The Bengals finished off their first perfect home season in 25 years Sunday and first at Paul Brown Stadium when the defensive fittingly picked off Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco three times in the fourth quarter, the last a 21-yard pick-six by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick with 4:07 left in a 34-17 victory before a sellout crowd of 62,406 toasting an 11-5 finish and the dismissal of Baltimore's Super Bowl champs from the playoffs.
It was the sixth defensive TD in a home season dominated by defense.
Despite a career-high four interceptions and a 62.2 passer rating, quarterback Andy Dalton won his 30th game in three years in finishing the day 21-of-36 for 281 yards. He finished the season 4-0 at PBS against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks this season and outpassed them each time. He did it again when Flacco finished 30-of-50 for 192 yards, and those three picks for a 49.8 passer rating.
After the Ravens gave the Bengals a roundhouse left and right when they erased a 17-6 halftime deficit late in the third quarter, Dalton bounced back from his third interception of the day when he led a 90-yard touchdown drive that broke a 17-17 tie and gave the Bengals a 24-17 lead with 13:29 left on their NFL-leading 12th drive of at least 90 yards.
They only had to convert one third down on the drive and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis smashed for five yards on third-and-one and rookie running back Giovani Bernard did the rest with gains of 27 and nine yards on screen passes.
Dalton did the honors himself with a one-yard touchdown run off a zone read that faked Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs out of his spikes on the left edge, a device the Bengals used often Sunday as they tried to compensate for their injured tight ends. Then when right end Michael Johnson tipped Flacco's pass on the very next snap, nickel cornerback Chris Crocker grabbed the rebound and that turned into Mike Nugent's 38-yard field goal that gave the Bengals a 27-17 lead with 12:19 left in the game.
But the Bengals missed the chance to drive a stake into the defending champions when they continued to try and pass the Ravens into submission. Green-Ellis had a tremendous second and third effort for an 11-yard run that put the Bengals on the doorstep of a 17-point lead with less than nine minutes left. But BJGE was then removed from the game and on first down Dalton tried to hit wide receiver A.J. Green on a back-shoulder throw, but it was off the mark and cornerback Jimmy Smith won the wrestling match for Dalton's career-high fourth interception.
Yet enter Kirkpatrick. With the Ravens desperate, Flacco threw his second interception on fourth-and-10 against a blitz and Kirkpatrick, playing centerfield, hauled it in at the Bengals 16.
With a 17-6 halftime lead, the Bengals let the Ravens back in the game when Dalton threw his third interception of the day to set up a field goal and new punter Shawn Powell's 10-yard shank into the stands set up Flacco's 16-yard touchdown pass to wide open wide receiver Marlon Brown late in the third quarter.
And when Ravens running back Ray Rice beat linebacker Vinny Rey to the left pylon on a sweep on a two-point conversion the game was tied at 17 with 5:13 left in the third quarter. The Ravens got a life when the first two-pointer was negated on Crocker's holding penalty.
After an uncharacteristic lethargic start at home when the defense came to the rescue yet again in a game of twists and turns, the Bengals erased a 6-0 lead with Dalton's 53-yard touchdown pass to Green on the next-to-last play of the first quarter and it ignited a run of 17 straight points for Cincinnati's 17-6 halftime lead. Dalton's 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marvin Jones on third-and-three late in the half gave the Bengals the halftime lead and it was a truly historic, never mind spectacular play. In scoring on Cincinnati's 13th straight red-zone trip, Jones beat Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb down the seam and made a stunning, juggling catch straight over his head when he tipped it with his left hand and cradled it to his body as he hit the ground for his 10th touchdown of the season.
It was Dalton's 33rd touchdown pass of the season, eclipsing the 2005 team record of Carson Palmer and it marked the first time in Bengals history two receivers have had at least 10 touchdown passes as Jones joined Green in the club. And the throw gave Dalton the Bengals single-season passing yardage set by Palmer in 2007.
The throw to Jones capped a short-field drive that began at the Bengals 48 when the Bengals backed up the Ravens deep in their own territory. Missing their top two tight ends, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, the Bengals apparently felt like they couldn't run the ball and went to the air 19 times in the half with Dalton completing 12 passes for 155 yards and the two touchdown passes canceling out two early interceptions. Green-Ellis (five for 35) and Bernard combined to run it nine times for four yards.
Slot receiver Andrew Hawkins made it work on a screen when he used blocks on the perimeter from Green and Jones for a 22-yard play that put the ball on the Ravens 23. Two runs to Bernard set up the scoring throw to Jones.
Trailing 6-0, Green-Ellis executed the zone read for runs off tackle of eight and 12 yards (the latter sprung by blocks from tight end Alex Smith and left tackle Anthony Collins) for a first down at the Bengals 47. Stung by two early interceptions, Dalton took off on a semi-rollout and when safety Matt Elam stumbled, Green ran past him and was wide open for the 53-yard score that made it 7-6 with 17 seconds left in the first quarter.
After Hawkins downed a punt at the Bengals 1, the defense held for a short field at the Ravens 43. But after Green-Ellis ripped off a seven-yard run, Dalton threw five straight passes and had to settle for Mike Nugent's 39-yard field goal with 6:36 left in the half that made it 10-6 on his first attempt since Dec. 1.
