AFC North Report

<b>CINCINNATI BENGALS</b><br><br> The Bengals' victory Sunday, couple with the Ravens' loss Sunday night, moved the Bengals back within one game of first place in the AFC North.<p> The Bengals are 4-5, the Ravens 5-4.

A Bengals team has not been within two games of the division lead after nine games since 1990. The 2001 Bengals were 4-5, as well, but they trailed the 7-2 Steelers by three games.

The Ravens lost more than a game Sunday night at St. Louis. They lost starting quarterback Kyle Boller for at least six weeks with a torn left quadriceps. Chris Redman finished at and is expected to start.

"We just have to worry about ourselves," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.

The Bengals face a tall order Sunday. Undefeated Kansas City, at 9-0, will travel to Cincinnati for a game Sunday afternoon.

The last time the Bengals played an undefeated team in November was 1998, when 7-0 Denver - en route to a 13-0 start and a Super Bowl title - came into Cincinnati and won 33-26.

"We have a great opportunity this week," Lewis said. "We are playing a team that is playing the best in the NFL right now, and have the record to match, and they have played very well in all three areas."

Rudi's record
RB Rudi Johnson's 43 rushing attempts Sunday have put him in the NFL record book. He is now tied for second for the most carries in a single game. Washington's Jamie Morris holds the record with 45 carries against the Bengals in an overtime game Dec. 17, 1988. The Bengals won, 20-17, at Riverfront Stadium. Johnson now is tied at 43 with two other players: Butch Woolfolk of the Giants on Nov. 20, 1983, against Philadelphia; and James Wilder of Tampa Bay on Sept. 30, 1984, against Green Bay in overtime. Johnson's 182-yard game is the fourth best in the NFL this season, heading into Monday night's game. The top three are Baltimore's Jamal Lewis, 295; and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, 200 and 187.

Still questionable
RB Corey Dillon (groin) is questionable for Kansas City, and coach Marvin Lewis hinted Monday that he excused Dillon from the Houston game. Dillon was not among the team's other inactive players watching from the sideline in street clothes. Lewis was asked Monday if there is a double standard in his dealings with Dillon and the team's 57 other players and said there is not. "Sometimes guys ask for certain leeway, and I have to consider it," Lewis said. "I've got to be able balance our football team and what is best for that player. At times, players come to me and have special requests. I have to weigh that. Corey has followed our plan." Dillon received medical treatment Monday morning at Paul Brown Stadium. "I wish people would get off Corey, and leave him alone," Lewis said. "Let him get well, and be our running back, and the guy that he is and be in his place on this team."

The way he likes ‘em
It was the kind of game Marvin Lewis likes. The Bengals had possession for 41:15. They ran 57 rushing plays. They dominated on third down. Turnovers were even at one apiece. In the fourth quarter, the Bengals had the ball for 13:28, ran 28 plays for 104 yards and had a 10-0 scoring edge. Houston ran four plays for minus-9 yards and threw an interception in the fourth quarter. The Texans tried to take away the pass by playing both safeties deep, and the Bengals line made them pay: No sacks allowed and 240 rushing yards (equaled only once since 2000).

Jon Kitna and his receivers were good enough to keep the Texans defense honest. Despite one interception, Kitna had a touchdown pass and 182 yards. The Bengals are in good shape as long as his passer rating stays in the 80s. Chad Johnson had a career-high nine receptions, and Peter Warrick sacrificed his reception total to block well in the run game.

Defense- some good, some bad
Nickel back Artrell Hawkins was out with a knee injury, and starting cornerback Jeff Burris had to leave early in the third quarter. But a revamped secondary made enough plays in the second half, including an interception by rookie corner Terrell Roberts, and the defense sacked David Carr twice in the second half and pressured him consistently.

The Bengals gave up 7.4 yards a carry, and the rush defense continues to struggle. The Bengals dominated in their rush offense and played with the lead much of the day, which prevented Houston from running the ball as much as it would have liked.

