AFC North: 2013 Week 13 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

December, 1, 2013

SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 17-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers.

What it means: The Bengals kicked off December exactly the way they had hoped before they boarded the plane Friday for the West Coast. All last week they talked about going 5-0 across the final five games of the season. Now they have Game 1 in the books. This one was important, in part, because they had to travel so far. It also was important because they continue to factor in discussions of the first-round bye and home-field advantage in the AFC. The more wins the Bengals can amass across the next few weeks -- including an important one against another division leader next week -- the longer they will be in those conversations.

Stock watch: Running game -- rising. Cincinnati's ground game has been turning a corner in recent weeks, and it certainly made its presence felt Sunday. BenJarvus Green-Ellis paced the rushing attack, going for 92 yards on 20 carries. Rookie Giovani Bernard wasn't too far behind, going for 57 yards on 14 carries. It was a positive step forward for an offense that predicates itself not only on achieving balance between the run and the pass but also upon having diversity among its top ball carriers. Both Green-Ellis and Bernard had runs that went for double-digit yards, including Bernard's 19-yard scamper in the third quarter that helped set up the Bengals' second touchdown. While a fourth-quarter Green-Ellis fumble cost the Bengals a chance to ice the game earlier, it didn't end up hurting them.

Dalton's roller coaster: By halftime, Andy Dalton's passer rating was 21.2. He ended the day at 83.6. Perhaps there was no better indication of how up-and-down Dalton's day was than the juxtaposition of those two numbers. Early in the game, it appeared his recent troubles would continue. It seemed he would be lucky to reach 100 yards passing. He did, finishing at 190. He also had a touchdown pass and an interception. The intercepted ball came when he threw long on a deep route to receiver A.J. Green. With pressure in his face, Dalton didn't get completely into his throw, and it sailed. He now has thrown at least one interception in the past five games. That's his longest stretch with an interception since last season, when he was intercepted at least once in each of the year's first eight games.

What's next? The Bengals hope to keep their winning ways going next week when they host the Indianapolis Colts in another important conference contest. Both 8-4, the Colts and Bengals could be playing for a higher seeding in the playoffs. As both appear on their way to division titles, this game could serve as an important tiebreaker.

Rapid Reaction: Cleveland Browns

December, 1, 2013

A few early thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 32-28 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars:

What it means: Rock bottom does not feel good. And rock bottom is losing at home to a 2-9 team. The Browns got the most uplifting play possible from Josh Gordon when he scampered for a 95-yard touchdown, then gave up an 80-yard, game-winning drive to Chad Henne and the Jaguars -- topped by Cecil Shorts faking Joe Haden out of his shoes en route to the game-winning TD catch. Browns fans have put up with a lot. This game ranks as one of the more crushing ones since 1999.

Stock watch: Josh Gordon is one hugely talented wide receiver. Gordon had his second consecutive 200-yard game for the Browns, setting an NFL record for yards in consecutive games. Gordon was a surprise second-round choice by Tom Heckert in the supplemental draft a year ago, and has justified that choice this season. He is growing into one of the NFL's best.

Snap issue: Those who have been around the Browns a long time could not remember center Alex Mack making a real bad shotgun snap. He had one in the fourth quarter against the Jaguars, though, airmailing a snap well over Brandon Weeden's head and into the end zone. Weeden kicked the ball out of the end zone for a safety that gave the Jaguars a 22-21 lead.

Quick change: The end of the first half was as bizarre as any in recent memory. In 1:19 the Browns turned the ball over three times, and the Jaguars scored three times. Weeden threw two interceptions and fumbled, and the Jaguars turned those plays into a touchdown and two field goals. That enabled Jacksonville to turn a 14-7 deficit into a 20-14 halftime lead.

What's next: The Browns travel to New England to play the Patriots -- which, of course, means facing Tom Brady.

Rapid Reaction: Pittsburgh Steelers

November, 28, 2013

BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 22-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

What it means: The Steelers' most heartbreaking loss of the season also dropped them out of contention in the AFC North. At 5-7, the Steelers probably have to win their final four games to make the AFC playoffs as a wild-card team. The offense started slow but finished with a flourish and the defense played well enough for the Steelers to win. Who knows what the outcome may have been had a tying two-point conversion pass not gone through Emmanuel Sanders' hands? The last of a handful of Sanders' drops allowed the Ravens to escape with a two-point victory.

