Around the AFC North: Steelers Get First Win, Prepare to Face Ravens

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer winless and head into their Week 5 game against the Ravens with momentum.

Pittsburgh was very impressive Monday night during a 27-3 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, sacking Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton eight times. It was almost a must-win for the Steelers, off to their worst start since 2013 when they began 0-4. Now at 1-3, the Steelers can put themselves in the thick of the division race if they beat the Ravens (2-2) on Sunday in front of a Heinz Field crowd that will surely be fired up.

“It needs to be a springboard for us as we move forward,” Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin said via the team’s website. “We don’t have a lot of time to pat ourselves on the back. We got another AFC North group coming in here in a short period of time. Our message all week was let’s stack one and then start stacking more. That’s the plan moving forward.”

The Ravens will get their first look at Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, replacing Ben Roethlisberger who is out for the season with an elbow injury. Rudolph was sharp Monday night, completing 24 of 28 passes for 229 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Rudolph seems to be playing with more confidence each week and the offensive line is protecting him well, holding the Bengals without a sack.

“I didn’t get hit once that I can remember,” Rudolph said. “That doesn’t happen a lot. Rhythm passing, something Coach Tomlin kind of highlighted this week, getting the ball out on time.”

Pittsburgh was already thinking about Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson after Monday night’s game. Sunday will be Jackson’s first start against the Steelers, who believe they can win the division despite losing Roethlisberger in Week 1.

“We just want to be in the mix,” Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward said. “Right now, we are. Not saying we’re leading the division or anything, but all we did is certify that we can be part of the mix. We got to get better next week. We got a monster in Lamar Jackson, but we’ll enjoy this win right now.”

Bengals: Lackluster Performance on Monday Night Football Latest Black Eye for Cincinnati

Cincinnati (0-4) is now the only winless team in the division, and Monday night’s loss was a rough one. The Bengals didn’t score over the final three quarters, leaving an impression on national television that wasn’t good. Afterward, Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd did not mince words.

“At the end of the day I can take the losing, but when you go out there and get embarrassed Monday night, prime time, I have too much pride to go out there and showcase what we showcased,” Boyd said via The Associated Press.

Zac Taylor is still looking for his first win as Bengals head coach, and Cincinnati was competitive in close losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills. But the Bengals took a step in the wrong direction in Pittsburgh, leaving them with a short week to regroup before hosting the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

“We didn’t expect to be an 0-4 team, but that’s where we’re at right now,” Taylor said. “There’s no excuses we can make.”

Browns: When Mayfield Doesn’t Get Hit, Cleveland is Tough to Beat

The Ravens recorded just one quarterback hit against Baker Mayfield in Week 4. That occurred on the game’s first series, when Tyus Bowser sacked Mayfield on third down to force a punt.

For the most part, Mayfield had plenty of time to throw during Cleveland’s 40-25 victory. And when Mayfield has time, he’s tough to beat. The Browns are 7-2 during Mayfield’s young career when he is sacked no more than once.

Mayfield had a self-deprecating evaluation of his play against the Ravens. After a Week 3 loss in which Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens took some heat for his play-calling, Mayfield had a bounce-back game against Baltimore and said Kitchens never deserved the criticism.

“I played better. When the quarterback sucks, it’ got to be pretty hard to call plays,” Mayfield said at his postgame press conference.

The Browns are facing a tough stretch, with their next three games against teams with winning records – at San Francisco (3-0) next Monday; at home vs. Seattle (3-1) in Week 6; followed by a bye in Week 7 before a visit to New England (4-0) in Week 8. 

Cleveland will need Mayfield playing well to have success during that stretch. He says he’s more focused on making quick reads and throwing before the opponent’s pass rush can get to him.

“I got the ball out of my hands and into the playmaker’s hands, like I’ve been talking about, what we needed to do,” Mayfield said. “We’d love to be 4-0 but we’re not. So we’re 2-2 at the first quarter. The most important game is always the next one.”

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