Schizophrenic weekend to be sure.
Despite the fact that there were only two AFC North teams in action, the disparity between the results of their games was large and dramatic. It seems likely that this sort of imbalance should be expected, as each week tends to blow our picks to hell. I’m not a betting man, but I can only imagine the angst Vegas and its denizens are experiencing this season.
On to the games…
Carolina Panthers @ Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, September 28, 1:00pm
Final: Ravens 38, Panthers 10
This game had the added relish of Ravens’ wideout Steve Smith Sr.’s quest for revenge against the Panthers, who unceremoniously dumped him in a cost-cutting maneuver last offseason. And Smith certainly delivered, with seven catches for 139 yards, including two touchdown receptions. Lost in the Smith adulation was the excellent play of the Ravens’ offensive line, who performed with a consistency not expected from a team that was missing their starting left tackle. This certainly helped out the Ravens’ running game, which provided a nice counterbalance to the suddenly-dangerous passing game.
Defensively, the Ravens hit Panthers quarterback Cam Newton early and repeatedly. Newton made a few nice throws, but was hassled and beaten most of the game. The Ravens’ defensive front stymied an injured Carolina running game by getting consistent penetration into the backfield, rendering any thoughts of play-action from the Carolina offense ineffective. And while the Ravens’ much-maligned secondary produced a few head-scratching plays, they did enough to limit Carolina overall and prevent this game from ever being competitive.
The Ravens travel to Indianapolis Sunday (Oct. 5, 1:00pm, CBS) to take on a dangerous Colts team led by wunderkind quarterback Andrew Luck.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, September 28, 1:00pm
Final: Buccaneers 27, Steelers 24
It’s best not to listen to sportstalk this week if you’re a Steelers fan, as the bulk of you have seemingly taken your ire to a new domain. Calls for coach termination are rampant, and although it’s far too reactionary, the Steelers’ decision makers certainly goofed in several areas. But blame should be doled out to the players as well, particularly on defense.
After allowing Tampa Bay to sprint out to a 10-point lead, the Steelers calmly and efficiently reclaimed the lead by the half, and managed to stay tied or ahead for the remainder of the game…until the fateful final drive, culminating in Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon finding wideout Vincent Jackson in the end zone with 0.07 left in the game.
There are no obvious culprits here. This was a team loss, with breakdowns occurring in several areas, most notably in the area of penalties, where the Steelers racked up 13 for 125 yards. Contending with that much free yardage is a challenge for any team, and Tampa Bay, despite miffing on several chances, eventually took advantage of it. Also of note was the Steelers’ puzzling decision to rely more on rushing the passer with newly-re-signed linebacker James Harrison, rather than bolstering the secondary to prevent big plays. Clearly, this made a huge difference, especially on the final drive.
The Steelers travel to Jacksonville to take on the woeful Jaguars (Oct. 5, 1:00pm, CBS) in what should be a redemption game.