AFC North: 2012 Week 3 coverage

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 31, Patriots 30

September, 24, 2012

BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 31-30 victory over the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium:

What it means: Eight months after coming up short late in the AFC Championship Game, the Ravens delivered in the final minutes of the fourth quarter against the Patriots. Down nine points in the fourth quarter, Flacco threw a 5-yard touchdown to Torrey Smith and put Baltimore in field goal range in the final minute. Unlike the AFC Championship Game, when Billy Cundiff missed a last-second 32-yard field goal, rookie kicker Justin Tucker hit a 27-yarder that sliced just inside the right upright to lift Baltimore to the comeback victory.

Emotional night: Smith came up big on what was a painful night. On the same day that his younger brother was killed in a motorcycle accident, Smith caught six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Two big plays by Smith -- a third-down conversion and a 32-yard catch -- set up Ray Rice's touchdown in the third quarter to put Ravens up 21-20. His 5-yard touchdown pulled the Ravens to within a score at 30-28 in the fourth quarter.

Key play by No. 3 receiver: The Ravens lost in the AFC Championship Game because Lee Evans couldn't hold onto the winning touchdown pass. This time, Jacoby Jones, the team's new No. 3 wide receiver, drew a pass interference penalty that put the Ravens on the New England 7-yard line.

Keeping streaks alive: The Ravens extended two significant streaks. They won for the 12th straight time at home, the longest current streak in the NFL. They also won for the 14th time following a loss, which is also the longest streak in the league. Baltimore (2-1) moved into a tie with the Bengals atop the AFC North.

Flacco enjoys big game: Flacco led a winning eight-play, 70-yard drive to cap a big game. He finished 28-of-39 for 382 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Flag day for Ravens: It looked like Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb made the game-changing interception at the Patriots' 40-yard line with 2:23 left in the game. But Webb, who grabbed Wes Welker's jersey with his left hand, was flagged for illegal contact. The Ravens were penalized 14 times for 135 yards. This is the same Ravens team that was critical of the replacement officials last Sunday.

Lack of discipline: The Ravens' defense committed three major penalties. Haloti Ngata's personal foul led to a field goal. Bernard Pollard's personal foul came in a touchdown drive. And Ed Reed's unnecessary roughness penalty was converted into a field goal. Total damage: 13 points. The Ravens capped the night with an unsportsmanlike conduct on their sideline in the Patriots' final drive.

Pass rush disappears: Tom Brady had too much time in the pocket to pick apart the Ravens' secondary, especially on routes along the sideline. The Ravens got a sack on Brady on that first drive, but they got to him only one more time for the rest of the game. Baltimore tried to generate pressure with the blitz. But Baltimore couldn't collapse the pocket with Terrell Suggs, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, on the sidelines.

What's next: The Ravens play their third nationally televised game in four weeks when they face the Browns on Thursday.

Wrap-up: Raiders 34, Steelers 31

September, 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 34-31 loss at the Oakland Raiders:

What it means: The Steelers' struggles out west continued as they failed to hold a 10-point fourth-quarter lead. Pittsburgh gave up 13 unanswered points. Sebastian Janikowski's 43-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Raiders. The Steelers have now lost four straight to teams in the west: Denver (twice), San Francisco and Oakland. Pittsburgh falls to 1-2 and one game behind the Bengals (2-1).

Luck runs out for Brown: Antonio Brown was fortunate to recover his own fumble in the end zone for a 11-yard touchdown catch that put the Steelers ahead, 31-21, late in the third quarter. One possession later, Brown coughed up the ball again. This time, the Raiders recovered and converted it into a Janikowski 32-yard field goal that tied the game. Brown fumbled on two of his seven catches.

A error-filled series: Jonathan Dwyer carried the ball three times for minus-1 yard. But he hurt the Steelers in another way. He fumbled the ball in the second quarter. To make matters worse, Pittsburgh defensive end Ziggy Hood was called for a neutral zone infraction on fourth-and-2. One play later, Carson Palmer threw a 3-yard touchdown to Darrius Heyward-Bey (who was later hospitalized after a scary hit by safety Ryan Mundy) to tie the game at 14.

Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes: The Steelers have only themselves to blame for this tough loss. They fumbled the ball twice (which were converted into 10 points) and were penalized 10 times for 81 yards.

