AFC North: 2012 Week 4 coverage

Wrap-up: Bengals 27, Jaguars 10

September, 30, 2012

Thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-10 victory at the Jacksonville Jaguars:

What it means: The Bengals won their third straight game to improve to 3-1 and remain tied atop the AFC North (they lose the tiebreaker to the Ravens based on their season-opening loss). This is quite an accomplishment because the Bengals had to play three of their first four games on the road. Of course, all of the Bengals' wins have been against teams that don't have winning records. Cincinnati's run defense, the third worst in the NFL, held Maurice Jones-Drew (who was averaging 104.7 rushing yards per game) to 38 yards on 13 carries. The Bengals' defense also held the Jaguars to 24 points below its season average.

Green dominates again: Wide receiver A.J. Green put on an impressive show for a second straight week, catching six passes for 117 yards and one touchdown. What's remarkable is he didn't make his first catch until the 1:53 mark in the second quarter. Green had 75 yards receiving in the second half.

Should have been worse: The margin should have been bigger for the Bengals. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who hadn't fumbled in his first 590 touches in the NFL, coughed up the ball for the second time in two games. He fumbled at the goal line, a turnover that the Jaguars converted into a field goal to close the gap to 17-10 in the third quarter.

More trickery by Bengals: Cincinnati, which used the Wildcat to produce its first touchdown last week, used some trickery to jump-start the team again. In the second quarter, the Bengals converted a fourth-and-1 with a fake punt as Cedric Peerman took a direct snap and ran 48 yards into the Jaguars' red zone to set up their first touchdown.

No corners, no problem: The Bengals had only three healthy cornerbacks (Terence Newman, Adam Jones and Chris Lewis-Harris), but they didn't have any problems handling Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who was 23-of-34 for 186 yards. Cincinnati's secondary was helped by its pass rush, which recorded six sacks for a second straight game. Chris Crocker, who was re-signed a few days before the game, came up with the Bengals' first interception of the season. Cincinnati went the first 15 quarters without one.

Lucky break for Dalton: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton should have had his third interception returned for a touchdown. But Jaguars linebacker Kyle Bosworth, who caught the deflected pass, fumbled the ball without being touched at the Bengals' 13-yard line. The Bengals recovered and went on to score a field goal to take a 3-0 first-quarter lead. Dalton was 20-of-31 for 244 yards with two touchdowns.

What's next: The Bengals play the Dolphins at home after playing three road games in September.

BALTIMORE -- The locked-out officials returned for their first game Thursday night and were treated like celebrities.

Cameras followed their every move, from the time they walked into the stadium. Players approached the officials to shake their hands. In what was a first for referee Gene Steratore, the officials were greeted with a standing ovation by fans when they walked onto the field. Overwhelmed by emotion, the officials tipped their caps to the crowd.

"We have always taken such pleasure in having [the game] go smoothly without being recognized," Steratore said. "When you're actually recognized, it was a little different feeling, to be honest with you. So you have a moment like that."

For all the hoopla surrounding their return, the officials restored order to the game once the opening kickoff was in the air. No full-blown fights. No questionable spotting of the ball. No head-scratching ruling at the end of the game. It felt like a real NFL game because the real NFL refs were back.

It wasn't like the replacement officials were forgotten. In what felt like a flashback, Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden threw a potential game-tying touchdown pass to the end zone in the final seconds of the game. Unlike Monday night's controversial finish, the referees didn't have to make any key call because the throw sailed out of the back of the end zone.

For the first three weeks of the regular season, fans, coaches and players showed their frustration over the blown calls by the replacement officials. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco sounded off that their mistakes were hurting the "integrity" of the game.

[+] EnlargeBob Waggoner
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireOfficial Bob Waggoner gives the thumbs-up to signal start of play during Thursday's game.
One fan held a sign that read: "Finally, we get to yell at the real refs. Welcome back." Another waved a banner that said: "Now the girls field hockey team can get their refs back."

The NFL and the officials came to agreement Wednesday and the referees received their assignment at midnight, which was 20 hours before kickoff. At the coin toss, Steratore said, "Good evening, men. It's good to be back."

"These guys are pros," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "These guys are really good. [But] I didn't agree with every call."

The regular officials sent the message that they weren't going to be pushed around. After the first sign of a scuffle following a punt return in the the first quarter, the officials took control of the situation. Unlike the replacement refs, this experienced crew was able to break up the players before any fights escalated.

