Divisional fight just beginning
By Zac Jackson, Staff Writer
October 6, 2004
One month into the season, the surprising Steelers sit atop the AFC North Division at 3-1, followed closely by Baltimore and Cleveland. The 1-3 Bengals are off this week and return to action in Cleveland Oct. 17.
A look at this week's storylines around the division...
THE BIG STORY: Jamal Lewis's federal drug trafficking case has been resolved with a plea bargain, and Lewis is expected to serve a jail sentence in the offseason.
But the plea is another strike against the Ravens running back in the NFL's substance abuse program, and he's expected to be suspended by the league.
The Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday that Lewis will be suspended from two-to-four games and the suspension could begin as early as Oct. 24. That's two games (Buffalo and at Philadelphia) before the Browns visit Baltimore for a nationally televised Sunday night game Nov. 7.
Lewis was the NFL's leading rusher last season and ran for 500 yards in two games against the Browns. Cleveland held him to 57 yards in the Browns' 20-3 win over the Ravens in the season opener for both teams last month.
THE BIG SURPRISE: First place in the AFC North Division belongs to the 3-1 Steelers, who have won two straight since losing starting quarterback Tommy Maddox to injury and inserting rookie Ben Roethlisberger in the starting lineup.
Free agent pickup Duce Staley has sparked the running game, and Roethlisberger has been solid in wins over Miami and Cincinnati. The Steelers defense sealed the Bengals win last week with a 26-yard interception return for a touchdown by second-year safety Troy Polamalu.
THE BIG QUESTION MARK: Baltimore's offense struggled in a loss to previously-winless Kansas City Monday night - and the defense wasn't much better.
The Ravens were flat in their season-opening loss to the Browns but bounced back with dominant wins over the Steelers and Bengals the following two weeks. Monday's loss dropped the defending division champs to 2-2 and raised some serious questions.
Baltimore was outgained, 398-207, and the Chiefs held a nearly 20-minute advantage in time of possession. Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller was shaky at best, and the defense was pushed around by the Chiefs. Priest Holmes ran for 125 yards and became the first back in nine games to crack the 100-yard barrier against the staunch Ravens defense.
INJURED LIST: Steelers linebacker Kendrell Bell hasn't played this regular season due to a groin injury. Bell is scheduled to have surgery and is out at least until the final weekend of October, when the Steelers play what's shaping up to be a huge home game against the unbeaten defending Super Bowl champion, the Patriots.
The 1-3 Bengals have been hit hard by injuries and have played without receiver Peter Warrick, center Rich Braham, safety Kim Herring and defensive tackle Carl Powell, among others, for the last several weeks.
Ravens Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap is expected to miss at least one more game with an ankle injury suffered in Baltimore's win over Pittsburgh three weeks ago. The Ravens are off the weekend of Oct. 17. Also absent the last two weeks has been nickelback Deion Sanders, who's battling a groin injury.
The Browns, of course, lost Kellen Winslow and Courtney Brown for the season but got Lee Suggs back last week. Ryan Tucker and Gerard Warren are listed as week-to-week and could be back as early as this week, but more likely will miss another 1-2 games.
WHAT'S AHEAD: The Browns visit Pittsburgh this week, the Ravens are at Washington for a nationally televised Sunday night game, and the Bengals are off. The Bengals visit Cleveland Oct. 17.