Some days you win. Some days you lose.
Some days, you get the crap kicked out of you physically, limiting your ability to perform at a high level for an undetermined amount of time.
Injuries (and recovery from them) have affected the power structure of the AFC North since season’s outset, which is not in itself unusual. Teams shuffle players in and out of lineups for various reasons every season. The difference this year is how much quarterbacks – the lifeblood of any team’s success – have been affected. The Ravens, no strangers to losing starting QBs to injury at the worst possible times, appear to be the only team to escape calamity so far; while Bengals QB Joe Burrow appears fully healthy after an early calf injury resulted in an 0-3 start, the team is surely biting its collective fingernails each time he’s hit. Browns QB Deshaun Watson remains sidelined with a mysterious ailment, which may or may not be to his throwing shoulder, forcing the Browns to rely on an iffy pair of backups to fill in, with mixed results. The Steelers likely need a therapy session after witnessing backup QB Mitch Trubisky’s latest effort in a season where starting QB Kenny Pickett hasn’t been able to stay on the field consistently.
The cycle continues or something.
Jaguars 20, Steelers 10
Steelers fans are acutely aware of the problems their team has displayed on offense, and the team’s output Sunday did nothing to solve any of them. QB Kenny Pickett suffered a rib injury late in the second quarter after posting a 10-16, 73-yard day. Despite throwing on the sideline at the beginning of the second half, Pickett did not return, citing a communal decision by the staff to hold him out. Backup Mitch Trubisky provided a TD to WR George Pickens and two momentum-killing interceptions among his 139 yards passing. The team managed a meager 70 yards rushing for the day, with a season-low 1.9 YPC for starting RB Najee Harris on seven carries. The lone Pittsburgh highlight appears to be WR Diontae Johnson’s postgame rant regarding the quality of the officiating.
As has become rote, the Steelers defense played well…until it didn’t. An improved Jaguars offense squeaked out 11 points in the second half to seal the win, surviving three sacks and an interception. Pittsburgh LB Cole Holcomb led the team with 11 tackles and has proven to be an excellent FA pickup, and OLB T.J. Watt continued his possible Defensive Player of the Year campaign with several QB hurries and a half-sack.
Yes, the officials were sketchy as WR Johnson noted, as they called a rarely-seen offsides penalty on the Steelers on a FG attempt. So it goes.
Browns 20, Seahawks 24
The Browns leaned heavily on their rushing attack to keep this one close, but the Seahawks ultimately prevailed on a late TD pass after an interception.
Offensively, there’s just not much else to discuss. The Browns managed 155 yards rushing and a rushing TD (RB Kareem Hunt) among five ball carriers. Called into duty for a third start, backup QB P.J. Walker accounted for 248 yards passing, but threw two interceptions, including the final pick that led to the game’s deciding score. WR Amari Cooper aided Walker as much as he could (6 catches, 89 yards) and TE David Njoku added four catches for 77 yards and the Browns’ only TD catch.
Defensively, the league’s best unit didn’t play poorly overall, limiting Seattle QB Geno Smith to two TD passes with two INTs. The Browns’ own Defensive Player of the Year candidate, DE Myles Garrett, added another sack and some additional QB hits to his season tally. The defense struggled a bit to contain the Seattle rushing attack, which only totaled 114 yards, but provided some key third-down conversions the Browns weren’t able to stop. The Browns lost CB Greg Newsome II to a groin injury in the first half; his status is undetermined as of this writing.
Ravens 31, Cardinals 24
Finishing games is important too; a lesson the Ravens were nearly forced to re-learn after some late gaffes allowed the Cardinals to close to within a TD.
Despite putting up 31 points, the Ravens exhibited one of their uglier days on offense this season. QB Lamar Jackson threw for a paltry 157 yards while connecting on 18 of his 27 passing attempts, adding only 18 yards rushing in the process (on four carries). Most of the Ravens’ offensive highlights were contributed by RB Gus Edwards, who managed 80 yards rushing and three TDs, two of which were in short-yardage scenarios. TE Mark Andrews pulled in the team’s sole TD catch. For a change, the offense committed no turnovers, although Edwards did fumble (and recover) the ball at one point.
Defensively, the Ravens were reasonably sharp. ILBs Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen each made 11 tackles, while S Kyle Hamilton contributed 10 of his own. S Geno Stone picked off Cardinals QB Joshua Dobbs once to add to his league-leading interception total (5), and CB Brandon Stephens picked off a pass himself, continuing his breakout season. The Ravens were able to generate much of their pressure inside and sacked Dobbs twice among several QB hurries; DT Michael Pierce played his best game to date with five tackles, a sack, several QB pressures and a pass defensed, while fellow DT Justin Madubuike added more statistics to his best season (three tackles, a sack, three QB hits) and possible Pro Bowl berth.
A late onside kick conversion by the Cardinals on a miscue from the “hands” team and WR Nelson Agholor produced some stomach churning moments for the Ravens, who saw the Cardinals add a FG off their recovery, leading to a second onside attempt. The Ravens were able to ultimately recover it, finally clinching the win.
Bengals 31, 49ers 17
Bengals QB Joe Burrow appears fully healthy again, if Sunday was any indication.
Burrow, who suffered a well-publicized calf injury in the preseason and supposedly reaggravated it in Week 2, threw for three TDs and 283 yards, connecting on 19 consecutive attempts in the process. Burrow’s mobility, limited for the first six games of the season, was fine on his six rushing attempts for 43 yards alongside RB Joe Mixon’s 87 yards on 16 carries. WR Ja’Marr Chase added 10 catches for 100 yards and a TD in one of the more symmetrical performances witnessed this season. TE Irv Smith Jr. lost a fumble in an otherwise mistake-free day for the offense.
The Cincinnati defense held the once-vaunted San Francisco offense to just 17 points and forced 49ers QB Brock Purdy into two costly interceptions, thrown on consecutive passes in the second half. Purdy did manage 365 yards passing, but got into the end zone only once on a late TD to RB Christian McCaffrey, and was pressured much of the day. At one point, Purdy lost a fumble on a strip-sack to Bengals DE Trey Hendrickson to seal the loss for the 49ers, who have been held to 17 points or fewer in three consecutive games; a shocking turn for a team once considered the NFC’s best.
See y’all next week.