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State of the AFC North: Pittsburgh falling fast; Ravens lead division; Hue knows best

The Steelers dropped their fourth straight game, despite playing pretty well. The Ravens lead a close divisional battle, but can they hold onto it? Hue Jackson knows how to motivate his players.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Pittsburgh Steelers Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals couldn’t have asked for a much better situation in the AFC North division standings leading up to the team’s Monday night game. The Steelers lost in heart breaking fashion to the Cowboys, dropping their fourth straight game to fall under .500. The Ravens beat the Browns, but it probably would’ve taken a small miracle for that not to happen and they now have control of the AFC North.

The Ravens sit atop the division at 5-4 and have a one game lead over the Steelers who are now 4-5. This is where the the Bengals’ tie comes in handy. The Bengals are currently 3-4-1, and if they win they will move into second place in the division over the Steelers. There is a long drawn out explanation for why that is, but the easiest way to put it is that a tie counts as a half of a win. The Bengals are technically 3.5-4, with that logic, and a win on Monday night would make thm 4.5-4. Even if the Bengals lose they would only be a half a game out of second place. Either way, the Bengals matchup with the Ravens in two weeks will be that much more important, considering how close this division is.

The Steelers (4-5) lost to the Cowboys (8-1): 30-35

Pittsburgh let down by coaching and defense

The Steelers’ game against the Cowboys was an instant classic. Someone had to lose in the end. Fortunately for Bengals fans, it was the Steelers. Three things had a huge impact on this game.

The Steelers’ gambles not paying off

I’m not sure how Chris Boswell feels about his team never wanting to attempt an extra point after any of their touchdowns. He did go two for three on field goals during the game, but the Steelers must have seen something in the Cowboys goal line defense to make them attempt four unsuccessful two-point conversions. Clearly, going for two didn’t work out for the Steelers on Sunday. The score was a larger deficit than four points, but it changed the way the game played out.

The Steelers were down 29-24. They needed a touchdown to get the lead. They got it, but they easily got into field goal range and could’ve wound down the clock before kicking the field goal to possibly win. Although the fake spike for a touchdown that they successfully accomplished in the closing minutes of the game makes for a better story.

Pittsburgh’s defense not pulling it’s weight

Throughout the Steelers’ four game losing streak, their defense has had lapses where they simply give up huge plays. Early in the season, the offense was able to help make up for that, but in these last four games, it has hurt them. The ‘splash plays’ as they are often referred to for the Cowboys included the Ezekiel Elliott 83 yard screen pass for a touchdown, a 50 yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant and of course the 32 yard run by Elliott to put the nail in the coffin with nine seconds remaining in the game. That is 21 points scored from outside the red zone and two of them were plays the Cowboys weren’t even across midfield for. That hurts your team. The Steelers should feel good if they score 30 points, but it wasn’t enough this week.

The Cowboys offensive line

Bengals fans know all about the Cowboys offensive line. It’s not a secret that it is the best line in football. People are talking about how great Elliott has been during his rookie season, and he is talented, but look at some of his big runs. Sometimes Elliott doesn’t even get touched on his way to scoring. The 83 yard screen pass was set up by outstanding blocking down field by his offensive line and wide receivers. Elliott is displaying amazing vision, but his offensive line deserves real kudos for the job they’ve done all season.

The Baltimore Ravens (5-4) beat the Cleveland Browns (0-10): 28-7

Jackson knows his players

The Browns had a head scratching moment during their 10th straight loss of the season on Thursday night. Hue Jackson pulled Cody Kessler and the Browns went with Josh McCown the much of the rest of the way, who didn’t fair any better, throwing two touchdowns. In fact, he actually played worse.

This was a weird move considering Jackson never did anything like this with Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. There were a few times he could have sat Dalton, and people would’ve been excited about it early in his career.

What this move signifies more is Jackson knowing how to motivate his players. He knew Dalton needed a strong supporter on his side. He also knew how to push Kessler’s buttons. The reason he pulled him was because he was tired of seeing him “miss plays.” That message seemed to resonate with Kessler.

“Yeah, it motivates you to want to be better,” Jackson told “It motivates you to keep working hard for that to happen. For me, it was ‘if I’m in there I’m going to do everything I can, work as hard as I can and if I come out, I’m going to be the best teammate I can and support the guys.’ It just motivates me to continue to work harder and be that much better.”

Kessler was 11 for 18 for 91 yards and a touchdown, but he failed to push the ball down field like Jackson wanted him to. Maybe this will lead to Kessler adjusting his game and allowing Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor to showcase their talents.

Baltimore takes lead in important division race

The Ravens improved to 5-4 with their second win over the Browns on the season. The division race is becoming more important than in other years. The past few years you could probably count at least one AFC North team as a Wild Card team, but this year that’s highly unlikely.

The AFC West currently has three teams with seven wins who have quite the edge on the Wild Card race. Not to mention the Dolphins are 5-4 and the Titans are 5-5 behind the 6-3 Texans in the AFC South. This all means that the only route for the Ravens, Steelers or Bengals to reach the postseason will be winning the division.

The Ravens are currently on top, but they will have to earn it with their remaining schedule. They play the Cowboys next week, followed by the Patriots, Eagles, and Dolphins who are now 5-4 (all the sudden that Bengals win over the Dolphins looks more impressive); they also play the Steelers for the second time and the Bengals twice. That is a tough stretch of games. The Ravens went 5-4 through the easier half of their schedule, and they may wish they had a shot and finishing a few of those games stronger come the end of the season.