Week five in the AFC North was a week filled with extreme highs and lows, and many question marks. Most, if not all AFC North games were won and lost as many predicted or expected, but it’s how they were won and lost that seemed unlikely heading into those contests. Three of the four games were decided in the final four minutes, with two coming down to the final seconds. The fourth game was never in doubt.
Here is how they went:
Sunday, October 5th, 1:00pm Final: Cleveland Browns 29, Tennessee Titans 28
Johnny Manziel just paid his tab after Sunday’s victory party, as the Browns seemed to duplicate their playbook from the opening game at Pittsburgh, but with the slight modification of adding a play to close out a win. The win snapped the Browns seven-game road losing streak.
The Momentum in this game started to swing in the Browns favor just after the Browns defensive backfield was burned on a Titans quick one-play 75-yard Charlie Whitehurst to Justin Hunter strike with 2:44 left in the first half for a 28-3 Titans lead. The Browns answered immediately, essentially ending the half with a 90-yard touchdown drive, giving them confidence heading into the second half knowing they would receive the opening kickoff. The Browns did not take the easy route in this victory. After kicking a field goal in that opening second-half drive, the Browns went scoreless until almost four minutes into the 4th quarter. This was mainly due to two failed forth-down attempts deep in Tennessee territory, leaving them with a 28-13 deficit instead of potentially 28-19 had they opted for the two field goals (a would-be 39 yarder and a chip shot). However, after the Browns last failed 4th down attempt, the defense held tight and the Browns special teams blocked a Titans punt out of the end zone for a safety. The Browns followed the safety and subsequent Titans free-kick with a touchdown drive. At that point, the lead was just six and eventually set up the winning score, as Brian Hoyer directed a four-play 42-yard game winning touchdown with 1:09 remaining on the clock.
What are the positives and negatives taken away from this one? No need to break this one down. Just enjoy it, Browns fans. It was the biggest road comeback in NFL history.
The Browns come home to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second time in their first five games (Oct. 12, 1:00pm, CBS).
Sunday, October 5th, 1:00pm Final: Indianapolis 20, Baltimore Ravens 13
Like the Browns game, this end result was expected by many, but the means in which they got there wasn’t quite as predicted. This game was thought to be a high scoring affair for both offenses, but the defenses stole the show. The Ravens continued their “bend-but-don’t-break” style on defense, limiting Indy’s number-one ranked scoring offense to 20 points, but did give up 422 yards and were on the field for 38 minutes (much of the discrepancy was a result of a first quarter muffed punt and Steve Smith fumble, giving Indy an almost 11 minute to 4 advantage). Overall, the Ravens defense was the dimly lit bright spot, causing four turnovers and almost a couple of others as they dropped an Andrew Luck pass, and tipped another away from a defender looking to make a catch. In addition to yards against, the defensive negatives included a continued lack of pass rush from Elvis Dumervil (3 of 5 games without a sack) and Terrell Suggs (0.5 season total) both of whom were often held in check, many with one-on-one matchups. The Ravens also ended the game with two major injuries, as they lost D lineman Chris Canty (infection) and cornerback Asa Jackson (toe) for at least four and eight weeks, respectively.
Offensively, the Ravens looked completely lost for three quarters. Sure there were some missed throws and drops, but the main issue was the offensive line. Indy coach Chuck Pagano obviously found their weak spot in undrafted rookie James Hurst, and went after him all day long. Hurst returned the favor by giving up three sacks, three hurries, and defensive penetration helping to limit the Ravens run game. Speaking of lost, this is the 4th week Jacoby Jones looked like he would rather be somewhere else than on an NFL playing field. He did make one nice catch and run, but caused much more damage than not with a muffed punt and bad return decisions nine yards deep in the end zone.
The Ravens travel to Tampa Bay Sunday (Oct. 12, 1:00pm, CBS) to take on the Buccaneers and their suddenly opportunistic defense.
Sunday, October 5th, 1:00pm Final: Pittsburgh Steelers 17, Jacksonville Jaguars 9
It was a bittersweet victory for the Steelers. A win is a win, but many of their fans expected much more in this game, which was up for grabs until a late 4th quarter pick-six by Steelers cornerback Brice McCain. That said, the defense played well, forcing three turnovers, and holding the Jaguars offense to 243 yards total with 20 yards as the Jags longest play from scrimmage. Jacksonville put their faith in the hands of quarterback Blake Bortles who was directly involved in all but 11 of their 51 plays. Historically, this is not the best strategy with a rookie quarterback going up against a Dick LeBeau defense.
On offense, the Steelers were able to move the ball (372 yards) but couldn’t convert that success into points. This was highlighted in the second half where the Steelers only had four possessions, went scoreless in each, but averaged 46 yards per drive and held the ball for almost 19:30 of the 30 minutes. Their best drive was their last, as they drove 45 yards and ran out the remaining four minutes on the clock for the win. Ben Roethlisberger played another solid game and completed 15 of his last 17 attempts, but continued to take his sacks (four this week, and nine over the last 2 games).
The Steelers travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns for the second time in six games (Oct. 12, 1:00pm, CBS).
Sunday, October 5th, 8:30pm Final: New England Patriots 43, Cincinnati Bengals 17
Despite a poor start on both offense and defense, the Bengals found themselves down by just 10 early in the third quarter, after a quick 1-play 37 yard strike from Andy Dalton to Mohamed Sanu. After that high point, special teams, turnovers, and defense kept the Bengals from getting any closer. Some NFL pundits and fans resurfaced questions about Andy Dalton and his big-game issues, but he was not even close to being the problem in this one. He wasn’t great, and missed some targets, but he might have been the only one keeping the score from being even more lopsided. Dalton’s wide receivers had two fumbles, and Bengals special teams gave Tom Brady a short field to work with after a turnover of their own.
Surprisingly, the Bengals defense was the team’s weakest link in week five after giving up the fewest points in the NFL through their first three games. Vontaze Burfict was out of the lineup for the second straight game, but the defense is loaded with talent without his presence. The Bengals defense was on the field for almost 39 minutes, gave up close to 500 yards of offense, including 220 yards on the ground where the Patriots had been struggling. They were highly ranked going into this game, and for good reason. They have been solid and consistent, averaging a top-five defense over four of the past five years. This year has been no different, but after this game, the defense’s 2014 overall ranking dropped to 10th in the league, and their rushing defense dropped to 27th.
Speaking of stats, the time-of-possession in this game was somewhat deceptive. The play-clock doesn’t always tell the whole story. Many of the Patriots 12 penalties were on their defense, stopping the clock during the Bengals offensive possessions. I might be the only one who cares, but the NFL should come up with a new stat of actual possession time to show the real rest time for both defenses.
The Bengals head home to take on the Panthers, a team familiar to the AFC North early this season, playing the division three times in their last four games. (Oct. 12, 1:00pm, CBS).