As the midseason point nears, Week 8 brought about some notable developments in the AFC North. The hierarchy remains the same as it was following last weekend, but the circumstances have changed.
The Steelers and Browns each lost their first games since Week 4 and had two-game win streaks snapped. As a result, they dropped to 4-3 but remain No. 2 and No. 3 in the division by virtue of tiebreaker. Now tied with them in terms of record, though, are the Bengals, who their third consecutive game.
The Steelers’ matchup against the Jaguars played out early like most of their games so far this season. They struggled mightily offensively in the first half but a few forced turnovers kept them within striking distance. This time, though, they were not able to flip the switch and make a late comeback.
Pittsburgh went three-and-out on three straight drives to begin the game before finally getting on the board with a field goal. They trailed 9-3 at halftime after Chris Boswell missed a 61-yard field goal attempt at the end of the second quarter. Kenny Pickett sustained a rib injury on the final drive of the half and was replaced by Mitch Trubisky.
Things didn’t get too much better with Trubisky at the helm, as the Steelers again punted twice in a row to begin the third quarter. Their lone touchdown drive proceeded that to cut the deficit to 17-10, but their comeback hopes faded following an interception and turnover on downs from there.
The Steelers were inefficient on third downs, converting only 3-of-12 attempts, while rushing for just 70 yards and averaging 3.9 yards per carry overall. Pittsburgh possessed the ball for roughly nine less minutes than the Jaguars and were outgained by over 100 combined yards.
The Browns dropped a winnable game against one of the NFC’s top teams, who the Ravens will face next week. After falling behind the Seahawks 14-0 early, Cleveland proceeded to go on a 20-3 run and took the lead heading into the fourth quarter.
With just over two minutes remaining in regulation, things took a worst-case scenario turn for the Browns. On third-and-short, quarterback P.J. Walker’s pass attempt for Amari Cooper was intercepted at the Seahawks’ 43 yard line. Cleveland’s defense gave up a quick 57 yards in just five plays and Seattle scored a go-ahead touchdown with 37 seconds left.
Prior to this late turn of events, the Browns put themselves in a position to win a third straight game. They had more first downs and yards than the Seahawks, ran 20 more total plays, and won the time of possession by more than 13 minutes.
Walker completed less than 50% of his 31 pass attempts was intercepted twice. As they often do, the Browns leaned into their rushing attack with mixed results. Led by their trio of Kareem Hunt, Pierre Strong Jr., and Jerome Ford, the Browns rushed a total of 40 times for 155 yards.
The Bengals passed their biggest test of the season thus far with flying colors, scoring 31 points against the five-win 49ers and winning by 14 points. It was Cincinnati’s third consecutive victory after starting 1-3. They looked rejuvenated following a bye week.
Joe Burrow and company scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives to begin the afternoon. Then, two more back-to-back touchdowns later in the second half expanded their lead to two possessions. Burrow completed 28-of-32 throws on the day for 283 yards with three touchdown passes. 100 of his yards and 10 completions went to Ja’Marr Chase.
The Bengals had 29 first downs with 17 through the air and 10 on the ground. Their defense gave up over 400 yards of offense, much of which came in the second half, but forced three key turnovers — which made the difference. Brock Purdy’s interception to Logan Wilson early in the fourth quarter put the Bengals firmly in the red zone and they needed just one play to go up 24-10.
The Ravens followed up a dominant victory in Week 7 with another win and 30+ offensive performance, albeit not quite as inspiringly. After following behind 7-0 early against the Cardinals, the Ravens eventually took the lead just before halftime and never relinquished it.
Baltimore’s uncharacteristically allowed an opening-drive touchdown but settled in after that. They forced two turnovers on downs and had two interceptions, both of which the Ravens scored touchdowns after immediately.
Leading by 17 points in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals were able to score back-to-back touchdowns and a field goal to trim their ultimate deficit to seven points. Because of this late run, the Ravens ultimately were outgained, lost the time of possession battle, and had one less first down than Arizona.
No Ravens’ pass-catcher had more than 40 receiving yards as it was a modest day through the air for Lamar Jackson and company. Led by Gus Edwards, who rushed for 80 yards with a single-game career-high in touchdowns (three), the Ravens were able to wear down the Cardinals’ run defense as the game progressed.