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AFC North Recap, Week 2: Ravens seize early momentum, Steelers rebound

Rivalry week brought some early separation in the division

Syndication: The Enquirer Albert Cesare/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Week 2 in the AFC North saw cross-divisional matchups around the board. The Ravens and Bengals faced off for the third time in the past four games dating back to last year, with Baltimore emerging victorious to improve to 2-0. The Bengals are now 0-2 for a second straight season as their trend of September struggles continues.

On Monday night, the Steelers bounced back at home with a gritty primetime win over the Browns. Both teams are now 1-1 as the Ravens are the only undefeated squad remaining in the division.

Updated standings:

  1. Baltimore Ravens 2-0
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers 1-1
  3. Cleveland Browns 1-1
  4. Cincinnati Bengals 0-2

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns

Result: Loss to Pittsburgh Steelers, 22-26

The Browns were box score victors on Monday night, besting the Steelers in a number of categories including 11 more first downs, 153 more yards, and roughly an 11-minute advantage in time of possession. However, they lost the turnover battle and coughed the ball up four times, which proved to be an insurmountable difference-maker.

The night began with a Deshaun Watson pick-six just seconds into the game, which put the Browns into an early hole. They battled back, though, and kept within striking distance for the remainder of the contest. Despite gaining a 22-19 lead in the second half and holding it into the fourth quarter, a costly fumble returned for a touchdown late was the backbreaker.

With just under seven minutes remaining, Watson was stripped of the football for the second time and T.J. Watt scooped-and-scored to give the Steelers a four-point lead. The Browns quickly punted on the next possession followed by a turnover on downs, ending their comeback effort.

Cleveland’s defense allowed only 255 total yards, nine first downs, and one touchdown. It was Watson’s turnover struggles and the two defensive touchdowns for the Steelers that were too much to overcome. The biggest story of the game was star running back Nick Chubb exiting early after suffering a gruesome leg injury, which is likely season-ending. In his relief, backup Jerome Ford recorded over 130 scrimmage yards and a touchdown.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers

Result: Win over Cleveland Browns, 26-22

The Steelers’ offense struggled to find its footing for the second straight week. They scored on only three drives for a total of 13 points, gained nine first downs, and converted on 4-of-14 third down attempts. They turned the ball over twice in the first quarter, too.

Usually, this is not a recipe for a victory. However, it matters little how your offense plays when your defense scores twice and forces four turnovers, while posting 11 quarterback hits and six sacks. That’s exactly what the Pittsburgh’s defense did in a big bounce-back performance following Week 1.

The edge rusher duo of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith combined for 11 tackles, two sacks, three tackles-for-loss, and six quarterback hits. More importantly, Highsmith returned an opening-play interception 30 yards for a touchdown and forced a fumble in the fourth quarter — which Watt returned 16 yards for a go-ahead score.

It was a dominating performance from this tandem, along with a host of others. The Steelers, who possessed the ball for nearly 11 less minutes, trailed at several points in the game. Despite punting on four straight possessions in the second half, they managed to squeak out a win to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole.

Syndication: The Enquirer Albert Cesare/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Baltimore Ravens

Result: Win over Cincinnati Bengals, 27-24

The Ravens earned a wire-to-wire victory in Cincinnati, outplaying their divisional counterpart despite being short-handed with several starters absent. This is the second straight game the Ravens scored 25+ points to begin the season, but their offense looked much smoother and more efficient — even against a tougher defense.

A 13-play touchdown drive set the tone to begin the day for Baltimore. They led 13-10 at halftime and expanded their lead with back-to-back touchdowns in the second half of 62 and 75 yards, respectively. The Ravens only punted twice and could have an additional scoring possession in the first quarter but Justin Tucker missed a 59-yard field goal.

With 178 yards rushing on 4.8 yards per carry, the Ravens were able to control the clock and preserve their lead late by extending drives. Lamar Jackson had his most efficient performance in recent memory completing 73% of 33 passes for two touchdowns, with no interceptions, and 54 crucial rushing yards.

Down their best two defensive backs in the secondary, the Ravens’ defense performed admirably. They allowed two long touchdown drives in the second half but forced three punts and had a key red zone interception in the third quarter. That turnover, forced by fill-in starter Geno Stone at free safety, was a turning point, as it led directly to a touchdown.

Syndication: The Enquirer Cara Owsley/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Cincinnati Bengals

Result: Loss to Baltimore Ravens, 24-27

The Bengals’ offense picked up where it left off from Week 1 early in this game, which was not a good thing. Joe Burrow and company had two quick three-and-outs in the first quarter before an 18-yard punt return touchdown by Charlie Jones tied the game at 7-7. They trailed by only three points at halftime despite being outplayed in most facets.

With a chance to take the lead and capitalize on a long drive to begin the third quarter, Burrow’s red zone pass attempt to Tee Higgins was intercepted and returned 36 yards the other way. The Bengals’ allowed a deep 52-yard completion on the next play and a touchdown three plays later, where their deficit increased to 10 points.

Cincinnati’s offense woke up more later in the second half with two long scoring drives to keep themselves in striking range. However, it did not matter in the end, as the Ravens ran the clock out with two first down conversions around the final two minute mark.

The Bengals converted 10-of-15 third down attempts but were outgained 415 to 282 overall and lost the time of possession battle by more than six minutes. Trailing for all of the second half, they ultimately ran the ball just 15 times. Burrow, who threw 42 passes for 222 yards, re-aggravated his training camp calf injury late in the fourth quarter.