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AFC North Recap, Week 15: Ravens clinch playoff berth, Bengals and Browns prevail

The AFC North is heating up down the stretch

Minnesota Vikings v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Jeff Dean/Getty Images

With just a few more weeks remaining in the regular season, the AFC North postseason picture continues to heat up. Week 15 saw again saw three out of the four teams in the division win for the second consecutive weekend.

The Steelers were the lone team in the losing column, as they dropped a third straight game to fall to .500. They’re now in sole possession of fourth place and one game behind the Bengals, who extended their winning streak to three and improved to 8-6.

Ahead of both teams is the Browns, who now have nine wins on the year. The Ravens maintained their comfortable lead at No. 1 with their 11th win on Sunday night, punching their ticket to the playoffs in the process.

Updated standings:

  1. Baltimore Ravens 11-3
  2. Cleveland Browns 9-5
  3. Cincinnati Bengals 8-6
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers 7-7

Cincinnati Bengals

Result: Win over Minnesota Vikings, 27-24 (OT)

The Bengals came out on the winning end of an overtime finish for the second time in the past three weeks, this time dispatching the Vikings at home on Saturday. It didn’t come in the same fashion, though, as the Bengals had to erase an 14-point deficit in the second half.

After an opening field goal drive to begin the game, the Bengals’ offense did not score again until early in the fourth quarter. From the first possession onward, they punted three straight times and turned the ball over in the third quarter. t

Then, quarterback Jake Browning and company flipped a switch to overcome a 17-3 hole by scoring touchdowns on three consecutive possessions. The Bengals outscored the Vikings 21-7 in the fourth quarter with drives of eight, 10, and 11 plays, all lasting between three and six minutes. In overtime, Cincinnati forced a turnover on downs, which set up Evan McPherson to connect on a 29-yard field goal to win the game.

The Bengals were ultimately outgained offensively while recording less first downs, but were able to prevail in the end. Browning continued to exceed expectations by completing 29 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns through the air. On the injury front, star wideout Ja’Marr Chase suffered a shoulder injury which could result in a multiple-week absence.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Result: Loss to Indianapolis Colts, 13-30

The Steelers also suited up on Saturday to do battle with the Colts, in a matchup that had playoff implications. Both teams are vying for Wild Card spots and the Colts did themselves many more favors with their performance, cruising to a 17-point win over Pittsburgh.

This marked the third consecutive defeat for the Steelers, whose offensive struggles have prolonged even after firing former offensive coordinator Matt Canada. The Steelers capitalized on a missed field goal and special teams touchdown to take a 13-0 lead by the second quarter, but quickly failed to hold it.

Their defense allowed two touchdown drives before halftime before the Colts added another 10 points in the third quarter, expanding their lead. Meanwhile, the Steelers scored no points during this span — punting the ball away several times, losing two turnovers, and failing to convert a fourth down attempt.

Pittsburgh’s offense had only 13 first downs and just over 200 total yards for the game. They averaged 4.0 yards per play while losing the turnover and time of possession battles decisively. Mason Rudolph took over for Mitch Trubisky at quarterback late in the game.

Cleveland Browns

Result: Win over Chicago Bears, 20-17

Speaking of overcoming deficits, that’s also exactly what the Browns did at home against the Bears. The Browns trailed by multiple possessions late in the game and outscored Chicago by 13 points in the fourth quarter to ultimately win by three points.

It was an especially ugly first half for both teams, with lone touchdown drives sandwiched in between punt after punt and multiple interceptions. Quarterback Joe Flacco was intercepted three times on the day and the Bears scored 14 of their points off of it, seven of which were direct because it was a pick-six.

However, a field goal with just over 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter made it a one-score game and the Browns’ defense tightened up. Cleveland allowed no points after the seven-minute mark of the third quarter, forcing five straight possessions that ended with a punt or turnover.

Flacco led two scoring drives of six and eight plays, which combined for 10 total points, to give the Browns the advantage in the end. Despite their early offensive struggles, the Browns ultimately had more first downs and significantly more yards than the Bears, while forcing three turnovers of their own defensively.

Baltimore Ravens

Result: Win over Jacksonville Jaguars, 23-7

The Ravens avenged a disappointing loss in Jacksonville last season in Week 15, cruising to a 16-point win over the AFC South-leading Jaguars. In doing so, the Ravens won their fifth consecutive game, clinched a postseason berth, and maintained their two-game lead atop the division.

Baltimore only scored two touchdowns on the night but had five scoring possessions in total, as Justin Tucker converted all three of his field goal drives. They were able to score 10 of their 23 points off forced fumbles on quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who lost the ball in the second and fourth quarters.

The Ravens’ league-leading rushing attack totaled over 251 yards on the ground against the Jaguars, who ranked No. 4 in rush defense heading into this matchup. Lamar Jackson led all rushers with 97 rushing yards on 12 carries, followed by Keaton Mitchell (73 yards) and Gus Edwards (58 yards). Mitchell unfortunately suffered a significant knee injury and now set to miss the remainder of the season.

Tight end Isaiah Likely accounted for much of Jackson’s passing production, as he totaled five receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown grab. The Ravens finished just shy of the 400-yard mark on offense and had 25 first downs compared to 16 by the Jaguars.