Bengals stun Ravens, 31-27; Dalton to Boyd with 44 seconds left

Posted Dec 31, 2017

On fourth-and-12 with 49 seconds left the and the Ravens one snap from the post season, the Bengals rehabbed offensive line stood up, gave quarterback Andy Dalton enough time and Dalton fired a 49-yard laser to slot receiver Tyler Boyd down the seam and he outran the secondary to put the Bills in the postseason on a 49-yard TD that gave the Bengals one of their most improbable wins ever.

BALTIMORE - How about that?

On fourth-and-12 with 49 seconds left the and the Ravens one snap from the postseason, the Bengals rehabbed offensive line stood up, gave quarterback Andy Dalton enough time and Dalton fired a 49-yard laser to slot receiver Tyler Boyd down the seam and he outran the secondary to put the Bills in the postseason and give the Bengals one of their most improbable wins ever.

And it righted a lot of wrongs.

With questions surrounding Marvin Lewis’ term as Bengals head coach, his 15th season came to an end in the same fashion that has hounded his team since there was 1:23 left in the 2015 Wild Card Game when Cincinnati blew two 14-point leads and the Ravens looked for all the world like they were headed to one of the last AFC play-off spots in a 27-24 come-back-victory.

But no. This time they overcame all of:

Penalties, like too-many-men on the field in the Ravens’ go-ahead drive.  No timeouts at the end of the first half and only one at the end of the game. No offense in the second half in another second half they didn’t score a TD. Until 44 seconds left. A momentum-turning gaffe at the end of the first half as the Ravens became the team this season to score in the final two minutes of the half when a 17-3 half-time lead suddenly became 17-10.

But Dalton to Boyd changed all that.

The Bengals took a 24-10 lead early in the third quarter when wide receiver Chris Moore, the Ravens’ hero of the first half, bobbled a pass into the arms of cornerback Darqueze Dennard and he took sail on an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown aided by a series of big blocks. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick threw the biggest near the end on the biggest guy out there, center Ryan Jensen. Dennard became the first player to have more than one interception for the Bengals on their 11th of the season in a year they also had a 101-yard return from Kirkpatrick.

It couldn’t have come at a better time as their linebacking corps continued to get decimated. Vontaze Burfict didn’t make the trip and early in the second half they lost rookie Jordan Evans with shoulder and head injuries and kept losing veteran Vincent Rey who made more comebacks than Nixon and Clinton combined. He kept coming back.

The Ravens’ offense, strangled all day until now, six minutes in the third (they didn’t get their first third-down conversion until two minutes before)  swiped the momentum from Dennard’s first career pick-six on a fourth-and-three. With the Bills and Titans winning, the Ravens knew they had to win to make the postseason and head coach John Harbaugh went for it from the Bengals 17. Running back Alex Collins ran right and the Bengals had him hemmed in and should have thrown him for a loss. But he reversed field and there was nobody there and he went in for the TD to cut it to 24-17 with 6:16 left in the third quarter.

Then the Bengals offense took is first snap of the half and they were cold as the 19-degree weather, the coldest in the history of M&T Bank Stadium. Wide receiver A.J. Green particularly struggled. Green, who had just two catches for 17 yards, got inside on a slant that was well defended but he couldn’t secure the ball or the first down as he went to the ground. Then on third down Green slipped running his route and quarterback Andy Dalton’s pass was incomplete.

Give it to Lewis and the Bengals. They were out of it and beat up with people already writing them off, not to mention Lewis’ Bengals' obit. But they put everything on the line and played all out. Rey went out again with a shoulder injury. Starting safety Shawn Williams had to leave and the Bengals were lining up three rookies at linebacker, including Carl Lawson, a pass rushing end who has only taken a few snaps at linebacker.

That gave Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco a break. Flacco, horrendous in the first half as the Bengals brilliantly blanked him on eight third-down snaps, had easy pickings in the middle with all the youth out there and just sent his receivers on short crossing routes. He converted a third-and-11 over the middle to wide receiver Michael Campanaro and that set up Justin Tucker’s 34-yard field goal with 13:08 left that cut it to 24-20.

The Bengals offense, so lethal in the first half, was again punch-less in the second half to reflect another two-year trend. They went three-and-out and they went through the same second half self-destruction again when rookie running back Brian Hill was called for a late hit on a punt return and a 12 men on the field penalty in the red zone gave the Ravens life to score a third-down touchdown on Flacco’s six-yard touchdown to wide receiver Mike Wallace working against Kirkpatrick in the right corner of the end zone to give the Ravens their first lead of the day att 27-24 with 8:48 left.

 In the first half the Bengals re-shuffled offensive line punched the Ravens’ proud defense in the mouth with 52 plays, 126 rushing yards and jumped to a 17-3 lead with 23 seconds left in the first half before a stunned, sparse M&T Bank Stadium crowd expecting a win that would put them in the postseason.

But one of the Achilles’ heels under Lewis, meltdowns at the end of halves and games, surfaced big time when Chris Moore broke the ensuing kickoff for an 89-yard return that allowed them one shot to score a touchdown from the 6 with eight seconds left and they did when Flacco made his only play of the half on a TD throw over the middle to Moore despite tight coverage by linebackers Rey and Jordan Evans to make it 17-10 at the half and get the crowd into the game.

