AFC North: 2011 Week 15 coverage

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 20, Steelers 3

December, 20, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO -- Quick thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 20-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

What it means: The Steelers' offensive struggles cost Pittsburgh a prime opportunity to gain control of the division and the AFC's top seed, just like the Ravens did one night earlier on the West Coast. In order to win the division now, the Steelers (10-4) need the Ravens (10-4) to lose one of their remaining two games. Baltimore finishes out the regular season home against Cleveland and at Cincinnati. Pittsburgh was shut out in the first half for the second time this season and finished with a season-worst three points.

Not the same Roethlisberger: The high-ankle sprain hurt Ben Roethlisberger's accuracy and ability to throw deep. All three of his interceptions were on passes that traveled more than 10 yards. Roethlisberger then fumbled in the fourth quarter while getting sacked. The 49ers converted 13 points off those turnovers. Roethlisberger finished 25-of-44 (56.8 percent) for 330 yards. And since we're on the subject, why was Roethlisberger still in a 17-point game late in the fourth quarter?

Unexpected delays: The game was stopped twice because of power outages that caused Candlestick Park to go completely dark. Kickoff was pushed back 40 minutes, and the second quarter was held up by 10 minutes. The outages were caused by a transformer blowing outside the stadium, according to a 49ers spokesman.

Harrison factor: The absence of linebacker James Harrison, who was serving his one-game suspension, was felt in the lack of a pass rush. The Steelers failed to sack quarterback Alex Smith. Getting to Smith has been a key to beating San Francisco. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Smith has been sacked 20 times in three losses and only 19 times in 11 wins.

Bad cover-up: The game was broken open in the third quarter when the 49ers took advantage of the mismatch of the Steelers linebackers on San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis. There were completions of 31 yards (against James Farrior) and 21 yards (against Lawrence Timmons) to put the 49ers at the 1-yard line. Then, Davis was left wide open for a 1-yard touchdown as San Francisco extended its lead to 13-3.

What's next: The Steelers play their final home game of the regular season when they host the St. Louis Rams (2-12) on Saturday.

Rapid Reaction: Chargers 34, Ravens 14

December, 18, 2011

SAN DIEGO -- Rapid reaction from the Baltimore Ravens' 34-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers at Snapdragon Stadium:

What it means: The Ravens (10-4) didn't show up again on the road, but none of those losses were as costly as this one. Depending on how the Pittsburgh Steelers fare at San Francisco tomorrow night, Baltimore might have lost control of the AFC North, a home playoff game and a first-round bye. The Ravens would have been the AFC's top seed if they won out. Now, there is a chance that they'll be a No. 5 seed. The Ravens learned before the game that they clinched a playoff spot as the result of the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders losing. It was all downhill after that.

Defense gets shredded: Baltimore's much-heralded defense got embarrassed on national television. The Ravens allowed the Chargers to score on their first five drive and allowed a season-high in points in just three quarters of play. With no pass rush on Philip Rivers, he picked apart the Ravens, completing 17 of 23 passes for 270 yards. Rookie first-round pick Jimmy Smith had a rough initiation to a top-tier passing attack, getting picked on frequently.

Flacco roughed up: While Rivers went nearly untouched, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco faced consistent pressure. He was sacked three times by former Ravens linebacker Antwan Barnes. Flacco threw two interceptions in the second half.

The return of Ray Lewis, who was playing in his first game in five weeks, was a non-factor.

Troubling start: The Ravens' opening drive ended with Billy Cundiff missing a 36-yard field goal. Then, Baltimore allowed the Chargers to march 74 yards on 12 plays for a touchdown. It ended the Ravens' streak of not allowing an opponent to score a touchdown on its opening drive at 21 games. That set the tone for the entire game.

What's next: The Ravens return home to play the last-place Cleveland Browns on Saturday.

Wrap-up: Cardinals 20, Browns 17, OT

December, 18, 2011

Thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals:

What it means: Different quarterback, same result for Cleveland. In Seneca Wallace's first start at quarterback this season, the Browns (4-10) suffered a fourth-quarter meltdown, losing in overtime after leading by 10 points with 8 1/2 minutes left in the game. It marked Cleveland's seventh loss in eight games and its fourth straight. This also secured the Browns' fourth straight season with double-digit defeats.

Fourth-quarter collapse: Holding a 17-7 lead in the fourth quarter, the Browns let the Cardinals score the final 17 points. On the series after Beanie Wells scored a 1-yard touchdown, Wallace was sacked twice, fumbling deep in Cleveland territory on the last one. Jay Feely's 33-yard field goal tied the game in regulation and his 22-yarder in overtime won it.

Wallace fades: In starting for the injured Colt McCoy (concussion), Seneca Wallace started strong, completing 13 of 20 passes for 179 yards in the first three quarters. His 76-yard touchdown to Greg Little put the Browns up 17-7 -- their biggest lead since Week 2 against the Colts. But Wallace struggled in the fourth quarter and overtime, going 5-of-11 for 47 yards and committing a costly fumble.

Running strong: Peyton Hillis, who wasn't on the injury report this week, showed what he could do when healthy. He gained 99 yards on 26 carries and scored his first touchdown since Sept. 18 at Indianapolis. Hillis set the tone early with 35 rushing yards on the opening series that ended with his touchdown, a rare fast start for the Browns this season.

What's next: The Browns play at Baltimore on Dec. 24, their final road game of the regular season.

Wrap-up: Bengals 20, Rams 13

December, 18, 2011

Thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals at St. Louis Rams:

What it means: In a game that they should have dominated from the start, the Bengals (8-6) shook off a lethargic first half to remain in the AFC wild-card hunt. Cincinnati ended a two-game losing streak and improved to 7-0 against teams currently with a losing record. But it hasn't been easy lately for the Bengals, who gave up a touchdown with 68 seconds left and needed to sweat out an onside kick. It marked the Bengals' first road victory since Nov. 6 at Tennessee.

Running it up: Cincinnati finally broke through against the NFL's worst run defense, gaining 86 yards on the ground and scoring two rushing touchdowns in the second half. Cedric Benson finished with 76 yards and one touchdown. It took a while for Cincinnati to crack St. Louis, managing 24 rushing yards on 14 carries in the first half.

Rookie duo: Andy Dalton connected with A.J. Green six times for 115 yards. They became the top rookie quarterback-wide receiver duo since 1991 in receptions and passing yards. Green, though, injured his right collarbone with three minutes left in the second quarter, which seemed to bother him the rest of the game.

Tough on third downs: The Bengals' defense had one of its best games on third downs, not allowing one conversion in the first half. The Rams finished 2-of-13 on third down. Of course, this was against Kellen Clemens, who was picked up on waivers by the Rams two weeks ago.

Poor start: The Bengals actually trailed the two-win Rams in the first half 6-3 because of some uninspired play. In the first half, Cincinnati continually failed on short yardage, including three tries from the St. Louis 3-yard line in the first quarter. Dalton also had an interception, and the Bengals got a punt blocked.

What's next: The Bengals play the Arizona Cardinals, the first of the two home games to wrap up the regular season.