It is now week number 3 in “As the AFC North Turns”, and we begin to focus a little more on football and less on… who am I kidding? This week once again had more drama than “reality” TV. Unfortunately for the Ravens and the NFL, unlike reality TV, this stuff is actually unscripted and all too real. Luckily, the AFC North provided some solid entertainment ON the field for us to discuss.
Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns
Sunday, September 21, 2014; 1:00pm
Final: Ravens 23, Browns 21
The Browns seemed to have control of this game for three and a half quarters, although the scoreboard said otherwise, as this see-saw battle had seven lead changes, and no team had a lead greater than four. In the end, it came down to field goal execution. The Browns struggled in the 4th quarter as they botched two field goals before going three-and-out twice to end the game. Kicker Billy Cundiff was not to blame this time. On his first attempt, thanks to the combo long-snapper and holder, he was aiming at a football lying flat on the turf before it rose at the last second. Cundiff’s leg actually made the 50-yarder close as his kick had the distance but hooked into the goalpost. On his second attempt, the Browns did not adjust to a defensive overload, and the kick was blocked. The Ravens, on the other hand, were inconsistent and had their share of miscues and drops, but somehow came together during the last eight minutes of the game to kick two field goals, the last of which was aided by a clutch 32-yard Joe Flacco to Steve Smith Sr. sideline timing route. The highlight of the game (according to the announcers, who spent about 30 total minutes throughout the contest discussing it) appeared to be an illegal trick pass to Browns backup quarterback Johnny Manziel that also happened to be flagged for an illegal shift.
Browns: The Browns have a bye before traveling to Tennessee.
Ravens: The Ravens will host the Carolina Panthers (September 28, 1:00pm, CBS) facing a team who was exposed by a solid and well-executed Steelers game plan.
Tennessee Titans @ Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, September 21, 2014; 1:00pm
Final: Bengals 33, Titans 7
A late Titans score saved them from a shutout, but this game was a statistical anomaly. If you didn’t see the game and only read the stats, you could make a good argument that the game was close or perhaps the Titans eked out a win. The teams were had similar passing yards (both under 200) and the Titans out-rushed the Bengals. The Bengals made plays and the Titans did not. The Titans missed two early and makeable field goals, and threw two costly interceptions; one of which led to a Bengals touchdown and most likely negated a score of their own. That said, the Bengals defense forced the Titans into mistakes and were by far the better team. Stats don’t always tell the story and this game was never in doubt.
The Bengals have a bye before heading to New England.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Carolina Panthers
Sunday, September 14, 2014; 8:30pm
Final: Bengals 24, Falcons 10
The Steelers were able to do what the previous Panther opponents could not – hold on to the ball, and expose the Panthers as a one-dimensional team with few playmakers. The Steelers played old-fashioned smash-mouth football on both sides of the ball, and pressured the quarterback, something they have struggled with over the past couple of years. The running tandem of Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount produced a whopping 264 yards, taking the defensive pressure off of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. When Ben throws for under 225 yards, the Steelers generally win. If this is a sign of things to come, the Steelers might put the AFN North on notice. One big negative is that their healthy bodies are diminishing, so much so that they may offer James Harrison a contract this week to fill their linebacker void. At least they appear to have a bonus bye week in week four.
The Steelers will host the football-challenged Tampa Bay Buccaneers (September 28, 1:00pm, CBS) in what should result in a 3-1 record for Pittsburgh after the first quarter of the season.