Not so fast, Bengals
The recap is late this week, so there is a little less recap, and a little more commentary.
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers
The Browns had a shot in this one until they knocked the Steelers starting quarterback out of the game. Once that happened, it was game over, which begs the question: was Ben Roethlisberger really gimpy enough to start on the bench Sunday?
Although the Pittsburgh running game was bottled up, and the Browns attempted to take away Antonio Brown, the Steelers proved they have plenty of weapons to be successful as long as Big Ben is behind center. Despite coming off the bench in the middle of the first quarter, the hobbled Ben, who has rarely practiced for seven weeks, earned AFC offensive player of the week honors. The Steelers are now the 5th seed in the AFC after their win, 1/2 game in front of the Jets and Bills. In 2 weeks, they will enter the meat of their tough schedule, although their opponents seemed much tougher preseason, or even a few weeks ago (Seattle, Indy, Cincinnati, Denver). Regarding the wildcard hunt, six other teams have four or five losses, and most have the tiebreaker advantage over the Steelers. Games with playoff-like intensity will start early this year in Pittsburgh, beginning after their bye week November 29th in Seattle.
The Browns starter by default, Johnny Manziel, held his own on the stat sheet against the Steelers, but had a costly fumble and interception, and took six sacks. Two notable momentum changers in the game (besides the Steelers quarterback change): At the end of the first half, the Browns defense had a nice goal line stand as they stopped the Steelers twice on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line, only to see their offense fail to gain a yard at the 1:35 mark, giving the Steelers the ball back with 1:05 remaining at the Browns 47. Two plays later, the Steelers were in the endzone for a 21-3 halftime lead. In the middle of the 3rd quarter, the Browns drove to the Steelers one. After a penalty and sack, Manziel threw an INT, essentially sealing the loss. But again, the Browns had little chance of winning after Ben entered the game.
The Browns head into their bye week in familiar territory: looking at their quarterback situation and next year’s draft. When they return to the field, they will bless ESPN’s national audience with a Monday night barnburner at home against the likely 2-8 Ravens.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Baltimore Ravens
Despite losing the game on a play that should have been whistled dead at its onset, the Ravens deserved to lose this game by the way they played on offense, defense, and special teams.
It was fitting that the game essentially ended on a sack that was nullified due to a completely unnecessary facemask on what would have been the game’s final play. The game started with a bounce off of Ravens “#1 receiver” Kamar Aikens’ hands (followed immediately by running a bad route keeping at least three points off the board), continued with underhand-like tosses dropped by cornerbacks and punt returners, and ended with a defender’s hands actually holding on to something. Unfortunately it was attached to the quarterback’s helmet. The dumb play, dumb penalty, dropped ball, and missed assignment has been the theme this year for the Ravens, and there were few exceptions in this game. Add in horrible play calling (when it’s 3rd and 4, why not run a 4+ yard route?), poor throws, and questionable calls that resulted in a net -13 points (early whistle on a fumble, and helmet-to-the-face of a defenseless WR on the opening INT of the 2nd half), and you end up losing to Jacksonville at home. To be fair, if the Jags had taken advantage of the four turnovers and missed INTS by the Ravens DBs, the game wouldn’t have been close. The Jags might be better than in year’s past, but better doesn’t mean they are a good team yet.
With the Ravens 8th loss in 10 games, they are looking good for a top five draft pick.
Next up, the Ravens host the St. Louis Rams, another team that isn’t good enough to beat most teams on the road.
Houston Texans @ Cincinnati Bengals
After a 9-0 start, the Bengals lay an egg on the national stage, which quickly triggers big-game concerns.
Heading into this game, the Texans had gone 0-4 on the road, giving up almost 35 points per game. The entire Bengals offense looked lethargic and did absolutely nothing for most of the game. They had one drive of more than 27 yards until their last-ditch effort on the final drive that ended in an AJ Green fumble at the Texans 33 with :50 remaining. Yes the Bengals are still 9-1, but they looked completely out-of-sync on offense, similar to their prime-time efforts in years past. It would be less of a concern if they hadn’t had a similar effort for much of the game versus the Steelers. Frustration or concern may have led to Andy Dalton’s post game criticism of JJ Watt’s seemingly mild post game comments: “Our goal was to come out here and make the Red Rifle look like a Red Ryder BB Gun, and I think we did that,” Watt said. “He is a great player, and they are a great team, but our coaches put together a great game plan, we executed the game plan, everybody did their job.” JJ certainly deserves some bashing for the whining QB selfie rant he had last season, but Dalton should have let this one go.
The Bengals are still in great shape to win the division even if they stumble somewhat. They essentially have a 4 game lead in the loss column over the Steelers due to any tie-breaking scenario, meaning that even if the Steelers went undefeated the rest of the way, the Bengals would have to go 3-4 to give up the division lead.
Next up, the Bengals head to Arizona for what seems like a weekly primetime event against AFC North opponents.
AFC North Week 10 Recap
Not so fast, Bengals