Seven-step drop: Avoiding the Patriots

Here are seven notes and observations from Week 10 in the AFC North:

  • After watching quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots dominate the Pittsburgh Steelers again, I'm convinced this is the one team Pittsburgh doesn't want to face in the postseason. Brady, who improved 6-1 against the Steelers, has their number. Pittsburgh struggles against the short and intermediate passing game, which happens to be Brady's strength. He's one of the few quarterbacks who also has a beat on Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's zone-blitz scheme, as the Steelers allowed a season-worst 39 points Sunday night. The New York Jets (7-2) and Baltimore Ravens (6-3) match up better against New England. It's clear the Steelers want to avoid the Patriots if Pittsburgh makes the playoffs.

  • Steelers receiver Hines Ward, knocked out of the game with a concussion, saw his streak of 186 straight games with a reception end. Ward nearly kept the streak alive when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger zipped the ball into coverage and Ward was hit on the side of the helmet by Patriots safety James Sanders and lost possession. Ward was woozy walking off the field. He felt he could've returned to the game, but Pittsburgh's doctors wouldn't allow it. "I remember everything," Ward said. "Me, as prideful as I am, I want to get up fast. I probably should've just laid there for about a minute and just walked it off."

  • Cincinnati Bengals receiver Terrell Owens is having a great season. But there are occasional moments, like the two that took place in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts, that make you scratch your head. It didn't appear Owens went as hard as he could for the football on quarterback Carson Palmer's third interception. Owens cut off his route and avoided contact instead of trying to knock down the football. Also, on the final drive, there wasn't much urgency by Owens to get back to the line of scrimmage after Palmer was sacked and the clock was running. There was no reason to waste time there with a lack of hustle.

  • I liked what I saw from Bengals first-round pick Jermaine Gresham. The tight end's nine catches for 85 yards and a touchdown against Indianapolis could generate some momentum for the second half of the season. Gresham had a big fumble in the fourth quarter that put an end to Cincinnati's rally. But it was a rookie mistake made at full speed while trying to fight for extra yards. This is the time when first-year players often take the next step. I also felt second-round defensive end Carlos Dunlap (two tackles, one sack) showed flashes. With little to play for this season, Cincinnati must see progress from its younger players while the team figures out what direction to take in 2011.

  • The Cleveland Browns played well but at times, but they blundered in an overtime loss to the Jets. The Browns could have easily played for the tie near the end of overtime by running the ball three times. Instead, the Browns tried to throw from their on 3-yard line when it was unlikely a rookie quarterback (Colt McCoy) would drive the length of the field with little time. Instead of the tie, Cleveland suffered a tough loss when great field position led to Santonio Holmes' winning touchdown for New York. The Browns also tried to get too tricky in the first quarter with a failed onside kick that gave New York more solid field position and its first points (a field goal) of the game.

  • The Baltimore Ravens hope linebacker/defensive end hybrid Terrell Suggs has turned the corner. Suggs had a vintage performance against the Atlanta Falcons, recording four tackles, two sacks and four additional hits on the quarterback. It was his first multi-sack game of the season. Suggs was a terror and much-needed boost to Baltimore's pass rush, which has been inconsistent this season. A better pass rush also helps Baltimore's shaky secondary.

  • Recent additions at wide receiver are helping the Ravens. Veteran Donte' Stallworth and rookie David Reed made an impact against Atlanta on offense and special teams, respectively. Stallworth, who recently came off the physically unable to perform list with a foot injury, showed his speed with two nice reverses for 34 yards. Reed had 64 yards in kickoff returns, continuing to show growth in the role.