Only two of the division’s four teams were in action on Sunday and each had their own unique matchup. Cleveland hosted the Eagles, who the world is still trying to proclaim championship contenders, even as Philadelphia continues to give reasons not to believe in them.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh traveled to Denver to participate in the most anticipated game in quite some time - Peyton Manning’s debut with the Denver Broncos. Neither AFC North team managed to pull out a victory, but there may be some hope going forward.
Here are five things we learned:
Philadelphia 17 Cleveland 16
1. Brandon Weeden could pan out as a starter in the NFL, but it wasn't happening Sunday.
But on the bright side, it’s almost impossible to be any worse, right? Much was made about the unprecedented five rookie quarterbacks starting in week one, and while the kids went 1-4 today and all (except for RG3) struggled in their own right, no one was as bad as Weeden.
The elder statesman sure didn’t look like a guy with more life experience than his rookie counterparts. He was often confused by Philly’s stingy defense. His four interceptions and 5.1 quarterback rating placed him at the bottom of an unflattering list - the lowest passer rating in an NFL debut in league history. To put his abysmal 3.4 yards per attempt into perspective, Robert Griffin III averaged 12.3 yards per attempt.
2. Maybe the Browns should just stop drafting running backs in the first round.
Ok, that’s not fair to Trent Richardson. He’s only played in one real NFL game, so to draw comparisons to Cleveland’s former collosel bust William Green is about as knee-jerk as it gets. But, the mere fact that you can compare each players’ respective debuts is more that a little disconcerting for Browns fans.
In 2002, Green was the first running back off the board when Cleveland drafted him. Ten years later, Richardson carried the same distinction. Today, Richardson had 19 carries for 39 yards. His 2.1 yards per carry was the lowest for the first running back drafted in his NFL debut since, you guessed it, William Green in 2002. Brandon Weeden didn’t play well enough to win, but Richardson did him no favors.
Denver 31 Pittsburgh 19
3. Demaryius Thomas owns the Steelers, but not many people recognize it.
I don’t think anyone has forgotten Denver’s epic overtime touchdown against the Steelers last year in the Wild Card Playoffs, but there’s only one name we remember from that play, and it isn’t Thomas.
Tim Tebow literally blew up Twitter last January when he connected with Thomas last January for an 80 yard touchdown to upset Pittsburgh. But it was Tebow who garnered all the attention. Thomas was merely a pawn. Tonight, his 71 yard score was no less impressive, and he received just as little fanfare. This time, he was the side-note to two of Peyton Manning’s milestones - his first Denver touchdown and his 400th career touchdown pass. Either way, it’s safe to say that Thomas owns the Steelers, even if the media doesn’t give him the credit he deserves.
4. The Browns forced five turnovers.
Weeden threw four interceptions, but so did Michael Vick. Combined with a recovered LeSean McCoy fumble, they were able to win the turnover battle. That’s going to win most games. Last season, the Browns started 3-3, winning the three games they forced more turnovers than they didn’t and losing the three where they gave up the ball more than they turned it away. If Cleveland can keep today’s efforts going on defense, they should experience success in the coming weeks.
5. Pittsburgh dominated the time of possession.
Thanks to a third quarter in which the Steelers held onto the ball for an astounding 14 minutes and 24 seconds, Pittsburgh ended up winning the time of possession by a mark of 35:05 to 24:55. Even though the Steelers didn’t win, history shows that they’ll be successful if they keep leading in this category.
Last season, Pittsburgh won the time of possession 11 times, going 10-1 in such contests. If the Steelers continue to hold onto the ball, this game will prove to be an anomaly.