AFC North: 2011 Week 16 coverage

Wrap-up: Bengals 23, Cardinals 16

December, 24, 2011
Thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 23-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals:

What it means: With the Jets losing, the Bengals (9-6) took back the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC and control their playoff fate. Cincinnati can clinch a playoff spot by beating Baltimore next weekend. The Bengals won their second straight game after losing four of their past five games. Cincinnati improved to 8-0 against teams that don't currently have a winning record.

Surviving a scare: The Bengals ran out to a 23-0 lead before having to sweat out the fourth quarter. Unlike a couple weeks ago against Houston, the Bengals were able to stop a backup quarterback from a monumental comeback. With a chance to tie, Arizona wide receiver Early Doucet was uncovered at the goal line but fell as he ran. That let a fourth-down pass fall incomplete with 71 seconds remaining.

Touchdown of the year: It was a jaw-dropping start for the Bengals, and it had nothing to do with the team scoring the first 23 points of the game. Jerome Simpson delivered one of the top highlights of the season when he somersaulted over a defender into the end zone from three yards out and landed on his feet. You felt like he deserved more than the six points.

Dalton joins elite company: Andy Dalton finished 18 of 31 for 154 yards but he did have something to remember. With two touchdown passes, Dalton joined Peyton Manning, Charlie Conerly and Dan Marino as the only NFL rookies to throw 20 touchdowns.

Poor showing: The Bengals secured only their third winning record in the past 21 years, although few in Cincinnati witnessed it. An announced crowd of 41,273 watched at Paul Brown Stadium. This came close to the smallest crowd in the 12-year history of the stadium (41,142), which was set earlier this season.

What's next: The Bengals finish up the regular season by hosting the Baltimore Ravens. The Bengals lost to the Ravens, 31-24, on Nov. 20 in Baltimore.

Wrap-up: Steelers 27, Rams 0

December, 24, 2011

Thoughts on the Steelers' 27-0 win over the Rams:

What it means: By routing the Rams (2-13), the Steelers (11-4) kept their hopes of an AFC North title alive and secured no worse than the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. Pittsburgh still needs the Ravens to lose in next weekend's regular-season finale to have any shot at the division title and a top-two seed. It was the Steelers' fifth win in six games.

No Roethlisberger, no sweat: The Steelers kept injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (ankle) active in case of an emergency, but there was nothing to worry about in this one. Charlie Batch was 15-of-22 for 208 yards in a workmanlike fill-in performance. His 46-yard pass to Mike Wallace in the fourth quarter set up a touchdown to increase the lead to 20-0 and essentially sealed the win.

Pound and ground: As expected, the Steelers hammered the NFL's worst run defense by gaining 169 yards on the ground on 28 attempts. Rashard Mendenhall recorded his second 100-yard game of the season with 116 yards and one touchdown. He almost had 100 yards by halftime. Mendenhall's longest run was 52 yards.

Dominating defense: The Steelers delivered their second shutout of the season and both times came against an NFC West team at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh limited the NFL's lowest scoring team to 232 yards. This was the second time in December that the Rams got shut out. The defense sacked Kellen Clemens three times.

Quiet yet impressive: Antonio Brown was a non-factor in the game with three catches for 34 yards. But Brown set a new franchise record with 2,048 all-purpose yards on the season. The second-year wide receiver broke the record of Barry Foster, who had 2,034 yards in 1992.

What's next: The Steelers wrap up the regular season at the Cleveland Browns. Pittsburgh beat the Browns, 14-3, earlier this month.

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 20, Browns 14

December, 24, 2011

BALTIMORE -- Thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 20-14 win over the Cleveland Browns:

What it means: Even though they struggled to put away the Browns in the second half, the Ravens (11-4) move on step closer to the AFC North title, a home playoff game and a first-round bye. Baltimore can clinch all of that with a win at Cincinnati next Sunday. The Ravens went undefeated at home for the first time in team history and won for the 10th straight time at M&T Bank Stadium. The Browns (4-11) lost for eighth time in nine games, including five in a row.

Dumb penalty: The Browns made some inexcusable mistakes in this game but none more than the one with two minutes remaining. On fourth-and-2, the Ravens lined up obviously looking to get the Browns to jump offside -- and rookie nose tackle Phil Taylor did. Taylor grabbed his helmet in disbelief, but it allowed the Ravens to run out the final minutes of the game.

Return problems: Josh Cribbs broke the Browns' shutout in the third quarter when he returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown. It was the third touchdown allowed by the Ravens special teams this year (two on punt and one on kickoff). This is the first time that Baltimore has allowed multiple touchdowns on punt returns since 2002. Cribbs has 11 touchdowns off returns, but this was the longest of his career.

Bad decision: Down 17-0, the Browns made a head-scratcher of a decision to end the first half. On second-and-goal at the 3-yard line, the Browns chose to run the ball in the final seconds without any timeouts. Peyton Hillis was stopped for no gain with about five seconds remaining, and Cleveland went into halftime without any points. It was just a poor decision by coach Pat Shurmur, who should have either thrown the ball in that situation or kicked the field goal.

Can't cover: It was a rough first half for Cleveland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. He allowed both touchdowns in pass coverage -- a 5-yarder on a back-shoulder throw to Ed Dickson and a 42-yarder to Ray Rice on a wheel route.

Showing strong leg: Shayne Graham more than filled in for Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff, converting from 48 and 43 yards. Cundiff was inactive because of a left calf injury. It will be interesting how the Ravens handle the kicking situation next Sunday.

What's next: The Ravens end the regular season at the Cincinnati Bengals. The Browns close it out by hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers.