My, my; how the tides have turned.
The fortunes of the AFC North have changed drastically in a relatively short time, and one gets the sense that the standings won’t look the same at the end of the season as they do today. The league at large has proven to be far from consistent, like most of its teams. Today’s heroes, tomorrow’s goats, etc.
That said, some trends are starting to emerge, particularly among the AFC North teams. The Steelers have discovered their offense with a vengeance. The Ravens’ secondary may be among the worst in the league. The Bengals have discovered that their running game helps the whole offense. And the Browns…
…are the Browns. Not much that’s trendworthy to note in Cleveland.
Last weekend’s drama is below. Enjoy.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, November 2, 8:30pm
Final: Steelers 43, Ravens 23
Proving that lightning can indeed strike twice in the same location, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is currently playing otherworldly football; the likes of which haven’t been seen in the NFL since…ever. Coming off his historic six-touchdown performance against the Colts in Week 8, Roethlisberger, despite a slow start, sliced up the Ravens’ suspect secondary with a balanced variety of passes where seemingly no part of the field was untouchable. Eight Pittsburgh receivers caught passes, with five of them scoring touchdowns, led by wideout Antonio Brown’s 11 catches for 144 yards. The Ravens were simply helpless to stop it, as their pass rush failed to generate much pressure after the first quarter. Frustrations boiled over for the Ravens in the second half, as linebacker Terrell Suggs applied, despite his claims to the contrary, what can only be described as a blatant cheap shot to Steelers’ running back LaGarrette Blount (note: this should have resulted in an ejection, but on what proved to be a suspect night of officiating, it seemed that a lot of fringe play was simply overlooked).
Offensively, the Ravens were clearly out of sorts, particularly after running back Lorenzo Taliaferro’s second-quarter fumble seemed to derail any game plan they were attempting to implement. The momentum shifted drastically, as did the play of the Ravens’ offensive line, who allowed pressure to seep through the middle for the remainder of the game. Quarterback Joe Flacco, after starting well, looked intimidated and confused most of the evening, especially after issuing another head-scratching interception while attempting to avoid defenders, which cemented the crowd’s participation for the rest of the game. Poor showing overall.
What’s Next: The Ravens get a chance to take out their frustrations against a losing Tennessee Titans squad in Baltimore (Sunday, November 9, 1:00pm, CBS), while the Steelers travel to New York/New Jersey to take on the hapless Jets (also Sunday, November 9, 1:00pm, CBS).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cleveland Browns
Sunday, November 2, 1:00pm
Final: Browns 22, Buccaneers 17
Aided by three Billy Cundiff field goals, Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer did just enough to earn a closer-than-it-should-have-been victory over the suspect Buccaneers. His decisive fourth-quarter drive was the difference in an otherwise forgettable performance. By launching a 34-yard touchdown completion to wideout Taylor Gabriel, Hoyer managed to overcome a two-interception outing on a day that saw little offensive output otherwise. The Browns’ suddenly non-existent running game managed only 50 yards against a defense that can charitably be referred to as “average”.
Defensively, the Browns were solid, led by safeties Donte Whitner (eight tackles, one INT) and Tashaun Gipson (five tackles, one INT). The pass rush was effective on both sides of the line, as outside linebackers Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger each recorded sacks and applied pressure to Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon most of the day.
There’s just not much else to describe, Browns fans. As the cliche states, “a win is a win”, and it’s always preferable to dropping in the standings.
What’s Next: The Browns, on a short week, will take a bus ride south to take on interstate rival Cincinnati Bengals (Thursday, November 6, 8:30pm, NFLN) in a suddenly-interesting AFC North contest.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, November 2, 1:00pm
Final: Bengals 33, Jaguars 23
Rookie running back Jeremy Hill was clearly the story of the game, as he filled in admirably for injured starter Giovani Bernard and opened up consideration to lay claim to the starting role going forward. Quarterback Andy Dalton was clearly not at his best in delivering two costly interceptions that made things interesting, but Hill proved to be the difference, rushing 24 times for 154 yards, including a 60-yard scramble in the fourth quarter that provided the game’s final points. Wideout A.J. Green, in his return from his mysterious toe injury, provided three catches for 44 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Bengals were tested, as one of Dalton’s two interceptions led to a late Jaguars touchdown. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap was in the Jaguars’ backfield most of the day, collecting a sack and three quarterback hurries. The Jaguars clearly missed the presence of standout linebacker Vontaze Burfict, as they allowed 132 yards rushing, with newly-discovered Jaguars running back Denard Robinson contributing 94 of them.
Of particular note was the Bengals special teams, which saw two punts blocked, including one by safety Taylor Mays that tumbled through the Jaguars’ end zone for a safety.
What’s Next: The Bengals welcome the Browns in a Thursday night showdown (Thursday, November 6, 8:30pm, NFLN).