AFC NORTH ROUNDUP: Bengals still looking to clinch division

Street Talk AFC NORTH ROUNDUP: Bengals still looking to clinch division

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Baltimore Ravens

"I thought all three phases really stepped up: offense, defense, special teams," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Maybe the first time all year we put it together in that kind of a fashion. That is encouraging."

A cold, driving rain couldn’t prevent the Baltimore Ravens and Ray Rice from enjoying a record-setting day. Rice ran for a career-high 166 yards and a touchdown, and the Ravens enhanced their playoff hopes Sunday with a 48-3 victory over the hapless Detroit Lions. Baltimore built a 20-3 halftime lead behind the play of Rice, who had 155 yards rushing on only nine carries and four catches for 53 yards before the break. His 59-yard touchdown run made it 17-3, and the Ravens cruised to the finish in handing the Lions their 19th straight road loss. Baltimore set team records in total yardage (548) and rushing touchdowns (5). The 48 points tied the franchise mark, set in 2005 against Green Bay. Rice reached a personal high with 219 total yards and topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career. He has 1,041 yards on the ground and a team-high 68 catches for 652 yards.

Rice was pulled early in second half, and his backups continued the assault. Le’Ron McClain scored from the 3 and Willis McGahee added touchdown runs of 6 and 19 yards to make it 41-3 entering the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Troy Smith ran in from the 15 with 5:02 left to cap the rout. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who was ineffective in the loss to Green Bay, went 13 for 20 for 230 yards and a touchdown before leaving in the fourth quarter. Baltimore went up 3-0 when Billy Cundiff kicked a 38-yard field goal after a 19-yard run by Rice and a 20-yarder by McClain. It became 10-0 when Derrick Mason caught a short pass over the middle, was sandwiched by Phillip Buchanon and Marvin White, managed to stay upright and then cruised to finish a 62-yard touchdown. After a third-and-10 pass to Rice went for exactly 10 yards, Rice sprinted up the middle for a 59-yard TD and a 17-3 lead.

Cincinnati Bengals

"Awesome," Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco said; assessing Minnesota’s defense. "I can only speak from the secondary’s standpoint, but Cedric Griffin, Antoine Winfield, Madieu Williams — they did a hell of a job."

"They sent a message and set a tone early in the game," said Cedric Benson, whose 16 carries for 96 yards gave him his first 1,000-yard season. "Today was a big learning lesson. We’ve got a lot of young guys, and I don’t think that many guys have had that playoff run opportunity. Today was a playoff game if you ask me. Tough opponent."

Cincinnati committed 11 penalties for 85 yards and failed to clinch the AFC North when Baltimore won. The Vikings held Carson Palmer to a season-low 94 yards passing. He threw a second-quarter touchdown pass to Chad Ochocinco, but it didn’t bring a hint of celebration from the flamboyant, oft-fined Pro Bowl player — or do much to get the Bengals in the game. Ochocinco finished with three catches for 27 yards.

The Bengals, missing stout defensive tackle Domata Peko for the second week in a row, saw their team-record streak of eight straight games holding the other team under 100 yards rushing end. Safety Chris Crocker hurt his ankle in the first quarter and didn’t return; and cornerback Johnathan Joseph was hurt in the third, but did return. A banged-up Vikings offensive line handled a physical, trash-talking Bengals front. "It just kind of motivated everybody, starting with the offensive line," left tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "I don’t know if they were trying for an intimidation factor or not, but we got it going."

The Bengals hadn’t played at the Metrodome, now officially called Mall of America Field, since 1998. This was their first loss to an NFC North opponent under Coach Marvin Lewis after seven straight wins.

Cleveland Browns

"They’re going to hear that bus’ engine all the way back," Browns return specialist and receiver Joshua Cribbs said. "That’s a lonely ride. I’ve ridden that ride for five years now. It’s time for them to hear that engine all the way home while they look at the stat sheet."

Cleveland ended a 12-game skid against their bitter rival by beating the Steelers 13-6 on Thursday night in subzero wind chills. They extended Pittsburgh’s longest losing streak in six years and defeated the Steelers at home for the first time since 2000. Chris Jennings, who began the season on Cleveland’s practice squad, scored on a 10-yard run and Phil Dawson kicked a pair of 29-yard field goals for the Browns, who snapped a seven-game losing streak, a 10-game slide at home and beat the Steelers for just the second time in 20 games.

The win was just the second for Cleveland’s embattled first-year coach Eric Mangini, who certainly helped his job security by beating Pittsburgh, something no Browns coach had done since Chris Palmer nine years ago. Joshua Cribbs rushed for 87 yards out of the wildcat formation, had 104 return yards and caught one pass for 9 yards. He picked up a big first down on a 14-yard run in the fourth quarter when the Browns were trying to milk the clock. Brady Quinn, making his first career start against Pittsburgh, completed just one pass in the second half and finished 6 of 19 for 90 yards.

Cleveland’s defense dominated the first half, sacking Roethlisberger five times and pressuring him on nearly every snap. Jennings’ 10-yard scamper around right end — the first TD scored by a Cleveland running back in more than a year — put the Browns up 13-0 late in the second quarter. With their defense stuffing the Steelers and the temperature dropping, the Browns’ lead seemed insurmountable. And it proved to be so.

Pittsburgh Steelers

"To lose five straight coming off a Super Bowl from last year is embarrassing," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said. "There’s nothing fun about losing games, especially five in a row. We’re better than that. We should play better than that. With three games left, you’re going to see who really wants to go out here and play for the pride of this organization and this city and who doesn’t want to be around here."