Bengals Quick Hits

  • Shayne Graham's kickoffs have been short, and the Bengals yielded an average of 26.6 yards on seven kickoff returns to J.J. Moses. Houston twice started drives in Bengals territory. But Graham made two more field goals and is perfect on 13 attempts inside 50 yards.
  • CB Jeff Burris (concussions) is questionable for Kansas City. He had to leave Sunday's game early in the third quarter because he did not feel well.
  • Lewis will not let his team lose two in a row. Since opening 0-3, the Bengals have won four of six and have not lost more than one in a row. The long losing streaks, so far, have been avoided. The fourth-quarter comeback win was the second of the season, another Bengal franchise rarity in recent memory.
  • TE Reggie Kelly (foot) is out for the Kansas City game, the third consecutive game he will miss.

Quote to Note
"It's not going to happen. If you need another game to prove that, it's not going to happen. That's in the past. All that stuff is gone. We put that to death. Marvin (Lewis) has come in here, and this team will not go in the tank. You take on the personality of your head coach. His personality is you keep fighting. It's not always the prettiest thing." -- Quarterback Jon Kitna, following Sunday's 34-27 victory over Houston.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

The Ravens are in flux at the quarterback position.

Ravens rookie quarterback Kyle Boller suffered a serious leg injury in Sunday's 33-22 loss at St. Louis and will likely miss the rest of the season. Team officials said it would be determined Tuesday whether surgery on the torn quadriceps muscle above his knee could speed up his recovery. If the prognosis remains being out six weeks, the AFC North leaders are expected to place their first-round draft pick on injured reserve.

"This is the adversity that this team's going to face right now," coach Brian Billick said. "Our expectations of ourselves have not changed, necessarily, because of this adversity. It can't. This team has a lot of experience at that, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you want to look at it."

Walking on crutches in the locker room, Boller declined to talk to reporters.

The next step is up in the air right now. The Ravens have not announced whether Chris Redman or Anthony Wright will be the starting quarterback at Miami.

Redman struggled in playing the second half at St. Louis, leaving open the possibility that he may not be guaranteed the starting job. If he does start, he probably will be on a short leash and could be pulled if he continues to play poorly.

When asked whether Redman would start Sunday, Billick said, "Chris is the backup right now. I would make that assumption right now."

Redman completed 7 of 12 passes for 58 yards, but threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, as the Ravens generated just 61 yards and three points in the final two quarters.

"I haven't lost my confidence," said Redman, who led the Ravens to a 3-3 record last year. "I can go out there and play. I've been playing all my life, so I'm not going to get my head up my butt [after one game].

"I'm not going to quit. I'm not going to walk off the field and give up. I'm going to go out there and battle my butt off and I know that's what all the guys expect me to do and that's what we're going to do."

Shooting himself in the foot
Jamal Lewis recorded his seventh 100-yard game of the season but it was all for naught. The league's leading rusher fumbled twice, costing them in the red zone in the first quarter and helping the Rams to a field goal in the fourth. After gaining 43 yards on his first two carries, he produced 68 yards on 25 attempts (2.7-yard average).

Defensive Notes
The silencing of St. Louis' passing game was thorough and relentless. The Ravens pressured quarterback Marc Bulger, throwing off his timing with four sacks. There were few options for Bulger because of the Ravens' air-tight coverage, which gave up three first downs passing. Cornerback Chris McAlister shut down Torry Holt, the league's leading receiver who was held to season lows of three catches and 38 yards. Linebacker Ray Lewis had an interception for the third straight week.

The Ravens had their best effort of the season in holding the Rams and running back Marshall Faulk to a total of 47 yards rushing. Faulk broke a 16-yard run but was limited to 1.6 yards on his other 19 carries. The only disappointment was allowing Faulk to punch in touchdowns from five and one yards. In their first eight games, the Ravens had only surrendered three rushing touchdowns.

ST notes
A bad bounce off a Ravens punt led to a 44-yard punt return by Dane Looker to the Ravens 1-yard line. But the return was helped by the Ravens standing around rather than pursuing the ball like Looker. The Ravens' Lamont Brightful was a threat on punt returns, averaging 15 yards on five runbacks. The kicking game was a push as the Ravens' Matt Stover hit all three field goals (two of which were from 41 yards) and the Rams' Jeff Wilkins converted all four of his tries (three from 46 yards and beyond).

