Posted: 3:05 a.m.
BALTIMORE - It was a good enough debut for Mike Zimmer's defense that it kept the Bengals in the game on the road despite being on the field for 75 plays in the 80-degree heat and scored the team's only touchdown.
But it wasn't good enough to beat a rookie NFL quarterback in his debut. Thanks to two weird plays that accounted for long touchdown runs off a double reverse and a quarterback scramble that the Bengals swear was a broken play.
Take away wide receiver Mark Clayton's 42-yard run aided by quarterback Joe Flacco's block of middle linebacker Dhani Jones plus Flacco's 38-yard run and the Bengals held the Willis McGahee-less Ravens to 3.4 yards per rush on 44 carries.
"But we've got to play better. We've got to play our responsibilities. Whoever had the double reverse ... those are just plays you don't want to give up."
Missed tackles and Flacco's block looked to be the culprit on the double reverse, a play that cornerback Johnathan Joseph said, "Was probably my play to make." Joseph said he was in man coverage and had the motion man, but got trapped when wide receiver Derrick Mason muscled out the handoff to Clayton despite penetration from Thornton.
"I don't know how they got it out of there," Thornton said.
If it was Joseph's play to make, it was the only one he didn't make all day. He had five tackles, three passes defensed, and scored the Bengals' only touchdown when he picked up rookie running back Ray Rice's fumble forced by linebacker Rashad Jeanty's tackle for a six-yard loss and went 65 yards for a touchdown.
The play came from the heavens. The Bengals, trailing 17-3 and about to get their doors blown off at 24-3 with the Ravens staring at a first-and-10 from the Bengals 23, suddenly had to defend a 17-10 lead with more than 10 minutes left.
"But then we couldn't get off the field on third down," said Joseph of the next and last drive, a 13-play steamroller that deflated the clock.
At that point the Ravens gave the ball to the 6-0, 260-pound Le'Ron McClain, and he got 42 of his 86 yards in the drive.
"We were all up in the huddle just ready to get to the next play, and their heads were down, just ready for it to be over with," McClain told the Baltimore media. "We just started taking it to them."
But blame that on the offense. Even before that 7:15 march, the Ravens had the ball six more minutes than Cincinnati.
"We've got a thousand things we've got to work on between now and next week and for the next 15 weeks," said Ravens rookie head coach John Harbaugh. "But when you've got a bunch of guys, that's heart, you know. It's an offensive line coming off the ball, and it's a bunch of running backs. We're just as tired as they are, and our guys found it down within themselves to make sure the defense didn't go back out on the field. That's an offense making a defense better."
The Bengals defense tried to make its offense better. Frostee Rucker, making his first NFL start at right end, wasted no time forcing tight end Todd Heap to fumble on the second snap of the game. When left end Robert Geathers recovered at the Ravens 33, it looked like it was the Bengals day. Until two minutes later when the offense gave up two straight sacks.
"the way the defense started off the game you would have thought that we would at least come away with some points. We had the ball in their territory right off the bat and we got zero points," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
The double reverse broke the scoreless tie when it came following an interception 12 minutes into the game. But following running back Chris Perry's fumble at his own 40 with 2:37 left in the half, the defense held to force Matt Stover's 21-yard field goal.
"We did a pretty good job adjusting to short fields," said safety Dexter Jackson, who appeared to break his thumb in the first half but kept playing.
Meanwhile, the Bengals did a decent job keeping Flacco's strong arm at bay. Zimmer, the first-year Bengals defensive coordinator, didn't get a sack but he kept blitzing.
"We knew they were going to max protect him and they moved him out of the pocket right away," Geathers said. "That wasn't surprising. We knew what they were going to do."
But, whoever would have imagined that would have been nearly double Carson Palmer's rating?
And Flacco took advantage of the blitz to score his first touchdown since high school, a rambling 38-yard rollout that the Bengals claimed was a broken play. It was, because Flacco saw that the other first-round draft pick in the game, Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers, was blitzing. So he checked out of the running play to keep it himself.
Harbaugh all but admitted it.
"The more impressive part about it was that he made the adjustment on the play," he said. "You know (center) Jason [Brown] said he expected a back to have the ball, that's because they ran a certain blitz and the play we had called was dead and he kept the ball and took it around the back side on his own. ... It was really more of a mental play than it was a physical one."
Rivers couldn't adjust when Flacco kept it.
"I should have made the tackle. I bit too hard on the play-fake," said Rivers, who still tied Dhani Jones for the game lead with 10 tackles.
But what made the play go was guys like Brown getting downfield blocking because the Cincinnati DBs couldn't get off them.
"Two big plays. We've to understand with a young guy like Flacco, they're not going to do that much," Jones said. "But when they have the opportunity to take advantage of the defense ... on the reverse, we've got to tackle. We've got to get better at that if we're going to get improve."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
Bengals running back Chris Perry doubled his career high for carries with 18, but didn't find much room with just 37 yards rushing. Plus he lost a yard on the team's last snap, the fourth-and-one from the Baltimore 25 with 7:26 left.
"That's on me. I'm supposed to make that," Perry said. "There's nothing else to say except that I'm supposed to make that play. It doesn't matter what happens I'm supposed to make that. It's 4th and 1 and that's on me.
"The rushing is on me. I can't speak on the passing. The rushing I'll take, that that's on me. I'm supposed to make those yards. That's what I'm here for. That's the spot I wanted to be in and that's the spot I have. You can't put that on anything else other than me."
The Bengals MVP had to be punter Kyle Larson with a 37.1-yard net average while knocking two of his seven punts inside the 20.
Rucker, in his sixth NFL game and first start, played the most he's ever played in the pros with about 40 snaps and he responded with a forced fumble and two tackles for a loss.
When David Jones couldn't return after taking a blow to the head in the second quarter, rookie Simeon Castille came off the bench to play the third corner.
The Bengals went with Antonio Chatman as the third receiver (0 catches) or used tight end Ben Utecht (two catches for 10 yards).