Cleveland Browns: Picked by Many to Win Division, Browns Are in Basement
Last place in the AFC North is not where the Cleveland Browns (4-4) expected to be through eight games. But after a tough 15-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns are at the bottom of the division and have failed to score more than 17 points in three straight games.
The return of Baker Mayfield on Sunday didn't jumpstart Cleveland's offense and their starting quarterback is clearly playing hurt with a torn labrum in his non-throwing left shoulder.
The Browns' passing attack isn't clicking and it will be hard for their offense to improve unless that changes. Odell Beckham Jr. had just one catch against the Steelers for six yards, and Jarvis Landry (five catches, 65 yards) had several key drops and lost a fumble down the stretch.
Mayfield said Landry would take responsibility for the drops, but that it fell on the entire offensive unit to correct its struggles.
"It is on all of us," Mayfield said via cleveland.com. "Everybody is going to point fingers at a few plays, but the fact is we just did not get into a rhythm today. We stubbed our toe a few times – penalties and just did not make the plays we needed to to win."
It may be even tougher for the offensive line to protect Mayfield without Conklin, but Mayfield indicated he would continue to play through his injury.
"I felt a couple [hits], but no setbacks so that was one positive for me looking at this," Mayfield said. "Just have to get it corrected and continue to rehab and do all of that. On the field, we just need to do better."
Pittsburgh Steelers: Third Straight Win Puts Steelers Back in Race
The Steelers (4-3) played far from a perfect game against the Browns, but they were resourceful and resilient even when things didn't go their way. Rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth made a superb catch for the go-ahead touchdown as he continues to become a bigger part of the offense.
Inside linebacker Joe Schobert forced Landry's fourth-quarter fumble that snuffed out Cleveland's potential go-ahead drive.
The strong defensive effort let Head Coach Mike Tomlin off the hook for making a controversial decision that didn't work out. With the score tied at 3-3 late in the first half, the Steelers attempted a fake field goal from the 10-yard line that failed. Placekicker Chris Boswell suffered a concussion when he was tackled hard on the play and the Steelers were without a placekicker for the entire second half.
Tomlin gave his players credit for bailing him out with another close win. The Steelers have won their last two games by a total of eight points and will look for their fourth straight win on Monday Night Football (Nov. 8) against the Chicago Bears.
"The fake field goal was a bad call because we poorly executed it," Tomlin said via Brook Pryor of ESPN.com. "I take responsibility for that. I appreciate the guys backing my play and fighting for 60 minutes and delivering a victory and making it a side note."
Cincinnati Bengals: Bad Fourth Quarter and Controversial Call Leads to Costly Defeat
Losing an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Cincinnati Bengals (5-3) dropped a 34-31 decision to the New York Jets, who got a terrific performance from Mike White. White torched the Bengals' defense with over 400 yards passing in his first career start.
After their convincing win over the Ravens in Week 7, the Bengals talked all week about not overlooking the Jets (1-6), then failed to close out the game. Defensive end Sam Hubbard said the Bengals learned a valuable lesson.
"We've never been in this position where we're now the hunted," Hubbard said via Ben Baby of ESPN.com. "We've always been the hunters. They were more hungry than we were today, and I think it's a valuable lesson that we learned in our process."
The Bengals were burned by a controversial call that went against them on the Jets' final possession, when Cincinnati cornerback Mike Hilton was whistled for illegal use of the helmet. Ty Johnson of the Jets initiated the helmet-to-helmet hit, lowering his head at the last minute and leaving Hilton with no time to adjust his target area.
The penalty on third down allowed the Jets to retain possession and run out the clock, denying the Bengals an opportunity for another chance to win the game.
It won't change the outcome of the game, but protests about the call may lead to the NFL taking a closer look at illegal use of the helmet.
"When are the officials going to start calling helmet-to-helmet on the ballcarrier?" asked former New England and Kansas City personnel czar Scott Pioli, as NBC Sports' Peter King wrote.
The Bengals host the Browns next weekend in a key AFC North matchup.