Around the AFC North

Week one of the 2006 NFL season was good to the AFC North, as three of the division's four teams posted double-digit victories over their respective opponents. Let's take a spin around the division with news, notes, quotes, and report cards from this weekend's action:



Steve McNair's debut was efficient but not exhilarating.

In Sunday's 27-0 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the new Ravens quarterback led his offense on two touchdown drives but fell flat on the series in between.

The Ravens know they need a more focused effort from McNair if they want to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

"As the game progressed, there are some things that Steve probably will tell you that he needs to do a whole lot better," coach Brian Billick said. "There were a couple of things, interestingly if the exact game been played by Kyle Boller, there would have been a great deal of commentary on it today. I think no one is more aware of it than Steve."

McNair, however, made a positive first impression despite the mistakes.

He threw his first touchdown as a Raven. He completed 63 percent of his passes. And he didn't commit a turnover, which was a problem area under Boller.

Most of McNair's determination is based on showing the league that he is still a playoff-caliber quarterback.

"This team knows what I can do. It's the people that are outside looking in that don't know what I can do," McNair said. "I'm still able to play this game at a high level, and that was shown today because of what we've done. ... I'm happy to be a part of this organization, to go out and have the people around me that still believe that I can play football."

McNair was a model of efficiency, completing 63 percent of his passes (17 of 27), including a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Wilcox in the fourth quarter, and finishing with a 94.8 passer rating.

He threw for only 181 yards and fumbled once while attempting a pass, but McNair did not get intercepted and occasionally threw the ball away rather than force something against Tampa Bay's defense.

McNair also only completed one pass over 20 yards and averaged just 6.7 yards per attempt.

"I'm very comfortable," McNair said. "It was just a matter of going out there and taking what the defense gave us. They weren't going to give us the big plays downfield with the cover-2 [defense] that they play a lot. We just had to go out and relax and just take what they gave us and get the ball into the guys' hands. We've got a lot of weapons on this team."

McNair did a fair job of spreading the wealth. Tight end Todd Heap was McNair's favorite target with five receptions. Wide receiver Derrick Mason caught four, Wilcox three and wide receiver Mark Clayton two.

McNair's signature style was evident in the team's opening drive, which consumed 9:16. The Ravens mixed the run (eight plays) and the pass (six plays), and the offense gained four first downs with three passes from McNair to Mason and an incompletion from McNair to Mason that drew a pass-interference call on Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber.

"I saw [his confidence] when he first came out and we were able to chew up almost 10 minutes on the first drive," Mason said. "You knew that Steve, that old Steve, was there. The way he commanded the huddle, the way he methodically drove us down the field, handing the ball off to [running back] Jamal [Lewis], throwing it to Todd, throwing the ball to myself, we were able to get big chunks of yards."


--Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata backed up his worth as the first pick in his first game.

Catching a deflected pass, Ngata returned the interception 60 yards before running out of bounds at the nine-yard line.

Asked if he entertained the idea of returning the defense's second interception for a touchdown, Ngata said, "Yeah, I thought about it.

Just that me being a big guy, I run out of gas pretty fast. ... I was sprinting and my legs just got tired."

--Despite missing all of training camp because of his father's death, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden was on top of his game in the season opener.

The nine-time Pro Bowl player frequently tangled with fellow All-Pro defensive end Simeon Rice, and though Rice was credited with three hits on quarterback Steve McNair, he finished with no sacks.

"I did a good job on the passing plays today," Ogden said. "Not to take anything away from [Rice] as a player ... but we won the game and he didn't get a sack. So, hey, that's in my book today."

--The Ravens won their first season opener since 2001.

--The Ravens' defense limited the Buccaneers to 142 yards, the sixth-best performance in Baltimore history.

--LB Bart Scott blitzed more in the season opener than he had in the past. He finished with two of the Ravens' three sacks.

--PR B.J. Sams averaged 14.3 yards on four returns. That's an improvement over last season, when he ranked second in the NFL with a 12.2-yard average.

--RB Jamal Lewis scored his first touchdown in a season opener since 2003. His limited carries Sunday (18) were more a factor of the heat in Tampa Bay than his health.

--RB Mike Anderson received the second-most carries behind Jamal Lewis. Although Musa Smith remains the third-down back, Anderson handled most of the backup duties on running downs.

--P Sam Koch averaged 47 yards on six punts in an impressive debut. The rookie ranked 11th in punting in the preseason.

