The Cincinnati Bengals showed their youth in Baltimore, falling behind 31-14 after three turnovers. They then showed a maturity beyond their years by coming back and having a chance to tie the game before ultimately falling 31-24 to the Baltimore Ravens.
Through three quarters, it appeared Andy Dalton had finally met his match. He and his teammates got off the mat however to provide a thrilling finish and nearly pulled one out on the road.
Baltimore won the opening toss and deferred, putting Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense on the field first. A false start got the Bengals behind the chains and Cincinnati couldn't catch up as they went three and out on their first possession. The Ravens had a third and short after two Ray Rice runs, but Joe Flacco and Rice couldn't hook up on first down forcing a Baltimore punt as well.
Andy Dalton and Jerome Simpson got the Bengals offense going on the next drive when they hooked up for a 47 yard completion off of play action. Dalton then found Andrew Hawkins who made a nice catch on a third down slant taking the ball to the Ravens 17. A pass interference penalty then took the ball down to the seven where Cedric Benson took it in to give the Bengals the early lead 7-0. Similar to their early score in Seattle, this score silenced a boisterous M&T Bank Stadium crowd.
The Ravens offense was unable to get anything going to excite the crowd, punting after a single first down. The Bengals had to punt back after a single first down on their next drive. Andy Dalton showed maturity for his age, not throwing on third down while being heavily rushed. That enabled a Kevin Huber punt to take a big Bengal bounce and trap LaDarius Webb inside his own 10 yard line.
After a quarter of play, the Bengals led 7-0, having dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage early on. Both Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson had made big catches and the defense was clearly starting to affect Joe Flacco who appeared skittish in the pocket.
Cincinnati had an opportunity to throw a knockout punch, but Andy Dalton missed a wide open Andre Caldwell on a play action pass and Kevin Huber shanked a 15 yard punt allowing the Ravens to set up near midfield. Joe Flacco found TE Ed Dickson on third down and the Ravens had their first deep penetration into Bengals territory. Flacco then rolled right off a play fake and found a crossing Anquan Boldin wide open over the middle for a 35 yard score that tied the game.
After a three and out from Cincinnati, a rejuvenated Flacco hit Torrey Smith on two pass plays, the second of which traveled 49 yards and took the ball down to the six yard line when Smith outran Nate Clements. Ray Rice was stopped short of the goal line on second down, but Rice got in easily on the next play giving the Ravens a 14-7 lead.
The Ravens held the Bengals in check for their next two drives and looked to be going in for another score before the half when Torrey Smith's hair cost them a possible score. Smith had caught a slant from Flacco and had only Adam Jones to beat, but Jones reached out and got a good grasp of Jones dreadlocks flowing out of the back of his helmet, dragging him down at the Bengals 40. On the ensuing play, Flacco threw an interception to Nate Clements. The Bengals drove into Baltimore territory, but Andy Dalton was intercepted by Ed Reed in the end zone.
After a strong start, the Bengals limped into the locker room down seven. Andy Dalton completed 10 of 22 passes for 111 yards and a pick in the first half. Neither team ran the ball effectively, the Bengals with 36 yards on the ground and the Ravens with 16. The Ravens got two big passing plays that resulted in scores, however, which gave them the halftime advantage.
Baltimore struck with the big play on their opening drive of the second half. Cincinnati was unable to get a stop on a third and long and then Ray Rice broke free for 59 yards down to the Bengals 7 yard line. The Bengals' defense held there, however, and forced a 22 yard Billy Cundiff field goal.
That defensive stop shifted some momentum. On the Bengals next drive, Andy Dalton made a great individual play, avoiding the Raven's rush and keeping the play alive to find a wide open Brian Leonard down to the Ravens 35. Then Dalton found Jermaine Gresham all along down the left sideline inside the 10. Cedric Benson plowed in from four yards out for his second score of the day and the Bengals were within three at 17-14.
The teams traded punts for most of the rest of the third quarter when Andy Dalton didn't see rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith undercut a route. Smith picked it off and returned the ball inside the Bengals 10 where he was stripped. Andy Dalton and Bobbie Williams had an opportunity to recover, but Baltimore came out of the pile with it. Ray Rice plunged in for his second score on the next play and Baltimore was back up by ten, 24-14.
Cincinnati started the fourth quarter with more mistakes. What looked like a well-designed option play nearly blew up when Andy Dalton and Andrew Hawkins misfired on the pitch. The next play, Dalton was picked off for the third time, this time by LaDarius Webb. Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith cashed in on the next play when Smith got behind the Bengals safeties and caught a 38 yard throw. The Ravens led 31-14.
Dalton remained nonplussed. The next drive he drove the Bengals to midfield before finding Andre Caldwell down the right sideline for a 49 yard touchdown. That pulled the Bengals back within 10 at 31-21. The defense then obliged by forcing a three and out and the Bengals had one more shot at pulling within one score with 8:57 remaining.
A pass interference call against LaDarius Webb got the ball out to midfield. A strike to Jermaine Gresham picked up 12 more yards and then Dalton scrambled inside the Ravens 30. Dalton scrambled again on second down and picked up another first down inside the red zone. On third down, Jermaine Gresham made an incredible juggling catch at the pylon to complete a nine yard touchdown. After a review however, the officials ruled it incomplete. A 27 yard Mike Nugent field goal did pull the Bengals to within a score at 31-24.
The Ravens ensuing drive picked up one first down, but the Bengals held on a critical third and one near midfield. After a Sam Koch punt, the Bengals had the ball at their own 13 with 2:27 to play with two time outs remaining. A scramble and a slant-in to Andrew Hawkins quickly got the ball out to the Cincinnati 42 at the two minute warning.
Dalton then found Jerome Simpson deep down the left side for a 43 yard pickup down to the Ravens 7 yard line. After an incompletion to Andrew Hawkins, Dalton was called for intentional grounding but the officials missed the horse collar tackle by Terrell Suggs that aided the wrap up. The Bengals faced a third down and goal from the Ravens 17. Dalton was flushed out of the pocket and had to throw the ball away on third down. On fourth down Dalton was sacked leaving the Bengals short in their comeback attempt.
The Bengals once again showed their resilience, but that wasn't until they had first shown their youth. While it's laudable that they came back from a 17 point fourth quarter deficit and had a chance to tie, you can't do that in Baltimore and expect to win.
Andy Dalton showed why the entire NFL is buzzing over his potential, finishing with 373 yards, 262 of those in the second half. Bengals receivers also showed up big time without the presence of AJ Green. Jerome Simpson led the way with eight catches for 152 yards.
For the game, Cincinnati outgained the Ravens by over 100 yards and won the time of possession, but they lost the critical turnover battle which ultimately cost them the game.
Cincinnati will have to respond now to two consecutive losses as the Cleveland Browns come to Paul Brown Stadium next week. The AFC North title now looks like a long shot, but the playoffs are certainly within the realm of possibility. A healthy AJ Green would certainly help in that pursuit.
For now, Cincinnati is 6-4 and facing a crucial run of games that will determine whether they keep playing beyond the regular season. Marvin Lewis certainly isn't in the business of moral victories, but the past two weeks have proved the Bengals belong in the conversation of the AFC's best teams.
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