Tuesday AFCN Notes

Notes and quotes regarding your Baltimore Ravens and those other lesser AFCN rivals: Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers.

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BALTIMORE RAVENS
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INSIDE SLANT
The Ravens could be without running back Jamal Lewis on Sunday, which could force them to become a more pass-oriented team.
Lewis sprained his right ankle in the first quarter of Sunday's 30-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys and did not return. He walked around the locker room with a severe limp.
Lewis, the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year, saw a specialist for the low sprain.
"We'll adjust accordingly," said coach Brian Billick, who estimated the Ravens might not know for another day about Lewis' status. "We want to get the prognosis right."
Without Lewis, the Ravens might have to lean on the pass more than in recent seasons.
The Ravens' identity has slowly changed in the past four games, a span in which the Ravens have averaged 34 passes.
Quarterback Kyle Boller has assumed control of the offense in that stretch, completing 61 percent of his throws for 810 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.
Asked if the team would go to a more passing profile, Billick said, "It may have to. We've talked about that a great deal. The defensive part of the equation is solid. But now the offensive side, as is the case, you have to adjust. Fortunately, because of that, we've had some people grow up and step up."
With Musa Smith, the team's third back, out for the season with a broken leg, the Ravens likely will sign a veteran this week.

NOTES, QUOTES
--Ravens receiver Clarence Moore made one catch, not bad considering how his morning began.
Moore said he woke up feeling ill but made it to the stadium, where he needed intravenous fluids and a few pills before he could take the field.
"I don't know what it was," Moore said. "They thought it was flu symptoms. When I woke up, I was real achy, lightheaded with flu symptoms. They never really said what it was. I was gone, lost until they gave me some pills to calm my stomach down."
Moore played about half his usual number of snaps.
--Punter Nick Murphy, who signed with the Ravens last week to replace the injured Dave Zastudil, made his NFL debut but was not too happy about his performance.
Murphy said he wished he would have been more consistent with his punts, although his second went for 54 yards midway through the first quarter.
"The second one I hit good," Murphy said. "That was the thing, it was an inconsistent day."
Murphy averaged 40 yards on five punts and put two inside the 20-yard line.
--WR Travis Taylor set the Ravens record for career receptions after making six catches for 68 yards. In five seasons, Taylor has 196 receptions, surpassing Qadry Ismail's 191.
"I'm not too big on stats," Taylor said. "It is what it is. The credit goes to my teammates and the coaching staff.
"Ask me after February, and I will tell you what it means to me for real."
--RB Jamal Lewis could be doubtful for Sunday's game in New England. He sprained his right ankle in the first quarter of Sunday's win over Dallas and walked with a severe limp. Chester Taylor would replace him.
--RB Chester Taylor could start his third game of the season if Jamal Lewis is out with a sprained right ankle.
--CB Chris McAlister is now expected to start against New England. Coach Brian Billick said the team is optimistic that McAlister would return after missing one game with a stinger.
--TE Todd Heap will once again be listed as questionable with a sprained ankle. He has missed the past eight games.
--CB Deion Sanders is expected to be questionable with a toe injury. He has been sidelined the past two games.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. COWBOYS
PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Kyle Boller has gotten into a comfort zone with his three to five step drops. In the Ravens' first two touchdown drives, he threw the ball on 11 of 15 plays. His 17-yard touchdown strike to tight end Darnell Dinkins was zipped between two defenders, and his 31-yard scoring toss to Kevin Johnson had excellent touch. The pass protection was excellent, giving Boller enough time to get the ball away.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The Ravens have struggled to get their running game on track all season. Jamal Lewis did not play the last three quarters with a sprained ankle. The offensive line has not been opening holes consistently.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- Most of Dallas' passing yards came when the Ravens were in the prevent defense. The Ravens played well despite the absence of cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Deion Sanders. The pass rush re-surfaced in the second half, when the Ravens knew Dallas had to pass to play catch-up.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Inside linebacker Ed Hartwell may have played his best game of the season. He finished with 13 tackles, either tackling the ball carrier or crushing the lead blocker. Outside linebackers Adalius Thomas and Terrell Suggs continue to play the run extremely well, and have become dominating. Nose tackles Kelly Gregg and Maake Kemoeatu controlled the middle of the field and got a lot of penetration on short-yardage situations. End Marques Douglas just seemed to wear down tackle Flozell Adams as the game went on.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Kicker Matt Stover converted a 50-yard field-goal attempt. Newly signed punter Nick Murphy was erratic, but did hit one for 54 yards. The Ravens had problems covering punts, and punt returner B.J. Sams needs to have a better presence when fielding punts and deciding when to call for a fair catch.
COACHING: A -- With the bad run on injuries, the Ravens have persevered to their first 7-3 start in franchise history. They have adjusted from a struggling running game to a productive passing attack. The defense remains one of the most disciplined in the NFL.