--DT Aubrayo Franklin is questionable for Sunday's game because of a thigh injury. The top interior backup lineman missed the season opener with the injury and likely needs to test his leg in practice on Wednesday.


PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Steve McNair was efficient but not explosive in his Ravens debut. He managed the game well, completing 63 percent of his passes and holding onto the ball until the last moment. But he was erratic on some of his passes and connected on just one pass over 20 yards. None of the receivers made a major impact, as McNair spread the ball around to tight end Todd Heap (five catches) and receivers Derrick Mason (four) and Mark Clayton (two). The offensive line did an impressive job in protecting McNair, especially left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who held Simeon Rice without a sack.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Jamal Lewis didn't hit some big holes early. He finished with 78 yards on 18 carries but he had a 27-yard run late in the game. Mike Anderson handled most of the backup duties, rushing for 25 yards on seven carries. He has yet to show any burst. The Ravens will show more of a commitment to the run over the next two weeks (against Oakland and Cleveland).

PASS DEFENSE: A -- The Ravens recorded three interceptions and three sacks. Cornerback Chris McAlister set the tone by returning an interception 60 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. That turnover -- along with countless passes batted down at the line -- got into the head of quarterback Chris Simms. It was an impressive showing because the Ravens regularly got pressure with only rushing four players. They seemed to confuse Tampa Bay with their rush zone coverages, which played a big part in the interceptions.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Ravens held Cadillac Williams to 22 yards on eight carries. Their swarming and aggressive defense never allowed Williams to break a run longer than seven yards. That forced Tampa Bay into long third-down situations, which led to the interceptions. The backbone of the defense remains the linebackers (Ray Lewis, Adalius Thomas and Bart Scott), who were the top three tacklers on the team.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Rookie punter Sam Koch was impressive with a 47-yard average. Matt Stover converted both field-goal tries (from 20 and 42 yards). B.J. Sams had one big return that set up a field goal. But the return game gave up too much yards, a problem that the Ravens are working to rectify.

COACHING: A -- Coach Brian Billick had the Ravens ready to end their 11-game road losing streak. This team showed more focus in the season opener than it did all of last season. The defensive game plan was nearly perfect. Using zone coverage seemed to confuse quarterback Chris Simms.



The Bengals stand by their position that defensive end Robert Geathers was blocked into Chiefs quarterback Trent Green and that it was not a helmet-to-helmet hit.

Geathers hit a sliding Green at the end of a quarterback scramble in the third quarter of the Bengals' 23-10 victory Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The back of Green's helmet bounced hard off the grass.

Asked Monday for his position on the hit after seeing film, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, "Yeah, same position I had yesterday. Nothing has changed that way."

Lewis said Sunday that Geathers was blocked from behind by wide receiver Eddie Kennison.

The Chiefs are upset with the hit, which did not draw a penalty flag.

"In my opinion, I think it was a late hit. I think it was obviously a very vicious hit," Chiefs president Carl Peterson said at a news conference, "one that unfortunately Trent Green and the Kansas City Chiefs are paying a price for."

Peterson said he had reviewed film of the play Monday with league officials.

Green remained hospitalized in Kansas City and was expected to stay there overnight before going home Tuesday, Peterson said. Green has no apparent problems with his limbs but is not expected to play Sunday.

Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer and Green have a relationship bonded by adversity.

Palmer remembers how Green called him unexpectedly in January and offered support after Palmer underwent reconstructive knee surgery. Green had suffered a similar injury in 1999.

"Everything I've heard is good," Palmer said of Green's condition. "I heard he regained consciousness in the locker room and he's going to be OK."

As a team leader, Palmer made sure to defend Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers' role in the hit. Geathers turned his shoulder to avoid hitting Green with his helmet as they both fell to the ground on the play.

"Media-wise there has been a lot of blame on Robert, but football is a vicious, dangerous sport," Palmer said. "And knowing Robert, he's not a guy who likes to take cheap shots or really ever does take cheap shots.

"He was going after (the play), trying to make a tackle. He got kind of hit low, almost like he fell into him. And when you're 280 pounds and you're falling into a quarterback, something bad is going to happen and something bad did happen. There is nothing you can do in that situation, and hopefully Trent will be all right."


--WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh was the only player listed by coach Marvin Lewis on the Bengals' unofficial injury report Monday. He said Houshmandzadeh, who missed the game Sunday with a heel injury, could play in the home opener Sunday against the Browns if he can practice this week.

--WR Kelley Washington had more time in the game Sunday because of T.J. Houshmandzadeh's absence. Washington threw key blocks on both of the Bengals touchdowns, runs from 22 yards by Rudi Johnson and 8 yards by Kenny Watson.

"T.J. is a more crafty receiver inside," Washington said. "I'm a bigger, physical receiver, and that's what I do, I'm a blocker. It's just a chance for me to go out there and make some blocks for Rudi."

--CB Johnathan Joseph, along with another rookie, linebacker Rashad Jeanty, earned high praise from coach Marvin Lewis for the performances Sunday at Kansas City. Jeanty played three seasons in Canada.

"Johnathan and Rashad both did a nice job of playing a lot of snaps as rookie players," Lewis said. "They play and you don't notice that they are rookies. They both play with good composure and play a little more mature than they probably are. Rashad has a little advantage. They both did a nice job."

--DE Justin Smith earned praise from the normally tight-lipped Lewis, who doesn't like to compliment his players individually. Smith had three sacks against the Chiefs and also forced and recovered a fumble.

"He plays hard all the time, he really does," Lewis said. "He leaves everything he has on the field. He made some good plays, big plays that kept control of the game and put it back in our favor. He did a really good job in both the run and the pass."

--K Shayne Graham needs only one more made field goal to become eligible to move into second place as the all-time most accurate field goal kicker. He would settle in behind former Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt, now with the Cowboys (217 of 248, 87.5 percent). Graham is 99 of 117 after making all three of his attempts Sunday at Kansas City; 100 made field goals are required to be counted. Browns kicker Phil Dawson was second coming into the season at 135 of 161 (83.85 percent).


PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Carson Palmer played the entire game, some of it on a rain-slick grass field, and came out with a healthy left knee. No setbacks. Palmer dropped back to throw just 20 times; he was sacked once. He was 13-for-13 passing for 127 yards, no interceptions and no touchdowns. The best news Sunday for the Bengals, besides the victory, was how the Bengals didn't have to rely on Palmer and the pass offense to win the game. On an 88-yard touchdown drive, the Bengals employed the no-huddle effectively, and Palmer was 5-for-5 passing on the possession.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Bengals maintained possession on the ground, rushing the ball 34 times compared to just 20 passes. Rudi Johnson had a workman-like 28 carries for 96 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown run. The other touchdown came on an 8-yard run by Kenny Watson on a quick pitch to the left.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- Though the Bengals yielded 230 passing yards and one touchdown through the air, they forced the Chiefs to throw by taking away the run. With the Chiefs one-dimensional, the Bengals had seven sacks -- all from defensive linemen, including three from Justin Smith. With Sam Adams eating space and taking up two blockers in the middle, the ends had one-on-one blocking and had their way with KC's tackles. Free safety Madieu Williams also had the team's interception, and the Bengals ended up with a 3-1 edge in the turnover differential.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Bengals, run over for 201 yards Jan. 1 by Larry Johnson, snapped his nine-game streak of 100-yard rushing games. Johnson was limited to 68 yards on 17 carries. He had 10 rushes that went for 2 or fewer yards, and of them, four went for no gain and three for minus-1 yard. Madieu Williams and Dexter Jackson came up from the safety positions to offer outstanding run support.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus -- Shayne Graham kicked three field goals on three attempts and had one touchback. Kyle Larson could have had two touchbacks had Tab Perry been able to knock down two punts. The Bengals also held dangerous return man Dante Hall to five yards on three punt returns.

COACHING: A -- Marvin Lewis had the perfect overall message for his team, preparing them psychologically: grind it out. And his coordinators backed it up with their game plans. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski stuck with the run game, and the Bengals ran 34 times, compared to 20 pass plays. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan called a basic plan, too, allowing talented ends Justin Smith and Robert Geathers exploit matchup advantages on the egde of the KC offensive line. There was little blitzing, allowing the Bengals to drop more linebackers and keep defensive backs in pass coverage.



The most baffling element of the Browns' opening-game loss to New Orleans was that running back Reuben Droughns had only 11 carries.

Droughns set a team record a year ago when he ran the ball 309 times, but against the Saints he seemed like an afterthought. The Browns chose to drop back to throw 33 times, and handed off to backs 16 times -- a ratio that is skewed.

