AFCN midweek wrap-up

Midweek notes, quotes, injuries and game reports for your favorite team (Ravens), your two least favorite teams (Steelers, Browns) and the Bungles who don't really count although they do get a pass this week for beating the Redskins.


Dave Zastudil will miss three to four weeks with a separated left shoulder, forcing the Ravens to sign another punter.
A fourth-round pick in 2002, Zastudil has been pivotal in the Ravens winning the field-position battle, often pinning teams deep inside their territory. He leads the NFL with 17 punts inside the 20-yard line.
"We will bring a number of punters," coach Brian Billick said. "One of (special teams coach) Gary Zauner's strengths is he's always got somebody in his back pocket."
Of those candidates (four visited Tuesday including veteran Ken Walter), the Ravens will likely explore one who can double on kickoffs. The Ravens have been dissatisfied with the play of kickoff specialist Wade Richey and de-activated him for the first time Sunday.
"We'll look at all the options," Billick said.
Injuries have taken their toll on the Ravens this season. They have had five starters miss games because of injuries.
The Ravens, though, could be on the mend.
Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (pulled hamstring) could return to practice this week, and fellow Pro Bowl teammate, cornerback Chris McAlister (stinger in shoulder) is expected to play after sitting out the second half of Sunday's game in New York.

--Before the second touchdown pass to Clarence Moore, quarterback Kyle Boller persuaded the Ravens' coaching staff into running a different play on third-and-11 at the New York 16.
Boller had noticed in watching film during the week that Jets middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma was responsible for the deep zone coverage over the middle and knew he only had to loft it over him to hit Moore the touchdown.
"He asked for a play," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said, "and we gave it to him."
--Quarterback Kordell Stewart showcased his versatility once again when he replaced injured punter Dave Zastudil (shoulder) and averaged 35.4 yards on five punts. It was the first time he had done so since high school.
Afterward, the man known as "Slash" for his ability to play receiver, quarterback and running back, offered up a little stand-up, realizing the humor in the situation.
"I had to go and talk to Slash to see if he can handle it," said Stewart. "He said, 'Well Stew, it's an opportunity to get back on the football field.' We went out there and got it done."
--Although Clarence Moore's two touchdowns might get all the attention, veteran Kevin Johnson's 21-yard reception in overtime may have been the game's best catch.
Johnson brought in a rope from Kyle Boller on a third-and-five from the Ravens' 49, splitting double coverage and taking a shot from safety Reggie Tongue before putting his team into field-goal position at the 30-yard line.
It was Johnson's biggest catch since coming to the Ravens from Jacksonville in a trade, a bright spot in a year in which his average number of receptions has plummeted.
"That's the kind of chemistry we need going down the stretch," Johnson said.
--Rookie returner B.J. Sams had his worst game of a promising career by fumbling twice. But, to his credit, he went on to have a productive game. Sams had a 19-yard punt return later in the game and averaged 25.3 yards on kickoffs, nearly 5 yards higher than his season average.
The botched punt, though, at the end of the first quarter could have ruined the day. The Jets scored their first touchdown after they took possession at the Ravens' 12-yard line.
"I was just mad that I missed it," Sams said. "Coming back and catching them, I just put the past behind me. That's what everybody was telling me, 'It's over, just move on.' But if we would have lost, it would have probably been a much bigger deal.
"On the punt return, the dude was real close to me, and I just missed it."
--CB Chris McAlister missed the second half of Sunday's game with numbness in his shoulder. After tests Monday, he is expected to start Sunday against Dallas.
--CB Deion Sanders likely will be listed as questionable with a toe injury that sidelined him last week. The Ravens have been extra cautious with rushing him back, especially considering his age (37 years old).
--QB Anthony Wright was activated off the PUP list and likely will be listed as the No. 2 quarterback.
--OL Jonathan Ogden is at 70 percent with his pulled hamstring and could practice this week. He likely will be listed as questionable.
--P Dave Zastudil will miss three to four weeks with a separated shoulder. The Ravens will sign a punter this week in his absence.
--G Edwin Mulitalo broke his toe and did not play in the second half. He should be able to start Sunday.

PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Kyle Boller led his first game-winning drive of his 18-game career. He was 6-for-8 for 81 yards in his final three drives, throwing a touchdown late in the fourth quarter and moving the Ravens into field-goal range in overtime. Boller has built a solid connection with rookie receiver Clarence Moore, who scored his first two touchdowns on incredible leaps. Overall, this is an up-and-coming group. Travis Taylor is becoming dependable on third downs. Kevin Johnson is becoming more of a factor.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Jamal Lewis ran hard, but never seemed to get in sync with the rest of the offense. He started out strong, but didn't have the same burst or run with the same authority late in the game. Without All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden, the offensive line has not been able to open holes. Fullback Alan Ricard failed to deliver a key lead block on a fourth-down call on the Ravens' first possession of the game.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Ravens were without cornerbacks Deion Sanders and Chris McAlister, but this unit was responsible for at least two of the Ravens' five sacks because of coverages. Strong safety Ed Reed was once again a difference-maker, picking off the halfback option pass by LaMont Jordan and returning it deep in Jets' territory. With two replacements in the nickel and dime coverages, the Jets were seven of 16 on third downs.
RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Jets pounded out 156 yards rushing, most of those up the middle by running back Curtis Martin, who had 119. The Ravens got better as the game went on, especially backup nose guard Maake Kemoeatu. But that's because the Ravens started cramming more players at the line of scrimmage and using run blitzes. Inside linebacker Ray Lewis had 14 tackles but got blocked on Martin's second touchdown run of the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Matt Stover converted on both field-goal attempts, including the game-winner. He also had several deep kickoffs, which means the Ravens might not need fellow kicker Wade Richey any longer. B.J. Sams fumbled twice, but he had several good returns to set the Ravens up in good field position most of the game. Kordell Stewart, who replaced injured punter Dave Zastudil, was more than adequate and placed a couple inside the 10-yard line.
COACHING: B -- The Ravens had a sound game plan and stuck with their running game as long as possible. They turned to Kyle Boller at the right times and he delivered. The defense used more run blitzes in the second half, an adjustment that settled down New York running back Curtis Martin. Without four Pro Bowl players in the second half because of injuries, the Ravens still remained composed and rallied back from a touchdown deficit.


Uh, spitting was a hot topic at Paul Brown Stadium on Monday, the day after expectoration made big news in the NFL.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, asked Monday about the fight before the Steelers-Browns game Sunday, said that one of his players was spit on during the Washington game.
Lewis would not mention the Bengals player, but it is believed to be wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who confronted Redskins safety Sean Taylor after Cincinnati's 17-10 victory.
"We had a player spit on (Sunday), and that is not right," Lewis said. "It has been something that has been escalating from certain players.
"Hopefully the league will do something to cut it out. It has been addressed before, so hopefully it will continue to be addressed. We know certain players want to come and try to intimidate you during warm ups and beat their chests. I'm just glad this is not an issue with our players."
Houshmandzadeh, unavailable Monday, would not say Sunday what Taylor did during the game but called the rookie defensive back "a punk."
Before the Pittsburgh-Cleveland game, Steelers linebacker Joey Porter and Browns running back William Green were ejected for fighting. The two players reportedly spit on each other.
Each side said Monday that the other side started the incident in Cleveland.

-- The Bengals are no longer last in the NFL in rush defense. They jumped two spots, to No. 30, at 142.7 yards a game. Kansas City and New Orleans are Nos. 31 and 32 against the run.
-- The Bengals will begin their second go-around Sunday with their smash-mouth AFC North rivals. They'll be looking to avenge three consecutive division losses in Games 3-5 earlier this season. The Steelers and Browns visit Cincinnati on consecutive Sundays before the Bengals travel to Baltimore.
"It helps that we play two of the last three division games at home," coach Marvin Lewis said Monday, a day after his Bengals pulled to 4-5 after defeating Washington of the NFC East.
"We have to make plays and finish. This week we have the Steelers at home, and that is all we are concentrating on right now."
-- Since division re-alignment began in 2002, the Bengals are 3-12 against the AFC North. They are 11-15 against opponents outside the division.
-- Pittsburgh moved past Washington as the NFL's No. 1-rated defense this week. The Steelers are giving up just 257.9 yards a game. The game will be the third in the past five that the Bengals will face the league's top-ranked defense. The Bengals gained 321 yards and scored 23 points against Denver, a 23-10 victory. Then they gained 316 yards and scored 17 points in beating Washington.
-- The Bengals lead the NFL with 24 takeaways. Pittsburgh is second with 22. Both teams have recovered 11 fumbles. The Bengals have 13 interceptions.
-- RT Willie Anderson (knee) who, on a bad knee, made a 73rd consecutive start Sunday at Washington, will be one of six Bengals players listed as questionable on Wednesday.
-- CB Deltha O'Neal (elbow contusion) is questionable for Pittsburgh.
-- RB Chris Perry (abdomen) will be questionable.
-- CB Rashad Bauman( Achilles) is questionable.
-- DL Carl Powell (knee) is questionable.
-- LB Caleb Miller (ankle) is expected to be listed as questionable for the game Sunday at Washington, coach Marvin Lewis said. Miller sprained his ankle on his first play against Dallas.

PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Carson Palmer threw two interceptions, one deep in Washington territory. For the most part, though, the game was a good one. The deep pass game, though it missed at times, stretched the Washington run defense. Palmer did toss a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tony Stewart. The line, for the second consecutive week, did not allow a sack.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Rudi Johnson went for 102 yards against the NFL's third-ranked run defense and scored a touchdown. Johnson did lose a fumble, though, and the ground game shut down a bit in the second half.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Bengals, never mind the opponent, had three interceptions and five sacks. They could have had up to three more interceptions -- defensive drops. Rookie defensive end Robert Geathers is showing a quick first step and has a sack and tipped pass in each of the last two games.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Bengals allowed 87 rushing yards, limiting Clinton Portis to 81 Sunday, and improved from last to 30th in run defense. The solid job against the run, coupled with the offense's ability to get a lead, allowed the Bengals to concentrate primarily on the pass.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- As was the case in consecutive weeks, nothing stands out as spectacular, but the Bengals cover and return teams are solid and don't make mistakes. Shayne Graham made his only field goal, and the Bengals recovered an onside kick.
COACHING: A -- Coach Marvin Lewis had his team ready. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski came up with a game plan that attacked Washington with the deep pass to open up room for the run game. It worked well in the first half. Leslie Frazier's defense, never mind the opponents, has allowed 13 points and has eight takeaways in the past two games.


With the Browns losing 24-10 to Pittsburgh and falling to 3-6, the playoffs are now a possibility only from a mathematician's perspective.
The more pressing question now centers on Butch Davis' future as Browns coach if the season continues to disintegrate.
That decision will be up to owner Randy Lerner. Davis is confident he has Lerner's support.
"Randy and I speak frequently," Davis said. "We talk after every ballgame. I do believe Randy clearly understands the challenges we've had as organization over the last two years. It hasn't been easy. There have been an awful lot of very, very difficult things to have to overcome.
"He is clearly in the loop and knows exactly what those issues are. He knows where we are with the team from a talent, from a coaching and preparation (standpoint), and I think he's very supportive."
Davis' name has come up in reference to a few college coaching jobs already. Monday, he said he is concentrating only on Cleveland.
"My entire purpose is to do everything humanly possible to build a team that wins a Super Bowl for the Cleveland fans and the Browns," Davis said. "That's my obsession. It rips my guts out to have to come in here and talk about not playing well and fighting through some of the issues we've got.
"Losing sucks. Let's be real. Losing is something that if you're a competitor or player or coach, it's miserable. The only cure for this misery is winning."

Browns running back William Green said Steelers linebacker Joey Porter called him after Sunday's game, a game in which neither played after being ejected following a pre-game brawl.
"We talked after the game, and we both realized it got out of control," Green said. "We cleared the air and there are no hard feelings."
Green said he and Porter have a history of trash-talking with each other.
"Usually every game we exchange words," Green said. "That's something we do."
Green said Porter went beyond that Sunday.
"He spit in my face. That's when I went back at him and pushed him and spit back at him."
Punches ensued. One bloodied Green's mouth.
"On TV, it looks bad," Green said. "It looks like I just took off and pushed him and spit in his face. That's not the way it happened. That's all they see.
"The last thing I would do is spit in another man's face. I would rather someone punch me than spit in my face."
--After giving conflicting signals after Sunday's game, Browns coach Butch Davis said Jeff Garcia would definitely start against the Jets.
Kelly Holcomb saw his first action of the season after Davis pulled Garcia with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, a move more to show mercy to Garcia than dissatisfaction with his performance.
"Make no mistake about it," Davis said. "Jeff Garcia is the starting quarterback."
Garcia struggled Sunday, largely because of numerous protection breakdowns and the inability to run the ball.
"We just have to give him the opportunity to be successful and keep the wolves off him," Davis said.
--DB Lewis Sanders had the only injury Sunday when he left the game briefly with a sore wrist.
--K Phil Dawson made a 31-yard field goal to extend his streak of successful kicks to 27, most in the NFL.
--DT Gerard Warren, whose inflammatory threat directed at Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made headlines last week, was credited with two tackles. He is 19th on the Browns with eight tackles for the season.
--LB Chaun Thompson and DB Chris Crocker had a sack Sunday, the first time a non-defensive lineman has gotten a sack all season. But both sacks came after Roethlisberger slipped.
--WR Frisman Jackson had a career-high five catches for 61 yards.
--QB Jeff Garcia surpassed 18,000 career passing yards with a 58-yard completion to Dennis Northcutt, the longest in Northcutt's five-year career.

