AFC North: Kyle Orton

With so many injuries to the defense, the Ravens needed Joe Flacco and the offense to step up in order to win at Houston. Instead, Flacco recorded the worst performance by a quarterback in five seasons, based on ESPN's quarterback rating system.

Flacco's Total QBR, a metric that accounts for everything a quarterbacks does, was 0.3 on the 0-100 scale, the lowest rating for any quarterback with at least 30 action plays since 2008. He had never posted a Total QBR under 5.0 in his career and hadn’t recorded a game of 10.0 or worse since Week 2 of 2010 (at Cincinnati).

Flacco was 21-of-43 (48.8 percent) for 147 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions (one was deflected and returned 52 yards for a touchdown). He was also sacked four times, one of which resulted in a safety.

“We all could have done things better, starting with myself,” Flacco said after the game. “I don’t really have an answer for you. I think that’s just the way it works out. These guys are a good team. We didn’t play up to the level we expected.”

The Texans' defense played a factor in Flacco's struggles. This was the fifth time this season that Houston held an opponent to a Total Team QBR under 15.0, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Entering Week 7, no other team had more than one such game in 2012.

To put Flacco's low QBR in perspective, there had been only two quarterbacks who had recorded QBRs lower than 1.0 over the past five seasons. The Jets' Mark Sanchez did it once in 2009 (0.7 QBR) and again in 2011 (0.8), and Kyle Orton posted a QBR of 0.9 in 2010.

Dalton looking to join Flacco and Ryan

December, 30, 2011
The Bengals' Andy Dalton can join Joe Flacco's elite rookie group by beating the Ravens quarterback Sunday.

Dalton can become the fifth quarterback ever to win 10 games or more as a rookie starter, matching the likes of Flacco and the Falcons' Matt Ryan. That's not bad for the 35th overall pick in the 2011 draft and the fifth quarterback taken.

Flacco and Ryan have continued their winning ways beyond their rookie seasons. Flacco has won 43 games since being a first-round pick in 2008, the most through a quarterback's first four seasons among those who began their careers in the Super Bowl era (since 1966). Ryan, who entered the league in 2008, has led Atlanta to 42 victories.

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley will miss his third straight game with a hamstring injury. He was among the inactives for tonight's game against the Chiefs.

Woodley, who had been listed as questionable, leads the Steelers with nine sacks.

The Steelers' pass rush has been severely hurt without Woodley. In two games without him, Pittsburgh has managed three sacks, all of which have come from James Harrison. No other Steelers player has more than five sacks on the season.

Jason Worilds will continue to replace Woodley. The 2010 second-round pick has been solid but not spectacular.

For the Chiefs, recently acquired quarterback Kyle Orton is inactive. Tyler Palko will make his second straight start for Kansas City.

Here are the inactives for the Steelers at Chiefs:

STEELERS: OLB LaMarr Woodley, QB Dennis Dixon, ILB Stevenson Sylvester, OT Jamon Meredith, DE Al Woods, NT Chris Hoke and WR Arnaz Battle.

CHIEFS: QB Kyle Orton, G Ryan Lilja, CB Donald Washington, LB Demorrio Williams, TE Jake O'Connell, DE Brandon Bair and NT Jerrell Powe.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

It's Ravens-Steelers week and there's a lot at stake once again in this rivalry. The winner takes control of the division and ... wait, what about the Bengals?

That's right. The Who Dey Nation is unexpectedly crashing the AFC North party this year. The Bengals (5-2) are tied with the Ravens for second place in the division, trailing the first-place Steelers (6-2) by a half-game. The same Bengals that began the season ranking last in ESPN's power rankings.

For those who still don't believe, Cincinnati has won four consecutive games for the first time since 2009. For those who still aren't impressed, the Bengals won their first West Coast game since 2003.

Whatever your opinion, you can't dispute that the Bengals are relevant in November again. There's a growing belief in the locker room that can be judged by the expanding vocabulary. According to the team's website, the P-word can now be heard from players.

