AFC North Week 13 in Review

AFC North Week 13 in Review
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There’s no better way to describe the collective performance of the AFC North in Week 13 than “Ugh”.  The division produced one win, albeit an ugly one, and three losses while showcasing some profound team flaws.  There’s just not much to be excited about if you’re a fan, because even the positives – scattered as they were – weren’t enough to create any optimism in each team’s playoff (or heaven forbid, title) chances.

Here’s the lowdown on the lowdown.  Enjoy.


San Diego Chargers @ Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, November 30, 1:00pm
Final:  Chargers 34, Ravens 33

From an outsider’s perspective, this game showcased two playoff hopefuls looking to establish themselves as contenders and demonstrate the ability to play under pressure.  One team delivered, as the Chargers executed a last-minute drive to perfection to take a one-point lead and ultimately keep it.

The Ravens played decent football offensively, as running back Justin Forsett secured his third straight 100-yard rushing performance, and quarterback Joe Flacco delivered a two-touchdown, no-turnover day.  The offense was often limited to field goals after having several drives stall in the red zone, which contributed to the team’s ultimate downfall.  Also of note were several key dropped passes by the wideouts, none bigger than a 50 yard flub by veteran Steve Smith.  The Ravens had a final chance to maneuver towards a field goal, but due to errant passing and poor clock management, the final seconds ticked off the clock as wideout Kamar Aiken struggled – and failed – to get out of bounds in time.

Defensively, the Ravens neglected to fully contain the Chargers all day, as each team punted once during the course of the game.  The secondary failed to cover the Chargers receivers with any effectiveness, allowing Keenan Allen to catch 11 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns.  The Ravens’ linebackers did little defending the pass as well, as venerable tight end Antonio Gates repeatedly extended drives with crucial third down catches all afternoon.  The lone defensive bright spot for Baltimore was limiting the Chargers to 64 total rushing yards.

What’s Next:  The Ravens travel to Miami (Sunday, December 7, 1:00pm, CBS) to take on the possible playoff contending Dolphins in a must-win for both teams.


Cincinnati Bengals @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, November 30, 1:00pm
Final:  Bengals 14, Buccaneers 13

As the adage states, winning ugly is still winning.  Nowhere was it more evident than in Tampa Sunday.

Quarterback Andy Dalton reverted to particularly ugly form, throwing three first-half interceptions, but produced just enough offense by rushing for one score and passing for another to keep the Bengals in the game and ultimately secure the victory.  Wideout A.J. Green caught a touchdown pass among his four grabs for the day, and the running game produced 112 combined yards between backs Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard.  The Bengals, to their credit, were greeted by a surprisingly stingy Buccaneers defense and kept their poise, doing just enough to extend their AFC North lead.

The Bengals’ defenders played well and were certainly the reason they remained in the game, limiting the Buccaneers and quarterback Josh McCown to 188 passing yards and allowing just 75 Tampa yards rushing, mostly to resurgent back Doug Martin among others.  McCown was sacked once (half-sack each by defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins) and almost pulled it together in time to move the Buccaneers in position to attempt a game-winning field goal.  The play was negated by penalty (12 men on the field) and confirmed by replay, spurred in part by head coach Marvin Lewis’ inexplicable challenge flag, which, of course, cannot be used within the final two minutes.

What’s Next:  In what’s sure to be another ugly contest, the Bengals host the Steelers (Sunday, December 7, 1:00pm, CBS) with little margin for error.


Cleveland Browns @ Buffalo Bills
Sunday, November 30, 1:00pm
Final:  Bills 26, Browns 10

In another test of playoff hopefuls, the Bills prevailed by using suffocating defense, and were aided by a poor Browns offensive showing.

Controversy abounds out of Cleveland this week with the advent of rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, who saw his first significant action against the Bills in relief of the struggling Brian Hoyer, whose two interceptions to safety Da’Norris Searcy put the Browns behind and prevented them from recovering.  Rookie running back Terrance West contributed a crucial lost fumble, which the Bills returned for the clinching touchdown.  In all, it was a miserable day for the Browns offensively, which saw top wideout Miles Austin hospitalized after the game with a kidney injury (status TBD) after posting 87 yards on seven catches, and witnessed Manziel’s rushing touchdown, which proved to be the only significant scoring the Browns would have all day.  Expect a quarterback change this week, as Hoyer has been ineffective for several weeks.

The Browns seemingly did well defensively, holding Bills quarterback Kyle Orton to 190 yards and two interceptions, but allowing a key third quarter touchdown pass.  Cornerback Joe Haden collected one of the interceptions, extending his season total to three, and defensive end Desmond Bryant took down Orton for the lone Cleveland sack of the game, his fourth for the year.  Linebacker Chris Kirksey continued his notable rookie season with nine tackles (seven solo) and played well overall in limiting the Bills rushing attack to 3.5 YPC.

What’s Next:  The Browns host standout quarterback and the Indianapolis Colts (Sunday, December 7, 1:00pm, CBS) in yet another must-win game for both teams.


New Orleans Saints @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, November 30, 1:00pm
Final:  Saints 35, Steelers 32

Not nearly as close as the score appeared, the Saints took control early and never relinquished the lead, as the Steelers turned in a sloppy performance in all facets.  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger produced 435 passing yards and two touchdowns, both when the game was essentially out of reach.  He also threw two costly interceptions, including one that set up the Saints’ initial touchdown, and was hassled all day, forcing him to rely heavily on running back Le’Veon Bell, who totaled an eye-popping 95 yards rushing and 195 yards receiving, the latter a career high.  Wideout Antonio Brown caught the two touchdown passes as part of his eight catch, 97 yard day.

The Steelers defense suffered a costly day, losing not only the game, but also longtime defensive end Brett Kiesel (triceps injury).  The secondary in particular played poorly as Saints wideout Kenny Stills, working mostly against newly-returned cornerback Ike Taylor, posted five catches for 162 yards and a touchdown.  Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed passes to nine different receivers for five touchdowns, with none going to standout tight end Jimmy Graham, as he appeared to be the focus of the Pittsburgh coverage.  The Steelers’ front seven allowed the Saints to rush for 143 yards, and appeared to be off-balance all day by Brees’ excellent play-action fakes and rollouts.

What’s Next:  The Steelers travel to Cincinnati (Sunday, December 7, 1:00pm, CBS) in a much-anticipated and needed divisional contest.


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