THE AFC NORTH ROUNDUP: No surprises, Steelers, Ravens set the pace

Street Talk THE AFC NORTH ROUNDUP: No surprises, Steelers, Ravens set the pace

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Baltimore Ravens 

"We’re going to throw more if it helps us win games," Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said. "I think that we will be capable of throwing the ball more ways than we did last year. We have really good players that can make plays."

The Baltimore Ravens found a different way to win, and did so in record-setting fashion. Long known for their punishing defense and relentless ground game, the Ravens went airborne to beat the Kansas City Chiefs. Joe Flacco went 26 for 43 for 307 yards and three touchdowns, all career highs. He was the focal point of an attack that amassed a franchise-record 501 yards. Now in his second season, Flacco threw as many as 30 passes in only four games last year – each time in a losing cause. Given the opportunity from the outset to throw the ball instead of handing it off, Flacco couldn’t contain his delight."It’s awesome. It’s so much fun," he said. "As a quarterback, that’s what you want to do."  

It may not have been an isolated opportunity, either. 

Mark Clayton had five catches for 77 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown grab with 2:06 left that gave Baltimore a 31-24 lead. Willis McGahee scored from the 1 with 31 seconds remaining to clinch it. The Chiefs couldn’t contain Clayton or tight end Todd Heap who had five catches for 74 yards. He made four first downs, scored a touchdown and relished being part of an offense that seemingly moved at will. Baltimore, which led the AFC in rushing last season, didn’t entirely abandon the usual script. Ray Rice ran for 108 yards, McGahee added 44 and the Ravens finished with 198 yards rushing. Baltimore’s Jarret Johnson had a career-high two sacks. 

 
Cincinnati Bengals 

"I’ve never seen anything like that," Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said regarding Brandon Stokley’s shocking TD reception off of a deflected pass. "I’ve played football since I was 7 or 8, and I’ve never seen anything like that." 

In the time it takes to sprint the length of the field, Brandon Stokley ran Denver out of a crushing loss and into franchise lore. His 87-yard touchdown with 11 seconds left on Sunday provided a 12-7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, who are going to need a long time to recover from this one. A half hour after it ended, a Bengals fan in an orange Rey Maualuga jersey sat alone in the otherwise empty expanse of green seats behind the end zone, staring at the field, trying to comprehend what had just happened. One weird bounce had changed everything. 

Cedric Benson’s 1-yard run put the Bengals up 7-6 with 38 seconds left. After Stokley effectively stole the game, Bengals defenders stopped and dropped their heads, unable to fathom the wacky ending. It will go down among the Bengals’ worst, along with the time they failed to run out the clock and let San Francisco’s Joe Montana throw a winning touchdown pass to Jerry Rice on the game’s final play in 1987. The Bengals had only one first down in the second half against an overhauled defense. Shut down all day, Palmer was perfect in the clutch, completing all six passes on a 91-yard drive that led to Benson’s touchdown run. Palmer, who missed the last three preseason games with a sprained left ankle, was 21 of 33 for 247 yards. 

 
Cleveland Browns

"When you play a player of Adrian Peterson’s caliber, it only takes once," Browns Head Coach Eric Mangini said regarding the long TD run that put the game away. "He only needs that one time and he can exploit it." 

Brett Favre looked pleasing in purple, throwing a 6-yard TD pass to Percy Harvin in his debut with Minnesota, and Adrian Peterson scored three touchdowns and ran for 180 yards as the Vikings overcame a sluggish start to beat the Cleveland Browns 34-20 on Sunday. The league’s leading rusher last season scored on a pair of 1-yard plunges and capped his day with an electrifying 64-yarder in the fourth quarter, breaking five tackles along the way, to make it 34-13. Peterson was held to just 25 yards in the first half, when he needed treatment for a badly cut left arm. He felt light headed and received intravenous fluids at halftime. On his long TD run, Peterson used a devastating stiff arm to get away from would-be tacklers before finally busting free and scoring. 

Eric Mangini is now with Cleveland, and one game into his tenure, little has changed with the Browns. They fell to 1-10 in season openers since 1999, but did score their first offensive touchdown in seven games when Brady Quinn hit tight end Robert Royal with 28 seconds left. Quinn, picked by Mangini to start after a drawn-out battle with Derek Anderson, had a rocky opener. He went 21 of 35 for 205 yards, but most of his completions came on dump offs and short routes. He had one interception and the game’s most comical moment when he had the ball pop out of his hand and fall behind him following a scramble. 

Joshua Cribbs scored on a 67-yard punt return for Cleveland’s first TD. It was his seventh career TD punt return and it tied Eric Metcalf for the most in club history. Cleveland rookie running back James Davis, who was slightly injured in a one-car accident on Saturday, sustained a shoulder injury in the second half. 

 
Pittsburgh Steelers

"The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t beat the Tennessee Titans. The Tennessee Titans beat the Tennessee Titans," said wide receiver Nate Washington, a former Steeler following the Titans close overtime loss in the league’s opener.  

