Monday, September 17, 2012
Wake-up: Already tight at top of AFC North
By Jamison Hensley
Trying to decipher the Week 2 results in the AFC North is like trying to decode the Rosetta Stone. Well, at least Ben Roethlisberger knows what I mean. The Steelers won despite not having James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. The Ravens lost even though the Eagles turned the ball over three times in the red zone. The Browns lost a game in which rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden threw for 322 yards and didn't throw an interception. The Bengals won even though they allowed a Browns rookie to gain 100 yards rushing against them for the first time in nine years.
What does this all mean? The season starts at Square One for nearly everyone in the division. The Ravens, Steelers and Bengals are tied with a 1-1 record. The Browns (0-2) have put up more of a fight this year, but they're still last after their 11th straight AFC North loss.
BENGALS: Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga talked to Browns running back Trent Richardson after the game and told reporters that his earlier remark (he described Richardson's debut last week as "nothing spectacular") was was never intended to be "a hit" on the rookie. "He’s a great player,” Maualuga said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “That’s what they didn’t put on there, the good things I said about him. And so, you know, he came out. He made a statement. He had a good game.” Richardson totaled 145 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals. My guess is Maualuga will only have compliments about Redskins running back Alfred Morris, who faces Cincinnati next Sunday.
BROWNS: The Plain Dealer's Bud Shaw believes Weeden should have won over many critics even in defeat. "Weeden's age and first-round draft status make fast-tracking him mandatory. Sunday's performance -- 322 yards passing, two touchdowns, no interceptions or fumbles -- cleared the way for that to continue," Shaw wrote. "After witnessing the nadir, everyone involved -- fans, coaches, teammates -- are less stressed today for having seen the possibilities." Just as many wanted to bench Weeden after his dismal debut, no one should think Weeden is suddenly over the hump after a successful Week 2 performance. There's still a lot of growing to do.
RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston said the play-calling was the most disappointing aspect of the Ravens' loss at Philadelphia. "Oh my, we're still looking for [Ray] Rice," Preston wrote. "Did he have a cold or virus? The entire offense was a no-show in the second half against Philadelphia, and when that happens, the Ravens should go back to old reliable. It should have been be Rice time." Rice finished with 22 touches, but he didn't get the ball on the Ravens' final drive.
STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook thinks the play of safety Ryan Clark was key to shutting down the Jets on Sunday. "He made plays just about every way a defensive player can," Cook wrote. "Rushing the passer? Check. Stopping the run? Check. Breaking up a deep pass? Check. Dishing out brutal hits? By now, after watching the man play here for six-plus seasons, you know that's a check." What shouldn't be overlooked is the fact that the Steelers' last two losses (both at Denver) came when Clark couldn't play.