Here are seven notes and observations from Week 16 in the AFC North:
Both literally and figuratively, Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed was on fire in their 20-10 victory against the Cleveland Browns. On the sidelines, Reed's jacket caught fire, which you can see here. But on the field, the future Hall of Famer took advantage of Cleveland rookie quarterback Colt McCoy's inexperience. Reed recorded two interceptions against McCoy, who threw three picks total. McCoy said Reed was reading his eyes the entire game to stay one step ahead. "Ed Reed is one of the greatest football players, and he has been over the last 10 years, and we knew that going in," McCoy said. "I told you guys I have to be aware of him. I have to know where he is at all times."
When Reed gets hot, his interceptions can come in bunches. According to ESPN's Stats and Information, Sunday marked Reed's 10th career multi-interception game. Reed is the NFL's active leader in that category, two games ahead of Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel.
Although the Browns played sloppily and committed four turnovers, there was nothing wrong with their effort this week. The Browns continued their season-long trend of getting up for good teams and admitted they were inspired by the trash-talking during the week by Baltimore's Ray Lewis. The Ravens' linebacker said Cleveland tailback Peyton Hillis' 144-yard performance in the first game wouldn't happen again. That prompted Cleveland fullback Lawrence Vickers to get into a pregame shouting match with Lewis, and Browns guard Eric Steinbach to mimic Lewis' dance during introductions. "I think everybody who reads [the comments] realizes that it was disrespectful," Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said after the game. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out if it was a lack of respect." In the end, Lewis got the last laugh. Hillis rushed for just 35 yards and was banged up after suffering a rib injury.
Browns president Mike Holmgren's name is starting to come up as more coaching jobs are vacated around the NFL. But in our opinion, the only opening that could possibly test his commitment to Cleveland would be the San Francisco 49ers. As ESPN.com's NFC West blogger Mike Sando wisely pointed out, Holmgren has very strong ties to the Bay Area and learned his craft under Bill Walsh in San Francisco. That might make Holmgren at least give it a thought. But Holmgren's absolute control in Cleveland will be hard to match, and there is no guarantee he could get that in San Francisco or any other job opening. Plus, Holmgren seems genuinely dedicated to turning the Browns around. And if he wants to return to the sidelines in 2011 -- which is certainly a possibility -- Holmgren can do it in Cleveland with a roster he's helped build for the past year.
Pittsburgh Steelers rookie receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown are proving to be good finds. Both are playing well late in the season. Sanders, a third-round pick, has taken over as Pittsburgh's third receiver and has 11 receptions for 132 yards in his past two games. Brown, a sixth-round pick, also has four catches the past two weeks and is making plays on special teams. In addition to receiver Mike Wallace, who was a third-round pick in 2009, Pittsburgh is having tremendous success finding wide receivers in the middle rounds.
Speaking of receivers, could Jerome Simpson's sudden development signal the end for Chad Ochocinco with the Cincinnati Bengals? Simpson exploded in Sunday's win against the San Diego Chargers with six receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Considering it will cost $6 million to keep Ochocinco in 2011, don't dismiss the possibility of the Bengals taking a $3.5 million buyout. Cincinnati is expected to rebuild and go with younger players next season. The team reportedly has no plans to bring back veteran Terrell Owens, and Ochocinco will turn 33 in a couple weeks and is coming off his second bad season in three years. The Bengals went through a 10-game losing streak with Owens and Ochocinco as starters, yet are winning down the stretch with Simpson, Andre Caldwell and Jordan Shipley. That could be a sign the Bengals' offense can move on without the six-time Pro Bowler.
Finally, we want to give a special "Seven-step drop" birthday shout-out to Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who turns 31 today, and Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain, who is 26. Both players should be happy on their birthdays after picking up victories Sunday. Palmer played one of his best games of the season (269 yards and four touchdowns) against the Chargers. McClain rushed for 19 yards and caught one pass in the win against Cleveland.