After three weeks of NFL action, the AFC North appears to be far more competitive this season than many anticipated. No team has been able to separate themselves from the bunch and put together consecutive games of winning football.
In what felt like their super bowl, the Cleveland Browns won their first game since Week 16 of the 2016 season. The Bengals fell to 2-1 after starting undefeated, falling to Carolina on the road. Pittsburgh earned their first victory of the season, outlasting the Buccaneers on Monday night football.
Cincinnati and Baltimore are currently tied for first place in the division at 2-1, however the Bengals hold the tiebreaker. The Steelers and Browns round out the bottom of the AFC North at 1-1-1.
Offensive line bends, but doesn’t break
The Ravens offensive line struggles have been a topic of discussion this season, especially after their disastrous performance in Week 2. Against the Broncos, however, they held up surprisingly well.
Denver’s All-Pro linebacker, Von Miller, one of the best pass-rushers in the league, was held in check throughout the game. He recorded no sacks, no QB hits, and had only two tackles. Miller was also called for multiple pre-snap penalties.
Baltimore’s line did allow two sacks on the day and was called for multiple false start penalties. However, overall, the offensive line bounced back nicely and settled in as the game went along. Hopefully they can build upon this performance.
Get to know Kenny Young
With Ray Lewis in attendance, rookie linebacker Kenny Young put on his best Ray Lewis impression. Young got the start in place of the injured C.J. Mosley and was the Ravens best defensive player throughout the game.
Young was all over the field on Sunday. He led the Ravens with 10 total tackles, one of which was for a loss of yardage. Young has end-to-end athleticism and is skilled in coverage, an area where other linebackers on the roster often struggle.
His performance against the Broncos was no fluke, as Young has been making plays on the field all season. It’s early in the season and in his career, but it certainly appears the Ravens may have landed a potential star and long-term starter at linebacker in the draft.
Browns defeat Jets: 21-17
Baker Mayfield’s debut
Former Heisman trophy winner Baker Mayfield made his debut Thursday night, taking over for the injured and struggling Tyrod Taylor. Mayfield provided an instant spark, helping the Browns erase a 14-point deficit. Before Mayfield took over late in the second quarter, the Browns produced only two first downs and zero points.
Mayfield completed 17/23 passes for 203 yards. He was efficient and routinely made pinpoint accurate throws, two qualities that made him the first overall pick. Mayfield didn’t throw any touchdowns, but he caught a touchdown pass from Jarvis Landry off a trick play.
Overall, the Baker Mayfield era got off to an electric start. Mayfield’s comeback effort helped the Browns secure their first victory is 635 days. He will look to build upon this performance against the Oakland Raiders in Week 4, before taking on the Ravens in Week 5.
Carlos Hyde’s big night
Mayfield made all the headlines, but Carlos Hyde had a special performance of his own. Not only was he celebrating his 28th birthday on Thursday night, but Hyde was also celebrating the birth of his first child.
Hyde announced the birth of his son, Carlos Hyde Jr., on twitter after the game. His status prior to the contest was up in the air, but he ultimately suited up and rushed to the hospital following the end of the game.
The Browns are grateful he suited up, as he was a key catalyst in their victory. Hyde rushed for 98 yards on 23 carries and scored two touchdowns. Hyde has been Cleveland’s workhorse back this season and will look to keep it rolling.
Bengals fall to Panthers: 31-21
Injuries on offense
A sight that no Bengals fan wants to see is an injury to Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green. Green exited Sundays’ matchup in the third quarter with a groin injury and did not return. Prior to leaving, he caught five passes for 54 yards.
This comes just a week after the Bengals lost Joe Mixon, who underwent knee surgery following their Week 2 victory against Baltimore. Mixon is set to miss 2-3 weeks. Green’s status for Week 4 is up in the air, and his practice pattern in the coming days will be worth monitoring.
If he can’t go, Cincinnati will be down their two biggest playmakers in a tough matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. Tyler Boyd, who had six catches for 131 yards a touchdown in Week 3, will have to step up in his absence, as will tight end Tyler Eifert.
Turnovers prove costly
Entering Sunday’s contest against the Panthers, Andy Dalton had gotten off to a strong start this season. He held a 6:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and threw four touchdowns and zero picks against the Ravens in Week 2.
He was unable to replicate that performance in Week 3 and regressed. Dalton threw four interceptions against Carolina and they proved to ultimately change the course of the game.
The Panthers followed up each of Dalton’s first three interceptions with scoring drives, totaling two touchdowns and one field goal. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, they were unable to force a turnover.
Steelers defeat Buccaneers: 30-27
Tale of two halves
Pittsburgh came out determined and firing on all cylinders. They jumped out to a 30-10 lead at halftime, courtesy of a 24-point second quarter. The Steelers forced three interceptions and recovered a forced fumble.
However, they were held scoreless in the second half and nearly let the game slip away. After containing Tampa Bay’s offense for much of the game, Ryan Fitzpatrick heated up late and finished with 411 passing yards and three touchdowns.
Pittsburgh was outscored 17-0 in the second half, punting the ball away twice and missing a field goal. Ultimately, they made enough plays to secure a victory ahead of a Sunday night tilt against Baltimore.
Balanced passing attack
In prior years, Antonio Brown has been the key focal point of Steelers passing offense. He has dominated the target share and consistently led the team in both receptions and yards.
While he will likely end up as their leading receiver for the season, Pittsburgh appears to have a more balanced attack this season. Several different players became involved on Monday night.
JuJu Smith-Schuster again led the team in receiving with nine catches and 116 yards. Tight end Vance McDonald also had a big night with 112 receiving yards, highlighted by a 75-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter. Running back James Connor caught five passes, just one less than Antonio Brown.