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AFC North Recap, Week 14: A two-horse race solidified

NFL: DEC 11 Ravens at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This past weekend saw all four AFC North teams play each other in-division. In Pittsburgh, the Ravens hung on to earn a road win over the Steelers, again maintaining their fragile lead atop the standings. In Cleveland, the Bengals avenged their blowout loss to the Browns earlier in the season with a 13-point victory — their fifth in a row.

The Browns and Steelers’ slim playoff hopes took a hit with losses, while the Ravens and Bengals continue their apparent collision course for the AFC North crown.

Updated standings:

  1. Baltimore Ravens 9-4
  2. Cincinnati Bengals 9-4
  3. Cleveland Browns 5-8
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers 5-8

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens

Result: Win over Pittsburgh Steelers, 16-14

The Ravens earned their first victory over the Steelers since 2019, doing so in a predictable gritty, low-scoring fashion. Baltimore took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and lead the rest of the game despite scoring only six more points from there on out.

The return of starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley and running back J.K. Dobbins paid huge dividends for the Ravens in the run game. They rushed for 215 yards as a team, led by Dobbins’ 120-yard effort and Gus Edwards, who ran for 66 yards on 13 carries. 12 of Baltimore’s 18 first downs were picked up on the ground.

Tyler Huntley suffered a concussion in the third quarter, forcing the Ravens to turn to third-string UDFA Anthony Brown at quarterback. The Ravens’ defense bent but did not break throughout the game. They held the Steelers to a measly 66 rushing yards overall and had three interceptions off Mitchell Trubisky, all in their own territory.

Calais Campbell’s block on a 40-yard field goal attempt by Chris Boswell in the fourth quarter was significant. The Steelers had a late touchdown drive but still trailed by two points instead of leading by one. Edwards converted a first down on third-and-four and the Ravens were able to kneel out the clock.

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers

Result: Loss to Baltimore Ravens, 14-16

Winners of two consecutive games in a row, the Steelers came up short in a pivotal divisional matchup for their slim playoff hopes. Pittsburgh couldn’t capitalize enough offensively and were plagued by costly turnovers.

Starting quarterback Kenny Pickett exited the game after the second drive in the first quarter. In his relief, Trubisky orchestrated several drives that moved past midfield but threw three interceptions. Trubisky was picked off on back-to-back drives in the second quarter targeting Pat Freiermuth over the middle of the field.

Pittsburgh’s emerging running game regressed badly in this game, as they rushed for just 65 yards as a team on 20 attempts. Meanwhile, their defense was gashed for over 200 rushing yards on 42 attempts from the Ravens’ offense.

The Steelers had more first downs and total yards than the Ravens, which is usually a winning recipe. However, it’s difficult to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the turnover department. They made things interesting late with a 75-yard touchdown drive but ultimately could not get a stop against the run when they needed to.

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

Cincinnati Bengals

Result: Win over Cleveland Browns, 23-10

The Bengals continued their winning ways in Week 14 and snapped a five-game losing streak against the Browns in the process. Cincinnati started slow offensively, punting on three straight possessions to begin the game. Then, they scored back-to-back touchdowns to enter halftime with a 13-3 lead.

Cincinnati’s defense shut down the Browns’ rushing attack, limiting Cleveland to 75 ground yards as a team on 25 attempts. The Browns moved the ball through the air at times but the Bengals’ defense got stops on 11 of 15 third down attempts.

In the fourth quarter, the Bengals forced an interception followed by back-to-back turnover on downs to close the door on any comeback potential. The Bengals’ passing attack wasn’t as sharp early in the game but despite both Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd suffering injuries, Joe Burrow managed 239 yards through the air with a pair of touchdowns.

In his return from absence, Joe Mixon turned 14 carries into 96 rushing yards, which is his second-highest mark of the season. Inside linebacker Logan Wilson made his presence felt with a whopping 17 total tackles, a quarterback hit and half-sack.

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

Cleveland Browns

Result: Loss to Cincinnati Bengals, 10-23

Cleveland’s recent winning ways against the Bengals were bound to come to an end at some point and Sunday was the fork in the road. The running game is the focal point of the Browns’ offense and when they struggle in that area, it’s difficult for them to find offensive success. That proved to be true even with Deshaun Watson at the quarterback helm.

The Bengals’ defense stifled Nick Chubb to the tune of 34 rushing yards on 14 carries. Watson nearly led the team in rushing yards with 33 of his own, which isn’t a great sign. Kareem Hunt’s role in the Browns’ offense continues to dwindle, surprisingly, as he received just four carries and rushed for six yards.

As a result of playing from behind, Deshaun Watson attempted 42 passes in his second start of the season. He completed 26 of them with a touchdown and interception. Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones continued his strong run of play with a team-high eight receptions for 114 receiving yards.

The Browns gave up an average of 5.2 yards per carry on defense and didn’t generate a ton of pressure on Burrow, recording just one sack and four quarterback hits.