Five thoughts on the Ravens' 20-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Ravens Rise Up With Season On The Line
It's not a stretch to say the Ravens' season was on the line as overtime began. They came in desperately needing a win over the AFC North leaders, and they played well enough to lead the whole way, but then they coughed up the win in stunning circumstances, on a last-ditch Hail Mary that forced extra time. The stadium fell silent, the fans were reeling and even the players admitted they were waylaid, knocked flat. "It took a couple of minutes" to get over what happened, cornerback Lardarius Webb* *said. An overtime loss would have ranked with the most galling in franchise history, pretty much sealing the Ravens' fate as a non-playoff team in 2013. The stakes were that high as overtime began, and to the Ravens' credit, they rose to the occasion – big time. The defense made a fourth-down stop. The offense moved the chains just far enough. Justin Tucker blasted a game-winning field goal. It was a "pedigree" moment, attributable to having a lot of players who have accomplished a lot over the years, and don't choke and don't blink at the challenge of performing when a game, or a season, is on the line.
Talk Will Be About Hail Mary, But Offense Was To Blame
The defense gave up the big play that almost cost the Ravens' the game, but it was the Ravens' sputtering offense that put them in danger of losing a game they should have put away earlier. The Ravens defense played magnificently, swarming Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton and mostly limiting his array of weapons. Meanwhile, the Bengals were awful for most of the game, losing ugly turnovers, committing key penalties and botching plays. With all that going for them and a 17-0 lead as of the second quarter, the Ravens needed just a smidgen of offense in the second half to seal a win. But Joe Flacco and company couldn't provide even that smidgen. The Ravens' second-half offensive stats were abysmal – six possessions, 57 yards, two turnovers, zero points. They couldn't run the ball or stay on the field, opening the window for the Bengals to come back. Everyone will talk about the defense blowing it on the Hail Mary, but the Ravens never should have been in that position. "We struggled, man. We've got to get better," Flacco said of the offense, his disgust evident. I would say, well, what he said.
Bad Bengals Call In Overtime
On the opening possession of overtime, the Bengals faced a fourth-and-2 at the Baltimore 33. Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis went for it, and a worst-case scenario unfolded – the Ravens not only covered the swing pass to Giovanni Bernard, but Bernard lost 11 yards when he reversed his field in trying to pick up the first. As a result, the Ravens took over at their 44, near midfield, and needed just a couple of first downs to set up Tucker for the game winner. If I'm Lewis, I would have punted on that fourth down at the 33, pinning the Ravens back. The Ravens hadn't done anything on offense for quite awhile; the chances of them mounting a long drive were slim. The Bengals stood an excellent chance of getting the ball back with good field position. Asked about going for it, Lewis said, "Obviously you don't want to lose the yards we lost." On a day of huge swings, that one was decisive.
Offensive Trickery A Success
After half a season of miserably slow starts, the Ravens' coaches pulled out all the stops to get the team going early. It was a welcomed sight. Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell trotted out a flea-flicker, an end-around to Tyrod Taylor and Haloti Ngata as a blocker – all in the first 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees dialed up extra pressures that rattled Dalton and produced turnovers that helped the Ravens take their first lead in more than a month. The edgy plays made a difference, electrifying the home crowd and giving the Ravens a jolt. In the early going, they seemed to play with more urgency than we've seen recently. A role reversal of sorts occurred later and the slow-starting Ravens became the slow-finishing Ravens, unable to seal the deal, but I would label the tricky stuff a success. The Ravens need it, especially on offense. More, please.
Cornerbacks can't play much better than Webb and Jimmy Smith did for the Ravens. Smith is becoming the player the Ravens envisioned when they took him in the first round in 2011 … Flacco was all over the map, mixing awful throws with brilliant plays. He was picked off twice and fortunate not to throw four to the other side, but he also made great plays on his touchdown pass to Dallas Clark and his pressure throw to Ed Dickson that set up Tucker's field goal … The Ravens' rushing total of 85 yards was their third-highest of the season, but no one was applauding. Ray Rice gained just 30 yards on 18 carries … It was a sad commentary when the Ravens didn't try to move any closer than the 30 once they were in Tucker's range, but I didn't blame them. Too many bad things could happen, and already had. The Ravens were reduced to counting on Tucker to come through from a long way out. I'm sure Matt Stover could relate.