The defending NFL champions lost their fifth straight and had their playoff hopes thrown for a loss by the lowly Cleveland Browns. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times and lost for the first time in 11 career games against the Browns. Roethlisberger tried to rally the Steelers, but his fourth-down pass to Santonio Holmes with less than two minutes left was knocked down by linebacker David Bowens. When Holmes was tackled on a punt return and the final second ticked off the scoreboard’s clock, frozen Browns fans, who were nearly outnumbered by Terrible Towel-waving Pittsburgh fans, danced in the aisles. Several Cleveland players sprinted down field and jumped into the Dawg Pound section to celebrate.

The Steelers, whose defense lost some of its spirit and much of its toughness when Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu went down with a knee injury, left the field stunned. "Hurtful," Holmes said. "I never thought I’d be losing five games in a row. I know those guys will continue to fight these last three games. Hopefully, we can get back in the lab this summer, regroup and start all over." Needing a touchdown to tie, the Steelers got the ball back with 6:16 left at their own 21. Roethlisberger, who has broken Cleveland’s hearts before, began working his team down field with short passes. But he was sacked at midfield in the final two minutes and had his final pass batted away. Roethlisberger went 18 of 32 for 201 yards. He had trouble throwing in the swirling winds that consistently blew over 20 mph and the Steelers were never able to establish their running game against the Browns’ defense, which came in ranked 32nd overall.

The Steelers drove 58 yards in 41 seconds and got a 27-yard field goal from Jeff Reed as time expired to close to 13-3 at halftime. Reed’s second field goal with 8 seconds left in the third brought the Steelers within a touchdown. But Pittsburgh was unable to put together a scoring drive in the fourth, and now the Steelers find themselves in more trouble than they could have imagined. This is certainly not what Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin had in mind when he promised his team would "unleash hell" in December.

AFC North

Team

W

L

T

PCT

PF

PA

Home

Road

DIV

PCT

AFC

PCT

NFC

Streak

Cincinnati

9

4

0

.692

264

217

5-2

4-2

6-0

1.000

6-3

.667

3-1

Lost 1

Baltimore

7

6

0

.538

319

218

5-2

2-4

3-2

.600

6-4

.600

1-2

Won 1

Pittsburgh

6

7

0

.462

278

244

4-2

2-5

1-4

.200

4-6

.400

2-1

Lost 5

Cleveland

2

11

0

.154

158

315

1-5

1-6

1-5

.167

2-7

.222

0-4

Won 1

 
Week #14 Scores    

Baltimore       48     Detroit           3

Minnesota      30    Cincinnati    10

Cleveland      13     Pittsburgh     6

 

Week #15 Match-ups and ITH Predictions

Baltimore (7-6) vs. Chicago (5-8)

The Bears started the season quickly at 3-1, but have now lost 7 of their last 9. A lot of that resulting failure has come at the expense of relying too much on Jay Cutler to pass the team to victory. As a result, the team ranks 32nd, and last in the NFL in rushing the football. It’s tough to win games at M&T with no running attack. The Ravens are 12-1 at home against NFC teams in the last 13 games played against that conference. The teams have met 3 times with the Bears winning 2 of the 3. Currently, the Bears are ranked 15th in the league in total defense. They are 8th versus the pass, but only 24th versus the run. It appears that the Ravens have concluded that they need to run the ball in the colder weather, and that’s how they should attack the Bears. A close game early, but the Ravens pull away late by wearing down the Bears with their three-headed running back monster.

 Baltimore   26     Chicago   17

Cincinnati (9-4) at San Diego (10-3)

With all of the attention given to the undefeated Colts and Saints, the Chargers have rather quietly won 8 in a row to take a 2 game lead over the Denver Broncos in the AFC West. This game has play-off seeding implications, with the Chargers getting a huge leg up on the race for the #2 seed with a victory. The Bengals have a shot at that seed as well if they can beat the Chargers. In their only trip to the west coast in 2009, the Bengals gave away a game to the Oakland Raiders. The Chargers hold an 18-10 historical advantage over the Bengals. Since their bye week, the Bengals have scored an average of less than 17 points over a six game stretch. On the other hand, the Chargers have averaged 30 points over their 8 game win streak.

 San Diego   27     Cincinnati   17

Cleveland (2-11) at Kansas City (3-10)

Kansas City has only 1 home win this year, and it was against an AFC North team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. This marks the Chiefs third straight game at home and the last one of the 2009 campaign. Historically; the Chiefs and Browns are deadlocked at 9-9-2. The Browns have performed better since their bye than their 1-4 mark indicates, culminating in their huge upset of the Steelers on 12/10. The Chiefs had 5 turnovers in their loss versus Buffalo. The Browns have pretty much stopped turning the ball over, and Joshua Cribbs is a difference maker when given the opportunity. 
 

Cleveland   20     Kansas City   17

Pittsburgh (6-7) vs. Green Bay (9-4)

This is a tale of two teams headed in opposite directions. The Packers have won 5 in a row, while the Steelers have lost 5 in a row. The Packers need to win to maintain their wild card advantage, and the Steelers need to win to have any hope of making the playoffs and will need help in doing so. How did the Steelers allow 8 sacks of Roethlisberger versus the Browns? Green Bay could cause similar problems for the Steelers offense this week.  What happened to the Steelers running game, which is now ranked at 16th in the NFL? Both teams will need their respective ground attacks to perform this week, and it could come down to whether Ryan Grant or Rashard Mendenhall can control the game. Charles Woodson is playing like a one man wrecking crew for the Green Bay secondary. The Packers hold the lead with an all-time record of 18-13 versus the Steelers. This will be a battle for sure with the Steelers backed against the wall, but the Packers will find a way to win this one late. That’s what winning teams do.   

Green Bay   21     Pittsburgh   19

 

Record Week #14 and YTD: 1 – 2/22 – 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 ProFootball24x7.com.
 

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