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Tuesday, December 22, 2009
How I See It: AFC North Stock Watch

By James Walker
ESPN.com

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Falling

1. Browns' defense: After holding the Pittsburgh Steelers to six points and collecting eight sacks in Week 14, it appeared Cleveland’s defense was finally turning the corner for the stretch run.

But all of that momentum was lost during a trip to Kansas City. The Browns gave up 491 yards in a 41-34 victory over the lowly Chiefs (3-11).

Kansas City tailback Jamaal Charles shredded Cleveland’s defense with 154 yards rushing. Luckily for the Browns, the team also had a huge day running the ball and on special teams. But we will get to that later.

2. Steelers' fourth-quarter defense: The fourth-quarter struggles continue for Pittsburgh. In a 37-36 win over the Green Bay Packers, the Steelers played solid defense early and allowed only 14 points in the first three quarters. But the wheels came off again late as Green Bay scored 22 points in the final quarter.

Things are getting so bad that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin tried an onside kick with a two-point lead and just under four minutes remaining. It has been a polarizing debate in Pittsburgh as to whether Tomlin made the right call under the circumstances or sent the wrong message to his defense.

Either way, this is a problem that needs to be fixed if the Steelers plan to finish the season strong.

3. Leon Hall, Bengals cornerback: Credit goes to Hall for staying away from the "falling" category most of this season. But the Bengals cornerback may have had his toughest game last weekend in a loss to the San Diego Chargers.

Hall had trouble with San Diego’s big receivers, which include Vincent Jackson (five catches, 108 yards, two touchdowns). Hall finished with seven solo tackles and one pass defense. San Diego was able to get 16 first downs passing against Cincinnati’s secondary and only three first downs running the ball.

Harrison
Jerome Harrison rushed for 286 yards in Sunday's win over Kansas City.
Rising

1. Jerome Harrison, Browns tailback: When you put up a performance that trails only Adrian Peterson and Jamal Lewis for rushing yards in a single game, you deserve the top spot in this category.

Harrison rushed for 286 yards and three touchdowns in a win over the Chiefs. In one game, he nearly doubled his season output for rushing yards.

Harrison also shattered Hall of Famer Jim Brown’s franchise mark of 237 yards that Brown accomplished twice, in 1957 and 1961.

2. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers quarterback: Harrison wasn’t the only AFC North player to climb into the record books. Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards against Green Bay, which was the 10th highest total in NFL history.

The Steelers needed every yard as Roethlisberger’s final throw was a 19-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Mike Wallace to win the game. It was another clutch performance by Roethlisberger and his third touchdown throw against the Packers.

3. Joshua Cribbs, Browns: The price tag continues to go up for Cribbs, who now stands alone as the NFL’s all-time leader in kickoff returns for a touchdown with eight.

Cribbs ran back kickoffs 100 and 103 yards for scores against Kansas City. Cribbs has been the biggest reason for Cleveland’s two-game winning streak and is making a strong case for his second Pro Bowl.

Cribbs has been in a contract dispute with the Browns (3-11) for two seasons now, and he probably will get a new deal after this year’s performance.