AFC North: 2011 Week 12 coverage
November, 27, 2011
Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 13-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs:
What it means: The Steelers survived a last-minute comeback by the Chiefs to improve to 8-3 and remain tied with the Ravens atop the AFC North (Baltimore holds the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh because it swept the Steelers). It wasn't an impressive win for the Steelers, which was held to 13 points, their worst output since the season opener in Baltimore. Pittsburgh looked rusty coming off its 10-day break but it's now 14-9 after byes.
Fourth-quarter stop: For its second straight game, Pittsburgh needed an interception late in the fourth quarter to seal the win. This time it was Keenan Lewis who caught an overthrown pass from an overmatched Tyler Palko. Before the turnover, the Chiefs were making the Steelers sweat, driving to the Pittsburgh 37 with with 38 seconds left.
Turnover time: The Steelers nearly matched their season total in turnovers in one game, thanks to the lapses by Palko. Pittsburgh finished with four takeaways (three interceptions and one fumble recovery) after entering this game with an NFL-low six in its first 10 games. The Steelers converted 10 points off turnovers.
Injury concern: Pittsburgh played most of the game without two Pro Bowl players. Safety Troy Polamalu left in the first quarter after taking a blow to the head, and center Maurkice Pouncey came out of the game with an illness in the second quarter. Both didn't return. Ryan Mundy, Polamalu's replacement, made an interception in the second quarter that led to the game's only touchdown.
Out of the zone: One reason why the game was so close was Pittsburgh's struggles in the red zone. The Steelers have scored one touchdown despite being inside the Chiefs' 10-yard line three times. On Pittsburgh's opening drive, Mike Wallace dropped a pass in the end zone and Mewelde Moore fumbled at the Kansas City 2.
Thumbs up or down?: In his first full game since fracturing his right thumb, Ben Roethlisberger completed 21 of 31 passes (67.7 percent), which was his fourth-highest completion rate this season. But he was held to a season-low 193 yards passing. He also had one touchdown and one interception.
What's next: The Steelers return home to play the Cincinnati Bengals (7-4).
November, 27, 2011
Thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 23-20 win over the Cleveland Browns:
What it means: The Bengals (7-4) remained in the thick of the playoff hunt with their fourth fourth-quarter comeback of the season. After not leading for the first 59 minutes of the game, Cincinnati won the game on Mike Nugent's 26-yard field goal with 38 seconds remaining. The Bengals rebounded from a two-game losing streak by scoring the final 13 points against Cleveland. The Browns (4-7) lost their eighth straight AFC North road game.
Key play: The decisive moment in this hard-fought game was A.J. Green's 51-yard leaping catch-and-run over the middle that put the Bengals inside the Browns' 10 with one minute left. It came against Joe Haden, the AFC North's best cornerback, and converted a third-and-8. This led to Nugent's short game winner. Green finished with 110 yards on three catches.
Benson bashes Browns: Benson continued his success against the Browns and became the latest running back to gain more than 100 yards against them. He finished with 130 total yards, gaining most of them on the left side. His 16-yard touchdown run tied the game at 7 in the first quarter.
Bad snap ... again: The Browns missed their opportunity to break the tie with 1:51 left in the game, but Ryan Pontbriand's bad snap caused Phil Dawson's 55-yard field goal attempt to fall short. It was Pontbriand's bad snap two weeks ago that led to another missed go-ahead field goal in a 13-12 loss to St. Louis.
Browns' defense steps up in first half: Cleveland took a 17-7 halftime lead because of its defense. The Browns made a goal-line stand in the first quarter and forced Andy Dalton's first fumble of the season, which led to the Browns' second touchdown of the game. Jabaal Sheard forced the turnover.
Hillis returns: Browns running back Peyton Hillis ran hard in his first game back after missing five straight with a hamstring injury. He made a bigger impact than expected, rushing for 57 yards on 15 carries.
Browns end drought: Cleveland scored its first first-quarter touchdown when Colt McCoy hit Jordan Norwood for a 24-yard pass in the end zone.
What's next: The Bengals travel to Pittsburgh just a couple of weeks after losing to the Steelers at home. The Browns play host to the Ravens next Sunday.
November, 24, 2011
BALTIMORE -- Thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens-San Francisco 49ers game:
What it means: Winning the Harbaugh Bowl means more than just bragging rights for John Harbaugh over his brother Jim. The Ravens improved to an AFC-best 8-3 and can make the case for being the best team in the conference. Baltimore once again plays its best against the best, ending the eight-game winning streak of the 49ers, who hadn't lost since Sept. 18. This was the Ravens' eighth straight win at M&T Bank Stadium, which is currently the second-longest home streak among NFL teams.
Sack attack: The Ravens continually crashed the pocket, sacking Alex Smith nine times. That ties the Ravens' single-game record. With four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Smith had 12 completions and the Ravens had eight sacks. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (three sacks) and defensive end Cory Redding (2.5) led the sack parade. Smith had been sacked 10 times in his previous seven games.
Decisive drive: With the game tied at 6-6, Joe Flacco marched the Ravens 76 yards on 16 plays, capping the drive with an 8-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown pass to tight end Dennis Pitta. On third downs in that possession, Flacco was 4-for-4 for 34 yards and a touchdown.
Not missing Ray Lewis: Without Lewis (toe injury) and his backup Dannell Ellerbe (thigh), Baltimore was still strong against the run. 49ers running back Frank Gore, who has had five 100-yard rushing games this season, was held to 39 yards on 14 carries, a 2.8-yard average.
What's next: The Ravens have 10 days off before playing at the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 4. Baltimore is 3-0 in the AFC North.