by Stephen Stone
Cold Hard Football Facts AFC North Sniper
The difference between the number one team in the NFL and the number 32 team is essentially negligible. The league has been trending that way for years, but it’s never been more true than it is today. The 49ers were the best team until they lost to the Vikings in Week 3. The Raiders were the worst team until they beat the Steelers.
If you’re keeping score at home, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Stafford are 4-11 this year. Meanwhile, Kevin Kolb, Christian Ponder, Mark Sanchez, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Andy Dalton are 11-4.
Had the Pats won Sunday, the Ravens and Steelers would have both been under .500 for the first time since Week 6 of the 2002 season - the first for the AFC North.
Instead, Baltimore came back and kicked a game-winning field goal to give the Patriots their first losing record since Week 1 of 2003.
I have realized I’ll never figure out this league, but I’ll give it a shot anyways.
Here are five key storylines from Sunday’s games:
Baltimore 31 New England 30
1. Joe Flacco has 12 game-winning drives in his career.
This season is the crossroads of Flacco’s career. He must become an elite quarterback for the Ravens to succeed. While his numbers have improved (more on that later) his ability to throw the team on his back when they need him is what has fueled Flacco’s success all these years.
Trent Difler spoke of Flacco’s play after the game. As someone with a little bit of knowledge on how to quarterback the Ravens to the Super Bowl, Dilfer said that if Baltimore wins a championship this year, it won’t be the way they did it in 2000 with defense and game management. This year’s Ravens team will rely on a play-making quarterback.
Fortunately for Baltimore, they are getting elite numbers from the position.
2. Dan Marino, Kurt Warner Joe Flacco?
Since the AFL/NFL merger, the Patriots have given up 375 yards and 3 touchdowns in a game three times. Dan Marino and Kurt Warner make sense, but Flacco? The Ravens quarterback joined the list on Sunday night by downing the Pats.
It was an emotional offensive performance all-around. Everyone played with a heavy heart due to the Torrey Smith situation, and Smith shone as Flacco’s go-to target. Number-five is putting up Pro Bowl numbers and his elevated play may be the reason the Ravens finally break through and win a championship.
Oakland 34 Pittsburgh 31
3. Ben Roethlisberger has an 8:1 touchdown to interception ratio.
Guys like Brady and Rodgers get most of the glory and Flacco is the most talked about quarterback in the division, but this man is quietly having an amazing season. Yes it’s early and the Steelers are 1-2, but Big Ben is on pace to throw for over 40 touchdowns and only five interceptions. In a league where quarterbacks are putting up cartoonish statistics, Roethlisberger - a guy who relies on toughness and clutch play instead of gaudy numbers - is finally joining in on the fun.
Cincinnati 38 Washington 31
4. Andy Dalton has the Bengals tied for first place.
I thought for sure that this would be a regression year for Cincinnati. They never make the postseason in back-to-back years and Dalton seemed prime for a sophomore slump (provided it actually exists.) But Dalton is playing great and the Bengals have won two in a row. A.J. Green, who killed it with nine catches and 183 yards, is molding into one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
But even though Cincinnati has looked good in consecutive weeks, it doesn’t mean that the team will continue its success. This is the third time in four years that the Bengals lost Week 1 and then won two in a row. In 2009, they kept it going and won seven of their last nine, ultimately winning a division title. In 2010, the 2-1 Bengals went on to lose 10 games in a row and finished with one of the worst records in the league.
Buffalo 24 Cleveland 14
5. Only one third of Brandon Weeden’s completions were to wide receivers.
The Browns are the only AFC team without a win and Brandon Weeden - despite his impressive Week 2 performance - has received the majority of the blame. Weeden hasn’t been good, but the biggest thing I’ve noticed about the Browns this season is the lack of wide receiver talent.
Weeden completed 27 of 43 passes for 237 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in Week 3. He now has six picks for the year, but he isn’t getting much help from his wideouts. Only nine of his completions were to wide receivers and he had to rely mainly on running backs and tight ends to dump off the ball. Josh Gordon, with his three catches for 40 yards, was the team’s top receiver. That’s not going to get the job done.