The rest of the AFC North had such a good time losing last week that they all decided to do it again this week. Cleveland’s defense ruined Hue Jackson’s homecoming. The Ravens have dropped from unbeaten to a losing record. Pittsburgh goes into their bye week on a two game losing streak. And, the Browns are now 0-7. Maybe they’ll win a game soon? Or, maybe not...
Baltimore Ravens fall to New York Jets: 24-16
Believe it or not, the Ravens were once one of the final five unbeaten teams in the NFL. Baltimore has officially lost that early season confidence after four straight losses.
Many people questioned their unbeaten start and those questions have proven valid. The Ravens defeated Cleveland, Buffalo and Jacksonville all in close games. Now Buffalo is 4-3 after firing their offensive coordinator, making the Bills the best team the Ravens beat. At the time, people were impressed given how the Ravens ended last season, but now panic is setting in for the team and fanbase.
The Ravens have won and lost all their games by at the most eight points. In the first three weeks, the Ravens ended up making the game winning play, but in the past four weeks the Ravens have either failed to make that play or made an error that cost them the game.
This week the play that altered the game was a fumble, a recovery and then another fumble. The Jets were up 17-16 with second-and-goal late in the third quarter. Matt Forte fumbled the ball and Timmy Jernigan recovered it in stride, running into his own end zone. Jernigan then decided to run out of the end zone in fear of a safety. He tried to put a move on Brandon Marshall who had the awareness to swipe at the ball being carried by a player who doesn’t have much experience with that, and caused another fumble. The Jets went on to recover the fumble and on the ensuing drive, scored a touchdown that put them up 24-17. There are a lot of people criticizing Jernigan, but when a big guy like that gets a chance to carry the ball in the open field it’s hard for him to decide if it’s best to just go down.
The Ravens struggled running the ball. They only mustered up six yards rushing. That is not a typo, they only managed six yards on 12 carries. Joe Flacco also struggled to put anything together through the air against a team that has struggled with stopping opposing quarterbacks. Flacco finished 25 of 44 with 248 yards and two costly interceptions. The offense failed to score a touchdown, and if it wasn’t for the ball going through the Jets’ punter’s hands resulting in a Baltimore touchdown, it wouldn’t have been much of a game.
The Ravens needed something to stop the bleeding. It is always hard losing four in a row, but this bye week gives the Ravens a chance to soul search a bit and figure out some way to fix the problems their having. They also get a chance to heal up with quite a few players dinged up.
Marty Mornhinweg will also get a chance to establish what he wants out of this offense after taking over a few weeks ago. Obviously, the Ravens would like to have the running game help to balance out the offense. It can’t do that if you can only manage to gain 6 yards on the ground though. This break gives the team a chance to find a way to finally balance this offense that needs it desperately.
After the bye, the Ravens will face the Steelers in a game that could decide who will be in first place in the AFC North.
Cleveland Browns lose to Cincinnati Bengals: 31-17
Jackson knows the Bengals very well. He knows the personnel inside and out. Early in the game it seemed like Jackson’s knowledge was going to lead to a scare for the Bengals.
Jackson rolled out Kevin Hogan, who the team recently added to the active roster due to all the injuries to the quarterback position, and had him run the read option. He was very successful running the ball as he ran for 104 yards on seven carries and scored a touchdown.
However, the Browns’ defense didn’t have anything in store for the Bengals’ offense. That’s an offense that was in large part identical to the one Jackson led in Cincinnati last year. Jeremy Hill had his best performance since his rookie year as he ran for 168 yards on nine carries including a 74 yard touchdown. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green also had a hand in ruining Jackson’s homecoming. Dalton threw for more than 300 yards along with two touchdowns and no turnovers. One of those touchdowns was an improbable Hail Mary catch by A.J. Green right before the half.
If Cleveland can improve its defense, the seeds have been planted for a team that could become more interesting with some experience.
Cody Kessler was knocked out the game this week with a concussion. Kessler has impressed with his performance so far, but he continually opens himself up to hits. The Browns offensive line also has something to do with that.
Hogan, who was initially only planned to play sparingly, took over. He wasn’t bad, but it was clear that once he wasn’t able to run as effectively, he wasn’t going to be able to win the game.
Right now the decision on who will start for Cleveland in Week 8 is up in the air. Kessler says he hopes to be out of concussion protocol by then. Josh McCown may or may not be ready to finally go again. Hogan is the fail safe at this point. If neither of the other two can play, he will start. Cleveland hopes to have Kessler and McCown back by then, but with how much their quarterbacks are getting hit, there is no telling how long they will stay out there.
Rumors surfaced again that Joe Thomas is available for trade. The new bit of information is that the supposed asking price is a second round pick. It doesn’t seem like much for a player of Thomas’ caliber, but the NFL has a long history of valuing draft picks more than players (unless you're trading Sam Bradford).
Jackson has since adamantly denied the claims, but it may not be up to him in the end. The team is looking to go younger, and getting a pick and cap relief wouldn’t hurt. Plus they’d be providing Thomas the chance to play for a winning team.
It is just a rumor and there is a better chance than not that it won’t happen. But, the trade deadline can sometimes be crazy.
Pittsburgh Steelers fall to New England Patriots: 27-16
The outcome wasn’t shocking. No one expected the Steelers to beat the Patriots without Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers did keep it close for awhile though. It was only 14-10 going into halftime, but a long Rob Gronkowski touchdown and LeGarrette Blount grinding the clock down was too much for the Steelers.
Blount’s dominance with 127 rushing yards and two touchdowns was surprising given the Steelers got Ryan Shazier back from injury. It was clear the Steelers defense wasn’t performing up to its standards though. They were missing tackles, taking poor angles, and at times showed a lack of effort. They did start the game strong causing a fumble, but it only led to an interception in the end zone.
Le’Veon Bell was expected to carry a lot of the load with Roethlisberger out, and he certainly did. He carried the ball 21 times for 81 yards and caught 10 passes for 68 yards. He was clearly hampered by the defense trying to take him away, but 149 total yards despite that is impressive.
The Steelers are going into their bye week hoping to come out and end their losing streak against the Ravens. It is also worth noting that despite the Ravens’ poor season in 2015, they still ended up sweeping the Steelers.
All eyes were on Jones on Sunday afternoon. Everyone knew if Pittsburgh had a shot, he would need to play well. He did okay, but not well enough. Jones finished 29 of 47 with 281 yards, a touchdown and interception.
Let’s start with the good. He got the ball to his playmakers. Antonio Brown had 106 yards receiving on seven catches. Bell was also heavily involved in the passing game. He also ended up dropping a beautiful pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey for a touchdown. He even showed flashes of being a competent backup in the NFL.
However, his errors showed up in the redzone as the Steelers scored only one touchdown on four trips to the redzone. Jones also contributed to an empty trip when he threw an interception when he left the ball in the air too long on a pass to Brown. Every point matters to an offense when their starting quarterback is out, and squandering at least three was costly. Three points could have changed play calling by the Patriots to be less conservative, but that is getting into a game of if-and-buts.
The timetable for Roethlisberger’s return is still anyone’s guess. It seems a new expected week of return comes up everyday. Fortunately for the Steelers, they have a bye this week so they don’t have to worry about that quite yet.