For once, the weekend’s AFC North game results didn’t shatter anyone’s picks or produce mass suicides in Vegas.
The games were good, exciting matchups that lived up to their billing. While two teams were obviously disappointed with their results, the fact remains that the games themselves were among the most entertaining seen in the division this season, with good offensive performances, excellent defensive performances, and last-second finishes. This offsets the previous week by some measure, as the collective depression that had settled in seems to have lifted, at least partially.
Here’s a retell of the weekend action. Enjoy.
Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins
Sunday, December 7, 1:00pm
Final: Ravens 28, Dolphins 13
It was, to be cliche, a tale of two halves. The Dolphins managed a 10-7 halftime lead and appeared poised to hand the Ravens their second straight defeat and crush their remaining playoff hopes. The Ravens rallied to score 21 second half points to seize the victory by primarily riding a stellar defensive effort and an opportunistic offense.
In the midst of the Ravens’ lackluster first half, quarterback Joe Flacco tossed an interception into the endzone. This was after the offense had posted three consecutive three-and-outs to begin the game, and the Ravens seemed ready to suffer another head-scratching road loss in which they barely competed. Things changed radically after that, as Flacco, backed up to his own three-yard line with three minutes left in the half, showed an uncharacteristic maneuver in scrambling for 15 yards to spark the offense. In the third quarter, head coach John Harbaugh made the sort of call that can net a coach a raise (or a dismissal) by opting to have his offense stay on the field for a fourth and short play…on his own 34-yard line. The play worked, and seemed to provide an emotional lift to the Ravens, who relied on timely running from backs Justin Forsett and little-used Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro, and clutch catches from every active receiver to seal the win.
Defensively, the Ravens held sway after the first quarter, allowing a field goal the rest of the way. Defensive end/linebacker Elvis Dumervil continued his torrid season by adding 3.5 sacks and breaking the Ravens’ single-season sack record in the process. Fellow end Terrell Suggs recorded 1.5 sacks and several quarterback hurries, as Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill endured another subpar performance from his offensive line and was chased out of the pocket on almost every play. The interior of the Ravens defense, while clearly missing stalwart defensive end Haloti Ngata (suspension), managed to limit the Dolphins to 63 total yards rushing.
What’s Next: The Ravens host the eternally-struggling Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, December 14, 1:00pm, CBS) in a must-win to keep their playoff possibilities active.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, December 7, 1:00pm
Final: Steelers 42, Bengals 21
There’s obviously a theme forming, as this game also featured two very different halves, including a bevy of fourth quarter points from the Steelers to take over the game and coast to a lopsided win.
In the first half, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton played efficient, mistake-free football in passing for one score and running for another, the latter on a read-option play in which he rushed untouched for 20 yards into the endzone. Dalton connected routinely with standout wideout A.J. Green all afternoon, resulting in Green totaling 11 catches for career-high 224 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown strike to close out the third quarter. The Steelers responded with 25 unanswered points to close out the win, led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s three touchdown passes and running back Le’Veon Bell’s 235 combined yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Among the fourth quarter explosion of points was a 94-yard pass to rookie wideout Martavis Bryant, who posted his second 100-plus yard performance of the season.
The Bengals’ defense, already suspect against the run with the absence of linebacker Vontaze Burfict, simply folded in the fourth quarter, as the Steelers racked up 224 total yards in the period. Linebacker Vincent Rey racked up 15 tackles mostly out of desperation, as the Bengals did little else to slow the Steelers. Conversely, after Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats recovered a costly Dalton fumble early in the fourth quarter, the Steelers’ defense held the Bengals to 58 total yards and no points. Moats enjoyed his best day as a Steeler by notching two sacks among his four tackles in a solid group effort.
What’s Next: The Bengals travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns and newly-appointed starting quarterback Johnny Manziel (Sunday, December 14, 1:00pm, FOX), while the Steelers go south to Atlanta to battle the inconsistent Falcons (Sunday, December 14, 1:00pm, CBS).
Indianapolis Colts @ Cleveland Browns
Sunday, December 7, 1:00pm
Final: Colts 25, Browns 24
The Browns rewrote the “heartbreaker” manual with their latest performance by coughing up a slim lead in the last moment of the game. The Browns had led or tied throughout, and appeared poised to deliver an upset to the playoff-bound Colts and emerging star quarterback Andrew Luck.
Offensively, the Browns were less than impressive. Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer, in most likely his swan song as an NFL starter, underwhelmed to say the least, connecting on 14 of 31 passes for 140 yards and two interceptions. The running game performed admirably (111 yards) by splitting carries between backs Terrence West and Isaiah Crowell, and managed to control the clock for good chunks of the game and produce the Browns’ only offensive touchdown. In an encouraging turn, tight end Jordan Cameron led the team in catches (four) and yards (41) in his return from a long-suffered concussion.
The Browns were able to harass Luck and and move him out of his comfort zone for a good percentage of the game, sacking him three times, including one each from outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo. Interior linebacker Craig Robertson led the Browns with 12 tackles (10 solo) in limiting the Colts to 93 total yards rushing, 37 of which were from Luck. The secondary managed two interceptions, including one by rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert for a touchdown. Robertson and Kruger each recovered fumbles, with Robertson falling on his in the end zone for the game’s first score. It appeared to be a fine defensive performance overall until the Colts’ final, fateful drive.
What’s Next: The Browns host the Bengals (Sunday, December 14, 1:00pm, FOX) in a crucial divisional battle for a possible playoff berth.