Following the Ravens’ ugly loss at the hands of the Miami Dolphins last Thursday, everyone was bracing for the reality that there would be a new face atop the AFC North heading into Week 11. Luckily for the purple birds, every other team in action on Sunday saw their lackluster performance against a beatable team and said, “hold my beer.”
Surprisingly, the only team that feels better about their chances after what we saw last week, is the team that didn’t play a single down all weekend. While these results will surely have the Ravens flock even more frustrated with Thursday’s loss, given the separation it could’ve given them from the pack, it’s at least nice to know they weren’t the only team facing massive struggles last week.
Without any further ado, let’s recap what was all-in-all the ugliest week of football we’ve seen from the AFC North in the entire 2021 season.
After an impressive beatdown of the Cincinnati Bengals in game one of the “post-Odell” era, the Browns got it turned right back around on them this week in Foxborough. Cleveland came out on their first drive on Sunday firing on all cylinders, continuing the offensive success they found in spades just one week prior. Unfortunately for them, that’s where any ounce of success stopped on this day. These would be the only points of the afternoon for the Browns, who went on to lose 45-7 when it was all said and done.
New England responded to an Austin Hooper two-yard touchdown with an impressive 15-play drive of their own, capped by a Mac Jones-to-Hunter Henry score from inside the five. From there, they didn’t look back. Jones would go on to throw three touchdowns, but it was the Patriots defense who were the stars of the show, notching five sacks on the day. Former Raven Matt Judon in particular has been making an even bigger name for himself since joining the team, notching 0.5 sacks and three quarterback hits on Baker Mayfield and causing massive havoc in the backfield. New England started off the season looking shaky, but after starting 1-3, they’ve won four out of their last five games and are very much looking like a dangerous player in the AFC.
For the Browns, a lot of people will immediately look to Mayfield as the root of all their issues, but I’m surprisingly giving him a pass. While Mayfield has certainly been falling short of what people thought they’d see as he was lighting up the world at Oklahoma and going #1 overall, he’s still proven to be a more than serviceable game manager at the NFL level.
Ravens fans are no stranger to the knocks of their quarterback only being able to play one style of offense, and Mayfield is now starting to get a similar reputation given his team’s reliance on the run game. There’s no denying that his early interception on Sunday put his team behind the 8 ball, which is a place you never want to be when facing Bill Belichick, but overall he’s only thrown four on the year while also boasting a 65% completion percentage. When you have an elite back like Nick Chubb as the main source of production for your offense, those numbers from your quarterback will suffice much more often than not. Not to mention, Mayfield has also dealt with a plethora of injuries throughout the season that have clearly impacted his on-field play. So while we haven’t seen much of that 300+ yard Oklahoma Baker in 2021, he’s far from the sole reason they’re currently .500.
Up next for Cleveland is a team we’ll talk about more next, in a game in which you’d expect them to bounce back with a convincing victory in. Then again, if the Steelers were any indication this weekend, the Brownies may have their hands a little more full than they originally thought with the Detroit Lions coming to town.
There’s only one word to describe the Steelers’ home match-up with the Detroit Lions from this past weekend, and that’s “hideous.” Late in the week, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was placed on the Covid-19 list after self-reporting symptoms and returning a positive test. As a result of this news, it was up to Mason Rudolph to give Pittsburgh sole possession of first place in the AFC North. Spoiler alert, it went exactly how you’d imagine it would.
This game was almost as tough to watch as the Ravens-Dolphins tilt on Thursday. After amassing a seven-point lead on their first drive, the Steelers would do everything in their power to allow Detroit to stay in the game for the remainder of regulation and overtime. With Rudolph under center the offense was just flat, which is surprising after initially driving down the field so easily. The lack of a threat in the passing game allowed Detroit to almost exclusively focus on running back Najee Harris, who had an impressive day on the final stat sheet but overall wasn’t the game winning X-factor he should’ve been in this game.
Do any of you remember that episode of “South Park” where the kids are forced to play little league by their parents? You know, the one where the kids on every team try to lose the games intentionally just so they can finally get off the field and have their summer breaks? If not, just watch the overtime period of this game and you’ll have a good idea. A Steelers fumble on the opening drive gave the Lions the ball back in prime position to gain a couple of first downs and win on a field goal. Jared Goff and company accomplished this, before what was perhaps the worst game winning attempt you’ll see in this lifetime.
How would Pittsburgh respond to their second chance at life? With a three-and-out, followed by ANOTHER three-and-out from Detroit’s offense, followed by a Pat Freiermuth fumble in Detroit territory that killed the Steelers’ chance at their own game winner. So, when the scoreboard finally hit zeros, we were left with our first tie of the season. 16-16. Fitting for a game such as this.
The only thing to really pull from this game is that the Steelers have absolutely zero chance without Ben Roethlisberger. Given the experience of the Pittsburgh front office and coaching staff, it’s surprising that they’d go into this season with an old veteran on his last legs as their QB #1, with no reliable option behind him. Perhaps they wanted to quell any calls for a benching, should Roethlisberger have come out and played, well, exactly like he did in the first month (before starting to turn it around). Perhaps they just still had hope that Rudolph would finally take a much needed step forward. Nonetheless, the fate of their season relies most prominently on the health of a regularly banged up 39-year-old signal caller. That should scare them as we approach December.
Up next for Pittsburgh is a Sunday night road contest against the Los Angeles Chargers, a team who’s been struggling in their own right, dropping three of their last four games. Both teams will be looking to reverse their Week 10 fortunes with the lights on bright, and as long as Roethlisberger is healthy enough to take the field this promises to be an exciting encounter.
The Bengals had the best seat in the house on Sunday, and got to gain ground on all three of the teams around them without lifting a finger. Week 11 holds a road tilt against the Las Vegas Raiders, who are looking for their first victory since the barrage of negative media that’s overtaken their team during the last two weeks. After a crushing loss to the Browns the last time they took the field, the Bengals will be hell-bent on keeping pace with the rest of the AFC North in week 11.
Well, I warned you that it was gross. The only thing that the teams around the AFC North can take solace in after Week 10 is that it’s finally over. None of the three losses we saw take place are likely to be an indication of the losing team’s chances down the stretch, but that definitely doesn’t soften the blow. Overall it was one to forget, and we now set our sights on some very interesting match-ups ahead this weekend around the division. We’ll see which teams are able to reverse their fortunes next week, for yet another whirl around the AFC North.