AFC North: 2013 Week 16 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 16

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
10:52
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A review of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 38-31 win against the Green Bay Packers:

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsPittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell rushes for one of his 26 carries against the Packers in their Week 16 game.
Can you top this?: After rushing for 100 yards Sunday -- his first 100-yard game of the season -- Steelers RBLe'Veon Bell admitted that playing against RB Eddie Lacy's Packers gave Bell a little extra incentive. Both are rookies, and both were selected in the second round. “I wanted to go out there and play at his level or better,” Bell said. It's probably safe to say that Bell and Lacy battled to a draw, if it can be said that a duel transpired between the two at Lambeau Field. Bell outrushed Lacy (124 yards to 85) but Lacy posted a better yards per carry average (5.6 to 4.8). Each showed why his respective team already leans so heavily on him. Lacy displayed nifty vision and footwork on a 14-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Bell, the first Steelers rookie RB to gain 100 yards in a game since Willie Parker in 2004, hurdled a Packers defensive back during one run. He also ripped off a 25-yard run on his first carry after losing a fumble that set up a Lacy touchdown. “He's a good player,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Bell, “and he's getting better every week.”

A trip to remember: Ben Roethlisberger savored his 94th career victory in the regular season because of where the Steelers won as much as how they won. The 10th-year veteran had never been to Lambeau Field before Sunday; Roethlisberger didn't make the trip to Green Bay in 2005 because it was too soon after knee surgery for him to fly. "I don't know if I'll get to come back because you don't know about scheduling," Roethlisberger said. "If there was one time to play at Lambeau, I guess this is what you want." Indeed, Roethlisberger and the Steelers got a healthy dose of Lambeau as snow swirled throughout the game and provided enough frosting to cover what Roethlisberger politely called a weathered playing surface. "I called a snap from center and there was clumps of mud on the laces,” Roethlisberger said with a laugh. "At the end of the half, I had to ask them to get a new ball because the laces were filled with mud."

Steelers blissfully unaware: Lawrence Timmons' reaction to what happened outside of Green Bay typified how the Steelers stayed focused on the Packers and not what others around them were doing. When told that pretty much everything had broken right for the Steelers, Timmons said, "Oh, wow, so that puts us in seventh place again? I haven't even checked my cellphone yet." The Steelers are ninth in the AFC, and they still have to jump three teams to make the playoffs. Such a scenario is a lot more plausible than it was two days ago, though it is still hardly favorable. The Steelers have to win Sunday against the visiting Browns and need the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers all to lose. “It's irrelevant, to be honest,” strong safety Troy Polamalu said of the playoff picture. "Nothing's changed from our standpoint, and our mental approach to the game's got to be a week-to-week thing."

Injury update: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders may have played his last down for the Steelers. Sanders had an MRI taken on the knee that he hurt while running a pass pattern on the slippery field. He did not play in the second half, and Sanders is hoping for the best regarding the noncontact injury. He will be an unrestricted free agent in March, so he is especially hoping that the Steelers extend their season beyond next Sunday -- and that he is healthy enough to play if the Steelers do what seemed impossible a couple of weeks ago. “We've got a legitimate shot of making the playoffs,” said Sanders, who caught a touchdown pass and set up the Steelers' only other score in the first half with a 47-yard kickoff return. “Knowing that, I want to be all right because I feel like if we get in the tournament, who knows what will happen.” At Tomlin's weekly news conference Monday, the coach will provide an update on Sanders and linebacker Terence Garvin's knee.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 16

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
9:00
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CINCINNATI -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 42-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings:

Mind-boggling Bernard: Bengals running back Giovani Bernard did it again. He wowed all those watching with yet another dazzling, tackle-breaking, defender-avoiding run. On one third-quarter run after the catch, he completely confounded the Vikings as he cut, spun, shook, stiff-armed and danced his way to a 41-yard gain off a short screen that began near midfield. On the next play, Mohamed Sanu's touchdown catch gave Cincinnati a 28-point second-half lead. In all, five Vikings missed tackles on Bernard's run that included a spin move, two jump-cuts and a stiff-arm. The play was reminiscent of a fourth-quarter 35-yard touchdown run Bernard had against the Dolphins on Halloween. That play was completed with a flip into the end zone. Asked Sunday what he said to Bernard after the latest run, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden smiled and said: "He should have scored." Bernard was wrestled down at the Minnesota 7.

Dalton
Dalton
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Bernard
Playmakers: Bernard wasn't the only Bengal with a head-turning play. Cincinnati's receivers got in on the act as well. It started with Marvin Jones' diving catch out of bounds and continued with Andrew Hawkins' leaping grab deep in Vikings territory to set up another score. At one point, the Bengals appeared in such a quarterback-receiver rhythm that anything thrown within a 15-yard radius of a particular pass-catcher was going to get caught. Quarterback Andy Dalton's completion percentage reflected that fact, too. He completed more than 70 percent of his passes for the fifth time this season. Along with those receptions, the Bengals had a quirky interception. As cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick went up to defend one pass -- he appeared to make contact with the receiver worthy of pass interference -- the ball hit his helmet and bounced in the sky. Safety George Iloka, who fell and was on his back, reached his hands out as the ball was falling. It fell right into his lap for his first career interception. It was one of three picks for the Bengals on Sunday.

