CINCINNATI - The Bengals put 34 points on the NFL’s No. 1 defense Thursday night, the last six on a pair of Randy Bullock field goals in the final 2:59 as they held off a furious Ravens rally at chanting Paul Brown Stadium for a 34-23 victory.
Andy Dalton finished 24 of 42 for 265 yards and four touchdowns, no interceptions. A.J. Green had three touchdown receptions (all in the first half) and Tyler Boyd added six catches for 91 yards and a touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals forced three turnovers with two Joe Flacco interceptions and a fumble.
The 2-0 Bengals will the only unbeaten team in the AFC North for the next 10 days after safety Shawn Williams sacked and stripped Flacco for cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick’s fumble recovery at the Baltimore 29 with 2:42 left in the game. That set up Bullock’s 40-yarder with 2:25 left.
It was a gutty effort by a lot of folks, such as running back Joe Mixon, who came off the bench twice with an injured right knee. With the Bengals desperately holding on to a 28-23 lead, Mixon reversed field for a 21-yard pickup that finally put the Bengals back in the red zone to set up Bullock’s 28-yarder with 2:59 left.
Mixon finished with 84 yards on 21 carries and quarterback Dalton converted his four first-half touchdowns to a 107.7 passer rating.
After dominating the Ravens with four straight touchdown drives on the way leads of 21-0 early in the second quarter and 28-14 at the half, the Bengals offense went cold and let the Ravens back in the game.
After throwing four touchdowns in the game’s first 27 minutes, Dalton finished the first half and began the second half hitting just three of 10 passes. When Justin Tucker drilled a 55-yarder early in the third quarter, it was suddenly 28-17.
Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard then gave them a huge lift when he came flying up on fourth-and-two and stopped running back Javorius Allen on a short pass over the middle at the Bengals 43 with 6:35 left in the third quarter.
But the Bengals could do nothing in the pass game as the Ravens backed off the blitz and dropped seven after getting shredded in the first half with running back Mixon (knee) on the bench. Giovani Bernard picked up a first down on a couple of runs, but on second down Dalton couldn’t hit wide receiver John Ross on a sideline route and tight end Tyler Eifert dropped a ball going to the ground to force a punt.
Flacco frustrated the Bengals late in the third quarter. They bounced him around in the pocket and he still completed two balls, one with defensive tackle Geno Atkins grabbing him around the waist. The third time proved to be the charm. Left end Carlos Dunlap hit Flacco’s arm as he was throwing long. Williams was waiting for the popup at the Bengals 25.
But the Bengals offense still couldn’t get in sync. Dalton did find wide Green down the seam for 18 yards for his first catch of the second half on the third to last play of the third quarter.
But once they crossed the 50, disaster struck. On third down Dalton had wide receiver Tyler Boyd wide open across the middle of the field. But when Ravens nose tackle Michael Pierce backed up right guard Alex Redmond, Dalton had to side-arm and he led Boyd too far.
The Ravens quickly converted to cut the lead to 28-23 on a five-minute drive in which the Bengals had no pass rush. Flacco even scrambled for a first down on third-and-two and then stunned the Bengals with 9: 41 left when he hit wide receiver John Brown on an acrobatic touchdown catch that was hard to believe he caught. With his back turned, Kirkpatrick leaped with Brown in the corner of the end zone and somehow Brown grabbed it between Kirkpatrick’s arms and came down in-bounds.
The Ravens went for two, but Dennard knocked the ball down and it stayed at 28-23.
With the 1988 Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium celebrating the 30th anniversary of their top-ranked offense’s run to the Super Bowl, the 2018 Bengals honored them Thursday night with a 21-gun salute to open the game with three Andy Dalton-to-A.J. Green touchdown passes during the first 17 minutes that staked them to a 21-0 lead over the Ravens’ No. 1 defense on the way to a 28-14 half-time lead.
