Here are some notes and observations from Week 9 in the AFC North:
I recently wrote that it's time to blow up the Cincinnati Bengals' trio of Chad Ochocinco, Carson Palmer and Marvin Lewis. Monday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was another big step in that direction. Ochocinco had one catch for 15 yards, and his yelling at Palmer in the second half was uncalled for. Palmer threw a ball high and incomplete, and Ochocinco simply lost it. The last thing Palmer needed was his receiver screaming about one bad pass while the Bengals were trying to mount a comeback. Ochocinco was briefly benched after the incident. Palmer has been patient with Ochocinco, who has sometimes run wrong routes this season. It's clear Palmer trusts Terrell Owens more than Ochocinco. The Bengals have a $6 million team option for Ochocinco in 2011, and it's becoming more likely that Cincinnati won't pay that kind of money for a struggling and frustrated receiver. Here is Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis on why he benched Ochocinco:
"Yeah, he was upset, but we've got to play football. If he's not going to get it done right, he's got to take an opportunity to freshen up his mind and get right back in the game. It was good that he got out of the game so he could concentrate and get his job done. When you're playing that position, you can't dictate when the ball comes to you."
On the flip side, Owens deserves a lot of credit for leading by example. Owens was involved, played hard throughout and produced on the field without causing a stir. Owens torched Pittsburgh's secondary with 10 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns. He is on pace to hit most or all of his contract incentives that can pay him an extra $2 million this year. We will break down those incentives later this week.
Speaking of contract escalators, Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy is more than halfway to a bonus that could pocket him an extra $650,000. McCoy needs to play 35 percent of the snaps this season -- or approximately 5.6 games -- to guarantee the raise on the fourth year of his base salary. With three starts under his belt, McCoy is halfway there. He threw for 174 yards and rushed for a touchdown in the 34-14 win against the New England Patriots on Sunday.
Browns coach Eric Mangini is playing with fire if he's seriously considering benching McCoy in favor of veteran Seneca Wallace or Jake Delhomme. The Browns are on a roll with back-to-back wins over the New Orleans Saints and the Patriots, and a loss Sunday would instantly place blame on an untimely quarterback change, especially if Wallace or Delhomme were to play poorly. The New York Jets are a good team, especially defensively. So this is an odd time for the Browns to make a major change offensively when McCoy finally has the ball rolling.
The Steelers are very thin on their offensive line after a physical game with Cincinnati. Injuries to starters Maurkice Pouncey (leg), Max Starks (neck) and Chris Kemoeatu (ankle) tested their depth. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said Pouncey should be fine. He returned in the second half. But the team isn't sure about Starks and Kemoeatu until further testing. I talked with Starks after the game and he said he's hopeful for Sunday night's big matchup against the Patriots.
Pittsburgh's special teams vastly outplayed the Bengals. A fumble forced by rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders and a blocked punt by William Gay helped put the Steelers ahead by 10 points early in a game in which they never trailed. Pittsburgh kicker Jeff Reed also made two field goals, although he did miss one wide left in the fourth quarter that could have sealed the game.
The first-place Baltimore Ravens are doing a great job forcing turnovers, which was an issue earlier this season. In its past two games, Baltimore has forced seven turnovers, including three interceptions in Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins. Ravens star safety Ed Reed has three picks in two games. The Ravens had a chance to create even more turnovers against the Dolphins, who fumbled four times but recovered all of them.