AFC North Report

<b>CINCINNATI BENGALS</b><br><br> Just about all of Cincinnati is getting caught up in playoff fever for the long-suffering Bengals.<br> They are 6-5, having won five of their past six and six of their past eight games.<br> They are tied at the top of the AFC North with Baltimore.

The surest way for the Bengals to make the playoffs is to win the division by winning their five remaining games. They are at Pittsburgh and Baltimore, home against San Francisco, at St. Louis and back home for the season finale against Cleveland.

The biggest game on the schedule is the rematch with the Ravens on Dec. 7 at Baltimore. The Bengals already defeated the Ravens once, and a second victory would mean the Bengals could go into the season finale tied with Baltimore and control their destiny by beating the Browns. The Bengals also could go into the last game even trailing by one game and still have a chance to win the division with a victory and a Ravens loss in Baltimore to the Steelers.

A 2-0 record against the Ravens would give the Bengals the first tie-breaking formula, head-to-head competition. The second tie-breaker is division record. The Bengals are 2-1, the Ravens 1-2. Pittsburgh has a 3-1 division record, the best mark against other AFC North teams, though it is 4-7 overall.

Right now, the Bengals' focus is solely on Pittsburgh.

"Don't worry about it. We will take care of ourselves," coach Marvin Lewis when asked Monday about how he prevents his team from watching the scoreboard. "Without us beating (Pittsburgh), we don't have to worry about any playoffs.

"That's the most important thing. We just have to take care of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Don't look beyond one week."

Winning the division would guarantee the Bengals a home playoff game. If the season were to end today, the Bengals would be the fourth seed - the worst record of the four AFC division leaders - and would play host to fifth-seed Tennessee. The Titans are 9-2 but in second place in the AFC South behind Indianapolis. Miami would be the sixth and final playoff team as a 7-4 wildcard.

Keeping the peace
Coach Marvin Lewis did not let his players use the West Coast trip as an excuse to lose. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski now has the skill players and a solid enough line to use his whole playbook and adapt well in the course of the game to what the defense is doing. Credit Lewis and running backs coach Jim Anderson for keeping peace in the backfield and getting Dillon and Rudi Johnson to buy into the split-carry plan.

The Bengals unveiled their one-two punch with a healthy Corey Dillon, who ran for 108 yards upon his return from an abdominal injury. Rudi Johnson ran for 65, and the Bengals' 225 rushing yards gave them a third consecutive game with at least 200 yards on the ground.

Other than a fumble on a sack, Jon Kitna played a perfect game. Kitna had four touchdown passes in the first half alone and now has 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Chad Johnson had 107 receiving yards and 10 catches, three of which were touchdowns.

Kitna has 15 touchdown passes and one interception in the team's six victories. WR Chad Johnson leads the AFC in receiving yards with 988 yards and is tied for the lead with 65 receptions.

Defensive Notes
Chargers wide receiver David Boston had two touchdown receptions, but Doug Flutie was held to 210 passing yards. The Bengals have not had an interception in two games.

The Bengals held LaDainian Tomlinson to 98 yards and overall held the Chargers to 3 of 11 conversions on third down. The solid play on third down helped the Bengals have 38:18 in time of possession. Flutie ran twice for just 14 yards, so the Bengals did a good job on containing him.

Bengals Quick Hits

  • CB Jeff Burris (concussions) is likely to be out for the Pittsburgh game Sunday.
  • TE Reggie Kelly (foot) has been upgraded to questionable and could play Sunday.
  • K Shayne Graham leads the team with 76 points and missed only his second field goal Sunday. He is 16 of 18.
  • WR Kevin Walker, a rookie from Eastern Michigan, had his first NFL reception against San Diego and has stuck with his play on specials teams.
  • No big mistakes on special teams and no big plays. Kicker Shayne Graham made both of his field goal attempts. The kickoff coverage team is shaky.

Quote to Note
"It's Pittsburgh. If we're going to get where we want to go, then we have to beat Pittsburgh. They are on the schedule. They're the best. Let's go play." -- Coach Marvin Lewis, when asked how he prevents him team from burning out emotionally after winning 6 of 8.