The Steelers apparently are going to stay with this Ben Roethlisberger-to-Santonio Holmes combination until somebody beats them. Jeff Reed kicked a 33-yard field goal with 4:32 gone in overtime, and the Super Bowl champion Steelers again relied on Roethlisberger’s ability to lead clutch scoring drives to beat the Tennessee Titans 13-10 in the NFL season opener Thursday night. Pittsburgh, its running game stuffed by Tennessee’s defense, didn’t get going until Roethlisberger repeatedly began finding Holmes and Hines Ward open downfield. Roethlisberger went 33-of-43 passing for 363 yards, with Holmes — the Super Bowl XLIII star — making nine catches for 131 yards and one touchdown, and Ward, despite a potentially costly fumble, grabbing eight passes for 103 yards. 

Thursday’s victory might be costly, however: Star safety Troy Polamalu, the best player on the field during the first half, sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee on a blocked field-goal attempt. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said the injury usually sidelines a player 3 to 6 weeks. While the Steelers ended up winning on two Reed field goals, the Titans might have lost because Rob Bironas twice couldn’t convert from inside the 40. Even with no running game to support him — the Steelers were outrushed 86-36 as Willie Parker was held to 19 yards on 13 carries — Roethlisberger had the third-most productive passing game of his career. The Steelers have won their last seven openers, the longest ongoing streak in the NFL.

 
STANDINGS

Team

W

L

T

PCT

PF

PA

Home

Road

DIV

PCT

AFC

PCT

NFC

Streak

Baltimore

1

0

0

1.000

38

24

1-0

0-0

0-0

.000

1-0

1.000

0-0

Won 1

Pittsburgh

1

0

0

1.000

13

10

1-0

0-0

0-0

.000

1-0

1.000

0-0

Won 1

Cincinnati

0

1

0

.000

7

12

0-1

0-0

0-0

.000

0-1

.000

0-0

Lost 1

Cleveland

0

1

0

.000

20

34

0-1

0-0

0-0

.000

0-0

.000

0-1

Lost 1

 
Week #1 Scores 

Baltimore    38    Kansas City   24

Denver         12   Cincinnati         7

Minnesota   34   Cleveland      20

Pittsburgh   13    Tennessee   10 

 
Week #2 Match-ups and ITH Predictions

Baltimore (1 – 0) at San Diego (1 – 0)

The Ravens travel west to meet the Chargers, a week one winner versus the Raiders. The Chargers won the game on a TD with 18 seconds remaining. The Raiders offensive line had their way with the Chargers in the first half opening huge holes in the rushing attack. On offense the Chargers lost starters at center and guard and LaDainian Tomlinson hurt his ankle, yet Phillip Rivers managed to get the win in a game that the Raiders should have won. The Ravens will be tested on both sides of the line of scrimmage in the Chargers home opener, but with their newfound passing attack they should get by San Diego by a touchdown. 

Baltimore   27     San Diego   20 

Cincinnati (0 – 1) at Green Bay (1 – 0) 

The Bengals now go to Green Bay after their shocking last second loss in their home opener. Not a great spot for the Bengals to rebound, yet their defense pretty much shut down the Broncos. Green Bay will be a different story. Carson Palmer had a poor game on Sunday, and something just doesn’t look right about the Cincinnati passing attack. Maybe they miss TJ Houshmandzadeh more than most thought they would. An improved Bengals defense keeps them in the game, but Green Bay looks pretty solid with Aaron Rogers throwing the ball. 

Green Bay   21     Cincinnati   13 

Cleveland (0 – 1) at Denver (1 – 0) 

The Browns have a real shot to pull off the road upset in this matchup. Denver has nobody resembling Adrian Peterson and the Broncos defense doesn’t look anything like what Cleveland saw from Minnesota, even though they played well against Cincinnati. The Browns should be able to move the ball on the ground and with a little help from Brady Quinn can walk out of Denver with the W. The Browns defense needs to step it up this week. Call it the Browns in a squeaker.

Cleveland   17     Denver   16 

Pittsburgh (1 – 0) at Chicago (0 – 1) 

The defending champs take their potent passing attack to Soldier Field, where the Bears have to figure out how to make it without Brian Urlacher who is lost for the season with a broken wrist. Jay Cutler had a miserable first half against the Packers in week 1, but rallied the Bears to a late 4th quarter lead in their long standing rivalry game. The Bears have the weapons to move the ball on the vaunted Steelers defense, but cannot afford the turnovers that cost them in Green Bay. The Steelers couldn’t get the ground game going against the Titans, and may not be able to do so against a pretty solid Bears defense. The absence of Troy Polamalu could prove to be too much if Cutler has time to throw the rock. The Bears hold onto the ball this week and Robbie Gould gets the game winner late. 

Chicago   23     Pittsburgh   20

 

Record Week #1 and YTD: 3 – 1

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Eric Buckner

About Eric Buckner

Eric Buckner is a native of Baltimore and has lived in the area his entire life. A graduate of Towson University , Eric has been a student of professional football since the day he wept in his grandfather's bedroom after the Baltimore Colts were upset by the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. A loyal fan of the Colts and subsequently the Ravens, Eric's passion for the NFL is unwavering as evidenced by his near flawless attendance record at Ravens' games. He's missed only one preseason game -- back in 2005. We'll cut him some slack since he was on his honeymoon. You won't find Eric slacking when it comes to covering the AFC North for ProFootball24x7.com.   More from Eric Buckner

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