AFC North Report

<b>BALTIMORE RAVENS</b><br><br> Jamal Lewis' chase for 2,000 yards and the NFL's single-season rushing record could be cut short.<br><br> If the Cincinnati Bengals lose to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon, the Ravens clinch the AFC North before their Sunday night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The game would be meaningless because the Ravens would be locked in as the fourth seed.

Under those circumstances, Lewis may be limited to only one half of work. He needs 48 yards to become the fifth running back in NFL history to reach 2,000 and needs 154 yards to break Eric Dickerson's mark of 2,105.

"We'll adjust to the flow of the game," coach Brian Billick said. "If Cincinnati wins, I'm not going to say Jamal you're down. Will I adjust based on the nature of the game more readily? Sure. Just like the game in Cleveland, I'll judge when it comes time to pull him. Obviously, I would have a quicker hook if the situation were different."

In the Ravens' 35-0 rout in Cleveland, Lewis sat for the final 11 minutes, 55 seconds.

Resting Lewis and the other starters for the entire game Sunday night is not an option even if the game is meaningless.

"You can't prepare during a course of a week in terms of emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally -- and in the 11th hour, tell a team this game we don't need," Billick said. "You can't do that. The repercussions for going into that playoff game is not worth it. Sunday night is on."

If the playoffs started today, the Ravens would play host to the Tennessee Titans. A win would send them to the top-seeded New England Patriots.

Wright decisions
The passing game didn't help the Ravens, but it didn't hurt them either. Quarterback Anthony Wright made only one poor decision - a throw into coverage that resulted in his only interception - and stayed poise despite some poor pass protection early (three first-half sacks). Wright continued his streak for fumbling one snap each game. He finished 10-for-18 for a season-worst 90 yards and completed as many passes (four) to running backs as he did to wide receivers. And when are the officials going to flag defenders for grabbing a handful of tight end Todd Heap's jersey on nearly every route?

Another field day for Lewis
Jamal Lewis gained 151 yards on his last five carries after being limited to 54 yards on his first 17 attempts. In two meetings with Cleveland this season, Lewis has rushed for 500 yards on 52 carries, 9.6 yards per attempt. The Browns likely had a dozen missed tackles, which was highlighted by safety Earl Little's desperate attempts to grab Lewis by his ankle. Backup Chester Taylor had a key 14-yard run in the red zone to set up the Ravens' first touchdown. Lewis also got mixed into the passing game for the first time in three weeks. He had three catches for 21 yards and ran effectively in space on swing passes.

Defensive Notes
The Ravens hammered quarterback Tim Couch with five sacks and hit him a half-dozen other times. Couch was in survival mode in the second half, when he completed eight of his last 22 throws. Dime back Chad Williams delivered the hardest hit of the game, leveling running back Jamel White late in the second quarter, before returning an interception 52 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown. Terrell Suggs forced fumbles on both of his sacks and set a Ravens rookie record with 12 sacks this season. Suggs finished with five tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and five quarterback hits.

The Ravens have not allowed a Cleveland running back to gain 100 yards in all 10 meetings. Lee Suggs, the Browns' No. 4 running back to start the season, had some bursts but the Ravens contained him for a majority of the game. The Ravens held the Browns to 3.3 yards per carry and allowed just one run over eight yards. The last two opponents have failed to crack 80 yards rushing as a team against the Ravens.

Ravens Quick Hits

  • LB Peter Boulware was walking with a major limp after spraining his right knee Sunday. He said he expects to start because of the magnitude of the regular-season finale.
  • K Matt Stover hit the right upright on a 46-yard field goal attempt and has now missed back-to-back kicks for the first time this season. He is 31 of 35 for the year and leads the team with 127 points.

Quote to Note
"I think with this profile we're good enough to win a Super Bowl. In the NFL these days, it's all about who gets hot." - Center Mike Flynn on how the running game and the defense has the Ravens primed for the playoffs.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

If, in August, somebody had said the Bengals would still be in playoff contention on the season's last day, nobody would have believed it.

But here are the Bengals, needing a victory over Cleveland and a Pittsburgh victory at Baltimore to win the AFC North and get into the playoffs.

And one reason the Bengals are in the playoff chase until the last day - and game - of the regular season is their ability to avoid long losing streaks that have crippled previous Bengals teams.

Since starting 0-3, the Bengals have gone 12 games without losing two in a row. The 2003 team is the first since 1990 to go through an entire season without losing at least four consecutive games.

"I think the players are resilient," coach Marvin Lewis said Monday, the day after his team lost 27-10 at St. Louis. "If you're wallowing around worrying about what you didn't do last week, then you're going to miss preparation time."

Three times in a 10-game stretch the Bengals followed road losses with home victories. They will have their fourth opportunity Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals (8-7) are an early 71/2-point favorite. The Browns are 4-11 after losing 35-0 at home Sunday to the Ravens. Lewis has his players focused on the Browns.

"Everybody's (the media, fans) talking about what they're going to do," defensive end Justin Smith said of the Ravens. "We need to worry about what we're going to do. Cleveland is going to come here ready to play. If we don't take care of them, it doesn't matter what (the Ravens) do."

Dillon/Johnson plan fails again
The Bengals running game had just 23 carries, fifth fewest of the season. They abandoned the run early, stressing left tackle Levi Jones' knee and putting too much pressure on reserve left guard Scott Rehberg. Coach Marvin Lewis' plan of alternating Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson didn't work again. Neither back got into a rhythm.

The offensive line was overwhelmed by Rams blitzes and did not give any help to the injured Jones. Jon Kitna was sacked three times and intercepted three times. He had little time to set and throw. Chad Johnson was the only Bengal player able to run with the Rams. He had 115 receiving yards, his fifth 100-yard game of the season.