The Browns offensive line is a big one and its strength is not mobility and pass-blocking. Its strength is strength.

The more the line blocks, the more Droughns runs, the better the running game. In theory at least.

Coach Rome Crennel said struggles in the first half led the team to lose confidence in the running game. Droughns had six carries for 16 yards, and the team's backs ran for 30 yards on 10 carries the first half.

But the Browns won't win many games if they keep abandoning Droughns. Even with Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow on the field, the team's offense starts with and revolves around Droughns and the running game.


--TE Kellen Winslow had an excellent game in the opener, his first in nearly two years. Winslow led the Browns with eight catches for 63 yards, including a touchdown.

Winslow's return from a broken leg and torn knee ligaments hasn't been easy, but his presence on the field meant a lot to the Browns offense.

He also was among the team's most vocal players on the sidelines and on the field. Clearly, Winslow lost none of his passion for the game when he was hurt.

--WR Braylon Edwards had a mixed day in his return from a torn knee ligament. Edwards caught a touchdown pass on the first play of the game, but it was called back by penalty.

He nearly broke free for a score on a slant in the second half, but then dropped the Browns last pass of the game.

Edwards again appeared close to breaking a big play, but the ball ticked off his hands and was intercepted, securing New Orleans' victory.

--QB Charlie Frye was running for his life in the opener. Though Frye made plays with his feet -- he was the leading rusher with 44 yards.

-- the Browns were less than pleased that Frye had to run that often.

--WR Joe Jurevicius will miss time with a rib injury. He took a shot on his only reception, and his first reception for his hometown team. Though the Browns had not diagnosed the injury as of midday Monday, Jurevicius is expected to miss a few weeks.

--FB Lawrence Vickers was a surprise choice as the team's short-yardage back. Vickers is a rookie fullback who was used a running back twice on third-and-one. He gained nothing on both plays.

--WR Dennis Northcutt returns to the starting lineup with Jurevicius out. Northcutt has proven his worth as a third receiver, but he continues to drop passes and not make enough plays to justify being a starter.

--S Sean Jones got the first start of his career and played well. Jones, the safety taken after Sean Taylor in the 2004 draft, had an interception and seemed to be around the ball a lot.


PASSING OFFENSE: D-minus -- The pass protection was nonexistent, passes were dropped and the only real plays that were made seemed to come from Charlie Frye running for his life and pulling out a throw. The only thing that keeps this grade from being a failing mark is the play of Kellen Winslow, who provided life to a team that played poorly.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- The Browns seemed to outthink themselves at every turn here. Instead of giving the ball to their best back and letting the game get a flow, they gave up on the run. Too, they took Droughns off the field on the most important plays -- third and short yardage -- and twice used a rookie who gained nothing. The Browns have to run the ball to win. They failed in the play-calling and they failed in the execution on Sunday.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- Saints rookie Marques Colston, a seventh-round pick from Hofstra, caught four passes against the Browns secondary. All went for first downs. Reggie Bush was given more room than the blimp takes up on third downs. The pass rush was inconsequential. The Browns gave a smart quarterback a lot of time, and he took advantage.

RUSH DEFENSE: F -- No team can say it was successful when the opponent's backs combined for 151 yards -- exactly what Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush did. The Saints got a lot of their yards up the middle, the area where Ted Washington was supposed to be strong. On this day, Washington lost the matchup to Jeff Faine, a center the Browns discarded in the offseason.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- The return game was solid, but a penalty for being downfield wiped out a big tackle of Reggie Bush inside the 10. The Browns followed that penalty with a timeout because they did not have the right players on the field. This is way too sloppy for a team working six weeks for opening day.

COACHING: F -- For whatever reason, the Browns started the season listless. On the first play from scrimmage, they could not handle New Orleans' pass rush. The Saints seemed to be fired from jets every play, while the Browns muddled around. The play-calling bordered on the bizarre and the Browns played like amateurs. This did not look like a team ready to start a season.



It's possible Ben Roethlisberger will return to start at quarterback when the Steelers play their second game, a Monday night game on Sept. 18 in Jacksonville. But if he's not fully recovered from his Sept. 3 appendectomy, coach Bill Cowher will confidently put the ball in the hands of Charlie Batch again.