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CINCINNATI BENGALS
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INSIDE SLANT
Marvin Lewis was still mad Monday, maybe not as mad as Sunday, but he was still upset with his team's performance Sunday.
The Bengals lost 19-14 to the Steelers to fall to 4-6.
Less than 24 hours after scolding his players and repeating himself to the media, the Bengals coach again said he would not accept mediocrity.
But Lewis also pointed optimistically to the remaining six games for his 4-6 Bengals.
"I believe this team can go 10-6," he said.
Lewis on Sunday said he wanted his players to come to work Monday with greater resolve to win.
"Our attitude is fine," he said the atmosphere during meetings Monday. "They know my point."
A review of game film didn't cause the second-year coach to retract any of his post-game criticism.
The Bengals defense allowed the Steelers to convert 8 of 18 third-down plays. The Bengals offense was only 2 of 10. On average, the Bengals started drives at their 20-yard line. The Steelers started at their own 38. Pittsburgh had 198 "hidden yards" of field position during the game.
Lewis is looking for his special teams to make a difference. The punt cover team gave up 83 yards on seven returns by Antwaan Randle El, including a long of 30.
"We've got to punt it. We've got to cover it. We've got to make the tackles. We've got shed and get ahead of them and stay on our feet and make the tackles. Point blank," Lewis said. "We've got another challenge this week, two good returners this week. So we've got to do a better job and we've got to get a return."
Browns punt return specialist Dennis Northcutt averages 11.9 yards on 25 returns, and kickoff returner Richard Alston has a 25.3-yard average on 18 returns, including a 93-yard touchdown.

NOTES, QUOTES
-- Wide receiver Chad Johnson's joking request that fans bring $1 to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday to help the wide receiver pay for a fine he expected to incur for an excessive touchdown celebration paid dividends for the Freestore/FoodBank -- a Cincinnati social service agency -- and the Bengals' annual holiday canned food drive. The food drive received 13,384 pounds in donated canned food and $9,946 in cash donations, almost triple the totals from last year's drive. A spokeswoman said some fans did ask if the collection was for Chad's fund, but volunteers told them donations were for the Freestore.
-- The Dolphins signed rookie wide receiver Maurice Mann off the Bengals practice squad Monday. The fifth-round draft pick is the third player signed off the Bengals practice squad this season but the first from this year's 11-player draft class to leave the Bengals. One day after the Panthers signed rookie free agent wide receiver Jamall Broussard to their active roster on Oct. 14, the Jaguars signed second-year defensive end Elton Patterson to their 53-man roster.
-- The Bengals will try to snap a six-game losing streak to AFC North teams Sunday against Cleveland. Since re-alignment, the Bengals are 3-13 against the division.
-- RB Kenny Watson might be limited this week in practice because of a bruised calf.
-- LB Landon Johnson, a rookie, was credited by coaches with 20 total tackles for the Pittsburgh game. The 20 tackles bettered linebacker Brian Simmons' 15-tackle performance against the Browns on Oct. 17 as the team's single-game high this season. Johnson now has 31 total tackles and 2.5 sacks in the past two games.
-- CB Deltha O'Neal (elbow contusion) missed the Pittsburgh game in Week 11 and could be ready for Cleveland on Sunday.
-- RB Chris Perry (abdomen) should benefit from rest, coach Marvin Lewis said, and Perry has a chance to play Sunday for the first time since Oct. 17 at Cleveland.
-- DL Carl Powell (knee) is enduring soreness after playing Sunday.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS
PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Carson Palmer tossed two touchdown passes, and the line limited Pittsburgh's blitzing defense to just three sacks. But Palmer made two huge mistakes. He threw an interception into triple-coverage that linebacker James Farrior returned 14 yards for a touchdown, and he was called for two intentional grounding penalties, the second coming with less than three minutes remaining from his end zone. The resulting safety gave Pittsburgh possession on a free kick.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- The Steelers had the ball for almost 39 minutes, which limited the Bengals to just 16 rushing plays. Holding penalties brought back some of Rudi Johnson's best runs of the day. The offense had not rhythm.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- Linebacker Brian Simmons had problems on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to fullback Dan Kreider. The Bengals did have seven sacks, but they didn't take advantage of the rookie quarterback with an interception. It snapped a streak of five consecutives with an interception. The Bengals had 11 in those five.
RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The Bengals were on the field too long, partly by the own failure to stop the Steelers on third down. Pittsburgh was good on eight of 18 third downs. The Steelers rushed for 151 yards, 129 by a revitalized Jerome Bettis, who registered his 11th 100-yard career day against the Bengals.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- The normally dependable kick and punt coverage teams had a bad afternoon. They let Antwaan Randle El got loose for 83 yards in punt returns, which gave Pittsburgh a decided edge in field position. A few of Kyle Larson's punts were too low and gave Randle El a lot of room to work.
COACHING: C -- Coaches can't prevent holding penalties. A solid offensive game plan -- throw deep to open the run game -- was thwarted by several second-half penalties. The team looked sharp on two first-half touchdowns drives. The defense played another solid game, limiting Pittsburgh to 10 offensive points. Coordinator Leslie Frazier and his position coaches have turned the defense around, and three rookie starters on defense played well Sunday.

