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Around the AFC North: Week 16

Posted Dec 17, 2013

CINCINNATI (9-5)
The Bengals were denied a chance to catch the Patriots for the No. 2 seed in the AFC Playoffs and secure the bye in the first round that accompanies that as a result of their loss to the Steelers. But in the immediate aftermath of Cincinnati’s 30-20 loss at Heinz Field last Sunday night the Bengals did their best to keep the setback in perspective.

“We’re not going to allow people to start talking like we’re 5-9 again,” guard Andrew Whitworth insisted. “We’re 9-5 and we’ve got an opportunity to do everything we set out for the season to do. That’s the truth of it. It’s just one game.

“For people outside and the media and everything else, seeding and all that, that’s what they need to be concerned with. For us it’s another football game we had a chance to win or lose, and we lost it. You lost it and now you bounce back and put the team back together and say it’s one loss.”

The fear in the immediate aftermath was that the Bengals had lost P Kevin Huber (cracked vertebrae, broken jaw, concussion) for the season. According to reports from Cincinnati on Monday, Huber is to be put on injured reserve and the team had begun its search for a replacement. Cincinnati also lost LB James Harrison (concussion) against the Steelers. In his homecoming to Heinz Field, Harrison played only 11 snaps before being injured.

The Bengals fell behind, 21-0, in the first quarter against the Steelers, the first time the Bengals had allowed 21 first-quarter points since Sept. 28, 1986 against Chicago.

Cincinnati (9-5) closes the regular season with Minnesota and Baltimore at home, where the Bengals are 6-0 this season. The Ravens raised their record to 8-6 with a win over the Lions in Detroit on Monday night, and Baltimore won the first of the annual home-and-home series vs. Cincinnati.

CLEVELAND (4-10)
When the Browns hosted the Bears, they were ranked No. 8 in the NFL in total defense, but then gave up 21 fourth-quarter points in a 38-31 loss. Cleveland had surrendered 12 fourth-quarter points in a loss to Jacksonville on Dec. 1 and 16 points in the final 15 minutes on Dec. 8 in a loss to New England.

The loss against Chicago was the Browns’ fifth straight setback overall and the eighth in their last nine games. Cleveland has lost at least 10 games for a sixth consecutive season. And with one more defeat the Browns will have lost at least 11 games in six consecutive seasons since going 10-6 in 2007.

The Browns lost to the Bears despite producing two defensive scores, a fumble-return TD by safety T.J. Ward and a pick-six by safety Tashuan Gipson, the first time in the Browns’ history that they had lost a game in which they scored multiple defensive touchdowns. Cleveland had been 3-0 with two defensive TDs.

RB Edwin Baker was a bright spot by rushing for 38 yards and a touchdown on eight carries (4.8 average) and catching four passes for 46 yards in his first NFL game. Baker had been signed on Dec. 10 after spending time on practice squads in San Diego, Denver, and Houston after being drafted by San Diego out of Michigan State on the seventh round in 2012.

The Browns finish the regular season at the Jets and at the Steelers.

The victory over the Browns completed a sweep of the AFC North for the Bears.

BALTIMORE (8-6)
Justin Tucker kicked six field goals, including a franchise-record 61-yarder with 38 seconds left, and the Ravens defense intercepted Matthew Stafford three times in an 18-16 win over the Lions Detroit on Monday night. The victory lifted the Ravens into the AFC’s final playoff spot as the sixth seed with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh chose to let Tucker try the longest kick of his career – by 5 yards – instead of going for it on fourth-and-8 from the Detroit 43.

Rookie safety Matt Elam, who had made news during the run-up to the game by calling Lions All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson “pretty old,” sealed the victory with an interception.

The Ravens won their fourth straight game and maintained control of an AFC Wild Card. The final two games on Baltimore’s schedule are against New England and then at Cincinnati. Should the Ravens win out, they would extend their winning streak to six games and would end the season as champions of the AFC North by virtue of a head-to-head sweep of the Cincinnati Bengals.

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