Here are seven notes and observations from Week 13 in the AFC North:
We are getting emails from Steeler Nation asking if Ben Roethlisberger's reputation has hurt him in drawing flags: I do see evidence that Roethlisberger's size works against him. Listed at 241 pounds, Roethlisberger is comparable in size to most linebackers and may be the hardest quarterback to bring down after contact. As a result, referees have been slower to throw flags when Roethlisberger is hit. There were several examples in Sunday's win over the Baltimore Ravens. The most obvious was the hit across the face from Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata. Although the play looked unintentional, it broke Roethlisberger's nose and didn't draw a flag. I've seen much softer plays this season to other quarterbacks draw personal fouls. I noticed another first-half hit by Ravens defensive end Terrell Suggs, who put Roethlisberger on the ground after a pass attempt. Roethlisberger briefly complained to the refs to no avail. Last week, the Buffalo Bills twisted Roethlisberger like a pretzel long after the play was over, causing an injury to his foot. Again, no flag. If the NFL wants to go out of its way to protect its players -- and specifically quarterbacks -- Roethlisberger deserves the same protection and shouldn't be penalized for his size.
Can the Steelers (9-3) recover from this weekend's brutal game? Starting tight end Heath Miller suffered a concussion on a controversial hit by Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain, who was not penalized. Pittsburgh also will be looking for a new punter because Daniel Sepulveda will miss the rest of the year with an ACL injury. Right tackle Flozell Adams also could miss extended time with a high ankle sprain. This all helps the Cincinnati Bengals (2-10), who have lost nine straight and play in Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Bengals need all the help they can get.
For the first time this season, I have concerns about the Ravens' offensive chemistry. Two weeks ago, receiver Derrick Mason and quarterback Joe Flacco had a heated exchange on the sideline. On Sunday night, Mason vented again about the offense's lack of aggression. There's a lot of frustration coming from the Ravens. Of course, much of that has to do with the fact Baltimore may have let a home playoff game and a first-round bye slip through its fingers. The AFC North blog predicted in the spring that winning was going to be the biggest factor in keeping everyone happy for the Ravens (8-4).
Kudos to Suggs for one of the more dominant defensive performances I've seen in this Ravens-Steeler rivalry. With Pittsburgh dealing with offensive line issues, Suggs was virtually unblockable. He recorded five tackles, 1.5 sacks and five quarterback hits. Despite sometimes having to face two blockers, Suggs often was in Pittsburgh's backfield. Suggs, the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for November, leads the Ravens with nine sacks.
Another player who is coming on strong is Cleveland Browns rookie cornerback Joe Haden. In Cleveland's win over Miami, Haden recorded an interception for the fourth straight game. The first-round pick played solidly as a reserve but looks even better as a starter.
Cleveland is causing turnovers, a good sign heading into the final month of the season. The Browns have forced 10 turnovers in the past three games, including three interceptions against Miami quarterback Chad Henne. Cleveland's offense has struggled to do much with those extra opportunities, but the Browns (5-7) are still 4-2 in their past six games.
The Cincinnati Bengals (2-10) may have the lowest football IQ of any team I've been around in six years covering the NFL. They played hard in Sunday's 34-30 loss to the New Orleans Saints, but the Bengals continue to make errors and draw silly penalties. Defensive lineman Pat Sims jumped offside on fourth down against New Orleans on Sunday, and the Saints scored the winning TD on the next play. Everyone in Paul Brown Stadium knew the Saints wouldn't snap the ball. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said he showed a similar play on film to his players last week, which means someone in the room wasn't paying attention.