Forty times four club: Thanks in large part to Dalton's four-touchdown, 366-yard passing effort, the Bengals hit the 40-point mark for a fourth consecutive home game. They also scored 42 points in the previous home game against the Indianapolis Colts. They scored 41 against the Cleveland Browns the home game before that, and hit 49 against the Jets a game before that. In most of those other games, Cincinnati had a better run-pass average than it had Sunday. On 37 total carries, the Bengals picked up only 81 yards for a 2.19 average. They didn't need to stay on the ground, though. An injury-depleted Vikings secondary had enough soft zones for Dalton to routinely find open receivers.

Powell does enough: When Kevin Huber was placed on injured reserve Tuesday following a hit that broke his jaw and cracked vertebrae in his neck, the Bengals were simply looking for a replacement who could do a good enough job. Shawn Powell may not have been exceptional Sunday, but he was strong. Of his four punts, only one was returned. That return only happened because the ball drifted into the middle of the field. With the rest of the punts booted toward the sideline, returner Marcus Sherels couldn't break away. Overall, the Bengals' special-teams units didn't play their best Sunday, but Powell kept field position mostly in Cincinnati's favor.

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 16

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
8:00
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A review of five hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 24-13 loss to the New York Jets:

Injured coach: Secondary coach Louie Cioffi left the locker room on crutches after hurting his knee on the sideline. Cioffi took the worst of it when Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo shoved Geno Smith out of bounds at the end of a run.

Other injuries: Defensive tackle Phil Taylor left the game with a concussion. He will go through the league's concussion protocols. Cornerback Joe Haden played with a badly bruised hip. After the game, he told the media in the locker room the adrenaline had worn off and the pain had increased.

What happened: There were times early this season when many thought the Browns defense was playing well and it has been a strength of the team. But the past month has been the exact opposite. Ray Horton has been accountable, candid and up front when he has addressed the media, but his players have simply not gotten it done. The Browns defense gives up too many scores late in halves, and too many long drives at key points of games to consider itself a top defense.

Steeling for Pittsburgh: The season finale will be against the Steelers for the fifth time in six seasons. The Browns haven't won any of them. They lost 24-10 a year ago, 13-9 in '11, 41-9 in '10 and 31-0 in '08. The Steelers have something to play for, so this visit figures to be as difficult as any.

What a win means: The Browns have four wins. A win against Pittsburgh would give them five, which would at least match the win total in the last of Pat Shurmur's years as coach. If they lose, they'll tie for the third-worst mark since the expansion ere started in 1999. The worst two records came in 1999 and 2000.

Upon Further Review: Ravens Week 16

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
8:00
AM ET
BALTIMORE -- A review of four hot issues from the Baltimore Ravens' 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots.

Harbaugh
Home-field horror: Sunday's loss represents the largest margin of defeat for the Ravens at home. It's surprising that this happened under John Harbaugh. Since he took over as coach, the Ravens have posted the second-best home record in the NFL. This was only the ninth loss at M&T Bank Stadium for Baltimore in the six-year Harbaugh era. Consider this: The Ravens lost by a total of 37 points in their previous eight home losses, but on Sunday they lost by 34 points. This ended the Ravens' string of 10 straight home finales won, which was the NFL's longest active streak. Baltimore hadn't lost its final regular-season home game since 2002.

Picks into points: Joe Flacco threw two interceptions, and the Patriots converted them into 10 points. For the season, Flacco's 19 interceptions have led to 61 points, including two returned for touchdowns. Teams have scored seven touchdowns off Flacco interceptions, which account for 21 percent of the touchdowns given up by the Ravens this season. The 19 interceptions are seven more than Flacco has ever thrown in a season. This was the sixth time this season that Flacco threw multiple interceptions, and the Ravens are 2-4 in those games.

Falling from first: Three games ago, the Ravens were tied for first in red zone defense. Not anymore. Baltimore has allowed teams to score touchdowns on their past six trips inside the Ravens' 20-yard line. The Patriots reached the end zone on all three of their drives in the red zone. In the first 12 games of the season, the Ravens gave up 12 touchdowns on 32 possessions inside the 20-yard line (37.5 percent). They have allowed six touchdowns in the red zone the past three weeks. Another disturbing trend is giving up scores on the ground. The Ravens had led the NFL with one rushing touchdown allowed in the first 11 games. Baltimore now has allowed a rushing touchdown in each of the past four games, including two touchdowns by Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount.

Flag frenzy: The Ravens were penalized nine times, one shy of their season high. In the first quarter alone, the Ravens had 50 yards in penalties and 27 yards of offense. The costliest flag was Jimmy Smith's 34-yard pass-interference penalty, which led to the Patriots' first touchdown. The Ravens now have 106 penalties on the season, which are the seventh-most in the NFL. This is the fourth time in Harbaugh's six seasons that Baltimore has gone over the century mark in penalties.

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