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CLEVELAND BROWNS
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INSIDE SLANT
The Browns' offensive line was in bad enough shape even before Sunday. The last thing it needed was to lose its best player.
Yet that's what happened in Sunday's 10-7 loss to the New York Jets when right tackle Ryan Tucker was lost for the season with a torn medial collateral ligament and partially torn meniscus in his left knee.
Tucker will have arthroscopic surgery next Tuesday.
"It really is disappointing, especially at this time," Tucker said. "We're struggling right now offensively. I want to be in there with those guys. I want to be in there to help. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to."
Tucker was hurt when another player fell into his leg on a 4-yard gain by Lee Suggs.
"(Losing) Tucker's going to hurt us," tight end Aaron Shea said. "Tucker's the anchor of the line. I think `Tuck' is one of the best tackles in the game."
Browns coach Butch Davis said Tucker was playing as well as he'd ever seen him.
"I think if you ask him, he'd say the game had really started to slow down for him," Davis said. "For a tackle, that's really a benchmark.
"On a winning football team, he is probably under legitimate consideration for the Pro Bowl. There are people who will argue how can a 3-7 team have anyone deserving of the Pro Bowl. But sometimes, it's possible."
Tucker's loss means the Browns have to replace the right side of the line. Two weeks ago, Kelvin Garmon was lost for the season with torn knee ligaments.
It's unclear how the line will be configured after Tucker's injury for Sunday's game at Cincinnati.
Joaquin Gonzalez, a natural tackle who started at right guard against the Jets, moved to Tucker's spot against the Jets. Enoch DeMar and Paul Zukauskas played guard.