Then, in the fourth quarter, following an intentional grounding call on Weeden, the officials called a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on Browns coach Pat Shurmur when he was out on the field arguing.

On having the regular refs back, Shurmur said after the game, "I thought they handled it great. I had all the confidence in the world that this was going to be officiated the right way."

The first test came on the fumble by Browns returner Josh Cribbs. Steratore had to review the replay to make sure Cribbs lost possession of the ball with his helmet partially on. The play is dead when the helmet is completely off.

Then, on the final drive of the game, the officials gave the Browns one final chance from the 18-yard line when they flagged Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger for an unnecessary-roughness penalty on fourth down. That was also the right call because Kruger shoved Cleveland offensive tackle Joe Thomas after the whistle.

"We are in the National Football League and people are probably going to watch games because it's a pretty darn good sport," Flacco said. "I kind of had the opinion that we were saying that the product on the field didn't really matter. It was, 'People were going to watch it anyway.' And I don't think that's the right attitude."

Flacco added, "I think the product on the field is very important and those guys [the officials] are a part of it. They help it go seamlessly and go smooth. There's going to be calls that we complain about with them. But we have to live with that. I think we'll all be happy from now on the way the rest of the season goes."

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 23, Browns 16

September, 27, 2012

BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 23-16 victory over the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday:

What it means: The Ravens (3-1) took a half-game lead in the AFC North over the Bengals (2-1) by winning their franchise-record 13th straight game at home, which is also the longest current streak in the NFL. Just like the controversial Monday night game, it came down to a shot to the end zone. But the regular officials didn't have to make a tough call like their replacement counterparts. Brandon Weeden's first pass to the end zone was knocked down and his second one sailed to the back of the end zone. It wasn't pretty, but the Ravens were playing their fourth game in 17 days and were taking on a division opponent in a steady downpour. One of two winless teams in the NFL, the Browns dropped to 0-4 for the fourth time in their history (1975, 1999 and 2009 were the other times). Cleveland has lost 10 in a row, their longest losing streak since losing 10 straight from 2008 to '09.

Celebrating in style: Ravens cornerback Cary Williams intercepted the first pass of his career and he made it memorable. He jumped a Weeden pass on the sideline and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown, which put the Ravens ahead, 23-10, late in the third quarter. Williams has been frequently picked on by quarterbacks this season.

Flacco on the move: Joe Flacco threw for 356 yards, but he also impacted the game with his legs. On third-and-goal in the third quarter, Flacco ran to the outside, where he put a move on Browns linebacker Scott Fujita before scoring on a 1-yard run. Flacco's fifth rushing touchdown of his career put the Ravens ahead, 16-7. Flacco's streak of 125 passes in the red zone without an interception ended earlier in the game.

Ravens' receivers stepping up: The Ravens wide receivers took advantage of the Browns not having their top cornerback Joe Haden, who sat out the third game of a four-game suspension. Anquan Boldin caught nine passes for 131 yards, and Torrey Smith had 97 yards receiving, including his third touchdown in five days.

Another critical drop by Little: It looked like wide receiver Greg Little was getting out of Pat Shurmur's doghouse until he dropped a potential touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Instead of getting the Browns to within 23-20, they had to settle for another long field goal. Wide receiver Travis Benjamin had a pass bounce off his chest while in the end zone in the final minute with the Browns down 23-16.

Richardson keeps up his streak: Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson didn't fare well against the Ravens' run defense, which didn't give him any holes. He finished with 47 yards rushing on 14 carries. Richardson, though, did score a touchdown in his third straight game. He beat Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain to the end zone after taking a pitch from Weeden.

Dawson from long distance: It seemed like last season with the Browns' Phil Dawson hitting long field goals. He converted from 51, 50 and 52 yards. This was his fourth from 50 or longer this year and his 11th since the start of the 2011 season.

Scary moment: Already playing without leading receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring), the Browns lost another receiver when Josh Cribbs was knocked out of the game with a head injury. Cribbs' helmet was dislodged on a punt return when linebacker Dannell Ellerbe hit his head with his right shoulder, which also forced a fumble. Cribbs got up on his own power and walked off the field before going to the locker room.

What's next: The Ravens travel for just the second time this season, playing at Kansas City. The Browns are at the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.