BALTIMORE (7-4)**: Coach John Harbaugh characterized the Ravens' 34-27 victory on Monday night at New Orleans as a "really special win."
Aren't they all, particularly at this point of a season and especially in a division as congested as the AFC North?
The Ravens became the fourth team in the division to reach seven wins despite being outgained by the Saints, 525-449. Baltimore's defense came up big when it had to, from turning New Orleans away without any points after the Saints' first possession achieved a first-and-goal at the Ravens' 1-yard line, to S Will Hill's 44-yard pick-six late in the third quarter that broke a 17-17 tie.
The Ravens also held the Saints to 190 yards and 10 points in the second half. The lone New Orleans touchdown over the final two quarters wasn't scored until 40 seconds remained in regulation and the Saints were facing a 14-point deficit.
The Baltimore offense had balance in New Orleans. RB Justin Forsett had a career-high 182 rushing yards and WRs Torrey Smith (98 receiving yards) and Steve Smith (84, one touchdown) both approached 100 yards … K Justin Tucker booted a 55-yard field goal vs. the Saints, his fourth of 50-plus yards this season … Hill's interception was the third by a Ravens defensive back this season and Baltimore's first defensive touchdown in 23 games.
CLEVELAND (7-4)**: The Browns' 26-24 win at Atlanta might also be characterized as special.
Cleveland overcame three interceptions thrown by QB Brian Hoyer, including two in the final five minutes. And Hoyer overcame what he called "probably the worst game of my career" well enough to lead the Browns on a seven-play, 61-yard drive in the final 44 seconds, a march that culminated with Billy Cundiff's last-play, 37-yard field goal.
Coach Mike Pettine said he "never considered" putting QB Johnny Manziel into a game Hoyer wound up finishing with a passer rating of 52.3.
The Browns lost S Tashaun Gipson (knee), the NFL leader in interceptions (six). The initial speculation in Cleveland was Gipson might be lost for the rest of the regular season … Cleveland snapped its streak of seasons with double-digit defeats at six (since the Browns went 10-6 in 2007) … WR Josh Gordon accounted for 120 of Hoyer's 322 passing yards but the pair needed 16 targets to connect eight times in Gordon's 2014 debut.
The top photos of QB Ben Roethlisberger throughout 2014 season.
CINCINNATI (7-3-1)**: The Bengals were feeling pretty special about their 22-13 victory in Houston given that they had suffered first-round losses in the playoffs in Houston in 2011 and 2012.
"This is one of the monsters we hadn't beaten yet," LT Andrew Whitworth told Bengals.com. "This was a little bit personal. They robbed us of what we thought were pretty high playoff hopes."
This year's Bengals' postseason aspirations were dealt a potentially serious blow when the team lost RT Andre Smith (triceps) in the second quarter. Fifth-year pro Marshall Newhouse took over for Smith and spent much of the rest of the day trying to deal with Texans DL J.J. Watt.
"I could have blocked him better but we won and I don't remember him making many impact plays," Newhouse said.
WR A.J. Green had a career-high 12 catches for 121 yards and said the toe that's cost him playing time this season felt 100 percent for the first time since the opener … Cincinnati will play three road games over its final five (at Tampa Bay, at Cleveland, at Pittsburgh) and three division games over its final five (one vs. the Browns, two against the Steelers) ... Coach Marvin Lewis on the Bengals' slim lead in a most competitive division: "We control everything, and that's all we have to worry about. Our guys have earned an opportunity to be in this position."