Steel City Underground's AFC North Report wraps up the result of each game played by rivals in the division and how the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers fared against their opponents each week during the NFL regular season.
Steelers eke out a slim win over Colts to move closer to Ravens
Once again the Steelers had a tough outing in front of the home crowd at Heinz Field when they barely beat the Indianapolis Colts this weekend. On Sunday, it became more clear that Pittsburgh's offensive scheme still has not been adjusted to play to Mason Rudolph's strengths with Randy Fichtner coordinating the plays. Yes, Rudolph tried to hit JuJu Smith-Schuster that turned into an interception as it was mishandled and intercepted by Colts cornerback Kenny Moore. The Colts capitalized with a field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
After starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett went down, Brian Hoyer entered the game and was able to keep the Colts offense moving... until he threw his own interception. On a play where Hoyer targeted tight end Jack Doyle, Minkah Fitzpatrick grabbed the ball out of the air and returned the pick 96 yards for a touchdown.
Thanks to a missed field goal by Vinatieri that could have won the game, the Steelers eked out a 26-24 win to move them to 4-4 on the season and moved one game closer to the Ravens in the AFC North race... until the Ravens played on Sunday Night Football.
Jackson, Ravens defense shut down Patriots' win streak
The unbeaten season (8-0) the New England Patriots had put together finally came to a crashing halt due to an inability to contain Lamar Jackson and mistakes of their own as the Ravens won, 37-20. The win gave the Ravens up two games over the Steelers as the hunt for the AFC North divisional championship continues to be battled over.
Marlon Humphrey grabbed a loose ball (forced by Patrick Onwuasor) after Baltimore allowed New England to attempt a comeback and returned it 70 yards to set up a five-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Nick Boyle in the fourth quarter. Up 30-20, it was too big of a hole for Tom Brady to dig his team out of this time. With just a little over twelve minutes left in the game, Brady threw an interception that allowed Jackson to orchestrate a long drive that chewed up the game clock before he was helped into the end zone for a score by one of his offensive linemen.
If you're wondering how Bill Belichick felt about the loss, the photo above speaks volumes. His defense entered the game allowing just 7.6 points per game and had forced 25 turnovers. Penalties hurt New England in this game as they drew flags seven times for 48 yards.
The Ravens won, 37-20, in a true upset.
Things getting worse for Browns after loss to Broncos
After 2019 was deemed "the year" that the Cleveland Browns would be Super Bowl contenders, they got another punch in the gut when they lost to a 2-6 Broncos team on the road, 24-19. If fans are disappointed with head coach Freddie Kitchens, they've got to be absolutely furious over the way Steve Wilks' defense played. Lousy tackling, breakdowns in coverage, and an inability to stop Denver's offense game the Broncos offense their biggest gains in output this season.
Offensively, Baker Mayfield's swagger and confidence seems to have taken a major hit. He hasn't been able to deliver throws into the end zone. The guy had 20 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the red zone last season. Entering the game on Sunday, Mayfield threw three interceptions and with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry now only has four red zone touchdown passes this season.
The Browns are a team that has talent on both sides of the board but it appears they can't figure out how to get everyone involved. Odell Beckham Jr. was vocally frustrated with a lack of targets thrown his direction. Nick Chubb is a hard runner but the Browns asked Dontrell Hilliard to attempt short third-down conversions instead and it was a failure.
Frustration boiled over for Browns safety Jermaine Whitehead, who was on the injury report due to a hand injury before the game and was reported to have been wearing a brace on his left wrist/hand before the game, allegedly took to Twitter to express some eye-opening emotions. After missing several key tackles, including one against Broncos tight end Noah Fant (who took a catch for 75 yards and a touchdown), Whitehead responded to criticism of his play from former NFL cornerback and Browns radio analyst Dustin Fox. Whitehead took offense to Fox saying his tackling was "a joke". In a racially-charged response that also threatened violence, it was quickly pointed out that there was no verification that the account sending out the tweets was truly Whitehead's.
The Browns issued a statement after the tweets were removed and Twitter took action against the account, stating:
"Jermaine Whitehead's social media posts following today's game were totally unacceptable and highly inappropriate. We immediately spoke with Jermaine upon learning of these comments. The Browns in no way condone that type of language or behavior. This matter will be further addressed internally."
On a verified Instagram account, Whitehead did share the following (presumably aimed at Fox):
"They line it up and say anything in the book too you. They tell you take the high road, when yo whole life you was taught to meet fire with fire. I do apologize for my performance, but having a broke hand and a strong fear of letting my team down is my downfall. Whatever happens happens. Ain trippin. They probably gone still talk crazy but this me getting smoke off my chest. I don't need one like.. this from me to me! Keep ya head up homie, can't nobody f--- with you. I dare em to try."
The Browns are now 2-6 on the season and desperately need to turn things around in a hurry if they want to remain somewhat relevant in the AFC Conference standings.
(*Note: The Cincinnati Bengals had their bye this week)