Game Notes
Credit Marvin Lewis for getting the most out of his players, but they looked slow against the speedy Rams, especially the cornerbacks. Nobody could stay with Marshall Faulk. The offensive coordinator gave up too soon on the run. The Rams controlled the clock for 35:18. They rushed for 143 yards, the sixth time a team has had that many or more. The Bengals have now allowed 130.3 rushing yards a game.

Credit special teams coach Darrin Simmons for almost pulling off the play of the year; Jeff Burris picked up a punt that had rolled to a stop in the end zone, and if not for an illegal substitution penalty called on the Bengals when offensive players ran onto the field, Burris would have had a 102-yard return. Both the return and cover teams were solid

Bengals Quick Hits

  • RB Corey Dillon became just the 28th player to rush for 8,000 yards with his 37-yard effort against the Rams. He has 8,011 for his career. He also established a new franchise record for scrimmage yards with 9,482.
  • WR Chad Johnson established a single-season franchise receiving yards Sunday with his 115-yard game. He has 1,326 yards.
  • Simmons' Shayne Graham belted a 48-yard field goal.
  • LB Adrian Ross was placed on injured reserve on Monday, a day after suffering an ACL injury in his left knee on the third to the last play against the Rams. His foot caught in the Edward Jones Dome AstroTurf.
  • LB Riall Johnson is expected to get most of the time in place of injured outside linebacker Adrian Ross.
  • LB Khalid Abdullah is expected to get work at outside linebacker in the season finale.
  • LB Frank Chamberlin will get some snaps at outside linebacker on Sunday.
  • WR Peter Warrick (knee) is questionable on Monday. He had arthroscopic knee surgery Friday but was running on an underwater treadmill on Monday.
  • LT Levi Jones (knee) is probable for the Browns. He has played two games since having arthroscopic surgery on his knee Dec. 8.
  • G Eric Steinbach (bruised thigh) missed the Rams game but said Monday he is hoping to practice Wednesday and play Sunday against the Browns.
  • QB Jon Kitna suffered a mildly sprained right ankle Sunday against the Rams but was not listed on the injury report Monday. He threw one TD pass and three interceptions at St. Louis. He has 20 TD passes and one interception in the eight victories. He has six TDs and 13 interceptions in the losses.

Quote to Note
"I'm with the Bus (Jerome Bettis), man. Have a little lube job, oil him up, get him going, check them tires, man." - Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, asked which team he's pulling for in Sunday night's game between the Ravens and Steelers. The Bengals need to beat Cleveland and have Baltimore lose in order to win the AFC North title.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

The Browns have touted their defense as improved this year. That improved defense is starting to look like a mirage.

In each of the last four games, the Browns have allowed a back to top 100 yards. Sunday they gave up 205 to Jamal Lewis, who now has 500 yards in two games against the Browns this season. Consider that the Browns leading rusher is William Green, who has 559 yards.

Lewis has two 200-yard games against the Browns, LaDainian Tomlinson another 200-yard game.

Three other backs have topped 100 yards in a game - Seattle's Shaun Alexander, Denver's Clinton Portis and St. Louis' Marshall Faulk.

Finally, three other backs have topped 90 yards - Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis, Kansas City's Priest Holmes and New England's Kevin Faulk.

Butch Davis desperately wanted to improve his team's run defense this year. He cleaned out his linebackers, brought in a new coordinator and tried to place an emphasis on stopping the run.

Obviously it hasn't worked as well as the Browns and Davis would have liked.

Lackluster effort
For the first time all season it looked like the Browns quit. After playing the Ravens close for a half, the Browns collapsed after Jamal Lewis broke a big run for a score. From that point there were only a handful of players on the Browns who were giving it their all on every play.

At times it looked like Lee Suggs was the only player on the field playing hard consistently. Suggs ran well and earned the respect of the Ravens, but it wasn't nearly enough to give the Browns a win.

Suggs earned the respect of the Ravens with the way he ran, gaining 68 yards on 20 carries. "William Green better get his act together," Ravens cornerback Corey Fuller said after saying how impressed he was with Suggs.

The Browns never got anything going, mainly because Tim Couch didn't have time to breathe. Baltimore's relentless pressure made it a long, miserable day for Couch and the passing offense, which totaled 133 yards. Couch was sacked five times and knocked down six or seven more times.

Anthony Wright only threw for 90 yards, but that was all he needed to do. The Ravens controlled the game with the run and only needed Wright to protect the ball and not make a big mistake. Wright did that, and kept some drives alive with short throws.

On special teams, the return game provided no big plays and the coverage units were average. Special teams did little to win the game, or to lose it. But the team's kick returners took some serious shots from Baltimore's aggressive coverage units.

Browns Quick Hits

  • QB Tim Couch completed the 1,000th pass of his career early in the loss to Baltimore. But the play was typical of the Browns day - Couch took a serious shot after he threw the ball, and it went for a three-yard completion on third-and-14.
  • DT Mike Myers started in place of Gerard Warren - Warren was late for a meeting - and recorded two sacks in the game. Myers was signed by the Browns during the season.
  • DE Kenard Lang will not give Jamal Lewis a lot of love, even if Lewis has run for 500 yards in two games against the Browns. Lang said Lewis' first game, a 295-yard day that set an NFL record, was a fluke. What was the second? "It's still a fluke to me," Lang said. He did add that Lewis is one of the five best backs he's faced.

Quote to Note
"Thirty-five, zero. That sucks." - Wide receiver Quincy Morgan on the loss to the Ravens.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (Link)


Steel City Insider Top Stories