COMMENTARY | The Cleveland Browns had a half-win, half-lose Sunday.
Cleveland entered the Bye week at 4-5, a record good enough to land the team right in the middle of the Wild Card race and just two games back of AFC North leaders the Cincinnati Bengals. Sunday was never going to be a banner day for the Browns, since the Bengals losing ground, in such a scenario, would also mean that the Baltimore Ravens had pulled even with Cleveland in the division standings. The other game closely watched by those within the Browns community wasn't much of a game at all.
Thanks for nothing, Buffalo.
Sports are often not without irony. Cleveland football fans were again reminded of this on the second Sunday of November. Buffalo quarterback E.J. Manuel lost about one-fourth of his rookie campaign when he injured his knee on an October Thursday Night Football game played against the Browns.
Manuel and his teammates did Cleveland zero favors in Pittsburgh.
This game was all Pittsburgh after a Dan Carpenter field goal put the Bills up 3-0 halfway through the first quarter. Buffalo could do nothing as the Steelers put 23 unanswered points on the scoreboard, and the offense of the Bills was stymied minus an end-of-the-game meaningless drive that was mostly about the visitors playing until the final whistle, and fans checking their fantasy football scores.
Pittsburgh is still technically in the playoff hunt. At 3-6, the Steelers trail Cincy in the win column by three. With that said, things will have gone horribly wrong for the Browns if they have to start looking in the rear view mirror rather than at what's ahead.
Browns playoff watch: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
Nothing can ever be easy for Cleveland football. The Ravens were one play away from doing the Browns a solid and beating the Bengals at home one week before Cincinnati hosts Cleveland. Then came one of the wackiest Hail Mary passes you'll see in years, the type of moment that leads one to believe that fate has already decided which team is winning the AFC North and which sides won't be playing football past December.
Joe Flacco heaved the ball roughly 50 yards down the field toward the pack of players, and his pass took a deflection and was set to fall harmlessly to the ground. Baltimore safety James Ihedigbo threw his arm up in the air, likely out of instinct, instead of swatting at the pass or letting it fall to the turf, and his motion sent the football flying straight up into the air. It eventually fell into the waiting arms of the wide open A.J. Green, giving Cincy the touchdown and a chance to win in overtime.
That, fortunately for the Browns, did not happen. The Bengals squandered their scoring opportunity, and Justin Tucker buried a field goal with 5:27 left on the clock to give the hosts the 20-17 win.
Browns playoff watch: Now what?
The Browns are pretty much where they were at 1:00 pm on Sunday. The November 17 showdown at Cincinnati is a mini-playoff game for Cleveland. While they would certainly still have a shot at a postseason berth if they lost to the Bengals, that result would likely mean the end of Cleveland's division title hopes. The next edition of the so-called Battle of Ohio will be about much more than pride.
The Browns could prove themselves to be the best team in the AFC North.
Zac has been following Cleveland sports since a little before his birth, and thus his heart breaks a little more with every year. He has been covering the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and the NFL for Yahoo Sports since 2010.
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