A week to be proud of in the AFC North, to be sure.
Each team collected a win and showed a lot of positives doing so. There were warts – there always are – but this week should be seen as very encouraging to the respective AFC North fanbases. The AFC North as a whole is breaking a lot of records – first division to host four teams at three games over .500 this late in a season – and is setting the stage for a historic showdown.
This is what makes football exciting.
Here’s a recap of the week 12 action. Enjoy.
Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, November 23, 1:00pm
Final: Browns 26, Falcons 24
The Browns certainly didn’t do themselves any favors, as quarterback Brian Hoyer managed to dig the Browns into a presumably losing hole with three interceptions until the final drive of the day, during which he managed four straight completions to set up the game winning field goal with five seconds on the clock. While it took some doing, the fact that Hoyer pulled it together in time to deliver the win says a lot about his character as a passer, and to use a lame baseball cliche, it showed he can win without his best stuff. Wideout Josh Gordon, returning from his well-documented ten-game suspension, delivered eight catches for 120 yards, including a 24-yarder during the clinching drive. Gordon and rookie running back Isaiah Crowell almost kept the Browns in the game by themselves, with Crowell rushing at a 7.4 YPC clip with two touchdowns on his 12 carries to pace the offense for much of the day.
Defensively, the Browns did enough to limit Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan’s opportunities downfield. Wideouts Roddy White and Julio Jones totaled 14 catches between them, but were unable to break away and take over, as they’ve often done. Cornerback Joe Haden added an interception and unheralded defensive end Desmond Bryant collected a Ryan fumble to lead a solid defensive performance on a day when the Browns sorely needed one.
What’s Next: The Browns travel to (hopefully) shovelled Ralph Wilson stadium in Buffalo to take on the Bills (Sunday, November 30, 1:00pm, CBS) in a game that will have playoff implications for both teams.
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
Sunday, November 23, 1:00pm
Final: Bengals 22, Texans 13
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton enjoyed a return visit to his home state by posting a solid if unremarkable day against the struggling Texans and recently appointed – and now injured – starting quarterback Ryan Mallett. Dalton used his most effective weapon, wideout A.J. Green, to devastating effect, as Green amassed 12 catches for 121 yards while clearly showing that he’s fully recovered from his toe injury. Running back Jeremy Hill led the Bengals with 87 yards rushing and a touchdown while splitting carries with former starter Giovani Bernard, who looked a bit rusty after returning from a three-game layoff. Dalton did have an interception returned for a touchdown by former Bengal cornerback Johnathan Joseph, providing the only blemish to an otherwise decent performance.
The Bengals shut down the Texans offense for most of the day by applying strong pressure and forcing Mallett to move out of the pocket, which renders the generally immobile and inexperienced Mallett useless for the most part, as he managed only 189 yards and an interception through the air at a 45% completion rate. The Texans’ rushing attack was ineffective, as rookie runner Alfred Blue was unable to repeat his magic from the previous week, and was met repeatedly by Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey (10 tackles) before he could push into the secondary.
What’s Next: The Bengals will visit the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sunday, November 30, 1:00pm, CBS) in a warm weather respite.
Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints
Monday, November 24, 8:30pm
Final: Ravens 34, Saints 27
The Ravens relied on the same formula that has doomed the Saints all season – run the ball often and effectively – to move the team, run down the clock, and keep standout Saints quarterback Drew Brees off the field. Ravens running back Justin Forsett was easily the best player on the field, collecting 182 yards and two touchdowns, his last coming on the game-clinching drive late in the fourth quarter. Wideout Steve Smith Sr. continued his career torture of the Saints by catching four passes for 89 yards and a touchdown, and almost incited a riot on the Saints bench by exchanging punches with Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro. Quarterback Joe Flacco delivered a good performance by completing 18 of 24 passes with no turnovers on a night when little else was required of him.
While the stat sheet certainly doesn’t reflect it, the Ravens’ defense did enough to limit the Saints offense when it mattered, highlighted by safety Will Hill’s interception for a touchdown late in the third quarter, which effectively decided the game. Brees and the Saints picked up large chunks of yardage but were unable to produce much in the red zone, where their rushing attack – and starting back Mark Ingram – was almost completely shut down by Baltimore’s sizable front seven. The pass rush was present and effective, forcing Brees into several hurried throws and poor decisions.
What’s Next: The Ravens host the San Diego Chargers (Sunday, November 30, 1:00pm, CBS) in an effort to keep pace in the ever-crowded AFC North.