The Ravens used a 31-7 scoring run between the second quarter and the start of the fourth to overcome poor play to start and finish the game, hanging on in the final seconds to beat a very scrappy Cincinnati Bengals team by a final of 31-24. Unlike so many Ravens-Bengals games in the past that were dominated by defense or were just plain boring to watch, this one featured big play after big play, and extreme highs and lows for fans of both clubs. Let’s try to make some sense of it all…
The Ravens really need to start coming out of the tunnel a bit more ready to play. For the third time in the last four games, they found themselves trailing by a touchdown in the opening quarter. The Ravens’ first quarter offensively consisted of exactly one first down, 15 yards of offense, and a horrific fumble by Joe Flacco to close out the stanza. On defense, just like a week ago in Seattle, the Ravens started off strong, forcing a three-and-out on the opponent’s opening possession, only to come back on the very next series and allow a long touchdown drive. Last week it was a 6 play, 60 yard scoring series; this week the Bengals went 82 yards on just 7 plays to take a 7-0 lead midway through the first.
The great news was that this time Cam Cameron and the offense managed to not panic when trailing by a single score, and stuck with the game plan. The game plan that, much to the surprise of nobody after last week, included heavy doses of Ray Rice.
Rice, despite being bottled up at times, continued to test the Bengals’ #2 rush defense, and eventually it paid off. His 59-yard scamper to the Cincy 6 yard line on the opening drive of the second half set up Billy Cundiff’s only field goal of the day, which gave the Ravens a 17-7 lead. Ray had another 26-yard run called back on a Torrey Smith penalty, but still finished the day with 20 carries for 104 yards.
As Terrell Suggs says…FEED YOUR HORSE!
In addition to averaging over 5 yards per carry, Rice added 43 yards receiving on 5 catches, and could have had a lot more, if Flacco would ever get it through his unibrowed skull that Ray isn’t 6’2″.
The Ravens’ commitment to the ground game also resulted in great benefits to Flacco, who is at his best when using play action to supplement an effective running attack. With the Bengals forced to respect Rice, Joe put up his best passer rating since Week 1 against Pittsburgh, while also throwing his fewest passes and for his highest yards per attempt average of the season. His two touchdown throws were also the first time he’s had more than one in a game since Week 3 in St. Louis.
All of this was a far cry from his norm against the Bengals, who had given him problems galore over the past two seasons.
This time, though, Flacco had a weapon in his arsenal that he’s never had against Marvin Lewis’s defense before: a receiver with the ability to run straight through that damn Cover 2.
Torrey Smith continued his surprisingly successful rookie season, with six catches for 165 yards (both career highs) and a score. The former Maryland Terrapin probably would have had another 60 yards and an additional touchdown if he had short hair.
On 3rd-and-1 from their own 31 with 1:50 to go in the first half, Joe found Torrey on a quick slant. Torrey immediately had the first down, but what happened next was something we YAC-deprived Ravens fans are not used to seeing. Smith took off through the Bengals’ secondary, and was about to leave everyone in his dust when Adam “Pac-Man” Jones, in desperation, dove and grabbed a handful of Torrey’s dreadlocks. A flag was thrown, but erroneously – after discussion it was picked up, as hair is considered part of a player’s uniform.
After the game, Smith was asked if he had any plans to cut his hair, since it likely cost him (and his team, as Flacco would throw an awful interception two plays later) a touchdown.
“I honestly thought about it,” he said. “But my grandma likes it a little too much.”
Granny, for the good of the team, let little Torrey cut his locks, huh?
Taking a 31-14 lead with 14 minutes to play, it looked like we would finally be able to relax.
No such luck.
The Baltimore defense had just intercepted Bengals rookie QB Andy Dalton for the third time of the day, and it looked as if the former TCU Horned Frog was ready to pack up his bags and scoot out of town. The Bengals, though, have had plenty of fourth quarter comebacks already in 2011, and Cincy wasn’t ready to say die.
Not by a long shot.
Dalton exacted a measure of revenge on Ravens’ rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith, who had registered INT #2, finding Andre Caldwell matched up 1-on-1 with Smith for a 49-yard touchdown that made it 31-21 with still nearly 11 minutes to play. After a Ravens’ 3-and-out, Dalton went back to work, this time appearing to find tight end Jermaine Gresham for a nine-yard touchdown to pull the Bengals within 3 points with over five minutes on the clock. However, replay review overturned the touchdown (right call, terrible rule), and Cincy was forced to settle for a field goal.
Bengals fans are up in arms today over the reversal, but it was the right call. The “Calvin Johnson Rule,” as it were is obviously a horrible piece of the NFL playbook, and it needs to go. This time it benefited the Ravens, but it could just as easily cost them down the road. Still, Cincy fans will get no sympathy here, as that drive should have ended with a punt seven plays earlier. Instead, a bad pass interference call on Lardarius Webb (who should be going to the Pro Bowl, by the way) extended the drive.
Because of the field goal, the Bengals (after the Ravens’ offense again failed to hold on to the ball and seal the game) were only driving for the tie, and not the win (assuming they weren’t planning on going for a two-point conversion, which they very well could have been), in the final two minutes. A gorgeous 43-yard bomb from Dalton to Jerome Simpson set them up with 1st-and-goal from the Ravens’ 7 yard line with 50 seconds to play, and the implosion seemed imminent.
The “vaunted” Ravens’ defense, playing without leader Ray Lewis, appeared just seconds away from blowing a 17 point fourth quarter lead, despite picking off three passes on the afternoon.
Fortunately, they saved their best for last. Despite failing to sack Dalton for the game’s first 59-plus minutes, they managed to get to him when it counted most, on the Bengals’ final two offensive snaps. On third-and-goal, Terrell Suggs finally showed up, forcing an intentional grounding flag that moved the ball back to the 17. On fourth-and-goal, Pernell McPhee appropriately (rookies were all over this game) ended things with the team’s first sack.
It was about as gut-wrenching as a victory can be, and while it is obviously very disappointing that the defense allowed such a comeback, and that the offense failed to seal the deal when given the chance, the fact remains that the Ravens came out on top in a crucial division game. This victory means the difference between entering the Week 12 Thanksgiving night showdown with San Francisco in first place in the AFC vs. third place in the AFC North.
It wasn’t always pretty, but the Ravens are back where they should be – in first place and in control of their own destiny moving forward. The Ravens had never been 7-3 in franchise history prior to last season (though they were 8-2 in 2006), and now they’ve done it two years running.
On to the Harbowl.