The Ravens were down, 21-0, in the blink of an eye … in Cincinnati … with their defensive anchor in the locker room with an injured knee.
Thursday night’s game against the AFC North rival Bengals had all the makings of a game that could get out of control.
Instead, the Ravens rallied.
The defense stiffened and the offense made some plays. After a spectacular John Brown touchdown catch, they were just five points down with more than nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.
But just when the Ravens needed one more stop, they yielded a long field-goal drive. And when they needed one more touchdown drive (and two-point conversion), quarterback Joe Flacco was stripped.
The Ravens fell to the Bengals, 34-23, to even their record at 1-1 after two weeks. It’s of course very disappointing, but Baltimore left a bit sharpened for the long season ahead.
“We battled, man. We had a chance to win the football game,” Flacco said. “When you get down like that, that’s all you can ask. You try to cut it to a one-score game and see what happens.”
The Ravens walked away from their lopsided Week 1 win over the Buffalo Bills saying it couldn’t have gone much better. Four days later, the start of Thursday’s game couldn’t have gone much worse.
Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley suffered a knee injury and was carted to the locker room at the end of the Bengals’ first drive. Play-calling duties were handed over to Eric Weddle, but it was a major loss in the heart of Baltimore’s defense.
After the Bengals punted, Flacco was intercepted on the very next play when he misfired on an intermediate throw intended for Michael Crabtree. The Bengals pounced, punching it into the end zone four plays later to wide receiver A.J. Green.
Then Green hit again … then again. The Pro Bowl wide receiver, who has been a thorn in the Ravens’ side many times over the years, scored three touchdowns in the first 17 minutes and Baltimore was on the ropes.
“We spotted them a three-touchdown lead, basically,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
But what came next definitely showed something about the character on this Ravens team.
The defense got back on its feet and held the Bengals to just 62 combined yards on their next five drives, all ending with a punt.
When the Bengals tried to stomp on the Ravens’ throat at the end of the first half, the offense countered with an 81-yard touchdown drive before intermission, capped by a nifty throw and diving catch from Flacco to rookie tight end Mark Andrews.
In the fourth quarter, Baltimore put together a 12-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that ended with a spectacular 21-yard John Brown touchdown catch despite air-tight coverage. The two-point conversion that would have drawn it to a three-point game failed, but the Ravens were very much in it.
The Ravens defense looked like it got the stop it needed when a third-and-2 pass went incomplete, but cornerback Tavon Young was called for holding when he gave wide receiver Tyler Boyd’s hips a little tug on a route across the middle.
With a fresh set of downs, Bengals running back Joe Mixon, who was hobbled with a knee injury, returned to make the Ravens pay. Baltimore had a run play blown up in the backfield, but Mixon bounced it to the other side for a big 21-yard run that set up Cincinnati for a field goal.
Still with three minutes left, Baltimore needed another big drive, a big play. And the Ravens thought they had it when Flacco rolled to his right on third-and-10, set his feet and went to launch a bomb to Brown down the field.
That is until Bengals safety Shawn Williams tracked Flacco down from behind, dove and knocked the ball out of his hands. Cincinnati recovered, and it was all but over. Harbaugh said after the game that he believes it could’ve been a touchdown.
“I was letting it go to [Brown], and it would have been interesting to see what would have happened,” Flacco said. “I knew that guy was chasing from behind me, but as soon as I was able to step up a little bit forward and take a little shuffle, I said, ‘OK, I think I’ve got enough time.’ He just did a great job of running through the play.”
To summarize, Flacco said the Ravens dug themselves into too deep a hole to get out, especially on the road against a team that seems to play its best against Baltimore.
But there are 14 regular-season games left, including another shot at the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium on Nov. 18.
“We’ve just got to keep our heads up and keep believing in what we’re building around here,” Flacco said. “We fought tonight. It wasn’t pretty, and we didn’t come out with the win, which is the most important thing.
“But this is a long season and we have to keep our heads up and be positive about who we are as a football team, because I think we’ve got a really good football team, and I think guys reacted really well to what happened tonight.”
Gameday Gallery: Ravens at Bengals
Check out all the action from the Thursday Night Football Week 2 game.