AFC North: 2013 Week 4 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Bills 23, Ravens 20

September, 29, 2013

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills:

What it means: Undone by interceptions and no ground game, the Ravens (2-2) were upset by the banged-up Bills (2-2). Baltimore didn't show up in the first half just a week after routing the Houston Texans. The Ravens fall into a three-way tie for first place in the AFC North with the Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) and Cleveland Browns (2-2).

Picked apart: Quarterback Joe Flacco threw a career-worst five interceptions against a makeshift Buffalo secondary, and the Bills converted those turnovers into 13 points. The most interceptions Flacco had previously thrown were four (Week 2 in 2010 at Cincinnati). His fourth interception came late in the third quarter, when the Ravens were down six points (20-14) and in Bills territory. His last one occurred in the final minute of the game when the Ravens were within 15 yards of a game-tying field goal.

Stock Watch: Rising -- wide receiver Torrey Smith. The Ravens' top playmaker caught five passes for 166 yards and scored his first touchdown of the season. It makes you wonder why the Ravens didn't go to Smith more often. Falling -- the Ravens' run game. Even with the return of running back Ray Rice, the struggling ground attack couldn't get anything going against the second-worst run defense in the league. The Ravens managed 24 yards on the ground and couldn't break a run longer than 7 yards. Baltimore completely abandoned the run game after halftime, running the ball two times in the second half.

Streak ends: The Ravens saw their streak of not allowing a touchdown end at nine quarters. Cornerback Corey Graham, who replaced injured Lardarius Webb, was beaten by Robert Woods for a 42-yard score. It was the first touchdown given up by the Ravens' defense in 30 drives. The Ravens then gave up another touchdown in the second quarter after a Flacco interception (which went off Ed Dickson's hands).

What's next: The Ravens stay on the road next Sunday, visiting the Miami Dolphins (3-0), who play at the New Orleans Saints on "Monday Night Football." Baltimore is 0-2 on the road this season.

Rapid Reaction: Browns 17, Bengals 6

September, 29, 2013
CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 17-6 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

What it means: The Browns' win means we all of a sudden have a three-team race in the AFC North. While Pittsburgh continues its difficult slide to start the season, Cincinnati's loss triggered a race that now includes Cleveland and Baltimore. The Browns, a team the entire sports media universe was willing to write off two weeks ago, suddenly has a chance to really compete for the postseason. The Bengals are in need of some serious offensive help if they want to keep their Super Bowl hopes alive.

Dark hour for Dalton: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has had his share of successes in the three years he has worn a Bengals uniform, but he also has compiled his share of moments to remember for vastly different reasons. Sunday afternoon, he had one of the latter. After throwing at least one touchdown in each of his first three starts this season, he didn't have one. He also threw for only 206 yards. The problem, it seemed, was that he never looked comfortable at any point in the game. He and his receivers appeared to be on different pages. Once, in the second half, Dalton threw a comeback route to A.J. Green, who was sprinting downfield on a straight fly route. Other times, his throws were too high, too low or too far behind his receivers.

Hoyer homecoming: Dalton might have had a day to forget, but hometown kid and Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer will remember it for the rest of his life. Not only was the Cleveland native making his first professional start in the stadium where he attended games as a teenager, but he had the type of showing that made Browns fans believe he could be their starting quarterback for the long haul. Hoyer replaced Brandon Weeden two weeks ago and looks to continue starting after passing for 269 yards and two touchdowns.

Penalty problem: The only real issue the Browns had Sunday was their apparent penchant for penalties. They had five in the game for 80 yards. Two of the penalties that came in what appeared to be pivotal situations in the second and third quarters were called on defensive back Buster Skrine. He made up for them, but the Browns will want to clean those up as they move forward.

Stock watch: In the wake of the Trent Richardson trade and their decision to name Hoyer the starting quarterback, the Browns have been dominating headlines because of their offense. After the defense's performance in Sunday's win, it deserves some attention, too. The unit entered the game ranked third in the NFL in sacks with 12 and continued the pressure against Dalton. The Browns sacked him twice and held the Bengals to a season-low 266 yards of total offense. Despite being called for two penalties in the second and third quarters, Skrine had an otherwise strong performance, intercepting a pass and breaking up three more. D'Qwell Jackson led the Browns with 10 tackles.

What's next: Cincinnati (2-2) will have one of its biggest conference games of the season next Sunday when New England makes a trip to Paul Brown Stadium. The Browns (2-2) look to build upon their momentum when they host Buffalo on Thursday night in the second game of a three-game homestand.

Rapid Reaction: Vikings 34, Steelers 27

September, 29, 2013
A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Wembley Stadium in London.

What it means: Four games into the season, the Steelers have all but played their way out of postseason contention. They are 0-4 to start a season for the first time since 1968, and fans will start turning their attention to the 2014 draft. The Steelers are making a dubious run at a top-10 if not top-5 pick. Maybe they will use it on a left tackle, as Mike Adams continues to look overmatched there. A playmaker for a defense that is in serious decline is also an option. As well as the Steelers’ offense played Sunday, it couldn’t bail out the defense. And a turnover doomed the Steelers at the end. They are now minus-10 in turnover differential.

Stock watch: This loss was all on the defense, which turned in a simply unacceptable performance. When was the last time the Steelers gave up two touchdowns of 60 or more yards in one half, let alone one game? The Steelers’ tackling was horrendous, and they didn’t put any pressure on Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel. The turnover issue has become laughable, as the Steelers have not forced one in four games. What should have been a fumble recovery by Jarvis Jones after a LaMarr Woodley strip-sack turned into a Vikings first down when Jerome Simpson came up with the loose ball.

Bell tolls in London: Le’Veon Bell showed why the Steelers missed him so dearly in the the first three games of the season. The rookie had 84 total yards rushing and receiving yards and two scores, and he looked every part the feature back. His first NFL touchdown was a thing of beauty, as a nifty cut by Bell and a crushing block by tight end Heath Miller sprung him for an early score. The Steelers’ running-back-by-committee setup has been put out of its misery.

What’s next: The Steelers have their bye this week, which will give them a couple of extra practices to work on fundamentals such as tackling. They never imagined they would go into their bye week winless, and all eyes will be on the Steelers to see whether they start coming apart at the seams.