how Allen refused to back down, a quality he also sees in Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, who also made his NFL debut that day as Joe Flacco’s backup.

“They’ve come up on the quote-unquote other side of the tracks from a football perspective where they came up the hard way, doubted often, and had to overcome that,” Harbaugh said. “I always like the underdog.”

Allen, whom the Bills traded up five spots to select No. 7 in the 2018 draft, had accuracy issues and was dismissed for playing at lowly regarded Wyoming. Jackson, selected 32nd in 2018, was questioned as to whether the dynamic mobility he showed at Louisville would translate to the NFL.

Three seasons later, both are coming off their first career playoff victories and have their teams one win short of appearing in the AFC championship game.

Jackson made his splash last season when he earned NFL MVP honors after leading the NFL with 36 touchdown passes, 43 combined TDs and became the league’s first player to top 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing.

And yet, Jackson failed to silence his critics because he was 0-2 in the playoffs before a 20-13 win at Tennessee last weekend. It was a game in which the Ravens overcame a 10-0 deficit — their largest in a playoff victory — with Jackson sparking the comeback with an electrifying 48-yard touchdown run.

“We know how it feels to be hyped up and we know how it feels to be at your lowest point,” Jackson said. “We’re focused on Buffalo and we’re not trying to let the outside noise or anything like that distract us.”

Allen blossomed into a star this season by setting numerous franchise passing and scoring records, while finishing fourth in the NFL in completing 69.2% of his passes — a 10.45% jump over last year.

An NFL MVP candidate, Allen is the key reason the Bills matched a franchise record in winning 13 regular-season games and clinched their first division title in 25 years.

“My first game, yeah. I’ve changed a lot since then. My mannerisms and my temper’s a little different than it was back in the day,” Allen said. “I don’t forget those days. They’ve helped me get to where I am.”

GAME NOTES: Baltimore has been playing with a win-or-done urgency since early December, following a 1-4 skid that dropped it to 6-5.The Ravens were depleted by a COVID-19 outbreak in a 19-14 loss at Pittsburgh before reeling off six consecutive wins. … Buffalo is without rookie running back Zack Moss, who sustained a season-ending ankle injury last weekend. Coach Sean McDermott said T.J. Yeldon will take over the role behind Devin Singletary. The seventh-year player has just 70 yards on 10 carries, and hasn’t played since Oct. 13. … Baltimore accomplished its objective last week in limiting the NFL’s leading rusher, Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, to 40 yards on 18 attempts. Now the Ravens turn their attention to having contain the league’s leading receiver in Diggs. … The Ravens are only the third team in NFL history to have three players top 700 yards rushing in a single season with Jackson (1,005 yards), rookie J.K. Dobbins (805) and Gus Edwards (723). … The Bills limited the Ravens to only 118 yards rushing in last year’s meeting, a 24-17 Ravens win. Buffalo, however, has allowed 150 yards rushing five times this season, one more than the past two combined. … Harbaugh and McDermott were members of Andy Reid’s coaching staff with the Eagles in the 2000s, and both remain close. So close, in fact, Harbaugh kidded McDermott during an interview this week upon recalling he introduced McDermott to the woman who is now his wife.

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