Welcome to Around the NFL, where Cale Berger of Steelers Now will recap early-week action and take a look ahead at some of the most important matchups from the Pittsburgh Steelers perspective.
AROUND THE NFL THIS WEEKEND
Baltimore Ravens 27 Cincinnati Bengals 3
After a strong start to his rookie year, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow finally experienced his “Welcome to the NFL” moment in the form of the Ravens defense.
Baltimore tormented Burrow all afternoon, who passed for a career-low 183 yards and an interceptions, snapping a streak of three-consecutive 300-yard passing performances. They also sacked him seven times, and snagged two fumbles, both recovered by Burrow’s college teammate and fellow rookie, linebacker Patrick Queen. One of his recoveries was a scoop and score. Cincinnati had no success on the ground either, as running back Joe Mixon was held to just 59 yards on 24 carries.
The Ravens’ offense looked solid for the second weak in a row, after a dreadful performance against the Chiefs in Week 3. Quarterback Lamar Jackson threw for 180 yards and two scores, while the Ravens rushed for 161 yards on a porous Bengals defense.
Baltimore will face the reeling Eagles on the road next week, then host the Steelers for a heavyweight bout on Nov. 1. Cincinnati travels to Indianapolis next Sunday.
Houston Texans 30 Jacksonville Jaguars 14
The Houston Texans are winless no more, and all it took was the firing of head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien.
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson tossed three touchdown passes to three different receivers and running back David Johnson ran for 96 yards on the ground, but it was Houston’s defense that shined with three takeaways off the Jaguar offense. Defensive ends J.J. Watt and linebacker Tyrell Adams both recovered Jacksonville fumbles.
Credit for the win must also be given to the often-scrutinized Houston offensive line, which only allowed Watson to be sacked once on the afternoon. He was the most sacked quarterback in the league coming into the game.
Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II still played well albeit in a losing effort, throwing for 301 yards and two touchdowns.
Next up are the Tennessee Titans for the Texans, as they continue to drag themselves out of the 0-4 hole they dug to start the year. Jacksonville host the Detroit Lions next week.
Dallas Cowboys 37 New York Giants 34
While they may sit alone atop the NFC East, Sunday’s win over the Giants proved costly for the Cowboys after star quarterback Dak Prescott was carted off the field in the third quarter with a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle.
Prescott had been an MVP candidate through the first four weeks of the season, entering Week 4 as the league leader in passing yards (1,690) and completions (137). He threw for 166 yards and an interception before leaving the game, but he did catch his first career pass for a touchdown from wide receiver Cedrick Wilson.
Veteran quarterback Andy Dalton filled in admirably for the injury Prescott, completing nine of eleven passes for 111 yards and leading the Cowboys on their game-winning field goal drive. Rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb was also a bright spot catching eight passes for 124 yards. He is now the second player in NFL history with at least five receptions in his first five career games, joining Terry Glenn.
Running back Ezekiel Elliot was the star for Dallas offensively, rushing for 91 yards and two touchdowns. He will be relied on heavily to carry the Cowboys in the absence of Prescott.
Even against a poor Dallas defense, New York still failed to capture their first win of the season, as they continue to struggle in the absence of running back Saquan Barkley. Quarterback Daniel Jones passed for 222 yards with no scores or interceptions. He has throw for just two touchdowns in 2020. New running back Devonta Freeman and tight end Evan Engram scored the Giants’ fourth and fifth offensive touchdowns of the season, both coming on the ground. Linebacker Kyler Fackrell had a pick-six for the New York defense.
Dallas faces the Arizona Cardinals and young phenom Kyler Murray on Monday Night Football next week, and the Giants take on another division foe in Washington.
Cleveland Browns 32 Indianapolis Colts 23
The Browns are 4-1 for the first time since 1994 following their victory over the Colts on Sunday. Cleveland was led by head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Nick Saban that season 26 years ago.
Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield did revert back to some bad habits with two interceptions, but his 247 yards and two scores were enough to earn the win. The Browns’ run game was still solid without the injured Nick Chubb. Running back Kareem Hunt rushed for 72 yards, and also caught three passes for 21 yards and a touchdown.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. appeared in his 80th career game on Sunday, and achieved two historical feats in the process. His 6,805 career receiving yards and 485 catches are each the third-most through 80 games in NFL history, surpassing the legendary Torry Holt and the Chargers’ Keenan Allen, respectively.
The Colts fought hard until the end Sunday afternoon, but quarterback Philip Rivers’ two interceptions proved to costly and impactful to overcome. They will host the Bengals next weekend.