PASSING OFFENSE: D - There was one highlight - a 58-yard pass from Jeff Garcia to Dennis Northcutt. Otherwise, this was a disaster. Garcia completed only six other passes for a total of 52 yards. He was sacked four times and threw eight interceptions, many under duress. Garcia's worst throw came when underthrew a pass intended for Antonio Bryant that was intercepted just before halftime, killing any chance for the Browns to have momentum going into the locker room. More blame rests with the offensive line than with Garcia. The line looked unprepared for Steelers' blitzes, even though it was no secret Pittsburgh was coming. Possession receiver Frisman Jackson was the leading pass-catcher. He caught five passes for 61 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus - It didn't help that William Green got himself ejected by getting into a pre-game fight with Joey Porter. That left Lee Suggs with the job of carrying the load. Suggs couldn't deliver. As was the case with Garcia in the passing game, the line bears most of the responsibility. Suggs gained only 38 yards in 18 carries. His longest carry was his first, a 7-yarder. Too often, he was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage and had to burrow ahead just to make positive yardage. Garcia had almost as many yards (30) as Suggs in four scrambles.
PASS DEFENSE: D - Because their rushing game was so effective, the Steelers were able to duplicate their pattern of keeping it simple for Ben Roethlisberger. The Browns did little to slow him. Daylon McCutcheon intercepted Roethlisberger's first pass, a deep ball on which Hines Ward tripped over McCutcheon's feet. But after that, Roethlisberger picked apart the Browns when they needed a completion. Cleveland's only two sacks came when Roethlisberger slipped, and the Browns did a poor job keeping Roethlisberger from scrambling on the few occasions when they covered well or put the pressure on.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus - The Steelers hardly missed Duce Staley. Jerome Bettis ran 29 times for 103 yards. He got his yards in chunks of 4, 5, 6 or 7 yards. He didn't have a carry longer than that, but he continually kept the Steelers in good down-and-distance situations. Cleveland's one highlight against the run came when it stuffed Bettis on three goal-line runs in the second half. With Staley out, Willie Parker filled in a spot role and burned the Browns for 38 yards in seven carries.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C - Phil Dawson extended his consecutive field goal streak to 27 with a 31-yarder to open the scoring. That was set up by a 74-yard kickoff return by Richard Alston. But the good news ended there. The punt-coverage unit allowed a punt return of 29 yards by Antwaan Randle El. Worse, Alston fumbled a kickoff, bobbled the ball as he tried to retrieve it and had no choice but to step out of bounds at the Cleveland 1.
COACHING: F - The Browns play 3-4 defenses four times a season - against Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Yet they look unprepared against those defense. They struggle badly trying to pick up blitzes and have little success running against them. That might be understandable for a team that doesn't face such a defense offense, but the Browns do. The Browns do not have an offensive identity. If they do, it doesn't work. Garcia said as much after the game when he said the offense was too predictable and that the Browns should abandon their run-first approach.


The two best teams in football may be in the AFC and the stage is now set for Pittsburgh and New England to scrap for the right to play host to the championship game in January.
Both 8-1, the Steelers and Patriots are two full games better than anyone else in the conference. If they remain in a tie, the Steelers would earn the No. 1 seed based on their 34-20 victory against the Patriots Oct. 31. But based on the records of the two teams' opponents, New England has a big edge.
The Patriots' seven opponents have a combined record of 24-39, while Pittsburgh's seven opponents are 33-30. Each team has only three home games left and four on the road.
With the league's longest current winning streak at seven games, the Steelers and their coach don't even want to discuss anything beyond their next game Sunday in Cincinnati.
"My goodness, everybody in this league can beat anybody on any given Sunday," coach Bill Cowher said. "If you start to take yourself too seriously that's the trap you fall into. We aren't going to do that. We have no margin for error, it takes everybody on this football team. We have to continue to play with the same preparation. It starts on Wednesday when we come in here; we're going to continue to do that."

