AFC NORTH ROUNDUP: Steelers and Bengals battle for first place

Street Talk AFC NORTH ROUNDUP: Steelers and Bengals battle for first place

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Baltimore Ravens

"I don’t think we had the urgency we needed to be successful," said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. "You have to have some ownership to the offense, and we never really did that during the first half."

The Ravens have frittered away every advantage they gained by starting the season 3-0. There has been a lot of self-destruction involved — dropped passes, missed kicks and penalties galore.  They’ve been at their worst against the Bengals, who took advantage of three Ravens penalties to pull off a last-minute touchdown in Baltimore on Oct. 11, a 17-14 victory that gained national notice. By sweeping the series, Cincinnati suggested it has staying power.  Last season, the Ravens went 11-5 and made the playoffs as a wild card, losing to Pittsburgh in the AFC title game. By losing four of their past five, they’ve made themselves a long shot to win the division.

The Ravens hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher for 39 consecutive games, a streak that Cedric Benson broke by piling up 120 in that win at Baltimore. Now, the Ravens have allowed a 100-yard rusher in three of the past four games. They’ve also hurt themselves on big plays — two pass interference penalties extended Cincinnati’s second touchdown drive. Ray Rice’s 1-yard touchdown run (12 carries for 48 yards and 8 catches for 87 yards) cut it to 17-7 early in the fourth quarter, and the Ravens got their chance to make it close when Ed Reed stripped Chad Ochocinco after a catch at midfield. Steve Hauschka hooked a 38-yard field goal try with 6:12 left.

Joe Flacco struggled throughout the contest behind an offensive line that allowed way too much penetration by the Bengals defensive front. He finished 18 of 32 for 195 yards with 2 interceptions. Many balls were under-thrown, but the receivers were unable to make plays on the ball on the rare opportunities that they could gain separation.  

Cincinnati Bengals

"The Bengals have better athletes than Baltimore at a few key spots, namely cornerback and wide receiver. Poor Domonique Foxworth. The Ravens paid him big bucks last February to be a high-functioning cover corner. The man couldn’t cover Eight Five with a tarpaulin and a tranquilizer gun. Foxworth fell down twice, just in the first quarter." – Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty.

Cedric Benson topped 100 yards again on Sunday, and the Bengals scored on their first three possessions, setting up a 17-7 victory over Baltimore that kept surprising Cincinnati atop the AFC North and undefeated against division foes. "We’re much more mature," said quarterback Carson Palmer, who improved to 8-3 career against the Ravens. "We’re a better team. We were a good team back then (2005); we were kind of young and dumb. This team has more guys that understand how rare this opportunity is." On the day Palmer was 20 for 33 for 224 yards and a touchdown.

They were solid throughout on Sunday. Benson was coming off the best game of his career. He gained 189 yards against his former Bears team, a dominating performance that sent Cincinnati into its bye on an upbeat note. Refreshed by a weekend off, he was at it again, running for 117 yards and a touchdown. Benson was coming off the best game of his career. He gained 189 yards against his former Bears team, a dominating performance that sent Cincinnati into its bye on an upbeat note. Refreshed by a weekend off, he was at it again, running for 117 yards and a touchdown.

After scoring 17 points on its first 3 possessions, it was a matter of holding on. The Bengals did, with a lot of help from the Ravens, who had 80 yards in penalties and missed a field goal. Their last chance slipped away when Joe Flacco was sacked on three consecutive plays.

Bengals WR Chris Henry broke his left forearm in the second quarter, when he made a catch and was immediately tackled. LB Keith Rivers strained his right calf in the second half and was on crutches after the game.

Cleveland Browns

Browns Head Coach Eric Mangini addressed the departure of general manager George Kokinis.  "Anytime a decision like that is made it’s difficult personally and professionally. George is a friend," he said. "For a variety of reasons things didn’t work out. We felt that organizationally this was the best decision to move forward. We have a strong structure in place on both the pro (scouting) side and the college (scouting) side and things will continue to operate effectively on a day to day basis."

The Cleveland Browns had their bye in week #9.

Pittsburgh Steelers

"What more can I ask for but to come away with a win on Monday Night Football with my family watching and getting two picks." – Steelers back-up safety Tyrone Carter.

Hines Ward caught two short touchdown passes from Ben Roethlisberger, including one in which he hauled in a pass in the flat and hurdled cornerback Champ Bailey on his way into the end zone, a final indignity for Denver that capped the scoring with 1:22 remaining and emptied the stadium. Rashard Mendenhall rumbled over the Broncos for 155 yards on 22 carries as the Steelers handed Denver its second straight loss after the Broncos opened the season 6-0 under rookie coach Josh McDaniels.

Tyrone Carter’s first interception return gave Pittsburgh a 7-3 halftime lead even though the Steelers had generated just three first downs and were out-gained 183-54 in the first half. Carter is the first defender to pick off a Kyle Orton pass all season. With the Steelers clinging to a 14-10 lead in the fourth quarter, safety Troy Polamalu snared another Orton pass, this one at the Broncos 25-yard line, leading to Roethlisberger’s 25-yard TD toss to rookie Mike Wallace.

Roethlisberger, who was 21 for 29 for 233 yards, drove the Steelers 80 yards in four plays, hitting Ward with a 3-yard strike over the outstretched right arm of linebacker D.J. Williams to put Pittsburgh ahead for good, 14-10. Roethlisberger drove the Steelers to the Denver 15 on the Steelers’ next possession, but he threw behind Ward in the end zone and cornerback Andre’ Goodman picked it off — Big Ben’s first red-zone interception since 2007.  The Steelers dominated the second half by going no-huddle with three-wide receiver sets, which kept Elvis Dumervil, the NFL co-leader with 10.5 sacks, on the sideline much of the time.

As Denver self-destructed in the second half for the second straight week, Invesco Field became a sea of yellow Terrible Towels and thousands of empty blue seats, orange giveaway pom-poms littering the aisles.

AFC North






























Won 2















Won 5















Lost 1















Lost 3

Week #9 Scores    

Cincinnati      17        Baltimore     7       

Pittsburgh      28        Denver        10       

Week #10 Match-ups and ITH Predictions

 Baltimore (4-4) at Cleveland (1-7)

The Ravens need to win this game to re-gain momentum with contests against Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay following this one. The Browns come off their bye rested and ready for what could ultimately be their “Super Bowl”, a nationally televised appearance at Cleveland Browns Stadium. With the front office turmoil created by the recent firing of GM George Kokinis and what has amounted to a dysfunctional offense that is unable to produce touchdowns, it will be interesting to see if the Browns can hang with the Ravens.

The Ravens have a clear advantage in talent and will have to repeatedly give the ball to the Browns to lose this one.

Baltimore   27     Cleveland   13

Cincinnati (6-2) at Pittsburgh (6-2)

The battle for first place in the AFC North takes place this Sunday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The Bengals got their Mojo going this year after they defeated the Steelers in week 3 in Cincinnati. The Steelers have won 5 straight and have appeared to fix their perceived weaknesses, a consistent, productive running game and a suspect offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger is red hot and making plays. Cincinnati has built themselves into a contending team and will be competitive in this game, but it’s hard to believe that they could sweep the Steelers. 

Pittsburgh   24     Cincinnati   16

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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   More from Eric Buckner


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