Ravens Quick Hits

  • WR Marcus Robinson will likely move into the starting lineup with Frank Sanders likely out a couple of weeks with a sprained ankle.
  • CB Corey Fuller is expected to play after sitting out Sunday with groin and hamstring injuries. Fuller could have come back against St. Louis but the team decided to rest him in anticipation of an up-tempo game against the Rams offense.
  • TE John Jones is expected to miss Sunday's game with a strained quadriceps muscle. He is one of the Ravens' better special teams players.

Quote to Note
"We're really going to have to get focused this week and for the rest of the season. We can't play like that anymore." -- Tight end Todd Heap on the Ravens committing seven turnovers in a 33-22 loss at St. Louis.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

The Browns have serious issues.

The team lost its third in a row to Kansas City in embarrassing fashion, 41-20, Sunday. The Chiefs actually scored more on Butch Davis' rebuilt defense in 2003 than it scored in the "Helmet Game" of 2002.

Trent Green threw for 368 yards and three touchdowns, and Priest Holmes scored twice and finished with 92 yards rushing and 66 receiving.

Worst of all, Kansas City converted 12-of-16 third downs -- the most by a Kansas City team since the league started keeping the statistic in 1972.

The Browns now have lost to San Diego, New England and Kansas City, the confidence level is low and the team is starting to fracture.

The team talks positively about the season not being over, but there definitely are problems that may be too insurmountable to overcome the final seven games.

Dinking
QB Kelly Holcomb threw for just 149 yards in 27 attempts, as the Browns' offensive woes and quarterback struggles continue. Holcomb didn't play a bad game, but he played the kind of game that always got Tim Couch the ire of fans. Holcomb continued to struggle to get the ball down the field; no Browns receiver had more than 35 yards total in receiving yards. The Browns continue to be baffled by basic coverages. Cover two gave the Browns fits the first half of the season, the Chiefs' vanilla coverage gave them fits in the game.

Browns Quick Hits

  • WR Andre Davis took over for Kevin Johnson and caught three passes for 35 yards. He also drew a pass interference penalty on a flea-flicker. But Davis' presence did little to spark an offense that needed a spark.
  • Johnson, the Browns' leading receiver, spent most of the game on the bench. Johnson was in for about eight or nine plays, and caught one pass for three yards as the Browns went three-for-11 on third downs.
  • CB Daylon McCutcheon charged that he was hurt on a "cheap shot" block by Chiefs WR Johnnie Morton in the second period. Morton cut McCutcheon late on a run up the middle, and McCutcheon said he slightly hyperextended his knee because of the hit. He retaliated and got a 15-yard penalty for it.
  • MLB Andra Davis had an outstanding game, with 13 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble. Davis said, though, that he'd trade the numbers for a win any day.
  • In William Green's absence the Browns turned to James Jackson, who ran hard and ran well. But he had just 17 carries due to the fact Kansas City kept the ball and the Browns fell behind. This game was close at one point, but it was never close long enough for the running game to be a factor.
  • Phil Dawson and Chris Gardocki tried to kick the ball away from Dante Hall, and did fairly well. But Hall proved why he's the most elusive returner in the league when he broke a big return for 77 yards late in the first half. That return came with the score 21-17 Chiefs. From that point, Kansas City outscored the Browns 20-3.
  • Butch Davis said he went into the game thinking defensive turnovers would help the Browns win a 24-20 game. He also said that he was proud of the effort and heart of his team, and it would win games this season. These statements were reminiscent of those made by Chris Palmer that got him fired after the 2000 season. The Browns should be well past this kind of thing in year three of the Butch Davis era.

Quote to Note
"I don't think I have to find out. I know what these guys are made of." -- Coach Butch Davis, supporting his players when asked if the final seven games of the season would show him what kind of character the team has.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (Link)


Steel City Insider Top Stories