Ben Roethlisberger carries offense: The Steelers couldn't run the ball against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. That meant Roethlisberger had to do the heavy lifting. He was 36-of-49 for 384 yards and four touchdowns.

Miller's time: One difference in Todd Haley's offense has been the increased role of tight end Heath Miller in the red zone. Miller scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, both 4-yard catches. That was Miller's third and fourth touchdowns of the season. He hasn't had more than two touchdowns in a season since 2009, when he scored six times.

What's next: The Steelers are on an early bye week. The hope is linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu will be healthy enough to play in the Oct. 7 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Wrap-up: Bills 24, Browns 14

September, 23, 2012
Thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 24-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Cleveland Browns Stadium:

What it means: The Browns lost for the ninth straight time, the longest current streak in the league. It's the fourth time in the past five seasons that Cleveland has started 0-3. The Browns fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter, and Brandon Weeden's two interceptions in the fourth quarter prevented a late comeback. Weeden was 27-of-43 for 237 yards.

Secondary slips: A reshuffled Browns secondary limited Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to 208 yards passing, but it couldn't stop him in the red zone. A wide-open T.J. Graham caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to open the scoring. Browns cornerback Buster Skrine was the closest defender to Graham, who ran free in the middle of the field. After the Browns closed to 17-14, Fitzpatrick threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson, who beat Dimitri Patterson. Cleveland played without suspended cornerback Joe Haden and benched Eric Hagg in favor of Usama Young at free safety.

Roller coaster for Richardson: The up-and-down season for Trent Richardson continues. After totaling 145 total yards and two touchdowns a week ago, Richardson managed 51 total yards against the Bills. He was held to 27 yards on 12 carries, a 2.3 yard average. His longest run was a 6-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that pulled Cleveland to within a score at 14-7.

Late on the knockout: C.J. Spiller, the NFL's leading rusher, left the game in the first quarter with a shoulder injury after Young landed on top of him. But Spiller didn't leave without making an impact. Spiller scored on a screen pass, going 32 yards to the end zone untouched. That put the Bills up 14-0.

First-quarter flop: The Browns were slow starters last season, and that was the case Sunday. Cleveland was outgained 150-13, and failed to record a first down. The Browns didn't convert a first down until three minutes into the second quarter.

What's next: It's a quick turnaround for the Browns, who play at Baltimore on Thursday night. Cleveland hasn't beaten the Ravens since November 2007.

Wrap-up: Bengals 38, Redskins 31

September, 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 38-31 win at the Washington Redskins:

What it means: The Bengals showed in their first road win of the season. After allowing the Redskins to tie the game with 17 straight points, the Bengals responded with touchdown catches by tight end Jermaine Gresham and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins in the fourth quarter. This marked the first time in seven years that the Bengals have won two straight games in which they've scored more than 30 points. Cincinnati (2-1) keeps a share of first place in the AFC North.

Coming up clutch: Andy Dalton's game didn't start off strong, getting picked off for a touchdown on his first pass. Dalton, though, came up big when the Bengals needed him. With the game tied, Dalton was 6-of-7 for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the decisive fourth quarter. He threw touchdown passes to three different receivers. Dalton finished 19-of-27 passing for 328 yards. It marked the first time in his career that Dalton had thrown for 300 yards in consecutive games.

Breaking out the Wildcat: The Bengals used trickery to get into the end zone. On the first play from scrimmage, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu took a direct snap and hit A.J. Green for a 73-yard touchdown. Sanu threw four touchdown passes when he was at Rutgers. In the second quarter, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis got the snap and ran 1 yard for the score. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden called a strong game.

Getting the green light: A week after coach Marvin Lewis pointed out how defenses are focusing their attention on Green, the wide receiver had a career game. Green caught nine passes for a career-high 183 yards and a touchdown. He had been held to 128 yards in his first two games.

Green-Ellis' streak ends: One reason the Bengals liked Green-Ellis over Cedric Benson was ball security. But Green-Ellis did what he has never done before -- fumble. He coughed up the ball for the first time in his five-year career. Green-Ellis hadn't fumbled in 590 career touches. It wasn't a costly mistake. The Redskins went three-and-out.

What's next: The Bengals travel to Jacksonville, their third road game in the first four weeks of the season. The Jaguars (1-2) beat the Colts 22-17 in Indianapolis on Sunday.