When Dalton continued the nod to nostalgia by running some plays out of the no huddle, he fired his fourth touchdown pass when he found wide receiver Tyler Boyd isolated on inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor for 10-yarder that made it 28-7 with about three minutes left in the half. Green was a factor there, too. Boyd lined up slightly behind Green split to the left and when they crossed to begin their routes they got the matchup they wanted.
All of Green’s catches in the half went for touchdowns covering a total of 43 yards.
But the Bengals blew a golden chance to run out the first half clock when they stuffed the Ravens on four downs with 1:29 left in the half. When they got the ball back they chose to throw three straight passes and when they were all incomplete they had to punt it away after having it for just 12 seconds.
And then for the 12th time in the last 18 games they allowed points in the final two minutes of the first half. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick dropped a Flacco bomb all by himself in the middle of the field, was hit with a 30-yard pass interference penalty in the end zone for tugging the back of wide receiver John Brown’s jersey, and left end Carlos Dunlap missed a clean sack and allowed Flacco to throw a one-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews.
Still, it was a performance worthy of the ’88 champs even though they lost rookie center Billy Price with an ankle injury on the drive they went up 21-0.
That’s the drive Dalton exploited the blitz on his way to completing 14 of 25 passes for 178 yards and a passer rating of 118 in the half. With right tackle Bobby Hart holding Terrell Suggs sack-less in the half (nobody for the Ravens had a sack in the half), Hart did get called for a hold on running back Joe Mixon’s nine-yard run. Dalton overcame that by hitting Boyd for 17 yards running across the field.
Boyd, who had a monstrous half with five catches for 86 yards, got called for an illegal shift, but Dalton overcame that, too, with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Green, drilling it from the right hash to the left corner with Green boxing out cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
But with a chance to blow the Ravens to smithereens up 21-0 when Flacco had a third-and-15 after cornerback Darqueze Dennard blew up a potential reverse to running back Lamar Jackson that never got off the ground during an eight-yard loss, Flacco somehow got off a 45-yard ugly-looking fluttering bomb to wide receiver John Brown down the middle of the field.
Rookie safety Jessie Bates, who set up the first touchdown with his first NFL interception, should have had his second. Bates actually got his hand on the ball, but not enough of it.
When Dennard got called on a curious pass interference penalty on third down in the end zone, the Ravens cashed it to cut it to 21-7 with 8:20 left
They had plenty of help from their defense that sacked Flacco three times in the first quarter, one by rookie right end Sam Hubbard for his first NFL sack subbing for Michael Johnson when Johnson was lost for the game with a knee injury. Flacco finished the half 11 of 21 for 164 yards thanks to that ball to Brown.
When Flacco tried to lead wide receiver Michael Crabtree on the first snap of Baltimore’s second series but he led him too far and Bates came up with his first NFL interception at the Ravens 30 and he ran it back to the 16.
On third down Eifert drew a pass interference call on safety Tony Jefferson in the end zone to bring the ball to the Baltimore 1. The Bengals rolled out the Jumbo package that produced Mixon’s one-yard touchdown run in Indy on Sunday with Jake Fisher the extra tackle and Hubbard the fullback.
But when Mixon saw nothing up the middle, he bounced it to the right but couldn’t turn the corner and got dumped for a three-yard loss by cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
On second down Dalton faked a run pitch to the left, rolled right and saw Green slanting inside cornerback Tavon Young from the left and running across the back of the end zone and he hit Green racing into the right corner for a 7-0 lead with 10:35 left on the four-yard pass.
They hooked up again four minutes in the face of the Ravens’ vaunted blitz when Dalton read a blitz by the middle backer on third-and-one. Suggs just missed bating it down as Dalton eyed Green slanting from the right. Green climbed the ladder and ripped the ball out of Austin’s hands, shrugged off his tackle and was gone for 32 yards. He bolted past Humphrey and safety Eric Weddle for his 60th career touchdown and the Bengals a 14-0 lead less than nine minutes into the game.