The Ravens wasted no time ending Dalton's streak of 131 straight passes without an interception when they picked off two of his first six passes to stake Baltimore to a 6-0 lead on two Justin Tucker field goals with 2:26 left in the first quarter.
The Bengals came into the game with a 7-0 swagger at home, but the offense didn't show up on the first two series with the two turnovers, a delay of game, and a timeout at the line of scrimmage to avoid another delay of game. Plus, center Kyle Cook injured his foot on the return of Dalton's second interception and Trevor Robinson came off the bench for third series to play Pro Bowl nose tackle Haloti Ngata and looked to be there for the rest of the game.
The Bengals offensive line took some shots. Collins left with an ankle injury late in the half but returned for the second half and then left, putting left guard Andrew Whitworth at left tackle. Then, Collins came back. Alex Smith injured his wrist early in the second half and was done for the day, leaving the Bengals with just one tight end in Orson Charles.
On the game's first snap Dalton hung up a "Go" ball to Marvin Jones down the left sideline and his tip at midfield went into the hands of cornerback Corey Graham for a 28-yard return to the Bengals 21 to stop to the no-pick streak at 131 that dated back to Dec. 1 at San Diego.
But like it has in every game during this home season, the defense took the offense off the hook with a three-and-out after stuffing the Vikings last week on all nine third-down conversions and the Ravens got Tucker's 38-yard field goal to make it 3-0 less than two minutes into the game. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis won a challenge on second down when an incompletion wiped out a first down and safety George Iloka and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick combined to knock away Flacco's pass to wide receiver Jacoby Jones in the right corner of the end zone.
But the Bengals went through their trouble at the line of scrimmage before Dalton uncorked a terrible throw over the middle that skied over the head of Green at the Ravens 35 and it got picked by safety James Ihedigbo for Dalton's eighth interception against Baltimore, his most against any team.
Flacco then put together a nice drive without Rice. Bengals WILL backer Vontaze Burfict was called for interfering with tight end Dennis Pitta and running back Bernard Pierce gouged the Bengals for 14 yards on third-and-one through an empty middle with no linebackers to put the ball at the Bengals 9.
But a defense giving up 17 points per game at home refused to give up a touchdown. After Pierce slashed for four yards, Kirkpatrick and defensive tackle Domata Peko held him to one and on third down Flacco tried to hit Pitta over the middle but Kirkpatrick had him covered over the middle with help from safety Reggie Nelson and it was overthrown. That brought on Tucker again for a 22-yarder that made it 6-0 with 2:26 left in the first quarter.
When the Bengals got a lead, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer unloaded a ton of blitzes and Flacco struggled under the pressure. It appeared that ends Michael Johnson and Margus Hunt split the one sack they got in the half as the beleaguered Flacco threw for just 65 yards on 11-of-18 passing while the Ravens got just 33 yards on the ground.
Green caught four balls for 61 yards, leaving him 15 yards shy of Chad Johnson's single-season record. PREGAME NOTES:With both of their top tight ends shelved for Sunday's game against the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals figure to replace Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert with three- and four-wide receiver sets. Which means more of slot receivers Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Hawkins and Dane Sanzenbacher with Sanzenbacher up for the first time since the Nov. 17 victory over Cleveland.
Also active for the second time since he rejoined the club earlier this month was backup right tackle Dennis Roland, the extra tight end in short yardage situations. The question is if the Bengals are going to run out of the multiple receiver sets.
Also out for the Bengals are cornerback Terence Newman, defensive tackle Devon Still, running back Rex Burkhead, offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson and wide receiver Ryan Whalen. Still (back) missed his second straight game, but SAM backer James Harrison should help the pass rush rotation after missing last week's game with a concussion.
Although a steady rain pelted Paul Brown Stadium during Sunday morning warmups, the game against the Ravens should get underway in little or no rain. The National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio is calling for the bulk of the rain to be over by 1 p.m. and if not it there'll only be a drizzle here and there with temperatures about 40 degress and a mere five mile-per-hour wind out of the south and west.
The rain doesn't figure to alter the Ravens game plan. They want to go deep early and often to wide receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones.
The Ravens didn't have one of their top defensive linemen, Arthur Jones, out with a concussion.
It was fitting Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis introduced the starting defense for the home finale. In going 7-0 at PBS, the Bengals have allowed just 17 points per game while holding foes to 22 percent on third down at 20-for-89.
KENNY SIGHTING: Fresh off buying a 2013 AFC North championship hat at the Bengals Pro Shop, Ken Anderson surfaced in the press box before the game praising the work of the new No. 14. Anderson, the Bengals all-time leading passer, watched last week's game against Minnesota and saw Dalton break his career high of 29 touchdown passes in a season.
"I thought he looked very good last week; very accurate and he's playing with a lot of confidence," Anderson said. "The impressive thing to me was the two back-shoulder throws for touchdowns. That takes a lot of touch, timing and accuracy."
When Anderson was asked about Dalton wearing his No. 14, Anderson joked that he better be good. On Sunday he smiled.
"I think he's doing just fine."
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