Batch ran his record to 3-0 as a starter in Pittsburgh with a fourth-quarter comeback against Miami Thursday night for a 28-17 victory. He showed the kind of poise they expected from the nine-year veteran, overcoming what could have been a devastating fumbled snap at Miami's 1-yard line in the fourth quarter.

"I don't worry about Charlie Batch," Cowher said. "Charlie Batch is fine. He's a very confident guy. Those things happen. You move on. We finally got off the field and Charlie came back. I had all the confidence in the world."

Roethlisberger paced the sidelines four days after his surgery, and he might be able to play in the second game. The Steelers don't practice again until Tuesday, after taking a long weekend.

"I think we'll look and see where Ben is at," Cowher said. "Charlie's performance is what I expected, so that will not alter the decision-making with Ben. If Ben's healthy he'll play. We'll have to get clearance from the doctors first and make sure he feels good."


-- RB Najeh Davenport, a four-year veteran released by Green Bay in the final roster cutdown, signed with the Steelers. RB Patriot Cobbs was released.

-- LB Joey Porter planted a kiss on the cheek of coach Bill Cowher after he returned an interception for a touchdown against Miami.

"That's my guy, right there," Porter said. "There are no other words to say it. I try to tell you guys that me and him are close."

It's the first on-field kiss for Cowher since 1997, when he planted one on quarterback Kordell Stewart during a comeback victory in Baltimore.

-- The mayor of Pittsburgh, Bob O'Conner, was buried Thursday morning and quarterback Charlie Batch dedicated his play to him that night.

"I wanted to dedicate this victory to him," Batch said. "Hopefully, we could ease the grieving process a little. I think, through sports, you're able to do that."

-- QB Brian St. Pierre was added to the 53-man roster as the backup to Charlie Batch on Wednesday. St. Pierre likely will remain the No. 3 quarterback once Ben Roethlisberger returns to health, although he might have to go back onto the practice squad.

-- CB Chidi Iwuoma, an important part of the Steelers' special teams the past four seasons, was released to make room for St. Pierre.

-- RB Duce Staley dressed for the game but did not play and likely will not play unless Willie Parker or Verron Haynes is injured.

-- WR Santonio Holmes caught his first NFL pass, a nice six-yard reception, and also returned punts and kickoffs in his first NFL game.

-- LB Joey Porter recorded his 55th sack, moving him past Greg Lloyd into fifth place on the team's career list.


PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- There was not a big drop-off with Charlie Batch at the controls. He completed 15 of 25 for 209 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 126.5 passer rating. He asked for the play that resulted in tight end Heath Miller's 87-yard touchdown catch that gave the Steelers the lead for good in the fourth quarter. Nate Washington made an aggressive catch for his 27-yard touchdown and Batch waited nicely for Hines Ward to come open in the back of the end zone for his other score.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Willie Parker ran a career-high 29 times for 115 yards, his seventh 100-yard game and his third consecutive in the regular season. The Steelers again showed patience with their ground game, running 38 times for 143 yards. Parker picked up one crucial fourth-and-one with a pitch outside on the team's first scoring drive, and also got some tough yards up the middle.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- Too many long passes were completed over a secondary that did not cover well through most of the game. CB Ike Taylor was burned on many of them and dropped another potential interception delivered right to him in the end zone. Daunte Culpepper was 18 of 37 for 262 yards. The Steelers saved the night here with fourth-quarter interceptions by SS Troy Polamalu and LB Joey Porter.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Dolphins did not try hard on the ground, and maybe it had something to do with the fact they weren't getting anywhere. Ronnie Brown did run for two touchdowns, but he ran only 30 yards total on 15 carries. Culpepper scrambled three times for another 8 yards and that's all Miami managed.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- Jeff Reed missed a 44-yard field goal and did not have his footing on kickoffs. James Harrison's holding penalty canceled a 62-yard kickoff return by Ricardo Colclough. Wes Welker returned a punt 47 yards for Miami, breaking tackles along the way. Chris Gardocki averaged a healthy 46.6 yards on five punts but his net was reduced to 26.8 because of all the returns.

COACHING: B -- Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt's play-calling was exceptional, and coach Bill Cowher made a statement early when he went for it on fourth-and-one at Miami's 39. Cowher praised Whisenhunt's patience with the running game and it once again produced a true Pittsburgh victory stat: 38 runs, 25 passes. The biggest failure came in special teams, although it did not look like a reflection on coaching as much as it did a lack of execution and some young players joining the mix.

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