AFC North: 2011 Week 15 Rapid Reaction
December, 20, 2011
By Jamison Hensley | ESPN.com
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.
December, 18, 2011
By Jamison Hensley | ESPN.com
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.