Baltimore and Cleveland are the odds-on favorites to win the AFC North division title this year. But it sure didn’t look that way after the smoke cleared Monday night.
The Ravens and Browns both suffered season-opening defeats, and it is Cincinnati and Pittsburgh who stand atop the AFC North standings after Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season.
The Bengals upset visiting Minnesota 27-24 in overtime Sunday. And the Steelers one-upped them by going to Buffalo and knocking off the defending AFC East champions by a 23-16 count.
Cleveland jumped out to a healthy lead at Kansas City but could not hold on, falling by a 33-29 count, while Baltimore’s injury-plagued offense could not string together enough plays to weather a Las Vegas assault, and fell to the Raiders in overtime by a score of 33-27.
Turn back the clock to those thrilling days of yesteryear, those days when defense ruled the roost in Pittsburgh. Well, those days may be back.
The Steeler defense put on Pro Bowl quarterback Josh Allen and Ben Roethlisberger and company did enough to pull off a come-from-behind victory over Buffalo.
Pittsburgh dug its way out of a 10-0 hole by scoring 20 unanswered points, including a blocked punt that Ulysees Gilbert picked up at the 9 and run in untouched for a score.
T.J. Watt, who recently became the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player after signing a four-year, $112 million contract extension, led a swarming Pittsburgh defense with two sacks and a forced fumble. And the Steelers stopped the Bills twice on fourth-down plays on Buffalo’s first two possessions of the second half.
After being held to just 53 yards and three first downs in the first half, Roethlisberger led Pittsburgh to scores on each of their first four possessions in the second half, finished 18 of 32 for 188 yards and a touchdown. Allen was 30 of 51 for 270 yards and a touchdown, but was sacked three times and lost a fumble.
Not so fast
Things were looking pretty good for the Cleveland Browns when they jumped out to a 22-10 halftime lead over the defending AFC-champion Kansas City Chiefs. And the Browns were still clinging to a 29-27 lead with eight minutes left before a botched punt gave the Chiefs the ball deep in Cleveland territory.
Patrick Mahomes was not about to let an opportunity like that pass him by. Mahomes hit Travis Kelce with an 8-yard touchdown pass and Kansas City forced a three-and-out and an interception to seal the win.
Mahomes finished 27 for 36 for for 337 yards and three touchdowns, including a pair to Kelce.
Baker Mayfield was an efficient 21 of 28 for 304 yards but did not throw a touchdown pass and his lone interception snuffed out Cleveland’s final opportunity to pull out a victory. Nick Chubb rushed for 83 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, but it wasn’t enough.
Sign of Things to Come?
The Las Vegas Raiders offense was bad, then it was good. And its defense kept the pressure on Baltimore all evening before a strip sack of Lamar Jackson led to a 31-yard Derek Carr touchdown pass to Zay Jones put the finishing touches on the overtime victory.
The Raiders thought they had victory in hand earlier in the overtime period when they drove to the Ravens’ 1-yard-line. But a false start and a pass that bounced off the intended receiver and into the hands of Baltimore’s Anthony Averett gave the Ravens new life.
For most of the game, Jackson was his typical hard-to-corral self, completing 19 of 30 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown while adding 86 yards on the ground. But he also fumbled three times and lost two of them, including the game-changer.
Carr started slowly but rebounded to complete 34 of 56 passes for 435 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Carr recovered his only fumble.