There is a possibility that Anthony Wright could be the Ravens' quarterback for the rest of the season.

The Ravens are more confident in his abilities after he threw for a career-best 311 yards in leading the 44-41 comeback victory. Plus, injured starting quarterback Kyle Boller might not be able to return until the second-to-last regular-season game.

Unlike Boller, Wright had more of a presence downfield.

In Boller's nine starts, he had 11 passes for 25 or more yards. In Wright's second half Sunday, he had four throws that covered that yardage.

Wright lit up the Seahawks secondary, setting career highs in attempts (37), completions (20), yards (319) and touchdowns (4) to finish with a 119.1 quarterback rating. He found a rhythm with receiver Marcus Robinson, who out-jumped defensive backs for the four touchdown throws. It was the best day for their receiving corps as Travis Taylor made a sensational one-handed, 43-yard catch and Frank Sanders pulled in a 44-yard catch that deflected off Robinson's hands.

"There are an infinite number of possibilities based on Kyle's physical shape, how Anthony plays, where Kyle is and where we're at as a team," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Our commitment to Kyle is obvious. By the same token, if we continue and get on a roll and have a certain level of productivity ... "

That means Wright could put himself in a good position if he directs the Ravens to home wins over San Francisco and Cincinnati. At 6-5, Baltimore is tied with the Bengals for first place in the AFC North.

"Right now, Anthony Wright is our starting quarterback for good reason," Billick said. "Kyle's prognosis looks good. We'll address that when it comes. You can't dismiss the performance of the players and where we're at, but there's a lot of football to be played. And Anthony is our leader right now and that's the horse we're going to ride."

Boller had surgery to repair his torn left quadriceps muscle two weeks ago and is off crutches. Before the game, he was throwing off to the side.

"I hope I'm back for the week of Oakland," Boller said of the Dec. 14 game. "That's my ultimate goal. We're shooting for the Cleveland or Pittsburgh game. That'd be more realistic."

Jamal still solid
Jamal Lewis rushed for 117 yards, cracking 100 yards for the eighth time in 11 games. In the fourth quarter and overtime, he ran for 56 yards on 10 carries. His third fumble in three games didn't cost the Ravens since Ed Reed blocked the punt on the ensuing possession. Backup Chester Taylor had his worst game of the season, totaling minus-1 yard on three attempts as well as giving Seattle a touchdown at the end of the first half with a fumble.

Bad and Good
It wasn't the best day for the hottest secondary in the league. Chris McAlister got beat on a 38-yard touchdown pass on a post route by Seattle receiver Koren Robinson. Corey Fuller got beat on an 80-yard streak route by the Seahawks' Darrell Jackson. And Tommy Knight couldn't stop touchdown throws of 2 and 10 yards in the final 23 seconds of the first half. The 293 yards passing was the most allowed by the Ravens this season.

On the ground, the Ravens defense made their most impressive stand of the season, stuffing quarterback Matt Hasselbeck short on a critical fourth-and-1 in the final minute of regulation. Before that, linebacker Ray Lewis stripped Seahawks fullback Mack Strong which allowed the Ravens to close to within 41-38 with a touchdown. Seattle running back Shaun Alexander had success early with 54 yards on his first 13 carries. After the third quarter, the Ravens held him to 18 yards on his final nine tries.

Special Teams Notes
Ed Reed's blocked punt (from Tom Rouen) for a touchdown started the Ravens' 17-point comeback. Matt Stover tied the game at the end of regulation with a 40-yard field goal and won the game with a 42-yarder in overtime. Lamont Brightful had the longest return of the day, running back a kickoff 40 yards. Dave Zastudil averaged 42 yards on eight punts despite shanking one 24 yards in the third quarter.

What, we worry?
The Ravens never panicked after being down 17 points in the fourth quarter. When forced to open up the game plan, the Ravens went to Marcus Robinson and continued to go to him because Seattle never gave them a reason not to. The defense had to use a lot of press man-to-man coverage to try to make plays in the comeback and got burnt for some deep throws.

