Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens held serve this week as they remain deadlocked atop the AFC North. Pittsburgh won a hard fought contest with division rival Cleveland on Thursday night while the Ravens toyed with the winless Indianapolis Colts at home on Sunday.
When the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers get together, you can count on some hard hitting action. Thursday night's contest was no exception. The Steelers took an early 7-3 lead on Cleveland and then hung on for dear life, finally salting the game away when Antonio Brown broke free for a 79 yard touchdown pass with under three minutes remaining to set the final 14-3 margin.
The Steelers may have paid a heavy price for the win, however. QB Ben Roethlisberger was sacked in the second quarter and left the game limping heavily. He was taken to the locker room where x-rays were negative. Somehow, he returned and hobbled through the rest of the game, clearly hurting from the injury. He'll most likely miss at least this week's game in San Francisco and possibly more.
Also missing the Monday night showdown with the 49ers will be LB James Harrison. Harrison was flagged for a helmet to helmet hit on Browns QB Colt McCoy in the fourth quarter. Given Harrison's multiple violations and fines for vicious hits, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell imposed a one game suspension on Harrison for this latest violation. McCoy suffered a concussion on the play and his status for Sunday's contest at Arizona is up in the air.
The Ravens, meanwhile, got a welcome respite from the hard hits of the division and took on Baltimore's former natives, the Colts. Without Peyton Manning, the Colts were no match for the Ravens, who cruised to a 24-10 victory that wasn't that close. The Ravens held the Colts under 100 yards of total offense for most of the game before substitutions and soft zone coverages allowed Dan Orlovsky to move Indianapolis down the field for a meaningless late touchdown. Joe Flacco was sharp, completing 74 per cent of his passes for 221 yards and a pair of scores. Ray Rice topped 100 yards rushing and scored a touchdown as well.
Baltimore will travel to San Diego for a prime time meeting with the Chargers. They hold the head to head tie breaker with the Steelers, so a Ravens victory combined with a Steelers loss would all but guarantee them the division crown.
The Bengals' loss Sunday knocked them out of the sixth and final playoff spot, now claimed by the New York Jets. The Jets take on Philadelphia Sunday on the road while Cincinnati travels to St. Louis. If the Bengals can win out, they still have a good shot at the final AFC wild card berth. That would mean half of the AFC's playoff spots would go to members of the AFC North.
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