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AFC North Recap, Week 14: Browns, Bengals keep pace while Steelers skid continues

The division continues to heat up as the home stretch of the season commences

Los Angeles Rams v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Week 14 saw another near-perfect performance from the AFC North, as three out the four teams emerged with victories. The division remains the only one across the league with no sub-.500 teams and there remains a possibility of three, if not every squad making the playoffs.

The Ravens maintained their multi-game lead atop the standings and are also now in sole possession of the AFC’s No. 1 seed. Cleveland snapped a two-game losing streak to earn their eighth win of the season, giving them lone occupancy of the No. 2 spot in the division.

Elsewhere, the Bengals’ surprising resurgence continued with a second straight victory, putting them in a tie with the Steelers at 7-6. Their playoff hopes remain alive as do Pittsburgh’s, however the Steelers dropped their second game in a row and are trending in the wrong direction.

Updated standings:

  1. Baltimore Ravens 10-3
  2. Cleveland Browns 8-5
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers 7-6
  4. Cincinnati Bengals 7-6

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers had a favorable matchup on-paper heading into Thursday night, facing a reeling two-win Patriots team at home. However, despite New England missing their top offensive playmaker in Rhamondre Stevenson, the Steelers came up short for a second straight on their own turf.

Pittsburgh’s defense surprsingly allowed three touchdown drives to the Bailey Zappe-led Patriots’ offense, putting themselves in an early multiple-possession hole. It took until the three-minute mark in the second quarter for the Steelers, with Mitch Trubisky under center, to find the end zone. They trailed 21-10 at the intermission break.

The Steelers tightened up defensively from there, allowing no points over the final two quarters of play. They forced five punts and reeled in an interception in the third quarter. Trubisky and company only managed one scoring drive in the second half, however, while turning the ball over on downs twice.

Ultimately, the Steelers finished with more first downs and controlled the ball longer than the Patriots. They were worse on fourth down and in the red zone, though, and had less than 300 yards of offense overall. They ran for just 28 yards as a team on 28 carries.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns earned a much-needed victory in Week 14 — and an impressive one at that over the eight-win Jacksonville Jaguars. It was a bit of a rollercoaster performance but still the Browns never trailed in a wire-to-wire effort.

Cleveland’s defense was stout in the first half, as they allowed just one scoring drive in the second quarter after their offense fumbled at their own 12 yard line. Aside from that, the Browns forced six punts and had two interceptions. They led 14-7 at halftime.

In the final two quarters, the Browns forced two more turnovers but also allowed two touchdown drives late, as the Jaguars mounted a late comeback effort. Fortunately, Joe Flacco and company had 17 points up their sleeve. Flacco threw three touchdowns on the day with 311 passing yards, which help compensate for a poor rushing attack showing.

Flacco’s performance was good enough for him to be named the starting quarterback for the remainder of the season. Although the Browns had just 16 first downs and converted on only 4-of-18 third down attempts, they outgained the Jaguars handedly and won the time of possession and turnover battles.

Cincinnati Bengals

For the second straight game, the Bengals found new life with fill-in quarterback Jake Browning under center. Thanks to that and a strong defensive effort, the Bengals pulled away from the Colts with a 20-0 showing in the second half, earning an important 34-14 victory.

Cincinnati had two touchdown drives in the first half on back-to-back possessions. They would have led after two quarters, but Browning was intercepted for a pick-six with just over a minute remaining. That would wind up being Browning’s lone mistake of the day and the Colts’ final time reaching the end zone.

The Bengals’ defense forced two punts and a turnover on downs in the second half, while also securing an interception in the fourth quarter. They scored another set of consecutive touchdowns to open the third quarter, which opened up a quick 14-point advantage.

They weren’t great on third down offensively but had a huge advantage over the Colts in yardage, particularly on the ground. Browning completed 18-of-24 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns while adding another rushing score.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens were given a scare in their first game off the bye week against the Los Angeles Rams. After trailing at halftime and ultimately giving up 31 points, though, the Ravens escaped with a victory — their 10th of the season.

Baltimore’s stout defense had some struggles against a talented Rams’ offense, ceding six total scoring drives, four touchdowns, and 400+ yards. However, the Ravens still outgained the Rams both through the air and on the ground despite possessing the ball for roughly seven less minutes.

The two teams traded blows up until the end of regulation, where a late touchdown from Lamar Jackson to Zay Flowers, followed by a Rams’ field goal, resulted in a 31-31 stalemate. That forced overtime, where wide receiver Tylan Wallace returned a 76-yard punt for a game-winning, walk-off touchdown to end the game.

The Ravens’ passing attack were successful on numerous big plays, with Jackson completing three touchdown passes of 66, 54, and 21 yards. Jackson threw for 316 yards on the day with 70 additional rushing yards, many of which were timely scrambles and key first down pickups.