Here are seven notes and observations from Week 11 in the AFC North:
Although stranger things have happened, I would be very surprised if Marvin Lewis gets another contract extension with the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati (2-8) lost its NFL-high seventh straight game, and I'm told there are no new negotiations behind the scenes between Lewis and the team. It's also starting to show on the field. In giving up 35 straight points in Sunday's embarrassing loss to the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati looked like a team playing with an exiting coach. The Bengals didn't respond to adversity in the second half and fell apart. As I mentioned weeks ago, it's time to blow up the Bengals. Cincinnati proved that it is so far away from title contention that it will not be a quick fix. It's time to start over.
Credit Bengals receiver Terrell Owens for finally telling it like it is. Cincinnati players have been putting a good face on this losing streak for weeks publicly. Just recently Owens said "this is the best 2-6 team I've been on." But as the frustration and losing kept adding up, Owens stopped putting spin on the situation.
"What's crazy is the fact that we're just terrible. That's just plain and simple," Owens said after the Buffalo game. "When I say we, that's me included. Let me look you in the eyes and emphasize, we are terrible. Terrible. I have no answers for you. I have no sound bites for you. All I know is, right now, we are terrible."
I have another quick note on the poor officiating in the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders, then we will move on because we don't want referees to be the focus of the blog. But look for the NFL to get at least two appeals this week if the league decides to hand out fines. Linebacker James Harrison and safety Ryan Clark were wrongly called for personal fouls on a pair of clean plays against Oakland. The flags usually raise the NFL's antennas. But I expect both Steelers to file an appeal this week if they are penalized -- and both have good cases.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin made a subtle but effective change on special teams against Oakland. The Steelers replaced veteran Antwaan Randle El as a punt returner, inserting rookie Antonio Brown. Randle El hasn't given Pittsburgh much as a returner this season, but the Steelers like that he's dependable and doesn't fumble. But Brown, a sixth-round pick, has more big-play ability and returned seven punts for 66 yards. He also had a touchdown return called back because of holding.
The Baltimore Ravens have struggled with ball security recently, and that's something the coaching staff must re-emphasize down the stretch. Baltimore won convincingly over the Carolina Panthers, but the Ravens fumbled four times, losing two. In their previous game against the Atlanta Falcons, the Ravens put the ball on the ground twice, losing one on Lardarius Webb’s punt return. This isn’t the time of year when you want to get shaky in that department, especially when inclement weather becomes a factor.
Just when the AFC North blog started to give the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coaching staff kudos for a string of solid performances, the unit produced another clunker in a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. I'm still scratching my head on how the Browns could get only one offensive touchdown after Jacksonville committed six turnovers. Cleveland continued to run tailback Peyton Hillis up the middle for little or no gain when it was clear the Jaguars were gearing up to stop him. But lack of adjustments when things aren’t going well has been an issue for Cleveland all season, and it’s one reason the Browns are 3-7.
The good news is Cleveland has a chance to get hot with an easier slate of games. The Browns' next four opponents have a combined record of 10-30, starting with next week’s game against the Carolina Panthers (1-9). With president Mike Holmgren evaluating head coach Eric Mangini's job status, the goal is to win as many games as possible and finish close to .500. Last year the Browns were 5-11, and they need more than five wins this season to show improvement.