NOTES, QUOTES
--QB Jeff Garcia's status for Sunday is uncertain after being diagnosed with a slightly strained right rotator cuff.
"We'll know certainly by Wednesday," coach Butch Davis said. "Whoever is taking the reps during practice is going to be the guy you need to count on."
Garcia was hurt when defensive end Shaun Ellis hit him while he was getting rid of the ball to avoid a sack.
--Davis tried to deflect attention on his job security, saying he was focusing solely on trying to improve the Browns.
But he also put in a plug for continuity, citing his experience for the 1-15 Dallas Cowboys in 1989.
"Eleven guys who went to Pro Bowl eventually from a 1-15 team," Davis said. "Losing makes you second-guess every single decision. But the minute you start abandoning your plan and second-guessing yourself, the minute you start saying, `We're going to knee-jerk react and do this and this and this,' you might as well pack it in."
--K Phil Dawson's streak of 27 consecutive field goals ended when he missed kicks of 42 and 34 yards.
--Cornerback Daylon McCutcheon suffered a turf toe in Sunday's game. He returned because the Browns were short-handed in the secondary. He was not listed on the injury report, but his status bears watching.
--Linebacker Chaun Thompson had two sacks Sunday. He got his first career sack a week ago, but that came when Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger slipped.
--Safety Earl Little got his first interception of the season when he picked off a deep pass intended for Santana Moss. He had a total of 10 interceptions the past two seasons.
--Kickoff returner Richard Alston had a 52-yard return Sunday, the third straight game he has had a return at least that long.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. JETS
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Jeff Garcia did as well as he could considering the protection around him was typically awful. He somehow wasn't sacked, but that's only because he found a way to get rid of the ball before hitting the ground. That left him exposed to awkward landings, and it caught up to him when he strained his right shoulder on a hit by Shaun Ellis. Garcia's replacement, Kelly Holcomb, was awful. He completed only 4 of 10 passes for 32 yards, half of which came on one completion. The Holcomb who won the starting job in 2003 is nowhere to be found. It doesn't help that Holcomb is far less mobile than Garcia because the line gets beat on a regular basis.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D - The statistics aren't dismal. Lee Suggs and William Green combined for 94 yards in 25 carries. Green had a 21-yard run on Cleveland's only touchdown drive. But the running game again lacked consistency. Too often, the blocking broke down and the runners were hit behind the line and had to lunge to make positive yardage. The Browns tried to use a change of pace by giving the ball to receiver Dennis Northcutt on reverses. He gained 4 yards one time and managed 1 yard the other. The line, as usual, deserves most of the blame. Left guard Enoch DeMar was benched for Paul Zukauskas, then had to re-enter the game when right tackle Ryan Tucker got hurt.
PASS DEFENSE: B - The Browns did an excellent job getting to Quincy Carter early. They sacked him six times, five in the first half. Linebacker Chaun Thompson had two sacks. Carter threw for only 116 yards, and Earl Little intercepted his first pass of the season. But the pass defense failed when it had to come up big. Anthony Henry failed to keep Justin McCareins from lunging forward for a critical third-down conversion on the Jets' winning touchdown drive. Cornerback Daylon McCutcheon, battling turf toe, allowed Santana Moss to beat him for a 13-yard gain. McCareins then eluded a tackle by Michael Lehan on a short swing pass he turned into an 11-yard touchdown.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus - As with the pass defense, it was good until it needed to be. The Browns allowed only 86 yards in the first three quarters, then allowed 71 in the final 15 minutes. Early in the game, the Browns did a good job swarming Curtis Martin. But then Martin and LaMont Jordan found plenty of running room on the touchdown drive. That continued when the Browns needed a stop to get one more chance to pull out the victory. But the Jets ran for two first downs to run out the clock.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D-plus - If not for a 52-yard kickoff return by Richard Alston and a 16-yard punt return average by Dennis Northcutt, this phase would be a disaster. Phil Dawson missed field goals of 42 and 34 yards, snapping a 27-kick streak, and also booted a kickoff out of bounds. Derrick Frost failed twice pin the Jets in with punts, driving them far into the end zone for his first two touchbacks of the season.
COACHING: C-minus - The Browns had a sound defensive game plan - to blitz Quincy Carter. But beyond that, there's not much to credit. The Browns again lacked imagination on offense and have not found a way to protect the quarterback. Afterward, Butch Davis seemed almost to throw up his hands and say the fortunes of his team won't improve until the fates somehow turn around. With the injuries and overall lack of talent, that's unlikely to happen - and Davis' own fate hangs in the balance.

