It came down to two plays by Ray Rice. In between the Cincinnati Bengals did a great job controlling the Baltimore Ravens' offense. Rice ripped off two long touchdown runs, however, one for 70 yards on the game's first series and another for 51 to seal the game for the Ravens.
Even so, the youthful men in stripes battled against the playoff hardened Ravens. They won't be happy with the outcome of the game, a 24-16 loss, but they will be satisfied with the outcome of the season, a 9-7 campaign that will still earn them a playoff berth, once considered all but inconceivable.
The wind was gusting at kickoff as Mike Nugent boomed the ball deep into the end zone, giving the Baltimore offense first shot. After converting a third and short, Ray Rice took a handoff 70 yards for a Baltimore score and the Ravens were up quickly 7-0.
While Baltimore gained the extra inch needed to convert their first third down, the Bengals came up a fraction short and had to punt on their first possession. It didn't look good early for the men in stripes.
Third and short was kind to Baltimore again on their next drive. Joe Flacco found his tight end Dennis Pitta off a play action and Pitta rumbled all the way down to the Cincinnati 30. After a penalty backed them up, the Ravens couldn't catch up and they were forced to try a 42 yard field goal. Billy Cundiff snuck inside the right upright and the Ravens were up 10-0.
Cincinnati finally got something positive going offensively when Andy Dalton found AJ Green over the middle for 18 yards to take the ball out to midfield. Linebacker Jarrett Johnson was called for a personal taking the ball inside the Ravens 30. The drive stalled there, however, when Dalton's pass intended for Jerome Simpson was well short. Mike Nugent connected from 46 yards out and the Bengals were on the board, trailing 10-3.
The Bengals defense got a much needed stop and were marching as the first quarter expired, but it was hardly the start they hoped for. They gave up 146 yards in one quarter of football, not at all a recipe for success.
After Bernard Scott picked up a first down near midfield, Dalton found Jermaine Gresham on an out route. Gresham broke a couple of tackles before being ridden out of bounds at the Ravens' 26. On third down and one, Dalton had Donald Lee down the seem, but overthrew him, fortunately not picked off by Ed Reed. Mike Nugent pushed the FG right though and the drive was fruitless.
As the second quarter drew to a close, the officials got involved. First they overturned what appeared to be a Bengals first down. Then Nate Clements was called for a ticky-tack holding call on an incomplete pass that would have ended the Ravens drive prior to the two minute warning. Then, after tight end Ed Dickson made a nice catch over the middle, Reggie Nelson made a hard, legal hit that was flagged for helmet to helmet contact. The drive was then further extended by an illegal contact call against Rey Maualuga, taking the ball into the red zone. With 11 seconds left, Flacco found Dennis Pitta in the corner of the end zone. Ironically, the Bengals were still flagged on the play. The extra point put the Ravens up 17-3 at the half.
Even with the official's mistakes, the Bengals were outgained two to one in the first half. Neither team had turned the ball over, but the Bengals missed several chances in the first half to get the Ravens off the field. Dalton missed an open Donald Lee and Nugent missed a field goal. They would need a much more precise second half to have a chance at victory. Most importantly, they would need to run the ball much more effectively after getting outgained 119-19 on the ground in the first half.
The second half didn't begin any better as the offense went three and out forcing a Kevin Huber punt. After Ray Rice ran twice for a first down, the Bengals forced a Baltimore punt. They got a great rush, but just managed a tip. Still, the ability to get a piece of the ball allowed them to start on their 29 instead of being pinned back near their own goal line.
After a couple more controversial calls and no-calls, the Bengals finally caught a break. A holding call on the Ravens moved them behind the chains and the ensuing punt allowed the Bengals to start at the Ravens 48. Dalton hit Jerome Simpson for 10 yards and then Bernard Scott missed a Dalton laser wide open down the seem. The next play to Simpson picked up the first down though and the Bengals were in scoring position. Bernard Scott made up for missing the pass when he bounced a run outside and took it 25 yards for the score. With 3:26 remaining in the third quarter, the Bengals were within a touchdown.
The Bengals' defense responded with a stop of their own, including their first sack of the day to force another Ravens punt that rolled out at the Bengals 40 yard line. Dalton found Andrew Dalton on a slant to pick up a first down across the 50. As the third quarter closed, the Bengals were driving in Ravens' territory.
Cedric Benson became the workhorse as the quarter started. On a third and one, he broke one inside the Ravens 30. The Ravens held firm though and the Bengals were forced to attempt another field goal. Nugent was true from 46 yards and the Bengals were within four at 17-13. The field goal was Nugent's 31st of the season, setting a club record.
After a quick first down pass from Flacco to Torrey Smith, the Bengals defense held again, forcing a Sam Koch punt. The Bengals offense would have the ball at its own 20 with 10:18 remaining to play.
Andy Dalton scrambled for a first down and then Cedric Benson continued his hard second half running, gaining 12 yards to the Ravens' 45. The drive ended when the Bengals committed the game's first turnover when Terrell Suggs stripped Jermaine Gresham. Baltimore took over on their own 40.
Ray Rice started the game with a dagger and ended with one as well. On third and one, he broke open a 51 yard run to put the Ravens up by 11 with 5:41 remaining.
The resilient Bengals wouldn't quit, though it wouldn't be enough. Andy Dalton drove the Bengals back into the red zone where Mike Nugent connected on his third field goal of the day, cutting the lead to 24-16 with 2:39 remaining.
With two timeouts remaining, Marvin Lewis elected to kick it deep and rely on the defense to hold the Ravens without a first down. After a false start, Ray Rice did just that, putting the final nail in the Bengals coffin. The Ravens would give the ball back with 1:10 left and Cincinnati would move the ball down to the Ravens 32 yard line, but with no timeouts left, they were forced to a Hail Mary pass. AJ Green was interfered with but it wasn't called. The last pass fell harmlessly to the turf.
During the last drive though, the news came over the PA that Kansas City had held off Denver, giving the Bengals the sixth and final playoff berth. So despite a disappointing finale to the regular season, the Bengals season will continue.
It was Ray Rice's 191 yards on 24 carries that was ultimately the Bengals' undoing. He gained 121 of that on two carries, each that went the distance.
Once again, the young Bengals came up just short in their quest to knock off a playoff bound team. They will get their chance next week in the playoffs when they head to Houston for a rematch with the Texans who pulled off a comeback 20-19 victory three weeks ago at PBS.
Bengals 101 will be right here with all your Bengals playoff coverage all week long.
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