The last week of the regular season was a fitting end for the AFC North. The Ravens, despite missing seven starters, improved to 14-2 on the year after handedly defeating a Steelers team fighting for postseason contention.
Elsewhere, the Bengals picked up their second and final victory of the season with an upset win over the Browns, who fell to 6-10. Just minutes after the game, it was announced that Cleveland at fired HC Freddie Kitchens, who now becomes the latest victim to the Browns coaching carousel this past decade.
1) Ravens 14-2
2) Steelers 8-8
3) Browns 6-10
4) Bengals 2-14
Bengals defeat Browns: 33-23
With the chance to make one last stake in his claim to remain the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Freddie Kitchens fell flat on his face - as did his team. The Browns came out firing early, scoring a touchdown on the third play of the game. Baker Mayfield found WR Damion Ratley behind the defense for a 46-yard score. From there, though, it was a one-sided affair in favor of the home team. The Browns next three drives resulted in two punts with an interception sandwiched in between. They trailed by just four points heading into the second half but were playing catch-up when the Bengals extended their lead to 30-16.
Mayfield completed 12/27 passes for a whopping 279 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He turned the ball over twice in the second half and now finishes the season with 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. RB Nick Chubb struggled for the second consecutive week, rushing 13 times for just 41 yards. In doing so, Chubb lost out on the rushing title to Titans RB Derrick Henry, although Chubb had a terrific season regardless.
In addition to firing Kitchens, GM John Dorsey could potentially look to make additional changes to the coaching staff and front office in preparation for next season. After months of this Browns team being picked to win the division and, in some cases, represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, their 6-10 finish is a massive disappointment.
Defining stat: Three turnovers
What’s next: N/A
From the Bengals perspective, this was a solid all-around win that failed to alter their position in next year’s draft. RB Joe Mixon capped off a strong second half of the season with a career-high 162 rushing yards and two touchdowns, gashing the Browns defense from start to finish. Mixon got off to a slow start through the first several weeks of the year but wound up finishing with over 1,000 yards on the ground for the second straight season, an impressive feat for the third-year halfback. Mixon’s production is even more impressive when considering the team’s offensive line struggles, inconsistency at quarterback and the absence of WR A.J. Green, who wound up missing the entire season after being labeled as “week-to-week” at the beginning of the year.
The Bengals converted on nine of their 14 third down attempts and cashed in 4/5 times in the red zone, which proved to be the difference in this game. In perhaps his last game with the franchise, QB Andy Dalton completed 16/28 attempts for 190 yards with both a touchdown pass and interception. Finishing 2-14 is far from desirable, but the Bengals aren’t as bad as their record suggests. They lost several one-score games and with the addition of Joe Burrow in the draft and return of 2019 first-round pick OT Jonah Williams, who missed the entire season after tearing his ACL in the summer, Cincinnati at least has a foundation to build upon and build around.
First-year HC Zac Taylor deserves some credit for getting his players to play hard and remain competitive down the stretch, as it would have been easy for them to just pack it in until next season given the team’s struggles.
Defining stat: 179 rushing yards
What’s next: N/A
Ravens defeat Steelers: 28-10
Despite resting several key starters and missing a few others due to injury, the Ravens - as they have done all year long - thoroughly defeated their opponent. Baltimore didn’t need this game having already locked up home-field advantage in the playoffs but certainly didn’t play like it. The Ravens were aggressive and in attack mode from start to finish, playing more like a team needing a win to make the playoffs as opposed to a team playing for nothing. Baltimore’s defense allowed just 168 total yards and forced two turnovers, buckling down on Pittsburgh’s lackluster passing attack.
Offensively, RB Gus Edwards led the way with 124 rushing yards, single-handedly giving the Ravens the new record for single-season rushing yards by a team (3,296). Rookie Justice Hill found the end zone for the second straight week and churned out 49 scrimmage yards, while TE Hayden Hurst had a pair of impressive catches for 35 receiving yards. In his first start since 2015, QB Robert Griffin III filled in for the resting Lamar Jackson and compelted 11/21 throws for 96 yards and an interception. He did, however, rush for 50 yards on eight carries, doing his best LJ impression.
With another victory, the Ravens effectively capped off a historically great regular season in which they won 12 straight games and broke several records, both team and individual. On to the postseason in two weeks.
Defining stat: 223 rushing yards
What’s next: First-round bye week
For the Steelers, a win in Baltimore wouldn’t have saved their postseason hopes, as the Titans defeated the Texans anyways. Still, this was disappointing performance given the stakes and stage at hand. Pittsburgh has struggled all season long on the offensive side of the ball and today was no exception. In their season finale, the Steelers mustered just ten first downs and averaged 3.4 yards per play. QB Devlin Hodges completed nine of his 25 pass attempts for 95 yards, a stat line that is . . . not good. If there was a silver lining, it was the performance of rookie RB Benny Snell Jr., who rushed for a touchdown and 91 yards.
Pittsburgh didn’t give up much through the air but were victimized by the Ravens on the ground. Even without Mark Ingram II and Lamar Jackson, the Steelers allowed a whopping 223 rushing yards at a clip of 5.1 YPC. A blocked punt and safety in the fourth quarter ended any hope of a comeback and furthermore, capped off a disappointing end to their season. All things considered, though, the Steelers overachieved this year given the injuries they suffered on the roster.
They’ll now turn their focus to getting healthy and retooling in the offseason.
Defining stat: 77 passing yards
What’s next: N/A