“I think we set out not to do anything less,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said of the playoffs. “That’s what we’re shooting for. We’re going for team wins any way we can get them.”

The Bengals will find out whether they're playoff caliber when they play at the Titans (4-3) before hosting the Steelers and taking a trip to the Ravens.

Here's a look at what the local columnists are saying about the AFC North teams following Sunday's games:

BENGALS: The Bengals are 5-2 because they've taken advantage of a favorable schedule, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty. Their five wins have come against teams with a combined record of 13-25. Daugherty wrote: "The achievement comes with its own asterisk. The QBs they've beaten are a veritable Who's Not Who. Raise your hand if you'd start your dynasty with Kyle Orton, Curtis Painter, Blaine Gabbert, Charlie Whitehurst or Tarvaris Jackson. But we quibble. A 5-2 record should not demand style points, especially not around here."

BROWNS: The Browns have scored over 17 points just once this season. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto thinks the no-huddle is a no-brainer for Cleveland. Pluto wrote: "There are no quick fixes, not with two inexperienced guards, two running backs in the trainer's room, and no receiver who demands double coverage. But maybe a faster pace will help."

RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston believes the Ravens' momentous rally just hides another below-average performance. Preston wrote: "The Ravens staged their greatest comeback in franchise history, rallying from a 21-point deficit to defeat Arizona Sunday, but that was about the only good thing you could say. They won. That's it. They won. They beat one of the worst teams in the league, and had to rally from three touchdowns down. Go ahead, jump up and down. Break dance if you want. Lift your champagne glass, but there is not much to celebrate."

STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Dejan Kovacevic was impressed with the way the Steelers physically dominated the Patriots. Kovacevic wrote: "They chased Tom Brady as if endorsement deals were hanging from his neck. They made Wes Welker eat grass within a millisecond of catching the football. They rode big tight end Rob Gronkowski like a bucking bronco. And they apparently caught defensive genius Bill Belichick wholly unprepared for, of all gimmicky schemes, the underneath routes of tight end Heath Miller. The Steelers, finally, after eight games, are the Steelers again."

Report: Dolphins keen on Carson Palmer

March, 21, 2011
The last time he was interviewed, Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland repeatedly added a caveat when speaking about quarterback Chad Henne's status:

"Right now, our starter is Chad Henne."

"Right now, he's the guy on our football team that we have to be committed to because he's the only one we have right now."

Right now, the Dolphins are considering all options when the NFL's work stoppage concludes and we get back to signing free agents and making trades.

A prominent name is Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer.

Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero wrote "Palmer is the one veteran quarterback in whose availability the Dolphins would almost definitely show interest."

Others considered to be on the market are Philadelphia Eagles backup Kevin Kolb, Washington Redskins veteran Donovan McNabb, Denver Broncos veteran Kyle Orton and San Francisco 49ers bust Alex Smith. Free agent Vince Young is out there, too.

Palmer is under contract, but he wants out of Cincinnati after seven seasons and two Pro Bowls but just two playoff games -- both losses.

The Bengals have stated they want Palmer back, but Sports Illustrated writer Peter King wrote sources tell him Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has been telling people within the football community Palmer won't return.

King listed his "leaders in the clubhouse" to trade for Palmer, but didn't mention the Dolphins.

But the two reports together look intriguing.

Final Word: AFC North

October, 8, 2010
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Terrell Owens/Chad Ochocinco
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaTerrell Owens' negative reputation is perhaps why he's out of the NFL, while his equally eccentric ex-Bengals teammate Chad Ochocinco is employed.
Taming T.O. and Ocho: What is the best way to defend the Cincinnati Bengals' dynamic receiving duo of Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco? Teams are using different strategies, but the idea used in Week 4 by the Cleveland Browns likely won't be copied Sunday by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Cleveland doubled Ochocinco by providing help over the top nearly the entire game, allowing Owens to face one-on-one coverage. As a result, Owens exploded for 10 catches, 222 yards and a touchdown. The Bengals lost the game but the future Hall of Famer proved he still has it. Last season, the Bengals had no reliable second option when teams doubled Ochocinco.