-- WR Hines Ward packs a pretty good wallop for a 215-pound receiver. He's the best blocking wide receiver in the league and 320-pound Cleveland defensive tackle Orpheus Roye discovered why on Sunday. Ward sent Roye flying near the end of QB Ben Roethlisberger's 20-yard scramble.
"I know Orpheus from playing in Pittsburgh my first couple of years," Ward said. "I really did not want to hit the guy like that, but he was chasing Ben down, so I was just trying to help my teammate and protect him. He was on his horse trying to get Ben, and I think he was just about to grab him, then I laid a pretty good shot on him."
-- RB Jerome Bettis, 32, on carrying 29 times one week after he carried 33 times: "That is my job. That is what I am here for - to be a relief pitcher, so to speak. I am just doing my part. This team is special. We have interchangeable parts, where if someone is not able to go, then the guy behind him steps up."
-- RB Jerome Bettis has 10 touchdowns rushing, one short of his career high of 11 in 1996. The Steelers record of 14 was set in 1976 by Franco Harris.
-- QB Brian St. Pierre, released on Saturday to make room on the roster for another running back, likely will rejoin the team this week, either on the 53-man roster or the practice squad.
-- RB Willie Parker, in his first two games in the league, has 58 yards rushing on 11 carries. But the rookie dropped the only pass thrown to him as the third-down back Sunday against the Browns.
-- LB James Harrison started his first NFL game, replacing the ejected Joey Porter, and led the team with six solo tackles to go with his first NFL sack.
-- QB Ben Roethlisberger has thrown three interceptions in his past 151 attempts and two of those were not his fault - one glanced off the hands of WR Antwaan Randle El and the other occurred when WR Hines Ward fell down on a deep route.

PASSING OFFENSE: C - Ben Roethlisberger looked human throwing the ball (although he made good decisions when to run it and set up a Steelers TD with a 20-yard scramble to the six). He was only 10 of 16 for 134 yards. He threw an interception that was not his fault when Hines Ward got his legs tangled up on a deep pass and fell down. He was sacked twice. He did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time in his eight NFL games, and he had a passer rating of 63.0.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus - with starter Duce Staley out, Jerome Bettis ran 29 times for 103 yards, his second straight over 100. He also scored twice in goalline situations but came up empty a third time on three straight runs from the one. Rookie Willie Parker replaced injured Verron Haynes as the third-down back and ran eight times for 44 yards. Roethlisberger added 38 yards on seven carries and they finished with 180 yards rushing and two TDs.
PASS DEFENSE: A - Jeff Garcia and Kelly Holcomb combined for only 12 of 25 or 174 yards, one TD and two interceptions. They were sacked four times and had a combined passer rating of 51.1. Also, Garcia lost the ball when he was trying to throw and was hit on the hand by end Aaron Smith for a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by safety Russell Stuvaints.
RUSH DEFENSE: A - William Green was ejected for fighting before the game which left Lee Suggs to carry the load and the Steelers crushed him. Suggs managed 38 yards on 18 carries. Jeff Garcia picked up 30 on four scrambles and the Browns had 68 total.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C - Jeff Reed missed a chip-shot field goal from 24 yards because of a bad snap/hold, and he made one from 20. Cleveland's Richard Alson returned the opening kickoff 74 yards to set up a 31-yard field goal for the Browns, their only one. Antwaan Randle El returned one punt 29 yards. Hines Ward recovered an onside kick by the Browns in the fourth quarter. Punter Chris Gardocki knocked two inside the 20 of his four punts.
COACHING: A - Bill Cowher used the late-week comments by Browns DT Gerard Warren to his team's emotional advantage Sunday. Warren said on Thursday that he would try to knock quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out of the game with a blow to the head. It fired up everyone, something the Steelers needed after two emotional home victories against the Patriots and Eagles. Once again, coordinator Ken Whisenhunt ground down the opposition and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's blitzes confused Jeff Garcia.

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