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AFC North Week 15 recap

Almost exactly one year later, Cincinnati is finally back atop the AFC North.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers
T.J. Watt
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a year makes. On the other hand, maybe not.

On December 19, 2021, the Cincinnati Bengals took over first place in the AFC North with a win, coupled with a Baltimore Ravens loss, and never looked back en route to the franchises’ third Super Bowl appearance.

Almost exactly one year later, on December 18, 2022, the Bengals did it again.

Cincinnati’s 34-23 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coupled with Baltimore’s 13-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Saturday, left the Bengals in sole possession of first place in the division with a record of 10-4. Baltimore fell to 9-5. Both the Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who outlasted the Carolina Panthers 24-16, kept their slim playoff hopes alive by improving to 6-8.

Browns defense stands tall

Cleveland’s defense forced Tyler Huntley to throw an incomplete pass on fourth down with just over three minutes left to play, and Browns’ quarterback Deshaun Watson took a knee to run out the clock and claim a victory in his home debut.

It was far from a spectacular debut for Watson, however, as he managed to complete 18 of 28 passes for just 161 yards and a 3-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones in the third quarter.

But it was more than enough to counter Baltimore signal-caller Tyler Huntley went just 17 of 30 for 138 yards and threw a critical interception to Cleveland’s Denzel Ward inside the Cleveland 10-yard-line midway through the third quarter. After the interception, Watson led the Browns on a 91-yard scoring drive that culminated in the touchdown pass to Peoples-Jones.

The Ravens did manage to roll up 198 yards rushing, led by 125 yards from J.K. Dobbins, but Huntley was unable to come up with the big play when needed.

Trubisky comes through

Pittsburgh quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, has had more than his share of ups and downs since the Chicago Bears chose him as the face of their franchise more than five years ago. But when he got an opportunity to start for the injured Kenny Pickett Sunday afternoon, Trubisky made the most of it.

Trubisky completed 17 of 22 passes for 179 yards and engineered three long touchdown drives as the Steelers held on to beat Carolina.

Najee Harris ran the ball 24 times for 86 yards and a touchdown, Jaylen Warren scored on a two-yard run and Trubisky added a 1-yard touchdown run of his own for Pittsburgh, which has now won three of its last four games. The Steelers finished with 156 yards on the ground on 45 carries.

Behind Trubisky, Pittsburgh completed 12 of 16 third-down opportunities and held a 13-minute advantage in time of possession. Carolina managed to convert just 4 of 11 times on third down, mostly because they managed to tally just 21 yards rushing on 16 carries.

Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt recorded 1.5 sacks on the day, and became the third-fastest player to reach 75 sacks (he did it in 84 games) since that mark became an official statistic in 1982. Only Reggie White (65 games) and T.J.’s older brother, J.J. Watt (82 games) got there faster.