Benson to break out against Bucs? It's been a slow start for Bengals tailback Cedric Benson, who is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. But this could be the week Benson finds his groove against a Tampa defense ranked No. 28 against the run. This is a good matchup for Cincinnati's burly offensive line, which has struggled. Tampa's front seven is built on speed first, and that will give Cincinnati a chance to be physical and control the line of scrimmage. The Bucs allow 141.3 rushing yards per game. The Pittsburgh Steelers ran for 201 yards against Tampa in its last outing.

The Pittsburgh hangover. The Baltimore Ravens' biggest challenge could be themselves this week. Baltimore will try to avoid a hangover against the Denver Broncos following last week's emotional victory over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Since 2005, the Ravens are just 3-6 in games after playing Pittsburgh. All of those contests were very physical and emotionally draining. So Baltimore will have to keep its focus high to improve to 4-1.

Dueling No. 1s. Baltimore and Denver present a surprising matchup between the NFL's No. 1 pass defense (Ravens) and No. 1 pass offense (Broncos). Baltimore was expected to struggle without Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, who is on the physically unable to perform list with a hip injury. But cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington have returned from knee injuries to play well, and safety Tom Zbikowski also has filled in fine for Reed. The Ravens are holding opponents to an NFL-best 119 passing yards per game. Baltimore will need another strong performance against Broncos quarterback and early MVP candidate Kyle Orton, who has thrown for 1,419 yards and six touchdowns.

No reprieve for Browns' secondary: Cleveland's secondary struggled against quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Carson Palmer the past two weeks. Now comes its latest challenge in Matt Ryan, who is off to a good start for the hot Atlanta Falcons. Cleveland's young secondary is going through some growing pains, and Ryan and others will continue to test this unit until its proves it can handle opponent's passing games. After the Falcons, the Browns' defense will face an even tougher trio of quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Tom Brady in consecutive games.

What did we learn about Tim Tebow?

August, 16, 2010
CINCINNATI -- Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow made his highly anticipated NFL debut Sunday night in a 33-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Entering the game in the third quarter, the first-round pick produced a mixed bag. Tebow led the Broncos with 105 yards on 8-of-13 passing.

Here are five things we learned:

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeTim Tebow completed 8 of 13 passes for 105 yards and ran for a touchdown in his NFL debut, a 33-24 preseason loss at Cincinnati.
1. Tebow's mechanics must improve. Tebow spent countless hours with coaches this offseason working to improve his mechanics. But his throwing motion looked similar to what we saw in college at Florida. Tebow held the ball very low at times and he still has a long, winding delivery. Tebow had some success Sunday against Cincinnati's third-stringers, but he may have a difficult time against better competition without shortening his delivery.

"There are a lot of things I can get better at," Tebow said. "I really went out there and tried to compete. We did some pretty decent things, but we still have a long way to go. I have a long way to go."

2. The arm strength is there. Although his throwing motion isn't textbook, Tebow displayed NFL-caliber arm strength. He displayed good zip and velocity. Sometimes it was too fast, as Broncos receiver Matthew Willis dropped a potential third-down completion along the sideline. Tebow also made a couple throws that were nearly intercepted, but Bengals defenders couldn't handle his fastballs.

"He has a strong arm. It's a different technique, but he gets it there," said Jonathan Long, who was scouting Tebow and the Broncos for AFC West rival Oakland Raiders. "But arm strength doesn't mean much if you can't hit the wide receiver. You gotta have accuracy in this league ... and that's something he has to work on. But he can do it because he's got a great work ethic."

