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AFC North Recap: Week 14

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Week 14 of the 2021 NFL season is officially in the books. The AFC North remains wide open for the taking after only one team from the division took home a victory this week. The Baltimore Ravens remain at the top, while the Cleveland Browns moved into second place and the Pittsburgh Steelers fell to the bottom.

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1)

The Steelers kicked off the week on Thursday Night Football with a 36-28 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

After falling down 29-0, Pittsburgh attempted to make the largest regular-season comeback in NFL history but fell just short in the end. Trailing 36-28 with just over two minutes remaining in regulation, the Steelers had one shot at the end zone after driving down the field. With three seconds left, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threaded the needle to tight end Pat Freiermuth in the endzone before safety Harrison Smith dislodged the ball.

Wide receiver Chase Claypool was the talk of the internet following a play where the second-year wideout wasted valuable seconds on the clock by celebrating after catching a pass for a first down.

Defensively, Pittsburgh was unable to stop Minnesota’s rushing attack as they allowed running back Dalvin Cook to rumble for 205 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries.

The Steelers lost more than just the game as outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith both exited Thursday’s game with injuries. Watt suffered a groin injury while Highsmith is dealing with a contusion above the knee, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Head Coach Mike Tomlin noted that both pass rushers have a chance to play this Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

The Ravens suffered quite the scare on Sunday when quarterback Lamar Jackson exited the game against the Browns on a cart with an ankle injury. Baltimore — led by backup quarterback Tyler Huntley — lost 24-22 after a valiant comeback effort.

Per Head Coach John Harbaugh, the plans are currently for Jackson to play on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

Huntley has proven himself as a viable backup to Jackson in the two games he has played this season. Against the Browns, the second-year undrafted quarterback completed 27 of 38 pass attempts for 270 yards and one touchdown, although two costly fumbles marred an otherwise solid performance. Huntley particularly had a connection with rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who crossed 100 receiving yards for the first time in a game this season with a pair of spectacular downfield grabs highlighting his day.

The Ravens effectively shut down Cleveland’s vaunted rushing attack for the second time in a three-week span as they held running back Nick Chubb to 59 yards on the ground even without defensive end Calais Campbell for much of the contest. Campbell exited the game early with what Harbaugh later called a “soft tissue injury.”

Cleveland Browns (7-6)

The Browns survived a comeback attempt on Sunday to stay alive in the race for the AFC North crown.

Defensive end Myles Garrett continued his Defensive Player of the Year campaign against Baltimore with a strip-sack on Huntley that he returned for a touchdown. It was cornerback Denzel Ward who made perhaps the biggest play of the day, however, when he tackled Bateman short of the sticks on fourth down following a successful onside kick from the Ravens.

Following Sunday’s win, several players for Cleveland have been placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, including key players such as left tackle Jedrick Wills, guard Wyatt Teller, wide receiver Jarvis Landry, and tight end Austin Hooper. The Browns have a short turnaround with a game against the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday. Running back Kareem Hunt and cornerback Troy Hill both suffered injuries against Baltimore and are expected to miss this week as well.

Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)

For the second week in a row, the Bengals failed to take control of the division with a Ravens’ loss as they lost 26-23 in overtime to the San Francisco 49ers.

Rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase shined with his best game in over a month as the fifth-overall pick racked up 77 receiving yards and two touchdowns on five catches — putting him over 1,000 receiving yards for the season with four games left to go.

Defensive end Trey Hendrickson left Sunday’s contest early with a back injury but appeared to avoid major injury, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

Head Coach Zac Taylor expressed hopefulness that the star pass rusher would only be limited this week.

Veteran right tackle Riley Reiff also left the game with an ankle injury that he has been dealing with for weeks.