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AFC North Recap: Week 1

Minnesota Vikings v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The first week of the 2021 NFL season is officially in the books. Two teams from the AFC North emerged victorious to start the season, while the other two fell just short in the two best games of the week.

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)

The Steelers came out on top against the Bills by a score of 23-16 in an ugly, defensive battle. Concerns regarding Pittsburgh’s offense featuring an almost entirely new offensive line were not eased on Sunday. It was the defense and special teams that pulled this game out for the Steelers.

Pittsburgh’s ferocious pass rush, led by outside linebacker T.J. Watt, made life extremely difficult for quarterback Josh Allen. The 2020 MVP candidate was limited to just one touchdown on a day with 51 pass attempts. It was a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown that made the biggest difference in the game, however.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 188 yards and one touchdown, but like Allen, struggled throughout the game. The offensive line of the Steelers was unable to open holes for first-round rookie running back Najee Harris as he averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on 16 rushes.

Cincinnati Bengals (1-0)

The Bengals won a thriller in overtime against the Vikings, 27-23. Quarterback Joe Burrow laid to rest any concerns after returning from a season-ending ACL injury.

Despite being sacked five times, Burrow had a solid day through the air, throwing for 261 yards and two touchdowns on 27 attempts. Rookie first-round wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase made everyone forget his preseason struggles as he caught five passes for 101 yards and a deep touchdown in his debut. Running back Joe Mixon had a strong day as well, rushing for 127 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.

Defensive end B.J. Hill had two sacks on quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cincinnati traded for the 2018 third-round pick from the Giants in August.

Cleveland Browns (0-1)

After jumping out to an early lead, the Browns could not prevent the Chiefs from marching back. Cleveland went blow-for-blow with Kansas City until a fumble by running back Nick Chubb swung the fate of the game, leading to a 33-29 loss.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield played an efficient game until throwing a game-losing interception with just over a minute left in regulation. The Browns ran the ball effectively on offense for much of the contest, but crucial mistakes cost them the game in the end.

Patrick Mahomes torched Cleveland’s defense for 337 yards and three touchdowns, including a 75-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyreek Hill while the Browns led by nine in the fourth quarter.

Baltimore Ravens (0-1)

The Ravens opened the season on the wrong foot with a 33-27 overtime loss to the Raiders on Monday Night Football. In the end, Baltimore could not overcome poor pass blocking and critical mistakes on both sides of the ball.

The new-look offensive line struggled mightily against defensive ends Maxx Crosby and former Raven Yannick Ngakoue. The duo of left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right tackle Alejandro Villanueva allowed 19 pressures on the night, according to PFF. Quarterback Lamar Jackson made some incredible plays despite this, including a dazzling highlight-reel touchdown throw to wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Jackson was not without fault, however, as he fumbled twice in the game, including in overtime.

Baltimore’s defense started the night strong. Slowly over the course of the game, however, quarterback Derek Carr found a rhythm and the defense was unable to contain tight end Darren Waller. In the end, the defense allowed a walk-off touchdown to wide receiver Zay Jones, who was wide-open behind the defense in overtime.