Ravens Quick Hits

  • Nickel back Tommy Knight could play this week despite spraining his right foot. He wore a walking cast but it's only considered precautionary.
  • Defensive end Anthony Weaver re-injured his neck in the opening series Sunday and did not return. He could start Sunday but the team is taking a wait-and-see approach.
  • Receiver Travis Taylor still remains inconsistent, catching a pass with one hand on one play and dropping a pass off his chest on another. He is on pace for 39 catches this season, which would be his lowest output since his rookie season.
  • Kickoff specialist Wade Richey has been an asset in the Ravens' kickoff coverage teams. He has six touchbacks in his past two games.
  • Offensive tackle Orlando Brown has been rotating at right tackle with Ethan Brooks throughout the season but the 360-pound veteran has also been apart of the Ravens' goal line defense. His play at nose tackle was a big part in the Ravens stopping Seattle on fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter.

Quote to Note
"This is something that you dream of. This is something that you write in books. This is something you think would never happen to you. For us to come back and win this game was unimaginable." -- Quarterback Anthony Wright after leading the Ravens from 17 points down in the fourth quarter to a 44-41 overtime win over Seattle.


The Browns are putting a good face on their dwindling playoff hopes.

Sunday's 13-6 loss to Pittsburgh was disheartening, but in the pathetic AFC North the Browns are still alive. Barely.

Baltimore and Cincinnati are in first place at 6-5, and the Browns are two games back at 4-7.

"Until the league sends the letter saying 'You are absolutely out of this deal' we have five games left," Davis said. "We'll try to win all five, win nine games and see what happens."

It's a tall order.

The Browns' remaining schedule takes them to Seattle, Denver and Cincinnati and has home games against St. Louis and Baltimore.

Every one of those teams has a winning record.

"Hey, it's like Coach Davis said," offensive tackle Ryan Tucker said. "Until the league calls us and says we're out we're going to keep battling."

Offensive Let-Down
QB Kelly Holcomb followed up a strong game against Arizona with a dismal game against Pittsburgh. Holcomb threw two interceptions -- one in the end zone, another as the Browns tried a last-chance drive -- and had at least four other throws that could have been picked off. Like the Browns' offense, Holcomb's inconsistency has been maddening; he has yet to win consecutive starts.

On the ground, the Browns moved the ball fairly well, but when it counted most they struggled -- in the red zone. The Browns moved up and down the field, but threw an end zone interception and failed to score a touchdown on four tries inside the red zone. As Kelly Holcomb said, the Browns moved the ball well, but "What does it get you? It got us six points."

RB James Jackson had an excellent game with 143 yards running and receiving, but also had two crucial fumbles. Both led to Steelers points, and when it was over Jackson said he was personally responsible for the loss.

Turnovers marred what could have been a good day, as Jackson ran hard and well but lost two fumbles -- though Kelly Holcomb took the blame for one -- and Jamel White lost another. Pittsburgh scored all its 13 points off turnovers provided by Browns running backs.

The Browns followed an uplifting win over Arizona with a lousy game against Pittsburgh. After scoring 44 points against the Cardinals, the Browns scored six against Pittsburgh, and four times failed to get in the end zone after moving inside the Steelers 20. This was not the way to follow up a big win, and it continued a frustrating trend for fans that has the Browns playing very inconsistent football.

Browns Quick Hits

  • WR Dennis Northcutt came up just short on a key fourth-down play in the third period. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, the Browns tried a double handoff, with Kelly Holcomb handing to Quincy Morgan in motion who handed to Northcutt. The Steelers were wary of Northcutt though. They cut off Northcutt and stopped him just short of the goal line.
  • RB William Green may not play the rest of the season in light of his off-the-field troubles. Green has been arrested for DUI/marijuana possession, suspended by the Browns for one game, suspended by the league for four and then stabbed in the back, allegedly by his girlfriend. Green obviously has many off-field issues to work out before he starts playing again.

Quote to Note
"We gave it away." -- OG Shaun O'Hara, on the loss to the Steelers.


Steel City Insider Top Stories