Week 12 of the NFL season featured two AFC North showdowns and with them a little more clarity at the top of the divisional standings.
Baltimore Ravens (8-3)
Despite a four-interception performance from quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Ravens staved off the Browns to win 16-13 on Sunday Night Football in an ugly, physical affair that ended with Baltimore remaining on top of the division while also taking control of the top seed in the AFC with an 8-3 record.
In a game that neither offense seemingly wanted to win, the Ravens’ defense stepped up with one of their best performances of the season, completely shutting down Cleveland’s No. 1 rushing attack and pressuring the quarterback while providing sticky coverage for much of the night. Running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for a measly 36 yards on the ground. Baltimore also forced and recovered two fumbles.
For the third game in a row, the Ravens’ offense struggled to put points on the board. Jackson’s four interceptions were the most in a single game throughout his time in the NFL. Amid perhaps the worst performance of his professional career, Jackson still flashed his superstar ability on the team’s lone touchdown drive when he connected with tight end Mark Andrews on two separate passes while under pressure. First was a deep pass that the reliable tight end was able to haul in with one hand despite being interfered with on the play.
This counted btw.— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) November 29, 2021
Tune in on NBC! pic.twitter.com/ayAz53dP95
Jackson’s next pass to Andrews was a touchdown. While evading multiple defenders, Jackson uncorked the ball to Andrews in the endzone, even with defensive end Myles Garrett hitting his arm in the process.
In a moment of pure respect and sportsmanship between two of the NFL’s brightest stars, the leading Defensive Player of the Year candidate could only shake Jackson’s hand following the play.
Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)
The Bengals continue to gun for the top spot in the AFC North after a 41-10 routing of the Steelers on Sunday.
As has been the case in many games thus far this season, running back Joe Mixon was the star of the show for Cincinnati’s offense. The fifth-year back carried the football 28 times for a total of 165 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Tee Higgins was the leading receiver this week with 114 receiving yards and one touchdown on six targets. Rookie Ja’Marr Chase was held to under 50 receiving yards for the fourth week in a row after Pittsburgh Head Coach Mike Tomlin talked about the budding superstar earning the respect of opposing defenses.
Weeks 1-7, #Bengals WR Ja'Marr Chase had 8 rec for 354 yds on deep passes. Has 0 deep catches since. #Steelers' Mike Tomlin says that's "plays on tape." Talent recognized, adjustments made: "Seems like there's a young talented WO that takes the league by storm in Sept every year"— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) November 23, 2021
The Bengals’ defense left their stamp on the game as well, sacking quarterback Ben Roethlisberger three times, intercepting him twice, recovering a fumble, and holding rookie first-round running back Najee Harris to just 23 rushing yards on eight carries. Cornerback Mike Hilton, who left the Steelers this offseason, hauled in an interception from his former quarterback and returned it for a touchdown — the first pick-six of his career.
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5-1)
Pittsburgh’s November slump continued on Sunday with their blowout loss to Cincinnati — leaving them with only one win for the month.
Quarterback play remains a problem for the Steelers as Roethlisberger’s physical decline becomes more apparent every week. The 18-year veteran quarterback committed three turnovers while only throwing for one touchdown on the day. Pittsburgh was also unable to generate anything on the ground, rushing for a total of 51 yards.
For the third week in a row, the Steelers allowed over 150 rushing yards on defense. One of the only bright spots defensively was safety Minkah Fitzpatrick snagging his first interception of the season after returning from the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Following the loss, Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Chase Claypool had interesting comments regarding the team’s practice methods on Monday.
Minkah Fitzpatrick said he believes the Steelers D has to change what they do during the week -- things like taking more reps in practice, moving faster in walkthrough etc.— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) November 29, 2021
Asked what could be done to help improve Steelers’ practice, Chase Claypool suggested playing music.— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) November 29, 2021
Claypool: “We have music in the warm ups and that, so it's fun. People are dancing, having fun. So I think maybe music would make practice more more fun and little more uptempo.”
Both Tomlin and defensive end Cameron Heyward were asked about Claypool’s comments.
Mike Tomlin is of course asked about Chase Claypool's suggestion that #Steelers practice could be more fun, and feature music. He says, "Claypool plays wideout and I’ll let him do that. I'll formulate the practice approach, and that division of labor is probably appropriate."— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) November 30, 2021
Cam Heyward responded today on the DVE Morning Show to Chase Claypool’s play-music-at-practice suggestion: “I hope he was kidding because as soon as he said it I was literally about to rip the speaker out. That is not what we need right now. It’s X’s & O’s and it’s execution.”— Mike Prisuta (@DVEMike) November 30, 2021
At 5-5-1 and with Baltimore next on the schedule, Pittsburgh is in danger of falling out of contention for the AFC North if they cannot stop their recent skid.
On Monday, it was announced that star outside linebacker T.J. Watt was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list ahead of their Week 13 game against the Ravens.
And… the #Steelers announce TJ Watt has been placed on the COVID-19 Reserve List.— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) November 29, 2021
Hopefully he’s symptom free and feeling fine.
Cleveland Browns (6-6)
The Browns' recent struggles, particularly on offense, continued on Sunday night.
In their 16-10 loss to Baltimore, Cleveland’s offense struggled to move the ball despite the defense forcing four turnovers and giving the offense multiple opportunities to put points on the board. On paper, the Browns No. 1 rushing attack had a massive advantage over a Ravens’ defense that was without defensive end Calais Campbell, especially with the return of Hunt to rejoin Chubb in the backfield. With quarterback Baker Mayfield dealing with multiple injuries this season, Cleveland’s offense needed the rushing attack to carry the load. Instead, the Browns ended the game with just 40 yards on the ground and a total of 262 yards as well as two turnovers.
Cleveland’s only touchdown of the game was a controversial catch by tight end David Njoku. After initially ruling it a catch for a touchdown, replay appeared to show the ball touch the ground. After further review, the touchdown stood due to a lack of clear evidence to overturn the call.
The Browns’ offensive line — the clear strength of the team — lost a key piece early in the game when All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin exited the game with an injury. In his first game back from an elbow injury that landed him on injured reserve at the start of the month, it was revealed that Conklin’s season was over with a torn patella tendon.
Talk of benching Mayfield in favor of backup Case Keenum has only increased following Sunday’s game, with some in favor of doing so for Mayfield’s health, and others for the belief that the veteran journeyman gives the team a better chance to win.
Head Coach Kevin Stefanski was asked if this was a possibility but quickly shut the proposition down.
#Browns Kevin Stefanski, asked if a change at quarterback was a possibility, says:— Camryn Justice (@camijustice) November 29, 2021
"Let me ask you a question, why would we do that?... No, we're not doing that."