BALTIMORE - With a loss all but eliminating them from the AFC North race Sunday, the A.J. Green-less Bengals had plenty of effort but continued to scour the desert for points and couldn't find enough in a 19-14 loss at M&T Bank Stadium.
The loss leaves the stunned Bengals at 3-7-1 after their fifth straight road loss and pushed the 6-5 Ravens back into a first-place tie with the Steelers. With five games left and Green apparently out a few more weeks, the Bengals appeared to have run out of answers when their failed fourth red zone foray with a minute left ended at the Ravens 16.
The defense again played well enough to win when they held up in their end of the red zone before falling to four Justin Tucker field goals and an opening-drive TD.
Trailing 19-12 with about four minutes left, Bengals rookie punt returner Alex Erickson made a 15-yard mistake when he didn't catch a punt and it rolled to the Bengals 19.
But quarterback Andy Dalton drove them with the help of three runs for 28 yards by running back Rex Burkhead and completed a huge third-and-two to rookie wide receiver Tyler Boyd for nine yards and an even huger fourth-and-three to tight end Tyler Eifert working on safety Matt Elam for 13 yards to the Ravens 16.
But then Dalton (a gutty 26 of 48 for 283 yards, a TD and no picks) lost the ball for the second time in the red zone Sunday. Elvis Dumervil came around right tackle Eric Winston with 1:05 left to strip the ball away when Dalton stepped up in the pocket and it was recovered by Baltimore to end a weird drive that featured four deflections of Dalton's last eight passes.
The Bengal's red-zone woes from earlier in the season re-surfaced all day. When they got inside the 20 midway through the fourth quarter, left tackle Andrew Whitworth false started and Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs beat right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi for one of three strip sacks of Dalton and Ogbuehi recovered. On third down rookie cornerback Tavon Young was all over wide receiver Brandon LaFell for a pass defensed and they had to take Mike Nugent's 36-yard field goal to cut it to 19-12 with six minutes left.
With no running game (64 yards on 20 carries), Green, or third-down running back Giovani Bernard, Dalton often had nowhere to throw. He did lead a scrambling 94-yard drive that cut the Ravens' lead to 16-9 when he hit seven of nine passes for 94 yards.
After not getting a completion to Eifert on two targets in the first half, Dalton hit him down the middle for his second ball of at least 20 yards in the second half, this one for 25 yards.
Then staring at third-and-seven and the blitz coming, Dalton threw a quick one over the middle and Boyd picked up some yards after catch on a 22-yarder that put the ball on the Baltimore 10 and on third and three against a three-man rush, Dalton scrambled out of the pocket to keep the play alive before finding Eifert along the back line beating Mosley.
When Nugent missed his third extra point in the last two games (he went wide right after hitting the right upright twice last week), it was 19-9 with 4:16 left in the third quarter.
Tucker's three field goals beyond 50 yards gave the Ravens a 16-3 half-time lead.The Bengals, who haven't scored a touchdown in their last four quarters, squandered two trips into the red zone with only three points. When the Bengals had a shot to tie the game at 10 early in the second half, an ill-timed shot-gun snap on third down fumbled the ball to the Ravens and put them in field position hell.
Except for their obligatory ole on the opening drive, the Bengals defense didn't give up much, holding Baltimore to three of eight on third down in the half and five of 16 for the game and sacking quarterback Joe Flacco twice while picking him off once. Flacco finished 25 of 36 for 234 yards and an 84.7 passer rating, about 10-15 points better than his average against Cincinnati but the Bengals held his offense below its average of 19.9 pointts per game.
But you don't have to give up much when going against Tucker. While the Bengals went 2-for-8 on third down in scraping together just 21 yards on 11 carries by their running backs (Jeremy Hill had 20 on nine carries against the NFL's best rush defense), and Dalton struggled with a 68.8 passer rating, Tucker hit missiles of 52, 57, and 54 yards. That's 33 straight field goals dating back to last year and seven-for-seven from beyond 50.
With the Bengals trailing, 10-3, just before the two-minute warning of the half, Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace turned a third-and-one into the biggest play of the day, a 31-yarder over the middle. Flacco barely got it three yards up the field over the outstretched hand of WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict over the middle and the speedy Wallace was off to the races for about 28 yards after the catch.
But Michael Johnson sacked Flacco on third down and picked up a holding call on the same play. The Bengals took the sack, but Tucker hit the 57-yarder with 1:40 in the half left to make it 13-3.
When the Bengals could get nothing going after the field goal with Dalton hitting just nine of 17 passes for 92 yards in the first half, the Ravens got the ball back with 61 seconds at their own 27 and when tight end Dennis Pitta got loose down the middle for 18 yards, they were able to set up Tucker for his 54-yarder at the half-time gun.
For the sixth time in the last eight games the Bengals defense gave up a touchdown on its first drive, this time on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Flacco on third-and-five to wide receiver Breshad Perriman less than five minutes into the game.
The play capped one of those 11-play, 75-yard forays in which the Bengals had trouble stopping the run and pass. Perriman scored his second touchdown of the season in the back right corner of the end zone when cornerback Darqueze Dennard didn't get his head around in time and Perriman launched over him to make the catch before falling out of bounds.
It was the second third down conversion of the drive. On their first third down, third-and-eight, the Bengals had five rushers out of a three-man front with Burfict blitzing and Flacco found wide receiver Kamar Aiken wide open over the middle for an 11-yard gain.