The Bengals offense was also hampered by not having any timeouts on their final drive of the half, jump-started on a third-and-six throw Dalton to wide receiver Brandon LaFell for 22 yards. But on third-and-10 from the Ravens 14, Green appeared to be surprised by Dalton’’s throw into the end zone on a go route that was there and they needed Randy Bullock’s 32-yard field goal with 23 seconds left. Up to that point the Bengals had been an NFL-leading 13 TDs on 14 red-zone trips on the road and that’s because tight end Tyler Kroft was unstoppable down there in scoring both first half TDs.

In grabbing five balls for 50 yard in the half, Kroft looked more like Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert. When they were driving for their second touchdown, Kroft had a 20-yard catch that was mostly yards after catch. Then on third-and-five from the Ravens 5, Kroft was split out the widest receiver and was uncovered on the touchdown pass that made it 14-3 with 4::14 left.

Rookie running back Joe Mixon went for 77 yards on 14 carries and Giovani Bernard went for 50 on eight carries as the Bengals pounded it 23 times for 5.5 per as they zeroed in on the high of 153 rushing yards against the Ravens in the Lewis era. That allowed Dalton to hit 17 of 29 passes for 142 yards and a 94.3 passer rating.

The second-half struggles took down the numbers, but Mixon finished with 96 yards on 18 carries, Bernard had two more carries and finished with 52 to give them 146 rushing yards for the game, second most all year. Dalton finished 23 of 44 for 222 yards for three TDs, no picks and an 89.4 rating. More importantly it was his 17th fourth-quarter comeback victory and third in four years in Baltimore.

 And, oh yes, you have to stop the run in the AFC North and while the Bengals were holding running back Alex Collins to just 30 yards on seven carries in the first half, Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther continued to make life miserable for summer golfing buddy Flacco. Flacco hit just five of 19 passes for 28 yards in the half and at one point missed eight in a row while getting just 61 total yards. He did finish 25 of 47, but for just 203 yards and Guenther again held him under a 70 rating at 69.7.

Which made the kick return even more horrible because the Ravens did absolutely nothing until then.

The Bengals rehabbed offensive line did what the first-string group couldn’t do when the Ravens posted a shutout 17 weeks ago. They blew them off the ball on the game’s opening drive. They racked up five carries on 47 yards with Mixon gobbling up 34 yards on three carries running behind a right side that had guard Trey Hopkins and tackle Kent Perkins making his NFL debut on the game’s third play when Eric Winston injured his ankle. Hopkins and Perkins pulled to give Bernard a seven-yard run and Mixon topped off his 17-yard run behind the right side by knocking off safety Eric Weddle’s helmet.

After Winston got his ankle taped, he came back in time for the last play of the drive _ the eighth _ Dalton’s play-action lob to Kroft beating linebacker Kamalei Correa for a one-yard touchdown just 4:05 into the game. It was Kroft’s sixth touchdown catch on eight red-zone targets and was set up on cornerback Brandon Carr interfering with Green in the end zone.

The Bengals defense forced the Ravens to punt the first five times they were on the field and held them to 41 yards on their first 17 snaps and held them 0-for-8 on third down in the half. Collins gouged them for a 16-yard run on a cut-back run to the right sideline on their first drive. But with 12:16 left in the first half, he had just 22 yards on five carries. A third-down pass interference penalty on tight end Nick Boyle killed the drive. Then on the next series safety George Iloka dropped Collins for a one-yard loss and on third down Flacco aired it out for wide receiver covered by cornerback William Jackson and safety Shawn Williams came over to knock it away.

Then on the Ravens’ third series Wallace dropped a third-down pass the sparse crowd began to boo a team needing a win to put them in the postseason. Early on the Ravens seemed infatuated with the forward pass in a game the  Bengals feared the Ravens would pound Collins at their young linebackers. Think the Ravens were going to run? As Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham observed after looking at the Ravens inactives, they had more tight ends playing (four) than wide receivers (three).

Fitting, of course, that Lewis, the Ravens record-setting defensive coordinator when they won the Super Bowl in 2000, provides the opposition in the coldest Ravens game ever at M&T with the mercury dipping to 19 degrees and it felt like 10 degrees. The coldest game Lewis has ever coached for the Bengals is 18 degrees in a Dec. 21, 2008 win in Cleveland.

Dalton wore gloves on both hands and just missed big plays to Green on-back-to-back series to end the first quarter. Each time Green made the catch but he couldn’t swing his opposite foot inside the left sideline. The Bengals made hay in the run game in the first quarter with 73 yards on 11 carries but had trouble converting on third down. Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley dropped Bernard for a five-yard loss on a third-down swing pass and the Bengals didn’t pick up safety Anthony Levine’s blitz on another third down and Dalton had to unload it too soon for slot receiver Tyler Boyd.

The Bengals defense was also having good success on third down in the first quarter. Jackson, the Bengals’ second-year cornerback having a break-out season, calls himself  “a blue-collar corner,” and he showed why on one third down when Wallace tried to turn a scramble drill into a deep ball. He got behind Jackson, but Jackson recovered, jumped, and knocked it away with one hand.

Winston went all tyhe way and left the locker room in a boot after helping give Dalton time on that last pass.

The Ravens’ offense has lived off turnovers generated by their defense and that’s the only reason they scored their first points of the game with 12 minutes left in the first half even though the Bengals stopped them for the fifth straight time on third down when Evans knocked away a pass over the middle as nose tackle Pat Sims blew up Flacco.  

Still, Tucker kicked a 46-yard field goal that made it 7-3. That’s because after Mixon made a nice recovery after he got tripped up at the line, he was carrying the ball low at the end of his nine-yard run and Mosley stripped it at the Ravens 34 for Baltimore’s NFL-leading 34th turnover.  

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