The Baltimore Ravens’ overtime 20-17 victory against Cincinnati was at the same time a game they should have won, but should have lost. Every time they tried to slam the door shut, it failed to latch and popped open again to provide another shot for the Bengals to slip through to victory.
The win for the Ravens serves to tighten the division and save the season from a disastrous hole likely too deep to find extraction.
With some help from the Bengals in questionable play-calling and a 48-yard defensive penalty on Reggie Nelson to set up the first touchdown, the Ravens were able to open to a 17-0 first half lead. But could they hold on?
Clearly, the best outfit on the field on this day was the Ravens’ defense. The secondary played a great game (with one notable exception), giving Baltimore fans substantial hope for the remaining schedule. However, the lack of a rushing offense, along with less than a stellar air attack, continues to be the “yeah, but” concern … with no apparent, obvious answer.
The “notable exception” was the final play of regulation. With only two seconds remaining at the snap of the ball, Cincinnati was down to a desperation Hail Mary pass that was found to be indeed full of grace! Tipped twice, it settled nicely into the hands of lurking Bengals receiver A.J. Green for the touchdown.
James Ihedigbo – who had earlier intercepted the first two passes of his six seasons in the NFL – popped the second tip into the air rather than grabbing his third pick, or better yet, swatting it about 25 feet into the stands!
Ihedigbo said, “I made a bonehead play to put us in the position that we were … I just should have stayed back. It probably would have fell right in my lap … You can do one of two things: you can hang your head and say, ‘Oh man,’ and give up another one, or you can say, ‘Hey, the next time they throw in my vicinity, I’m going to make a play.’”
The Ravens had three chances to ice the game before the Saint Mary’s bomb…
1. Torrey Smith could have sealed the game at 4:59 of the fourth quarter if he had pulled in Flacco’s pass from the Bengals’ 42 (would have been a really fine catch). Two plays later, Flacco would cough up the ball at midfield. Yet, in a game of turnovers, Ihedigbo would intercept an Andy Dalton pass with 2:01 remaining.
2. All the Ravens had to do was get a first down to run out the clock. But three anemic runs of three yards – each followed by Cincinnati timeouts – necessitated a punt. The result was a return to the Bengals’ 40, setting the up the drama at the end of regulation.
3. Again – Ihedigbo thinking he was the setter on a girls volleyball team and failing to smash the ball into the turf.
With all the momentum now shifted to the Bengals, the Cincy Cats marched down the field in the opening drive of OT to the Baltimore 33. There, with a fourth and two, a botched pass play lost 11 yards, turning it over to the Ravens at their own 44.
Flacco and fellows were able to muster 28 yards to the Bengals’ 28, where Justin Tucker hit his 16th consecutive field goal with a nice 46-yarder in swirling winds.
The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat
Again, this was a game that could well have gone the other way and surely dashed any Ravens hopes of a sixth consecutive playoffs appearance. And the thrill of victory is much muted by yet another lackluster offensive performance. The monkey ain’t off the back yet! The stats remain troubling. But, a win is a win … and though the Bengals were down a number of starters, like Buck Showalter says about such, “Hey, nobody’s going to feel sorry for you.” Nope – no pity here from The Baltimore Wire!
I had to go out briefly after the game and happened upon a Cincinnati sports talk show on the car radio. One would have thought they had been just knocked completely out of the playoffs in the final game of the season! Anger was especially directed at QB Andy Dalton – yes, the same guy who was AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, where he completed 89 of 131 passes for 1,246 yards and 11 touchdowns (with but three interceptions) for a 116.8 passer rating in four starts. It was a big-time, “So what have you done for me lately?” scenario – from a guy who is 26-15 as a starter in his career.
Additional anger went toward Coach Marvin Lewis – not only for failing to punt on the flawed fourth-down OT play at the Baltimore 33, but also for having Dalton attempt a first quarter sneak up the middle on a fourth-and-one at the Ravens’ 47. Dalton was stuffed short of a first down, and four plays later the Ravens had a 7-0 lead.
Look at the stats from this week’s Ravens-Bengals and Redskins-Vikings games. Imagine all you knew about the game were these stats. Would you have believed from them alone that the Ravens won and the Redskins lost?