3. Tebow isn't used to the speed and feel of the NFL yet. Perhaps the most telling play of the night occurred in the fourth quarter when Bengals safety Jeromy Miles put a big hit on Tebow at the 34-yard line. Tebow held the ball too long, and despite being lefthanded, he failed to see or feel the safety blitz coming from his front side and paid for it. The initial ruling was a sack and fumble, but the call was overturned and ruled an incomplete pass.

"It felt great," said Miles, who was congratulated in the locker room by teammates for his big hit on Tebow. "I think he was just locked into his receivers. He probably saw something out there and just never really looked or seen me coming, and I just ran through him."

4. Tebow is resilient. Following the big hit by Miles, Tebow didn't get down on himself. Instead, he showed his toughness by coming back to lead a touchdown drive on the Broncos' next possession. With 1:09 remaining, Tebow led Denver 73 yards and finished the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run. Tebow's biggest play on the drive was a 33-yard strike to his right to receiver Britt Davis.

"It shows resilience, and I like him for that," Bengals quarterback coach Ken Zampese said. "He's got toughness, and he’s got the leadership skills, and he sure showed me something tonight after he got hit."

5. The No. 2 quarterback job could be Tebow's for the taking. Backup quarterback Brady Quinn, also playing in his first game with Denver, struggled. Quinn completed 6 of 16 passes for 68 yards and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Tebow looked more sure of himself and the offense than Quinn, whose accuracy was off and was bothered by Cincinnati's pressure. If this trend continues, Tebow could move up the depth chart quickly and become backup to starter Kyle Orton. AFC West blogger Bill Williamson
LeBron James isn't the only high-profile athlete to leave Cleveland this year.

Former Browns first-round pick Brady Quinn recently sold his Cleveland-area home this past May, a source tells the AFC North blog. The Avon Lake, Ohio, property was first put on the market in October, which caused a media firestorm because Quinn had just been benched in favor of Derek Anderson and was the subject of trade rumors.

It turns out Cleveland did trade Quinn in the offseason to the Denver Broncos. Quinn now is in a three-way tussle for playing time with quarterback Kyle Orton and Broncos first-round pick Tim Tebow.

Quinn's tenure in Cleveland didn't pan out as expected. After being drafted in the first round in 2007, he was thought to be the Browns' long-term solution at quarterback. But Quinn spent most of his career on the sidelines and later underperformed when his number was called.

After the Browns traded Quinn and released Anderson this offseason, Cleveland completely started over at quarterback by signing 12-year veteran Jake Delhomme in free agency.
Here are the most interesting stories in the AFC North:

Morning take: We will be in Pittsburgh today to check in with the Steelers. But this has nothing to do with everyone's behavior during the holiday weekend. I've heard good reviews.

  • Running back Peyton Hillis is out to prove the Cleveland Browns got the better end of the Brady Quinn trade with the Denver Broncos.
Morning take: Quinn is the bigger name. But he's now with a crowded group of quarterbacks in Denver that includes Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. Hillis should get playing time right away.

  • Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco is surprised fellow receiver Patrick Crayton wants to leave the Dallas Cowboys.
Morning take: Could Crayton land in the AFC North? At least one division team (Cleveland) could use a veteran receiver.

Morning take: That's an interesting thought. Maybe Stallworth could help if he's a better option than Chris Carr.
You're thinking you've probably done this before, right?

Well, think again.

Last offseason one of the most prevalent questions in the AFC North was who would win the starting quarterback job for the Cleveland Browns between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn?

Now that both players are no longer on the team, we ask our AFC North community something different. We want to know which former Brown will go on to have the most successful career?

Both players are young and have a chance to compete for new teams. Anderson is with the Arizona Cardinals, where he has great receivers but first has to unseat Matt Leinart. Quinn is with the Denver Broncos where Kyle Orton currently is the starter.

Will either player lead their team to the playoffs at some point or even a Super Bowl?

