Cleveland Browns: Hot Browns Await Matchup With Ravens
Riding a four-game winning streak, the Browns (9-3) appear headed for their first playoff birth since 2002.
They have different players stepping up on both offense and defense, and on Sunday it was Baker Mayfield. During Cleveland's 41-35 victory over the Tennessee Titans, Mayfield became the first NFL quarterback this season to throw four touchdown passes in the first half. After throwing a career-high 21 interceptions last season, Mayfield hasn't thrown a pick in five straight games and has tossed just seven this season.
Even some of Mayfield's most ardent critics are being won over. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith was impressed watching Mayfield sling it Sunday after criticizing him earlier in the week.
The Browns will sit back and watch two AFC North rivals over the next two days, as the Pittsburgh Steelers face Washington Monday, and the Ravens host the Dallas Cowboys Tuesday night.
Beating a quality team like Tennessee (8-4) on the road was a statement win for the Browns, who were defeated handily by both the Ravens and Steelers earlier this season. Now the Browns have extra time to prepare for next week's rematch in Cleveland against the Ravens, who blew out Cleveland, 38-6, in the season opener. The Browns haven't forgotten that, but Mayfield said this year's team maintains its focus regardless of the opponent, which has led to success.
"We're going to be happy about this win until we wake up tomorrow, and then we're on to the next," Mayfield said via ClevelandBrowns.com. "This isn't the end of the season. This isn't what we set out to do. We didn't set out to be 9-3. There's a lot of ball left. The job's not finished.
"We're definitely trending in the right direction. I'd be lying if I said otherwise."
Pittsburgh Steelers: Sack-Happy Steelers Eye NFL Record
Heading into Monday night's game against Washington, the Steelers had recorded at least one sack in 68 straight games, one short of the NFL record of 69 straight set by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1999-2003.
The first sack in the Steelers' current streak came in 2016, when James Harrison sacked former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Pittsburgh leads the league with 41 sacks led by T.J. Watt (11 sacks), who is tied with Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams for the league lead.
Watt is downplaying the importance of the streak, but the Steelers' potent pass rush is among the reasons for their 11-0 record.
"We've never really talked in depth about any of that stuff," Watt said via ESPN.com. "All that matter is getting the win."
However, the Steelers wouldn't mind seeing this year's defense receive even more accolades. They have allowed the fewest points in the league (17.1 per game), have the second-highest blitz rate in the league (41.6%) and getting pressure on the quarterback by any means necessary is one of their beliefs.
"We do rush four, but occasionally we will blitz," Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler said. "We're not the Blitz-burgh we used to be, but we certainly are not far from it. We will do whatever we have to do to make sure we maintain the pressure on the quarterback."
Cincinnati Bengals: Another Loss Leads to Frustration and Ejections
The Bengals (2-9-1) have lost four straight since their bye, and their frustration is showing as their season heads in the wrong direction. Two separate skirmishes during Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Miami Dolphins led to the ejection of Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd and safety Shawn Williams.
The second melee was triggered when Mike Thomas of the Bengals plowed into Jakeem Grant of the Dolphins as he was defenseless while waiting to field a punt. It was the second time Grant had been hit too early while trying to field a punt, and both benches ran onto the field, with many Dolphins players and Head Coach Brian Flores incensed.
Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor said that Thomas was not being a cheap-shot artist, but admitted that Thomas' second hit on Grant was too early.
"He got there a little too soon," Taylor said via CincinnatiBengals.com. "That's obvious. But again that returner is a heck of a returner. He does not fair catch the ball. So you've got to put pressure on him. Of course we don't want to do it before the catch point. We want to play within the rules. But our guys were playing hard. It was unfortunate. There's no ill will there by Mike Thomas; I can promise you that."
Without quarterback Joe Burrow, who had knee surgery last week, the Bengals continued to struggle offensively and were held under 20 points for the fourth consecutive game. They will host the Cowboys in Week 14.