Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
As we approach the final month of the regular season, here are seven observations from this weekend's games:
Despite the controversy Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark started with his crushing hit on New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker, it took a lot of air out of New England's sails. Welker is a vital part of the Patriots' offense and the unit was never the same once Clark hit Welker hard over the middle and knocked him out of the game. It's debatable whether the hit was clean. Clark was flagged, but looking at replays Welker was hit in the chest after a tipped ball.
The Steelers are phenomenal on defense this year because they are winning on third down. On Sunday, Pittsburgh held New England to 1-for-13 on third downs, mostly because that's when defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau waits to pull out his exotic blitz packages. Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel looked confused most of the time because he wasn't experienced enough to handle the multiple looks of the Steelers.
For all the criticism the Baltimore Ravens face for not beating quality teams, give them credit for mastering the art of dominating beatable opponents this season. The Ravens have won every game they were expected to win -- and usually in blowout fashion. Baltimore could have slipped up against the Cincinnati Bengals but instead left no doubt by beating them by 31 points on the road.
Ravens receiver Mark Clayton finally looked like the first-round pick the team selected four years ago. Clayton was tremendous with a career-high 164 receiving yards and two touchdowns (one passing, one receiving), which included a pair of unbelievable, fingertip catches. If Clayton plays this well the rest of the year, the Ravens could be dangerous with an added threat alongside veteran receiver Derrick Mason.
The Cincinnati Bengals' inability to run the football hurts everything offensively. Running backs Cedric Benson and Chris Perry have proven that neither is the long-term solution. The pair combined for 28 yards on 13 carries Sunday. Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had more rushing yards (29) than his two tailbacks combined.
The Cleveland Browns are an abysmal 1-6 at home this year, which is a complete turnaround from last year's 7-1 mark at Browns Stadium. The lack of home-field advantage is a big reason why this season has been a complete disaster. The stadium Sunday was only about 65 percent full and there was no energy despite Cleveland leading until the fourth quarter.
Browns head coach Romeo Crennel will not survive this season barring, as ESPN's Chris Mortensen recently reported, a miracle. The report was spot on because Crennel would need to run the table in the final four games to have a chance to keep his job with an 8-8 record. But with third-string quarterback Ken Dorsey playing the rest of the year, Cleveland would be lucky to win one or more games in 2008. That means the Browns likely are headed for a 4-12 or 5-11 finish.