So take your pick between Anderson and Quinn, and tell us why one former Brown will have a better career than the other. You can send your responses below, to the division inbox, or our increasingly popular AFC North Twitter page, and we will run the best responses this week.
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:

  • Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was not present for the first day of offseason workouts.
Morning take: It's no surprise Roethlisberger is laying low. At this point it's probably best, considering his legal situation.

Morning take: This is a good sign, because Suggs usually is absent this time of year. I have a feeling he's motivated to have a bounce-back season in 2010.

Morning take: Quinn needed a fresh start somewhere and got it in Denver. Can he take Kyle Orton's starting job?

Morning take: With nothing finalized with free agent Bobbie Williams, the Bengals need to begin checking other options. The draft also is a possibility.

Five keys to the game for Pittsburgh

November, 9, 2009
Posted by’s James Walker

Here are five keys to Monday night's game for the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) against the Denver Broncos (6-1):

Be physical: The Baltimore Ravens proved last week that Denver could be worn down by bigger, more physical teams. Pittsburgh’s personnel is very similar to Baltimore's, so the Broncos could struggle in many of the same areas. The Steelers need to set the tone early with their physicality. The Broncos are a "finesse" team, and as evident by their record, that works well for them. But oftentimes it takes a while for teams outside the AFC North to adjust to the smashmouth brand that is played within the division. Pittsburgh needs to take advantage of that, especially on the road.

Play smart defense: For a 6-1 team, Denver's offense can be relatively easy to stop. It takes a smart defense that won't be fooled by the various screens and quick-hitting misdirections. Stopping the run will be the first focal point. After that, Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton likely will struggle trying to beat teams singlehandedly through the air. Denver is very gun shy when it comes to attacking opponents vertically with Orton under center. Therefore, look for Pittsburgh to bring many defenders closer to the line of scrimmage to challenge Denver's hesitancy to go deep.

Big game from Troy: Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu recently returned to the team following a left knee injury he suffered in the season opener. Although he’s made some plays, Polamalu still hasn’t looked 100 percent. The dynamic safety had two additional weeks off to rest the knee. With veteran safety Ryan Clark not expected to play, that puts an even greater emphasis on Polamalu controlling the middle of the field for Pittsburgh.

Ball security: Lately the Steelers haven’t been taking care of the football, and it’s hard to tell if this is just a small issue or a growing trend this season. Pittsburgh fumbled the ball five times (losing four) in its past two games. It didn’t hurt the Steelers in home wins over the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings. But careless turnovers Monday could hurt the Steelers a lot more on the road against Denver. Pittsburgh second-year tailback Rashard Mendenhall has lost two fumbles in two games.

Use new wrinkles: In the past, the Steelers would bring out a trick play or two later in the regular season. That hasn’t been the case as much under current offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. But coming off a bye week, this would be a great time to catch a good opponent off guard on both sides of the football. Pittsburgh ran a tailback pass by Mewelde Moore earlier in the season that worked for a touchdown. The Steelers shouldn’t get too giddy with trick plays, but perhaps a couple of new wrinkles would help. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau also is known to constantly draw up new packages. So, don’t be surprised if you see something new from the defense as well.

Palmer at his best against Ravens

November, 5, 2009
Matt Stamey/US Presswire
Carson Palmer has enjoyed success during his career against the Ravens.
Posted by’s James Walker

CINCINNATI -- It's the statistic no one likes to talk about in Baltimore.

It's also a topic those in Cincinnati would rather keep under wraps.

But here are the facts: Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is 7-3 in 10 career starts against the Ravens. He's given the vaunted Baltimore defense more trouble over the years than any quarterback not named Peyton Manning.

"If you say we’ve had success, that’ll be your line," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, eluding the topic.

The truth is, Palmer brings his "A" game against Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Co. The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback has thrown for 2,506 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 10 career meetings with the Ravens.

The trend gained even more traction when Palmer led the Bengals to another game-winning drive in the final seconds of Cincinnati's 17-14 victory over Baltimore on Oct. 11. Palmer, who carved up the Ravens secondary with 271 yards, connected with receiver Andre Caldwell for a 20-yard touchdown pass to help catapult the Bengals into first place in the division.

