The Bengals withstood 3 turnovers, and 14 Raven points off those turnovers, plus several ugly defensive breakdowns and a horrendous call by the officials to make the game very interesting. But in the end, these steel-belted Bengals couldn’t pull the raven out of the hat in Baltimore, finally succumbing with just 33 ticks left on the clock, 31-24.
It looked like the Ravens had scored a knockout when they scored 14 points in less than 2 minutes between the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th quarters. Baltimore capitalized on two Andy Dalton interceptions (and some poor secondary work by the Bengal safeties and corners) to pull to a comfortable 31-14 lead.
The first interception gave the Ravens the ball at the Cincinnati 2-yard line. Ray Rice darted into the end zone and the Ravens secured the 10-point advantage, 24-14. After the Bengals got the kickoff and picked up one first down, Dalton’s pass for Andre Caldwell went just passed his outstretched arms and into the diving grasp of Raven corner Ladarius Webb. The Ravens went for the jugular on their first play from there at the Bengal 38-yard line. Joe Flacco hit rookie WR Torrey Smith in stride in the end zone. Smith had ran right past Chris Crocker to pay dirt.
But these Bengals don’t give up quite that easily.
With a real sense of urgency, and without any hesitation, Dalton engineered a quick tempo, no-huddle attack, culminating in a 49-yard strike to Andre Caldwell.
The Bengal defense stiffened, and forced a Ravens punt with 9:06 to play. Red Dalton quickly got the Bengals downfield again, quickly getting inside the 10.
And then the Refs got involved.
On 3rd-and-2 from the Baltimore 9, Dalton hit TE Jermaine Gresham at the 2. Gresham bobbled the pass, but appeared to catch it, get both feet in bounds, and cross the plane of the goal line. The official at the play called it a touchdown, but after the review, Referee Ron Winter indicated that Gresham’s hand lost control of the ball after he landed out of bounds, making the pass incomplete.
This one will be debated all week.
If it was a touchdown, the Bengals would have been down only 3 with over 5 minutes left to play. Instead, they settled for Mike Nugent’s chip shot field goal and a 7-point deficit at 31-24.
After the kickoff, the Ravens were able to secure one first down, but had to eventually punt from their own 46 with 2:39 left. The Bengals had two time-outs and 86 yards to go.
Dalton, who would tie Dan Marino and Peyton Manning on this day for most touchdown passes for a rookie through 10-games since the 1970 merger, came through. The Red Rifle uncorked a 43-yard bomb to Jerome Simpson, setting up the Bengals at the Raven 7-yard line with 50 seconds left.
The wheels then came off of the comeback bid. Dalton’s pass to Andrew Hawkins on first down fell incomplete. On second-and-goal, Dalton was flagged for intentional grounding as he heaved the ball out of bounds to avoid a sack from Terrelle Suggs. On the resulting 3rd-and goal from the 17, Dalton was again pressured and his pass to Simpson fell incomplete. On fourth-and goal, he was sacked, ending the game.
Once again, this Bengal team has shown us that they are slow starters, but fast finishers. Throughout much of the season, that’s been enough to beat teams like Cleveland, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Indy, Seattle, and Tennessee. However, early-game mistakes and late game heroics aren’t enough to beat the better teams like San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. The fact that the Bengals put up nearly 500 yards of offense on the Ravens defense is impressive. The fact that they did that and only lost by 7 despite spotting the Ravens a 17 point lead in the second half and 14 points off turnovers is equally impressive.
As impressive as that was, it will still be viewed as a lost opportunity. The Bengals had a chance to snag first place in the AFC North. Instead, they are a game behind both the Ravens and the idle Steelers, and they’ve lost the head-to-head with them both. After starting the season 6-2, the Bengals have dropped 2 straight games to start the second half of the year.
The Bengals will host Cleveland next Sunday. The Browns beat Jacksonville today 14-10. The Bengals will need to get into the left-hand column to keep pace with their divisional foes and maintain position for a playoff spot.