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AFC North Recap, Week 13: Ravens big winners on bye week

Taking stock of AFC North action from this past weekend

Cincinnati Bengals v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

As the home stretch of the regular season approaches, the AFC North continues to level out. Some key injuries in recent weeks have changed the landscape of the division and Week 13 brought about some notable developments.

On their bye week, the Ravens emerged as the biggest winners of the weekend. That’s because their lead atop the standings only grew following losses from both the Steelers and Browns, who could have improved to 8-3. Instead, they both dropped to 7-4, giving the Ravens an additional game of cushion between first and second place.

Elsewhere, the Bengals were the lone team to actual win a game this weekend, earning a big upset over the eight-win Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday night. They moved themselves one game behind the Browns and Steelers and improved their standing on the outside looking in of the postseason picture.

Updated standings:

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

Pittsburgh Steelers

Result: Loss to Arizona Cardinals, 10-24

The Steelers entered Sunday as a near-touchdown favorite over the Cardinals, who had just two wins to their name through 12 games. Their on-paper advantage did come to fruition in actuality, though. Instead the Steelers were upset and lost by two touchdowns at home.

Pittsburgh’s offense began the game with an opening-drive field goal but stalled out from there. To close the first half, they punted three straight times before turning the ball over on downs, which negated a 12-play, 79-yard possession drive. Starting quarterback Kenny Pickett then suffered an ankle injury and was replaced by Mitch Trubisky under center.

The Steelers then fumbled and missed a field goal on back-to-back drives early in the third quarter, while the Cardinals used continued momentum to take a 24-3 advantage. The game was delayed due to weather for an extended period of time in the third quarter, but the break in play did nothing to help the Steelers.

In their second game with a new offensive play-caller, the Steelers converted on only 4-of-11 third down attempts and scored on one red zone trip. Former Steelers’ running back James Conner gave his ex-team issues, rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns on 25 attempts.

Cleveland Browns

Result: Loss to Los Angeles Rams, 19-36

The Browns suffered their second consecutive loss, falling to the Rams in Los Angeles after being outscored by two touchdowns in the second half. Cleveland jumped out to an early lead and had the scored tied early in the third quarter, but the Rams pulled away from there.

Joe Flacco made his first start for the Browns at quarterback in-place of the injured Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The 38-year-old veteran threw the ball 44 times and completed 23 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns, with one untimely interception in the fourth quarter.

Flacco and the Browns were actually able to move the ball with some consistency, matching the Rams with 20 total first downs. They converted seven third-down attempts and possessed the ball for almost 10 more minutes. Their average yards per play mark of 4.7 is indicative of a lack of explosive plays, though, and they were ineffective on the ground (87 rushing yards, 3.8 yards per carry).

The Browns had no sacks and just two quarterback hits against Matthew Stafford, who found success through the air against Cleveland’s pass defense. Stafford threw for 279 yards with three passing touchdowns.

Cincinnati Bengals

Result: Win over Jacksonville Jaguars, 34-31

The Bengals faced the daunting task of winning a road primetime game against the Jaguars, who were vying for the No. 1 seed in the AFC at 8-3. Led by a career-best performance from fill-in starting quarterback Jake Browning, Cincinnati was able to emerge victorious after being a nine-point underdog.

After going down 7-0 in the first quarter, the Bengals were able to keep pace with the Jaguars in a back-and-forth affair. There was five total ties throughout the night, which was the most of any game this season across the league. Both teams traded 14-0 runs before back-to-back late field goals resulted in overtime.

Browning and the Bengals’ offense orchestrated a 12-play drive after receiving the ball second in overtime, which led to a game-winning field goal by Evan McPherson. The Bengals’ defense faced backup quarterback C.J. Beathard from the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter onward, as Jaguars’ starter Trevor Lawrence exited late with an ankle injury.

Browning had his best performance to-date, completing 32-of-37 passes for 354 yards and two total touchdowns — one passing and one rushing. The premier highlight was a 76-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who totaled 11 catches for 149 yards on the night.

Cincinnati finished the game with 27 first downs and converted 8-of-14 third down attempts. They fell just nine total yards shy of the 500-yard mark and had a 100% success rate in the red zone on three tries. After scoring only 30 points combined in the two games prior, this 34-point explosion was a welcome surprise.