Stock watch: Special teams cost the Steelers a chance to even their record and sweep the Ravens for the first time since 2008. A botched field-goal attempt in the first quarter -- kicker Shaun Suisham appeared to be on a different snap count than everyone else -- cost the Steelers three points. It also gave the Ravens a short field that they turned into three points. In addition to that six-point swing, the Steelers gave up a 73-yard kickoff return that led to a Ravens field goal. And Suisham's feeble on-side kick attempt sealed the loss for the Steelers.

Best foot forward: Fans booed lustily when a shot of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin flashed on the M&T Bank Stadium scoreboard late in the late third quarter. The pro-Ravens crowd had good reason to jeer the seventh-year coach and not just because of their general dislike of the Steelers. Tomlin had his foot on the field right before Jacoby Jones raced past him on the way to a 73-yard kickoff return. Tomlin should have been hit with an unsportsmanlike penalty, and the non-call turned out to be significant as the Ravens had to settle for the third of Justin Tucker's four field goals.

Worilds brings more heat: With LaMarr Woodley again sidelined by a nagging calf injury, Jason Worilds excelled again at left outside linebacker. The fourth-year veteran continues to push his way into the Steelers' future plans -- and perhaps Woodley out of Pittsburgh. Worilds collected two sacks and made eight tackles, and that was just in the first half. Worilds may have been the best defensive player on the field, and he now leads the Steelers with six sacks. Woodley, who can't seem to stay on the field, has five sacks, and he is looking more and more like a candidate for the Steelers to part ways with after this season if they can re-sign Worilds, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

What's next: The Steelers get an extended break before returning to action Dec. 8 against the Dolphins at Heinz Field. The Dolphins got off to a promising start but their season has been engulfed in turmoil since the allegations of locker-room bullying turned into a national story. The Dolphins, who will be 6-6 at best after Sunday, haven't beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh since 1990.

Rapid Reaction: Baltimore Ravens

November, 28, 2013

BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 22-20 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What it means: In a rivalry that has been defined by close finishes, the Ravens (6-6) came up big in a must-win game and took over sole possession of the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. Baltimore ended the Steelers' three-game winning streak and split the season series with Pittsburgh (5-7). With their third win in four weeks, the Ravens closed to within 1 games of the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals (7-4). Baltimore also evened its record for the first time since Week 6.

Game-saving stand: After allowing a 1-yard touchdown to Jerricho Cotchery, the Ravens broke up a game-tying two-point conversion with 63 seconds left in the game. Backup cornerback Chykie Brown had coverage on Emmanuel Sanders and didn't let him have a clear look at Ben Roethlisberger's pass to the end zone. It's the fifth straight meeting between the Ravens and Steelers decided by three or fewer points. This was redemption for a Ravens defense that allowed a game-winning drive in Pittsburgh as time expired last month.

Stock watch: Rising: Torrey Smith. The wide receiver scored Baltimore's only touchdown of the game when he caught a 7-yard pass in the end zone. It's his third touchdown in four games. Smith finished with five catches for 83 yards.

Where's the flag? Jacoby Jones returned a kickoff 73 yards following the Steelers' touchdown in the third quarter. He would have run it back for a touchdown, but he was slowed by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who had his back turned to the play and was in the field of play. The Ravens eventually settled for a field goal on that drive.

Tucker for MVP: Kicker Justin Tucker is making a strong case to be the Ravens' Most Valuable Player. He kicked five field goals, hitting from 43, 34, 38, 45 and 48 yards, respectively. Tucker has made 27 straight field goals, which is the longest current streak in the NFL and second-longest in Ravens history.

Rough in red zone: The Ravens, who entered the game with the best red-zone defense in the NFL, gave up touchdowns on both drives inside their 20-yard line. Baltimore also allowed a one-yard touchdown to Le'Veon Bell. It was only the second rushing touchdown given up by the Ravens this season.

What's next: The Ravens wrap up their three-game homestand by playing the Minnesota Vikings (2-8-1) on Dec. 8.