Palmer's success will be something to closely monitor Sunday when Baltimore (4-3) visits Cincinnati (5-2) in a huge game for both teams. Cincinnati can improve to 4-0 in the AFC North, while Baltimore has a chance to tighten the division standings and ensure that it remains a three-team race.

"I actually wasn’t aware of that," Palmer said of beating the Ravens in seven of 10 career starts. "We’ve always had good game plans against them. We’ve matched up pretty favorably against them. I think because Marvin was there and he won a Super Bowl, Baltimore week is always a real big deal."

It's difficult to pinpoint Cincinnati's biggest rival in the division, as a strong case can be made for the Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and the in-state Cleveland Browns. But it’s clear the Bengals have no problem gearing up for games against Baltimore.

Cincinnati receiver Chad Ochocinco has said on many occasions that his battles with the Ravens are the most enjoyable games of the season. Palmer also admits the respect factor plays a big role in getting ready for these games.

"I love the challenge," Palmer said.

Not only has Palmer been up for the challenge, he's often conquered it.

Matching wits and physical prowess with Baltimore's defense is never easy. But Palmer, at times, has made it look routine. Manning also is 6-2 with 16 touchdown passes in his career against the Ravens, and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is 3-0 with three touchdowns.
Success Against the Ravens
Player Team W-L Yards TD INT
Peyton Manning Indianapolis Colts 6-2 2,144 16 5
Carson Palmer Cincinnati Bengals 7-3 2,506 13 9
Tom Brady New England Patriots 3-0 705 3 1

"[Palmer] is a smart football player that does well against these guys, and we see Baltimore a lot more often than other quarterbacks," Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "These guys kind of have that shock factor. I think we saw that a little bit with Denver last week.

"When you get out there and see how big and physical they are, and athletic, if you're not used to it and expect it when you get on the field with them it has a chance to overwhelm you."

As Whitworth mentioned, Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton certainly fell victim to the "shock factor" last Sunday.

Orton, who was an MVP candidate through six games, appeared uneasy and out of rhythm from the first play from scrimmage when Baltimore linebacker Jarret Johnson turned the corner for a quarterback sack. From there, Orton took several additional hard shots and rushed a lot of his throws, as the speed and physicality of the Ravens' defense rattled him.

In Cincinnati's first meeting with Baltimore, Palmer was sacked just once and had the kind of pass protection needed to have success. Baltimore's secondary, for the most part, has struggled this year. So Palmer had no problems picking the Ravens apart.

Look for the Ravens to give Palmer less time to throw in their second meeting.

"The way things are set up right now, as tough as it is to cover on the back end, you’ve got to get the quarterback," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said this week. "If you don’t get to the quarterback, it’s going to be impossible to defend the pass."

Consider this divisional game a window into what to expect in the second half of the season.

If Baltimore wins, the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers (5-2) will all have at least five victories after this week's games. But if the Bengals win, it virtually would end Baltimore's hopes of winning the AFC North this year and create a major uphill climb to earn a wild-card spot down the stretch.

"We know that they have to beat us," Palmer said of the Ravens. "They're in a must-win situation. But we also feel we're in a must-win situation, too."

Ravens' D playing 'angry' again

November, 1, 2009
Geoff Burke/US Presswire
Terrell Suggs and the Ravens' defense limited Denver quarterback Kyle Orton to 152 yards passing.
Posted by's James Walker

BALTIMORE -- Terrell Suggs was a little confused Sunday.

The Pro Bowl linebacker/defensive end hybrid couldn't fathom why the Baltimore Ravens weren't considered the most feared defense entering their high-profile matchup with the Denver Broncos.

"That was the case today?" Suggs asked. "Wow! Look how times have changed."

