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AFC North roundup: Steelers make it 3 in a row

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Baltimore and Cincinnati try to keep the pressure on surging Pittsburgh.

Minnesota Vikings v Cleveland Browns
DeShone Kizer
Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Pittsburgh showed why it is the class of the AFC North once again when it notched its third-straight victory with a 20-15 win at Detroit.

Cincinnati and Baltimore both at least kept a little pressure on the Steelers with home victories, while Cleveland played Minnesota tough for three quarters before running out of steam.

The Ravens crushed Miami 40-0 on Thursday night, while the Bengals persevered in a 24-23 win over Indianapolis. The Vikings overcame the Browns’ challenge in London by a final score of 33-16.

The Steelers broke open a tight game when rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster took a short pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on third-and-9 at his own 3-yard line and turned it into a 97-yard touchdown. Smith-Schuster caught the ball in stride over the middle and ran untouched into the end zone.

The extra point gave Pittsburgh a 20-12 lead, and its defense did the rest. Detroit took the ensuing kickoff and marched all the way to the Steelers’ 1-yard line, but could not punch it in. The Lions had to settle for a 19-yard field goal from Matt Prater, his fifth of the game.

On Detroit’s very next possession, quarterback Matt Stafford his Golden Tate on a 34-yard pass play that moved the Lions deep into Pittsburgh territory, but Tate inexplicably fumbled without being touched, and the Steelers took over on their own 24.

Detroit had one final chance when Stafford found Eric Ebron open for a 44-yard gain that moved the ball to the Pittsburgh 11-yard line at the two-minute warning, but Stafford’s fourth-and-7 pass fell incomplete.

Stafford finished the day with 27 completions in 45 attempts for 411 yards and no touchdowns. Roethlisberger went 17 of 31 for 317 and a score. Smith-Schuster had seven receptions for 193 yards. Le’Veon Bell was held to 76 yards on 25 carries.

The Bengals were lucky to come away with a victory over a heretofore punchless Indianapolis squad that came into the game ranked near the bottom of the league in both offense and defense.

Cincinnati trailed 23-17 with just over seven minutes to play when defensive end Carlos Dunlap batted a Jacoby Brissett pass into the air, caught it and returned it 16 yards for the deciding touchdown. Chris Smith got pressure on Brissett late to force an incompletion and end the game.

Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton finished with 17 completions on 29 attempts for 243 yards and two touchdowns, including a 25-yard scoring strike to rookie Josh Malone in his first game on the active roster. Dalton also hooked up with running back Joe Mixon that covered 67 yards and gave the Bengals a first down at the Indianapolis 3-yard line.

Baltimore finally found some offense and lost its quarterback in the process.

Joe Flacco, the 31st-rated quarterback in the NFL coming in, was having the kind of precision day he used to have, completing 10 of 15 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown, good for an overall rating of 107.9. Then, Flacco was knocked out of the game after a brutal hit by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso and was immediately placed in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

Baltimore was leading 14-0 at the time Flacco was lost, and went on to a 40-0 pounding of the Miami Dolphins on Monday night football.

The Raven’s defense stepped up once again and limited the Dolphins to just 196 yards of total offense. Miami was without the services of quarterback Jay Cutler, and backup Matt Moore proved once again why he will never be more than a backup as he completed 25 of 44 passes for only 176 yards and two interceptions.

Middle linebacker C.J. Mosley continued to pace Baltimore’s defensive charge when he returned an interception 63 yards for a touchdown. Alex Collins gave the Ravens exactly what they were looking for on the ground when he rushed for 113 yards on 18 carries, an average of 6.3 yards per carry.

DeShone Kizer actually looked good for the Browns, at least for a half, before the Vikings’ defense flexed its muscles. Kizer began by completing eight of his first 10 passes for 102 yards and scored on a one-yard run with 40 seconds left before the half to give Cleveland a 13-9 lead.

But the Browns’ defense let Minnesota move from its own 24-yard line to the Cleveland 16, where a Kai Forbath field goal sent the Vikings into halftime trailing 13-12. Cleveland managed to keep things close through the third quarter, and entered the final period trailing by only a touchdown at 23-16.

After the hot start, Kizer went just 10 of 24 the rest of the way, and he wound up completing 18 of 34 passes for 179 yards.

Isaiah Crowell turned in a solid performance on the ground for the Browns, finishing with 11 carries for 64 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown run that gave Cleveland a 6-0 lead with less than four minutes gone in the game. But his fumble on the first play of the third quarter led to another Forbath field goal that put the Vikings up, 15-13.

Cleveland’s defense more than held its own against Minnesota in the early going until the lapse at the end of the half. The Browns regrouped with another strong showing in the third quarter but ran out of steam late. Middle linebacker Joe Schobert led the defensive charge with 11 solo tackles and one pass defensed. Defensive end Carl Nassib picked up the team’s only sack.

Here’s a look at the updated standings:

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2, 3-0 in division, 5-1 in AFC)
  2. Baltimore Ravens (4-4, 2-1 in division, 4-2 in AFC)
  3. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4, 1-2 in division, 3-3 in AFC)
  4. Cleveland Browns (0-8, 0-3 in division, 0-7 in AFC)