Backup running back Kenneth Dixon then took advantage of what looked to be a mix-up on the perimeter and took a swing pass for 16 yards before running off tackle for 15 more when the Ravens sealed the Bengals' right edge and wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. got a good block downfield.
A personal foul call on Smith on the next drive following left end Carlos Dunlap's sack turned a 37-yard field goal into a 52-yarder and that was no problem for Tucker to give Baltimore a 10-0 lead with 5:39 left in the first quarter.
Burfict appeared to knock down Smith during the play and tried to keep him down and when Smith got up after the play he shoved his chest into Burfict, Burfict flopped, and Smith got the flag.
The drive was set up by the longest punt return of the season for Baltimore's Devin Hester, a 23-yarder he took up left the left sideline when Kevin Huber couldn't get it out of bounds and Hester ran past gunner Chykie Brown.
The Bengals responded on their next drive to cut the lead to 10-3 early in the second quarter on Nugent's 23-yard field goal when the red-zone haunts came back.
Dalton threw end-zone incompletions to Eifert and wide receiver Brandon LaFell on second and third downs from the Ravens 4. He overthrew LaFell open on an in cut across the back of the end zone. LaFell claimed cornerback Shareece Wright held his left arm and he appeared to be right.
Dalton converted two third downs in the 11-play drive as the Ravens blitzed from all over and he got help from sixth offensive lineman Jake Fisher and Burkhead to pick them up. He hit wide receiver James Wright on a quick back-shoulder throw working against Young on the right sideline on third-and-three.
Then on third-and-10 from Ravens 20 Dalton hit Boyd for an 18-yard catch over 5-10 cornerback Jerraud Powers.
The Bengals put Flacco through his typical struggles against Cincinnati. Left end Carlos Dunlap got his second deflection of the game (and 10th of the season) and the ball dropped into middle linebacker Rey Maualuga's hands in the red zone at the Ravens 19.
But Hill could get just three yards on two carries and on third-and-seven with Dalton trying to get the Bengals organized against the Ravens milling around the line of scrimmage itching for the blitz, center Russell Bodine delivered the shot-gun snap when Dalton wasn't expecting it. The ball bounced off Dalton's chest, Dumervil pounced on the fumble, and the Bengals never got a field-goal attempt.
And the snafu put them in field position hell when running back Terrance West broke a draw play for a run of 15 yards. The Bengals defense pitched a good game at this point and they forced one punt when Burfict and defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry dropped West for losses on consecutive carries.
But the Bengals had trouble stringing any offensive plays together in a first half they had just 115 yards. They had one third-down conversion overturned when Dalton's quick slant to Wright over the middle on third-and-three was originally called a first down. But when the Bengals called a timeout when they came out for the next snap, that allowed the Ravens to challenge the spot at the Bengals 17 and they won it.
Then on the next series on third-and-five, Dalton fired a rare target to fullback Ryann Hewitt, but inside linebacker C.J. Mosley was draped all over him for the pass defensed.
Cornerback KeiVarae Russell dressed for his first game and he was looking for getting some snaps when Chykie Brown was carted off the field with what looked to be a serious knee injury when he covered a punt with 61 seconds left in the half.
Tight end Tyler Kroft left the game early in the second half with a concussion.
PRE-GAME NOTES: As ordained by Saturday's injury report, the Bengals turned to new long snapper Tyler Ott to replace Clark Harris and installed Josh Shaw for his first NFL start at safety in place of Shawn Williams as they prepared for Sunday's must game against the Ravens.
Harris, who has made every Bengals' long snap since early in the 2009 season without delivering an unplayable ball, didn't go with the groin he injured last Sunday against Buffalo. Ott appeared in his second NFL game after winning a tryout last Tuesday. He had worked in the training camps of the 2014 Patriots, 2015 Rams, and 2016 Giants and played his lone game for the Giants in last year's finale.
Shaw, a second-year player, has started seven games at slot cornerback this season and has played safety in other nickel situations. He got the nod for Williams (hamstring), sidelined for the first time in his NFL career after 58 games. And Williams' backup, Derron Smith (thigh), was also inactive.
That meant Darqueze Dennard took over for Shaw as the nickel corner and rookie safety Clayton Fejedelem figured to get some snaps in the suddenly undermanned secondary.
Rookie Tyler Boyd was expected to get his first NFL start in place of wide receiver A.J. Green in the wake of Green's strained hamstring on the second snap last Sunday. The Green injury also elevated rookie wide receiver Cody Core to the active list.
Also inactive was a duo that has been on the sidelines all year, quarterback Jeff Driskell and guard Christian Westerman. Backup tight end C.J. Uzomah, battling a calf injury, was inactive for the third time in four games.
Defensive tackle DeShawn Williams, who had been inactive for every game, was cut on Saturday to make room for Ott.
Trickle-down economics have hit the Bengals special teams. The Giovani Bernard injury means that running back Rex Burkhead, by far the Bengals' leading tackler on special teams, is going to play more from scrimmage.
The injuries to Williams and Smith at safety mean that Fejedelem, yet to play a snap from scrimmage, is probably going to take some snaps because Shaw is nursing a hip injury. Fejedelem has emerged as a core special teamer and has six tackles, fifth most on the team. With James Wright, second in the kicking game with eight tackles, now playing more snaps at wide receiver with Green out, Core is now pressed into service on special teams.
Nose tackle Domata Peko celebrated his 32nd birthday making his 113th straight start.
Cincinnati Bengals take on the Baltimore Ravens in week 12 of the regular season 11/27/2016