BALTIMORE — The Bengals bid to compete with the elite of the AFC North blew up badly in front of a Monday Night Football audience at M&T Bank Stadium when the Ravens went into the fourth quarter scoring two points for every minute they had the ball.
Bengals-killer Ed Reed completed the bloody deed with a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the third quarter when he converted quarterback Andy Dalton's overthrow of wide receiver Brandon Tate during a 44-13 loss that stands as Cincinnati's worst opener in head coach Marvin Lewis's 10 seasons.
It also equaled the biggest Bengals defeat in an opener, matching the 31-point loss to Denver in 1991.
Throw in a fumble by Dalton as Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata drove his 330 pounds into his throwing shoulder and the rout was both ugly and long. Dalton, who came back to play, finished 22-of-37 for 221 yards with no touchdowns.
The Bengals kept the ball away with three drives of at least 12 plays with the game on the line but they couldn't slow down Baltimore's offense as the Ravens bolted to a 24-13 lead with 5:18 left in the third quarter even though they had the ball for only slightly more than 17 minutes.
While the Ravens were scoring touchdowns at will, the Bengals could only come up with field goals on two of their long drives.
Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran the Bengals back into it when he carried three Ravens past the goal line on fourth-and-one for a six-yard touchdown run up the middle with 18 seconds left in the first half to cut Baltimore's lead to 17-10.
And then the Bengals threatened to tie it on the opening drive of the second half on a 12-play drive, but it stalled at the Ravens 2 and Mike Nugent's field goal made it 17-13 with 8:59 left in the third quarter.
That drive of 5:01 came on top of Green-Ellis's TD drive of 5:34 as the Bengals had the ball for 25 of the previous 26 snaps. Dalton hit wide receiver Andrew Hawkins on screens of 11 and 14 yards as Hawkins skittered behind big blocks by fellow receivers A.J. Green, Armon Binns and Brandon Tate, after Green worked a double move against cornerback Jimmy Smith for 17 yards.
But the Bengals simply couldn't stop the Ravens. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco took just three minutes to jack it back to 24-13 with frightening ease. Working against an invisible pass rush, Flacco went through the secondary in the no-huddle in no time. Tight end Dennis Pitta, racking up a career-high 73 yards, broke loose in a zone on the first snap of the drive for 23 yards.
Then Flacco got the touchdown when the Bengals brought their linebackers on a blitz on third-and-eight from the Bengals 10 and he threw up a jump ball for Pitta working against cornerback Leon Hall.
The Bengals had a three-and-out with 5:18 left in the third quarter and then Flacco went again down the middle to Pitta, suddenly looking like Rob Gronkowski, for 25 more yards. And then running back Ray Rice, finishing with 68 yards on just 10 carries, ripped off a 10-yarder to set up Justin Tucker's 40-yard field goal to make it 27-13 with 1:13 left in the third quarter.
Then came the pick on Dalton's bad throw a minute later and from that point it was trying to keep Dalton healthy. After Ngata drilled him, he got Dalton for a sack when he beat right tackle Andre Smith.
The Bengals never had an answer for Flacco as he finished 21-of-29 for 299 yards with nary a hand on him, although he did get sacked three times, twice by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
The lone bright spot was Green Ellis. This is why the Bengals signed him back in March. Goal line. Short yardage. Moments before his touchdown, BJGE ran behind right Andre Smith and rookiie right guard Kevin Zeitler on another fourth-and-one from the Ravens 34 for four yards to keep the 13-play, 81-yard drive alive. On the previous drive from the 50 he converted a third-and-two behind Smith and Zeitler for 13 yards.
Green-Ellis finished with 91 yards on 18 carries after a season Cedric Benson went for 51 and 41 yards in the two losses to Baltimore.
And the Bengals desperately needed that TD run.
They were supposed to ride their defense while their injured offense got into sync in the first few weeks of this season, but the Ravens had their way in the first 18 minutes of the season to take a 17-3 lead.
The big plays that hounded the Bengals against the Ravens surfaced right away when Flacco took the season's first snap and hit wide receiver Torrey Smith for a 52-yard bomb running past Hall inside down the middle and it kept going for the 17-3 lead when wide receiver Anquan Boldin sailed past safety Taylor Mays down the middle for a 34-yard touchdown catch with 12:25 left in the first half.
And even when the Ravens didn't get a completion, they got a big play. With eight minutes left in the half, Mays hit tight end Ed Dickson in the head after an incompletion and drew the personal foul flag.
But it was on that drive the Bengals forced the Ravens to punt for the first time all night when cornerback Adam Jones came off the edge to sack Flacco.
Rice was it again after he hit the Bengals for three runs of least 51 yards last season. He followed Pro Bowl right guard Marshall Yanda's block on middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and walked in from seven yards out with 6:03 left in the first quarter to make it 10-0. That came a few snaps after Rice reached back to make a one-handed grab to convert a fourth-and-one while working on cornerback Nate Clements in the flat. SAM backer Manny Lawson then lost Pitta in coverage for a 12-yard gain to set up Rice's TD.
Earlier in the drive, Flacco barely avoided an interception when WILL backer Thomas Howard had a ball bounce off his hands over the middle.
After the 52-yard bomb to Smith (he had catches of 49 and 38 yards against the Bengals last year), Rice chewed up the middle for six yards on the next snap. But the Bengals held for a 48-yard field goal by Tucker, courtesy of Atkins when he beat the blitz to a sack on third down.
LEE OUT: The Bengals didn't get good news in pregame warmups Monday before their opener when they decided to make veteran No. 2 tight end Donald Lee inactive and went with rookie Orson Charles.
Lee (thigh) had missed some practice time last week, but went full-go in the final practice Saturday. With Charles still trying to get acclimated to the playbook, that puts the Bengals in a tough position trying to block one of the NFL's elite defenses.
As expected, the Bengals shelved left end Carlos Dunlap (knee) and running back Bernard Scott (hand), as well as cornerbacks Jason Allen (quad) and Dre Kirkpatrick (leg). They also iced one of their seven wide receivers, Ryan Whalen, and the tight end they added last Tuesday, Richard Quinn.
HADEN OUT: Pregame word is that Browns cornerback Joe Haden has been suspended for the next four games for violating an NFL policy when he reportedly tested positive for Adderall, so he's out of Sunday's Paul Brown Stadium opener against the Bengals.
COIN TOSS: Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps performed the coin toss Monday night and Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth called heads but it came up tails and the Ravens took the ball. It's a new era in Baltimore as the Ravens turn to offensive stars Ray Rice and Joe Flacco. Coach John Harbaugh introduced the offense and so there was no Ray Lewis dance.
The other Bengals captains were Leon Hall, Dan Skuta, Domata Peko and quarterback Andy Dalton in his first captaincy. Former Bengal Bobbie Williams was a captain for the Ravens, but he didn't start at left guard. Ramon Harewood, a third-year tackle, started inside.
As the Ravens walked down the hallway to the locker room, they passed an image of their late owner Art Modell superimposed on a wall.