BALTIMORE — Defense was supposed to be their strong suit and no one had any answers after the Bengals stunned themselves in allowing their most yards in 21 games Monday night in the Ravens' effortless 430-yard binge in the 44-13 loss, a foe's biggest take since the Saints rolled to 436 in December 2010.
And it was the most points allowed since Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick decimated Cincinnati's decimated secondary with 49 on Nov. 21, 2010.
After Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco ripped the intact Bengals starting secondary for 299 yards, head coach Marvin Lewis said the no-huddle was no excuse.
"I wish I could say it was the no-huddle. We've been one of the best no-huddle teams in the NFL the last eight or nine years," Lewis said. "That's not an issue."
But covering tight ends is. For the second game in a row, Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta was Baltimore's leading receiver against Cincinnati. Last time in the regular-season finale it was 62 yards on six catches for a touchdown. This time it was a career-high 73 yards on five catches for a touchdown.
Cornerback Nate Clements, who played safety in some of the multiple receiver sets, said it wasn't a matchup problem.
"We took one on the chin," Clements said.
Especially the DBs. Especially cornerback Leon Hall in what was supposed to be a triumphant return from a torn Achilles. He gave up the TD to Pitta as well as a 52-yard bomb to wide receiver Torrey Smith on the first snap of the game and later committed pass interference, although it was hard to see.
"They did it in the preseason – no-huddle, up-tempo kind of stuff. We got some good work against it," Hall said. "I think for the most part, we did OK as far as getting the calls relayed and playing the right calls as a defense. They executed better than we did. There were no busted coverages or anything like that that I can remember. We just got outplayed."
Hall, who said his Achilles felt fine and that it didn't tire late in the game, also couldn't haul in an interception with the Bengals trailing, 17-13, midway through the third quarter. From the Bengals 10, defensive tackle Domata Peko was draped on Flacco, forcing Flacco to float one over the middle and Hall had a shot at as he jumped, but it bounced off his hands.
On the next snap, third-and-eight, the 5-11 Hall was matched up with the 6-4 Pitta inside and Flacco threw a jump ball that Hall didn't look back and find for the killing touchdown because it swiped the momentum of Cincinnati's opening drive in the second half.
"Whoever it is, you have to come up with those plays, especially when the ball is tipped or when it's in the air," Hall said. "We've got to do whatever we can, obviously, to come down with the ball."
It was the second time a Bengals interception would have prevented a Ravens touchdown. Just before the Ravens went up 10-0, WILL backer Thomas Howard let a deflection go off his chest and hands.
"We had the ball in our hands defensively and we weren't able to come down with any of them," Lewis said. "That kind of proved to be the difference.
"It's not like new math. These are things we expected. We have to react to them and play them better. (For example) we knew we wanted to make them check the ball down and we don't cover the checkdown and it's a first down."
This is clearly a different mindset for the Ravens. They didn't introduce the defense, so middle linebacker Ray Lewis didn't dance, and they didn't need 20 touches from running back Ray Rice. He still mauled the Bengals for nearly seven yards per carry as the Bengals gave up 5.3 per on 23 carries in a sloppy effort against the run that's a continuation of what happened back in December and the playoffs.
"I think they did a good job with their misdirection, play-action. We just didn't get there in time," said middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. "And yards after the catch, they did a good job with that too. We just didn't come out and play like we were supposed to."
Maualuga called it fixable. Like Maualuga, left end Robert Geathers was playing his first game after missing most of the preseason and he said conditioning wasn't a factor. But unable to put heat on Flacco was.
"He was always comfortable back there," Geathers said. "At the end of the day he's not as good if we're getting to him and we didn't do that.
"When you get beat like that, you don't want to be a part of that. It's game one. We get a chance to go back to the drawing board. Correct our mistakes and see where we can improve."