AFC North: 2013 Week 16 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Baltimore Ravens

December, 22, 2013
BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots:

What it means: It was a monumental implosion for the Ravens, who conceded the AFC North to the Cincinnati Bengals and lost control of their playoff fate. After Baltimore lost to the AFC East champion Patriots (11-4), the only chance for the Ravens to reach the postseason is as a wild card. The Ravens (8-7) are now in a three-way tie with the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers for the last wild-card spot in the AFC. The Dolphins hold the edge because they have a better conference record. For the Ravens to make the postseason, they have to beat the Bengals in the regular-season finale and have either the Dolphins or Chargers lose. This ended the Ravens' four-game winning streak and marked the Ravens' fourth loss in their past 26 home games. It was the most lopsided loss in six seasons under coach John Harbaugh.

Stock watch: Falling: Joe Flacco. The Ravens' quarterback was clearly not the same with a sprained left knee, finishing 22-of-38 for 260 yards and two interceptions. The Patriots converted 10 points off Flacco turnovers. Flacco was erratic on his throws and went down without being touched at one point because he lost his footing. His 1-yard touchdown with 9:21 remaining helped the Ravens avoid their first shutout in 11 years.

Tucker's streak ends: Another sign that nothing was going right for Ravens was kicker Justin Tucker missing a 37-yard field goal wide left. It ended Tucker's string of 33 straight successful field goals, which had been the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. It was surprising to see Tucker on the field because the Ravens were down 20-0 early in the fourth quarter. The Ravens needed touchdowns, not field goals.

Secondary problems: The Ravens trailed 14-0 in the first quarter because of mistakes by their defensive backs. On the opening drive, cornerback Jimmy Smith was called for a 34-yard pass interference penalty, which set up a 1-yard touchdown run on the next play. On the second series, safety James Ihedigbo missed a tackle on Danny Amendola on a 34-yard play, which led to a touchdown two plays later.

What's next: The Ravens finish out the regular season by playing at the AFC North champion Bengals (10-5). Baltimore has lost three of its past three games at Cincinnati.

Rapid Reaction: Cleveland Browns

December, 22, 2013
A few thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 24-13 loss to the New York Jets:

What it means: That the Browns have a lot of problems, and all the folks saying how close they are and how the 2014 NFL draft can make the difference might want to realize the depth of their problems. They start at quarterback and go throughout the offense and defense, which has given up long fourth-quarter touchdown drives in the past four games. Sunday’s 80-yard Jets drive lasted more than six minutes and gave New York a 24-13 lead -- after the Browns had cut the deficit to 17-13.

Stock watch: How can a team’s stock not be plummeting when it loses six games in a row heading to the finale in Pittsburgh? One year after new ownership and leadership promised a new approach and smarter decisions, the Browns must win in Pittsburgh to match last season’s five-win total.

Dropped chances: The Browns can lament a lot of mistakes from this game. Wasted timeouts. Twelve men on the field for the defense. Two interceptions of Jason Campbell. A penalty that wiped out a touchdown. But they may most lament dropping two passes in the end zone in the first half, wiping out touchdowns. For good measure, they even had a penalty wipe out a touchdown run in the fourth quarter. This was a bad, bad, bad game.

Poor finishes: The Browns gave up 10 points in the final 1:18 of the first half. That makes eight of the past nine games in which they gave up a scoring drive in the final two minutes of the half -- for 53 points. The defense is failing to get off the field in quarters other than the fourth.

Not smart: Safety Tashaun Gipson helped give the Jets their last-play field goal at the end of the half by pushing Jets quarterback Geno Smith when he was a few steps out of bounds. It appeared that Smith took a dive after the shove, but there was no reason whatsoever for Gipson to even touch Smith. He was out of bounds, the play was over, and the league has made it clear the quarterback is sacred.

What’s next: The season comes to a merciful end in Pittsburgh, where the Browns face the Steelers.

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

December, 22, 2013

CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 42-14 victory against the Minnesota Vikings.

What it means: Sunday's victory means the Bengals have -- for one week, at least -- done exactly what they've been preaching since last Sunday's loss at Pittsburgh. They have controlled what they can control. The only way they can be assured that their postseason fate is playing out precisely the way they want is to simply win and win some more. Now that they have done that for one week, they have to do it one more when they play the Ravens in their final AFC North game of the season. At the time Sunday's early-afternoon game ended, the Bengals appeared headed toward clinching a third straight playoff bid. They had to wait to see if the Miami Dolphins would end up losing to the Buffalo Bills. A Miami loss would clinch that playoff for the Bengals. The late-afternoon New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens game also had implications on the division race and the AFC's No. 2 seeding. After Cincinnati's victory, a Ravens win in that game would be enough to give the Bengals the conference's No. 2 playoff seed. A Patriots win would give Cincinnati the division title.

Stock watch: Andy Dalton: rising. As embattled as he has been all season, the Cincinnati quarterback has actually put together a solid month so far. With a game left in the season, he has played some of his best football of the year of late. It was tough to see that last week at Pittsburgh because of how far the Bengals fell behind in that game, but he kept them in the ballgame with a 230-yard, two-touchdown showing. Against a Vikings secondary that had several injuries, Dalton posted a career-best 136.5 passer rating in Sunday's win. He also completed 71 percent of his passes (27-for-38), throwing for 366 yards. It was the fifth time Dalton went over the 300-yard passing mark this year.

Catching Andy: Dalton's passing numbers were supported by a strong outing by his pass-catchers. A.J. Green paced the group with seven catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Mohamed Sanu and tight end Jermaine Gresham also had touchdowns. Fellow receiver Marvin Jones had six receptions for 85 yards, including a diving grab along the Bengals' sideline. It was one of several head-turning plays the Bengals had, including Andrew Hawkins' awkward leaping grab in the red zone that set up Gresham's score.

What's next? Cincinnati looks to close out the regular season on a high next Sunday when it hosts Baltimore in the Week 17 finale. The Bengals lost the teams' previous meeting this year, falling in overtime, 20-17. Green sent the game to the extra period when he caught a 51-yard touchdown pass on a Hail Mary from Dalton as time expired in regulation. The Bengals also will be putting their undefeated home record (7-0) on the line next week.