Street Talk AFC NORTH: WEEK 11

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AFC North
Won 3
Lost 3
Won 1
Won 1
Baltimore Ravens     (7-2)
The Baltimore Ravens scored 20 unanswered points in the 2nd half of their contest with the Tennessee Titans to escape from Nashville with a 27-26 victory. DE Trevor Pryce blocked a 43 yard field goal attempt with only 33 seconds remaining to preserve the win. The Ravens were able to overcome a 26-7 halftime deficit largely on the throwing arm of QB Steve McNair who completed 29 passes for 371 yards and 3 TDs.
The defense was forced to make major adjustments to slow the Titans down as MLB Ray Lewis did not play due to a deep back bruise incurred in the Ravens victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Back-up MLB Mike Smith was injured during the Titans’ opening possession forcing the Ravens to play practice squad LB Dennis Haley extensively throughout the contest. This largely enabled Titans RB Travis Henry to gain 107 yards on 27 carries, many of the yards gained inside the tackle box.
McNair completed passes to 8 different Ravens receivers, led by Mark Clayton’s 7 receptions for 125 yards and a TD. WR Derrick Mason contributed 8 receptions for 64 yards and a TD and rookie WR Demetrius Williams caught 4 for 75 yards and continues to shine with his limited opportunities. The Ravens now have a 3 game lead in the AFC North and will look to improve their dormant ground attack in the coming weeks.
Cincinnati Bengals     (4-5)
The Cincinnati Bengals managed to waste a 28-7 halftime lead at home and dropped a 49-41 decision to the AFC West co-leading San Diego Chargers. The Bengals (4-5) have been pointing fingers for weeks. The defending AFC North Champions fell three games behind Baltimore with their fifth loss in six games, one that resulted in personal bests but not much else. WR Chad Johnson set a club record with 260 yards and a pair of long touchdowns, and Carson Palmer had the first 400-yard passing game of his career.
It didn’t matter because Cincinnati appeared helpless against Chargers’ QB Phillip Rivers and RB LaDainian Tomlinson in the second half.
"It’s not good," said Palmer, who was 31 of 42 for 440 yards and three touchdowns. "It’s a tough situation to be in. We just have to keep fighting and we might be able to scrape into the playoffs. You never know — 9-7 could get in."
Cincinnati would have to win five of its last seven games just to have a winning record. Given the vibe in the Bengals’ lockerroom  that appears to be a long shot.
"There are a lot of unhappy people," Johnson said. "There are reasons why we lost today." 
"It’s disappointing," added Marvin Lewis. "We’re not happy or satisfied about anything." The teams combined for 976 total net yards in the high scoring affair.
Cleveland Browns     (3-6)
As ITH predicted, the Cleveland Browns upset the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in the Georgia Dome by the final score of 17-13. Cleveland jumped ahead 14-0 against the Falcons, who were missing three starters on defense and lost DE Patrick Kerney to a chest injury in the first half. The Browns played without injured CB Leigh Bodden, but the Falcons couldn’t take advantage in the passing game. They didn’t show much commitment to the league’s best rushing attack, either, finishing with 149 yards on 29 carries.
Meanwhile, embattled Cleveland QB Charlie Frye had a solid performance, completing 16 of 22 passes for 165 yards. For the first time all season, he didn’t throw an interception. "I hope it’s the first of many," Frye said. "I was trying not to force the ball and cut down on the interceptions.”
Cleveland jumped ahead late in the 1st Qtr when RB Reuben Droughns powered over from the 1 on fourth down. Frye set up the touchdown with a 40-yard pass to TE Kellen Winslow, who badly burned Allen Rossum, the fill-in for injured CB Jason Webster. After Sean Jones made a diving interception on QB Michael Vick, the Browns quickly drove for another TD. Frye completed three straight passes, the last  a 19-yard scoring strike to WR Braylon Edwards, who found himself wide open in the middle of a zone defense that broke down.
"Charlie did a wonderful job today," Droughns said. "If he keeps making plays like he did today, he’s going to be a good quarterback." 
Pittsburgh Steelers     (3-6)
The Pittsburgh Steelers held on for a hard earned 38-31 victory over the visiting New Orleans Saints at Heinz Field on Sunday. RB Willie Parker broke free on runs of 72 and 76 yards to set up two short scoring runs in the second half and QB Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes as the Steelers ended a 3 – game losing streak. Parker had 213 yards on 22 carries, with scoring runs of 3 and 4 yards in the fourth quarter. He finished 5 yards short of the team-record 218 yards, set by John "Frenchy" Fuqua against Philadelphia in 1970.
The Steelers played most of the final three quarters without All-Pro S Troy Polamalu and CB Deshea Townsend, who had concussions. The injuries forced coach Bill Cowher to go far down the bench for backups, especially with the Steelers frequently using five defensive backs.
"We gave up too many points and too many yards (517), but we competed hard," LB Joey Porter said. "We got a win and that’s all that counts."
After turning the ball over 10 times in their previous two games, the Steelers started putting the ball into Parker’s hands during a 187-yard second half in which his two long runs took place about eight minutes apart. The Steelers had been limited to 240 yards rushing while losing consecutive games to Atlanta, Oakland and Denver.
Atlanta   (5-4) at Baltimore   (7-2)
The Falcons limp into Baltimore this Sunday after dropping their last 2 games. They have lost key players to injuries on the defensive side of the ball and rank 30th in the league in pass defense. Look for the Ravens to patiently attack this injury decimated unit by using their 15th rated passing attack (yes, you read that correctly) to set up a running attack that they will need as the weather turns colder. Atlanta has the league’s number 1 ranked rush offense and will pose problems for the Ravens defense if they can shake Warrick Dunn loose. The Falcons will also attempt to hit some big plays against a Ravens secondary that has been exposed in recent games. This is a difficult match-up for the Ravens, and they will need to control the clock much like they did against  the Bengals to get a win on Sunday.
Baltimore   24     Atlanta    20
Cincinnati   (4-5) at New Orleans   (6-3)
The Saints return home after winning 1 of 2 on the road including a 31 point effort in their loss to the Steelers at Heinz Field. The Bengals are free-falling having lost 5 of 6 including a loss at home to the Chargers after leading 28-7 at halftime. New Orleans offense is rated 3rd in the league and the Bengals defense ranks 28th after having yielded 42 second half points on Sunday. The Saints need to establish their ground attack and the Bengals will afford them that opportunity. The LSU Bayou Bengals have a better chance of winning in New Orleans this week than the group from Ohio.
New Orleans   32   Cincinnati   19
Pittsburgh   (3-6) at Cleveland   (3-6)
This is a very interesting match-up between teams coming off hard-earned wins last Sunday. Looking purely at the statistics, the Steelers have the advantage, particularly if RB Willie Parker builds off of his performance against the Saints. Looking over the last quarter of the year, the Browns have played better football than the Steelers. The Browns have won 2 of their last 3 and played decently in 2 losses to Denver and San Diego. The Browns were beaten rather soundly at home on Christmas Eve 2005 to the tune of 41-0 to the Steelers. The players remember that embarrassment. The Steelers defense is struggling, particularly in the secondary and S Troy Polamalu suffered a concussion versus the Saints. This game could boil down to which beleaguered secondary remains standing at the end. If QB Charlie Frye can avoid the big interception and the Browns can figure out a way to slow down Parker, they may be able to pull out a victory.  ITH says they will…
Cleveland   24   Pittsburgh   23
Record Last Week:     3 – 0
Season to date:         18 – 13

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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

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