BALTIMORE - It's tough to call plays when you can't stop the run and head coach Marvin Lewis'' first tour as a defensive coordinator ended in the dust of the Ravens' 265 rushing yards in a 24-21 loss at M&T Bank Stadium
It doesn't help when you can't hit a tying field goal with 4:04 left, either, and that's what Randy Bullock sailed his 52-yard bid that would have tied it at 24. Moments before quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver Tyler Boyd pumped life back into them when they channeled last season's finale and hit a 32-yarder down the seam on third-and-12.
But on the next third down Dalton couldn't hook up with Boyd across the middle (he got a hand on it) to set up Bullock's field-goal try.
Then the beleaguered defense made one last stand with linebackers Hardy Nickerson and Vincent Rey corralling rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson on third-and-short and after a block-in-the-back penalty on long snapper Clark Harris began the last drive on their 9 with 2:45 left and one timeout. But on fourth-and-three from their 37 with 1:42 left, wide receiver Cody Core dropped the first-down throw to end it.
The Bengals just couldn't stop the run, allowing the most rushing yards in the 16 years of the Lewis era. While Lamar Jackson bobbed and weaved for 117 yards, rookie running back George Edwards smashed the middle for 115.
But the defense began the second half big. It started with safety Shawn Williams' interception and followed it up with a fourth-and-one stop to take a 21-13 lead with 5:45 left in the third quarter when they cashed both for touchdowns.
Jackson, in his first NFL start, couldn't protect a 13-7 half-time lead on the first series when left end Carlos Dunlap and friends chased him out of the pocket and when he threw it turned into the Bengals' 11th interception of the season to tie last year's season total and gave them great field position at the Ravens 32.
It took just four plays for the Bengals to take a 14-13 lead and it came on pass to wide open tight end Matt Lengel for his second NFL touchdown, putting that four-yarder from Dalton up on his shelf next to the one from Tom Brady.
Then when Baltimore had a fourth-and-1 at their own 45, Williams and linebacker Vincent Rey led a swarm to stone Jackson for what amounted to a short-field turnover.
Dalton hit Boyd on a third-down bubble screen to get the first and then wide receiver John Ross caught his tenth ball of the season for his fourth touchdown when he came back on a ball under thrown at the goal line and made a great contested catch working against cornerback Marlon Humphrey. That made it 21-13 with 5:45 left in the third quarter.
Coach Lewis couldn't have put the Ravens rookie quarterback scramble for a 23-yard pass to wide receiver John Brown on a broken play with 19 seconds left in Sunday's first half on his first call sheet as defensive coordinator.
But that's the play that led to Justin Tucker's 56-yard field goal on the last play of the half that gave the Ravens a 13-7 lead in another failure to secure the final two minutes.
It was a variety of glitches that led to this one, starting with rookie linebacker Malik Jefferson getting pushed back into punter Kevin Huber resulting in a deflected 31-yard punt that was elevated by a holding call on Jefferson.
Then when left end Dunlap couldn't haul down the slippery Jackson in the backfield, he ran around long enough to find Brown running wide open across the field and that brought on the Pro Bowler Tucker for what seemed to be a chip shot.
It was the ninth time in ten games this season the Bengals were scored upon in the last two minutes of the half and the second time Sunday since Tucker broke a 7-7 tie with 1:46 left when a third-down holding call on fullback Patrick Ricard forced his 28-yarder.
Put this one squarely on the Bengals' offense since they couldn't pull off a 1:46 drive to end the half. Not when the longest play was Dalton's 20-yard scramble. But they couldn't keep the Ravens off him as Matthew Judon buried him on his blind-side for a sack and they had to punt it away.
The offense let Lewis down in that first half. They were 2-for-7 on third down and Dalton was just seven of 16 for 76 yards and a 58.3 passer rating. The run game? Running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard combined for 15 yards on eight carries in the half.
But Lewis got his defense off the mat after a tough opening drive. They did give up 131 yards rushing in the half (Jackson went for 64 of them on 10 carries), but they had a red-zone stop to force that first Tucker field goal when faced with a first down on their own 44. The last thing the Ravens wanted Jackson to do in his first NFL start was pass and he did it just 11 times in the half, completing eight for 76 yards.
The short field started at the Bengals 9 when they had a bad three-and-out as Dalton and Boyd again couldn't connect over the middle on third down on a play Boyd thought he was held as the ball zipped past him.
Then on the punt Bengals safety Brandon Wilson hit a Raven in the back to put Baltimore at the Bengals 44.
If this is Baltimore, it must be Dalton to Boyd. After going 0-for-3 on third down and amassing just 30 yards in the first quarter, Dalton hit Boyd on third-and-seven for 27 yards when Boyd won a chicken fight with cornerback Tavon Young down the right sideline.
Mixon then set up his own one-yard touchdown run with a 21-yard catch-and-run off a dump pass in which he left linebacker Kenny Young in the dust. Mixon then mauled it with the help of extra tackle Jake Fisher on the right side to tie it at 7 with 12:57 left in the half.
With Lewis calling the defensive shots, the Bengals rebounded to force back-to-back punts, their first defensive stops in more than five quarters.
Using a nickel package with linebackers Hardy Nickerson and Jordan Evans, Lewis almost got a third-down sack from the converging linemen Geno Atkins and Jordan Willis, but Jackson escaped long enough to throw it to Evans and he dropped it.
On the next series Lewis dialed up a Nickerson blitz and Jackson also had to fight out of an Atkins sack before he had to throw a dump-off pass to force a punt.
The Ravens went 75 yards on the opening drive and never thought about Jackson throwing the ball on 11 simple runs. Jackson kept it five times for 46 yards, the killers on two third downs. One was a quarterback draw on third-and-six, an easy 21 yards with no one in the middle of the field. Then on third-and-four, Jackson ran a zone read and simply beat the defense to his left edge that didn't have a stout set for the first down.
And that's what happened on running back Alex Collins' four-yard touchdown five minutes into the game. Nose tackle Josh Tupou penetrated and there was no on the right edge when he bounced it to outside.
Images from the week 11 contest as the Bengals face the Ravens.
And they got a bad half-the-distance penalty when cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick ran across the field to get wide receiver Michael Crabtree off cornerback William Jackson after they got tangled.
Here's how inexperienced Dalton's targets were in the first two series. Rookie Auden Tate caught his first NFL ball on third-down (a nice reaching grab) and he barely missed a first down when cornerback Jimmy Smith threw him back. Then on the second series tight end Jordan Franks caught his second NFL ball.
But they couldn't save the first three series, which got virtually nothing save three punts. The first series got blown up when Mixon was thrown for a loss on second-and-two by untouched linebacker Patrick Onwuasor. Right tackle Bobby Hart's false start didn't help the second series and neither did some pressure on Dalton from linebacker Terrell Suggs when he tried to hit wide receiver Tyler Boyd over the middle on balls that were defended. And on the third series Boyd dropped a first-down ball on a sideline route.
They deployed Mixon and Bernard together for the first snap and put Bernard in the slot and it was golden. Dalton went play-action to Mixon and hit Bernard out of the backfield for an eight-yard pickup. But Mixon lost four on the next snap.