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PITTSBURGH STEELERS
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INSIDE SLANT
Another injury, another player must step into an important role for the Pittsburgh Steelers. With wide receiver Plaxico Burress expected to miss at least one game - and maybe more - the burden of stretching the defenses falls on Antwaan Randle El.
Burress leads all receivers with more than 25 receptions with an 18.8-yard average per catch. He became a go-to deep target for rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, taking the double teams away from Hines Ward and helped move the safety out of the box for the running game.
That job now falls to Randle El, who has not started a game in his three-year NFL career. He will play split end and try to get deep on the Washington Redskins. There was no word on the results of the MRI Burress had Monday morning, but he did not seem to think it was a serious hamstring pull.
The injury also will move Lee Mays up to the No. 3 job.
The Steelers had no further word on the extent of the injury to linebacker Kendrell Bell, who left the game in the first half with an aggravation of a groin injury that kept him out of the first seven games of the season.
Bell was just starting to come back into his own, playing in his third game, when he was forced to leave.
All year, the Steelers have lost players without losing their edge. Among those starting because of injuries to others are Roethlisberger (Tommy Maddox), guard Keydrick Vincent (Kendall Simmons), nose tackle Chris Hoke (Casey Hampton), cornerback Willie Williams (Chad Scott), linebacker Larry Foote (Bell), halfback Jerome Bettis (Duce Staley) and now Randle El.

NOTES, QUOTES
-- Rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger will appear on the David Letterman Show Tuesday night. He's the third Steelers player in the past eight years to appear on the show. QB Kordell Stewart appeared in 1997 and RB Jerome Bettis was a guest in 2001.
-- The safety the Steelers scored in the fourth quarter was their first in four years. Carson Palmer was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone, an automatic safety. Pittsburgh last scored one against the Bengals at home when Joey Porter sacked quarterback Scott Mitchell in the end zone in 2000.
-- The Steelers once led the league with a red zone efficiency of 80 percent touchdowns. But on Sunday, they scored just once in four tries in the first half and that was a field goal. They're now down to 56.8 percent in the red zone.
"We got the ball in the red zone a few times," coach Bill Cowher said, "and some self-inflicted wounds and we had a couple of sacks and some penalties. Certainly we were not very efficient down there."
-- TE Jerame Tuman's 26-yard reception in Cincinnati Sunday was the second-longest of his career. Tuman now has six catches for 53 yards this season.
-- LB Joey Porter's fifth sack in Cincinnati equals his entire output in 2003, when he missed the first two games after being randomly shot.
-- LB James Farrior has three interceptions, three sacks and one touchdown, the first of his career. He scored on a 14-yard interception return Sunday in Cincinnati.
-- RB Jerome Bettis has carried 91 times for 381 yards in the past three games replacing injured Duce Staley. Those 91 carries are the second most over a three-game stretch for him. He had 92 carries from weeks 5-7 in 1997.
-- WR Hines Ward tied the lowest average per catch of his career with three receptions for 15 yards on Sunday. The only time his average was that low came when he caught one pass for five yards against Cleveland in 2000.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS
PASSING OFFENSE: C - Ben Roethlisberger had decent numbers on the surface - 15 of 21, 138 yards, one TD, no interceptions and a 104.9 passer rating. But he was sacked seven times and ran out of the pocket - mostly because of the pressure - nine times for 16 yards. He looked confused and indecisive at times. However, he completed two key passes on the winning touchdown drive, throwing a scoring toss to Dan Kreider.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus - With the passing game in trouble and their rookie quarterback under a blitzkrieg, the Steelers came through on the ground. Jerome Bettis had his third-straight 100 yard game, running 29 times for 129 yards and a 4.4-yard average. Roethlisberger's nine runs didn't net much, but on two quarterback sneaks, he picked up 3 yards each and two first downs.
PASS DEFENSE: B - Carson Palmer threw for two first-half touchdowns but other than that he was not effective as the Steelers pass defense turned in another strong performance. They sacked Palmer three times and LB James Farrior returned an interception for a touchdown. Palmer, who completed 13 of 25 for 165 yards, also was penalized twice for intentional grounding, the second time in his end zone for a safety.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus - Rudi Johnson ran 16 times for 62 yards, with a long of 15. He was their only runner and the Steelers held him to half of what he had against them in the first game between the teams in Pittsburgh.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B - Chris Gardocki had a great day punting. Of his seven punts, five were inside the 20 and only three were returned for a total of 11 yards. Antwaan Randle El returned punts of 30 and 28 yards and Jeff Reed converted his only field goal try.
COACHING: A - Bill Cowher and his staff made adjustments on a day in which their offensive line did not pass protect well and they lost WR Plaxico Burress early in the second quarter. Their defenses seemed to know just what was coming. In the second half, they limited the Bengals to 42 total yards and one pass completion.


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