Cleveland is off to a historic start by their franchise’s standards, but they will face their toughest test yet in the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
Chicago Bears 20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19
Carolina Panthers 23 Atlanta Falcons 16
Las Vegas Raiders 40 Kansas City Chiefs 32
Arizona Cardinals 30 New York Jets 10
Pittsburgh Steelers 38 Philadelphia Eagles 29
Los Angeles Rams 30 Washington 10
Miami Dolphins 43 San Francisco 49ers 17
Seattle Seahawks 27 Minnesota Vikings 26
Los Angeles Chargers at New Orleans Saints, Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans, Tuesday, 7:00 p.m., KDKA-TV
Around the NFL: Championship Game Sunday Features four Star QBs
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers, 3:05 p.m., WPGH-TV
It will be a Battle of the Bays in the early slot Sunday, as Tom Brady and the Buccaneers visit Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Tampa and their athletic defense got the better of Green Bay back in Week 6, winning handedly 38-10 and holding Rodgers to his worst performance of the season.
The Bucs’ relentless pass rush had Rodgers under constant duress, sacking to probable MVP four times and picking him off twice. Rodgers was also held without a touchdown pass for the only time in 2020.
As for Brady and the Bucs, he tossed for 166 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones II had 113 yards and two scores on the ground.
Playing the best football of his career since that loss to Tampa Bay, Rodgers will assuredly be looking to avenge his poor performance back in October to reach his second Super Bowl. He carved up a stout Los Angeles Rams defense for 296 yards and three total touchdowns a week ago, and has tossed one interception over his last 210 pass attempts.
He will try to keep that unblemished streak alive against a Buccaneers defense that picked off New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees three times a week ago.
Tampa’s Tom Brady can reach his tenth Super Bowl with a win over the Packers. No stranger to performing in the elements, Brady will look to carve up the improving Green Bay defense with his patented surgical precision.
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs, 6:40 p.m., KDKA-TV
While two legends are squaring off in the NFC, a pair of rising stars will go toe-to-toe in the AFC Championship game, as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs welcome Josh Allen and the Bills.
Cleared from concussion protocol after leaving last week’s win over the Cleveland Browns, Mahomes is still battling a toe injury that could hamper his signature mobility. Luckily for Kansas City, Buffalo is 22nd in the league in pressure rate.
Even without his scrambling, Mahomes is still a threat from the pocket, coming off a season where he threw 38 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
The Chiefs offense will get a boost to take the heat off Mahomes on Sunday night as well, with rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire set to make his return from injury.
Turning to the Bills, they are here behind an MVP-caliber season from Allen, who has made tremendous strides in his third season. His 45 total touchdowns this year are the most ever by a Buffalo quarterback, while he improved his completion percentage by 10.4 percentage points, now at 69.2%.
Allen has protected the football well this season with just ten interceptions, but he will have to be extra cautious opposing the safety Tyrann Mathieu and the Chiefs defense. The “Honey Badger” has five interceptions in his last six games.
Kansas City is looking reach their second-straight Super Bowl, while Buffalo is pursuing their first appearance since 1993.
Baltimore Ravens Sign WR Deon Cain to Reserve/Future Contract
The Baltimore Ravens have signed former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Deon Cain to a Reserve/Future contract, the club announced Friday.
We have signed WR Deon Cain to a Reserve/Future contract.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 22, 2021
Cain spent the last two seasons with Pittsburgh, spending the majority of the 2020 season on the practice squad. He appeared into two games this past season, including the season finale loss to the Cleveland Browns, but recorded no stats.
Cain saw more extended action in 2019, where he appeared in six games and made three starts. He tallied five receptions for 72 yards a season ago.
A star for the Clemson Tigers, Cain was selected in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He caught 130 passes for 2,040 yards and 20 touchdowns during his Clemson career.
Washington’s Alex Smith Beats Ben Roethlisberger for PFWA Comeback Player of the Year
Washington quarterback Alex Smith has been named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America, edging out Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
After suffering a significant leg injury in 2018 and subsequent infection that nearly took his limb, Smith made his unlikely return to the field in 2020, leading Washington to a division title and playoff appearance.
Smith passed for 1,582 yards and six touchdowns with eight interceptions, but led Washington to a 5-1 record in his six starts. He is the first Washington player to win the award since its inception in 1992.
Roethlisberger was also believed to be a worthy candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, leading the Steelers to a 12-4 campaign and AFC North title after missing the majority of 2019 with a season-ending elbow injury. The 38-year-old threw for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdowns with ten interceptions.
Running back Jerome Bettis (1997) and quarterback Tommy Maddox (2003) are the only two Steelers to have previously been awarded Comeback Player of the Year.
Smith was not the only quarterback recognized by the PFWA on Friday, as Buffalo’s Josh Allen was awarded Most Improved Player of the Year.
Allen made a remarkable jump in 2020, passing for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns with ten interceptions. He also accounted for eight scores on the ground.
Not only were his 37 touchdowns seven more than in his first two seasons combined, but Allen also completed a career-high 69.2% of his passes, a ten percentage-point increase from a season ago.
Allen will have another opportunity to demonstrate his jump in play Sunday when the Bills visit the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC Championship game.
Two Steelers have previously been named the league’s Most Improved Player, quarterback Kordell Stewart in 2002 and running back Le’Veon Bell in2015.