Suggs’ surprised response stemmed from Baltimore’s dominant showing in a 30-7 victory over previously undefeated Denver. The win ended a six-game winning streak for the Broncos (6-1), who had frustrated opponents by pounding teams defensively the same way the Ravens (4-3) had in the past.

Week 8 Coverage
Walker: Ravens D is angry
Mosley: Eagles win in laugher
Williamson: Merriman finds groove
Graham: Ginn provides happy returns
Seifert: Favre sweeps Packers away
Kuharsky: Young key in Titans' win
Sando: Cards missing Fitz
Pasquarelli: Surprise TD lifts Colts
Clayton: Denver goes down
Greenberg: Cutler tough in win
Watkins: Cowboys youth shows off
MacMahon: Austin, Crayton shine
Zoom Gallery: Images from Lambeau
• NFL Nation: Reactions | Wrap-ups | Live

Monday Night Football HQ

Yaskinskas: Atlanta CBs facing test
But the past became the present as Baltimore’s defense best utilized its bye week by reverting to its nasty brand of physical football.

The Ravens rattled and confused Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton and held Denver to only 66 yards rushing. With the defense setting the tone, Baltimore forced Denver into submission, which is something no other team this year had been able to do.

"They were coming off their bye week where they were the best team in the NFL, and we were coming off our bye week where we had three disappointing losses," Suggs said. "We had a whole week with that on our mind and we were just hungry. We were angry, and we very confident coming in."

Say what you want about the Ravens’ defense. But first and foremost, it’s a prideful group.

Some may disagree with their penchant for chest-thumping and brash talk, but the Ravens put a lot of hard work into building their defensive reputation through the years. Yet veterans such as Ray Lewis, Suggs and Ed Reed recently endured a lot of criticism for being the No. 19-ranked defense entering the game against Denver, which had held opponents to a league-low 11 points per game.

It’s difficult to remember a time when so many people doubted Baltimore defensively. But Sunday's performance went a long way toward showing what its defense is still capable of.

"We have good players," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "It was fun to see them be able to do some things that they’ve been working hard to try and get done."

Denver’s game plan played perfectly into the Ravens' hands. The teams that gave Baltimore the most trouble this year all had great quarterbacks who weren’t afraid to challenge the Ravens vertically.

The Broncos are not a vertical team. They win with defense, field position and efficient play from Orton. But Baltimore made it look easy in beating Denver at its own game.
Larry French/Getty Images
The Ravens limited the Broncos to just 200 yards of total offense.

The Ravens stuffed the run and a majority of Denver’s screens, leaving the Broncos with very few options. Orton completed 23 of 37 passes for 152 yards and generally looked confused and out of rhythm for the first time this season. The Ravens sacked Orton twice and hit him often enough to make him uncomfortable.

Baltimore's offense also played better in the second half, and the special teams had a big return to start the third quarter. Rookie defensive back Lardarius Webb scored the first touchdown of the game on a 95-yard kickoff return to give the Ravens a 13-0 lead. It jump-started Baltimore’s run of 24 points in the second half.

Quarterback Joe Flacco completed 20 of 25 passes -- including 14 straight to end the game -- for 175 yards and a touchdown. The Ravens outgained Denver's offense 292-200, not including the big return.

"We have to be able to play tight defense no matter what we do," Reed said. "But give credit to our offense and special teams. There's no one side of the ball that can go without the other."

Last year Baltimore lost three games in a row early before making a run to the AFC Championship Game. If the Ravens continue to play defense at this level, there is no reason to believe they can't get hot once again.

A dominant performance against the Broncos is a good achievement. But the result is a setup to next week's huge division game against the first-place Cincinnati Bengals (5-2).

With the Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) on a bye, the Ravens gained a half-game in the standings to further tighten the AFC North race. It should be an interesting month of November as all three teams play each other over the next few weeks.

"They had a week off, [and] we know they’re going to be really, really excited about seeing us coming in there, trying to go two up on us in the division," Lewis said of Cincinnati. "And the bottom line is, we understand what's in front of us."