Week 15 of the 2021 NFL season saw a change at the top of AFC North as the Cincinnati Bengals took the lead from the Baltimore Ravens. With the Pittsburgh Steelers winning on Sunday, the Cleveland Browns dropped to fourth in the division with their loss on Monday night. All four teams remain in the thick of the hunt for the division title as they near the finish line.
Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
The Bengals held off the Denver Broncos, 15-10, to improve to 8-6 and take the lead of the AFC North with a tiebreaker over the Ravens.
Defense and field goals helped carry Cincinnati to a narrow victory on Sunday. Kicker Evan McPherson made all three field goals with a long of 58 yards — the longest in franchise history. The only touchdown of the day for the Bengals was a 56-yard pass from quarterback Joe Burrow to wide receiver Tyler Boyd. A week after finding the endzone twice the week prior, rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was held to just one catch for three yards.
Quarterback Drew Lock entered the game for the Broncos following a scary injury to Teddy Bridgewater. Lock scored the only touchdown of the day against Cincinnati’s defense when he connected with wide receiver Tim Patrick for a 25-yard score. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson recorded a sack for the 10th game in a row, putting his season total at 13.
Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
The Ravens entered Sunday’s contest against the Green Bay Packers without a long list of important players, most notably quarterback Lamar Jackson. Despite such an overwhelming handicap, Baltimore nearly pulled off the upset, losing 31-30 after a failed two-point attempt.
Tyler Huntley made his second start of the season in place of the injured Jackson, setting the NFL landscape afire with a valiant four-touchdown performance. Tight end Mark Andrews was continued his monster season against the Packers, catching 10 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns and becoming the first tight end in franchise history to cross 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had his way with the Ravens decimated secondary, despite the ragtag unit effectively taking away his favorite target in Davante Adams through any means necessary. Baltimore — already missing cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, and Chris Westry, as well as both starting safeties Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott — also lost nickelback Tavon Young to a concussion during the game.
For the second time in three weeks, Head Coach John Harbaugh elected to go for the win near the end of regulation by attempting a two-point conversion. After scoring a touchdown to pull the game within one point with 42 seconds left in the game, the pass for Andrews fell incomplete on the two-point attempt.
“That was the right move.”— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 20, 2021
Coach Harbaugh was Wired yesterday vs. the Packers as he talked with players about the decision to go for the two-point conversion at the end of the game. pic.twitter.com/0gaFqfKRw3
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1)
After falling down 13-3 against the Tennessee Titans, the Steelers scored 16 unanswered points on their way to a victory to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Titans made a scene before the start of the game by gathering on Pittsburgh’s logo.
Titans' players, including ex-Steeler Bud Dupree, gathering on the Steelers' logo pre-game. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/PODR5Szsk9— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) December 19, 2021
Tennessee pulled a similar stunt in Baltimore last season, which ended in the Ravens getting the last laugh in the playoffs. The Steelers did not wait for the post-season to get revenge though.
Outside linebacker T.J. Watt notched 1.5 sacks against quarterback Ryan Tannehill, bringing his season total to 17.5 and breaking James Harrison’s single-season sack record with Pittsburgh.
#RP @steelers: A message from @jharrison9292 to @_TJWatt #HereWeGo #Steelers pic.twitter.com/G66JTiMcHt— James Harrison (@jharrison9292) December 19, 2021
Cleveland Browns (7-7)
After being delayed from Saturday, the Browns entered their matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday with an overwhelming 19 players as well as Head Coach Kevin Stefanski absent due to COVID-19. Among those placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list were quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum, meaning third-stringer Nick Mullens received the start for Cleveland.
The Browns still managed to take the Raiders to the wire, losing 16-14 on a last-second 48-yard field goal from Daniel Carlson. Mullens completed 20 of 30 pass attempts for 147 yards and a touchdown to tight end Harrison Bryant. Running back Nick Chubb rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
Defensive end Takkarist McKinley suffered a torn Achilles tendon during the game, ending his first season with the team. The former first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons ends the year with 2.5 sacks. Defensive end Myles Garrett also suffered a groin injury against Las Vegas, leaving his status for Week 16 unknown.
The Browns now have a quick turnaround game against the Packers on Christmas Day this Saturday with a litany of players still on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Rookie first-round cornerback Greg Newsome joined the list on Wednesday.