AFC North starts dismally
CINCINNATI, Ohio — Bengals coach Marvin Lewis watched a little video of Pittsburgh’s season-opening disaster and felt a kinship with the failure.
“I just watched the first half of their game and I’m sure they feel the same way we do,” Lewis said.
Not just them. They’re all feeling the blues this week in the AFC North.
All four teams in the NFL’s most successful division over the last five years have started the season at 0-1.
It’s only the second time that’s happened, according to STATS LLC.
The other time?
Way back in 2002, when the league went to the current division format.
And it’s not just that all four lost, it’s how they lost:
l The defending Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens went back to Denver, the scene of their improbable playoff comeback last season, and had their revamped defence get taken apart for a record-seven touchdown passes by Peyton Manning in a 49-27 route.
l Over in Pittsburgh, the towel-waving crowd at Heinz Field put those towels away and filed out quietly near the end of a shocking 16-9 loss to the Titans that was in most ways the worst of the division’s opening flops.
l In Cleveland, the Browns did their annual looking-a-little-better tease before falling apart and losing to the Dolphins 23-10, dropping their ninth straight opener and their 14th in the last 15 years.
l Lewis’ team actually looked the best of the bunch before bungling one away in Chicago, 24-21, with personal fouls, wasted timeouts and turnovers.
None of them looked like a playoff-calibre team for very long.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
“Nobody cares about our problems. They’re glad we’ve got them. We need to understand that. We need to stick together and persevere.”
The Steelers might have the toughest go of it. They missed out on the playoffs last season by finishing 8-8, unable to run the ball consistently or protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
They drafted Le’Veon Bell to boost the running game, but he got hurt during camp. Pittsburgh ran for only 32 yards in the opener and Roethlisberger was sacked five times.
Worse, Pro Bowl centre Maurkice Pouncey tore ligaments in his right knee and linebacker Larry Foote ruptured his right biceps, ending their seasons.
Up next: a Monday night game in Cincinnati against the Bengals and former Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Pittsburgh hasn’t opened a season 0-2 since 2002.
The Bengals looked good in the first half at Chicago before reverting to their old Bungles ways. The final flub was linebacker Rey Mauaulga — a team captain last season — throwing down a Bears defender after the whistle for a penalty that allowed Chicago to run out the clock.
And that wasn’t all of it. Twice, the Bengals had to call a timeout because they had the wrong number of players on the field on defence, leaving them with no way to stop the clock in the closing minutes.
At least everyone else lost.
“Yeah, it helps ease it a little bit,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said.
“But you can look at it the other way, too, and say we could’ve been one up.”
The Ravens opened the season on Thursday night, so they’ve had a little extra time to sort out their problems on defence.
On Sunday, they host the Browns, who have a new coach in Rob Chudzinski but played like they were ready to hold up the bottom of the division for yet another year.
“A lot of we call it SINS — self-inflicted negatives,” receiver Davone Bess said.
“A lot of times when you’re backed against the wall, you need to be able to execute from assignment and alignment standpoint. If you don’t do that, you’re killing yourself before the play even starts.”
There were plenty of SINS in a division with the league’s best playoff pedigree.
In the last five years, no division has sent more teams to the playoffs than the AFC North — 11 overall.
It’s the only division that has sent at least two each season, including three in 2011.
A North team has reached the Super Bowl three times in the last five years, winning two titles. The Ravens have reached the playoffs each of the last five seasons; the Steelers have reached the Super Bowl twice during that span.
So, there’s that recent history to fall back on after those dismal debuts.
“The great thing about it is — and we all know this — it’s week-to-week in this league,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “If we take care of our business, we’re going to be in the hunt and make it interesting. And if we don’t, we’re not.
“I know that’s kind of a bad answer, but it’s the truth. All of a sudden, we find ourselves tied for first place. We also find ourselves tied for last place. That’s where we’re at.”
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