BALTIMORE - Safety Brandon Wilson ran the Bengals into one of their quickest leads ever Sunday when he took the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but the Ravens running game led by quarterback Lamar Jackson scored the next 17 points to take a 17-10 halftime lead.
But Wilson made sure the Bengals began and ended the half with a score because he caused Ravens tight end Mark Andrews to cough up the ball on a play recovered by linebacker Nick Vigil with about 1:30 left in the half and he ran it to the Ravens 39.
Quarterback Andy Dalton (10 of 18 for 127 yards to go with an interception) hooked up with wide receiver Auden Tate's back shoulder twice for 17 and 12 yards. That 17-yarder was Tate's great third diving catch of the half, when he had four catches for 62 yards.
Tate got them into the red zone for the first time, putting them at the Baltimore 6. But their red-zone woes followed them. Runs to running backs Joe Mixon (nothing) and Giovani Bernard (2) up the middle left them with a third down and when Dalton threw high for wide receiver Alex Erickson in the back of the end zone, the Bengals were looking for a holding call. They didn't get it, settling for Randy Bullock's 22-yard field goal with 36 seconds left to make it 17-10. But for the 11th time in 15 tries they failed to score a red-zone touchdown.
Until that drive, it was tough sledding for the offense. Dalton didn't complete a pass until the first minute of the second half, Mixon had six yards on his first five carries (nine for the half), leading receiver Tyler Boyd's first target turned into Dalton's interception on the edge of the red zone with 2:18 left in the half and the Ravens didn't punt until 6:19 left in the half. The first quarter that started so brightly ended with the Ravens having 212 yards to the Bengals six.
The Bengals also saw cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick carted off the field with a knee injury and right guard John Miller leave with a groin injury. That put Tony McRae in the slot on defense and Alex Redmond in for Miller in his first appearance of the season.
A huge play came with 2:18 left in the half on the Bengals' first big drive of the day that reached the Baltimore 21. It was fueled by Tate fabulous leaping back-shoulder catch for 16 yards and Mixon's 23 yards on a screen pass he bolted through two linebackers.
But Dalton tried to get it to Boyd here. Boyd, who later had a catch for four yards for his half-time totals, was surrounded by three Ravens in the middle of the field when middle linebacker Josh Bynes dropped in front of Boyd, tipped it and the deflection was caught by cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Wilson raced 92 yards with the opening kickoff for his first NFL touchdown to vault the Bengals into a 7-0 lead. It was the Bengals' first return touchdown in nearly 10 years, when running back Bernard Scott scored the only touchdown of the War of 18-12 win in Pittsburgh on Nov. 15, 2009, snapping the NFL's longest drought.
Wilson had terrific blocking when he cut from right to left with defensive lineman Andrew Brown one of those getting a block.
But Jackson's first two runs showed how hard it is to stop him. Jackson, who had 116 yards rushing against the Bengals last season, had 111 on nine carries at the half the Ravens piled up 324 yards, 164 on the ground.
Jackson took his first run and cut it back up the middle for 36 yards. Then from the Bengals 21, Jackson simply rolled out left and no one was there. That was because wide receiver Willie Snead IV knocked off Vigil during the touchdown run that tied it at 7 just 3:20 after Wilson's return. At that point Baltimore already had 71 yards rushing.
The Bengals ran it on their first two tries, one on a jet sweep by Bernard that netted two yards and put them in a third-and-six. Defensive lineman Patrick Ricard came with pressure up the left interior and tipped Dalton's third-down pass.
The Bengals had no answer for Jackson even as they tried new personnel. Wilson started for injured safety Shawn Williams and rookie linebacker Germaine Pratt made his first NFL start. For the first part of the game they used three linebackers heavily for the first time all year. Williams checked in later in the game and had a nice third-down tackle of Jackson in the open field to force that first punt.
The three linebackers couldn't stop another Ravens score on the second series. On the first snap, Jackson veered for 14 yards over right edge. On second-and-14 he hit Andrews for 20 yards on the left side on which Pratt was the nearest guy to him. Jackson faked running to the edge, got Vigil to commit and he picked up nine yards in the red zone and running back Mark Ingram converted a third-and-one and a one-yard touchdown run with smashes up the middle to give the Ravens a 14-7 lead with 4:01 left in the first quarter.
Check out the best photos from the Week 6 game against the Baltimore Ravens.
When the Bengals offense embarked on its second straight three-and-out to open the game with Dalton missing his first three passes, the Ravens had 97 yards rushing and the Bengals six with Jackson accounting for 79 of them on five carries. An offensive pass interference call on rookie wide receiver Damion Willis didn't help.
The Ravens got a 40-yard field goal from Justin Tucker seconds into the second quarter that was set up by another wide-open 39-yard pass to Andrews on which Pratt seemed to be the closest Bengal.
PRE-GAME NOTES: Before Sunday's game Carl Lawson got a start in place of left end Carlos Dunlap (knee) , his second in the NFL, but the Bengals no doubt are going to have to rotate the pass rush specialist with other defensive linemen if they're going to stop the Ravens' feared running game ranked second in the NFL.
There aren't many options since three down linemen landed on head coach Zac Taylor's inactive list: tackle Ryan Glasgow (thigh) and end/tackle Kerry Wynn (concussion). Baltimore unloads a massive set of blockers, anchored by 6-8, 355-pound right tackle Orlando Brown, 303-pound fullback/defensive lineman Patrick Ricard and 270-pound tight end Nick Boyle and even with Dunlap the Bengals' perimeter has struggled on a defense ranked next-to-last defending the run.
Brown, a 290-pounder appearing in his fourth NFL game, figured to get a shot on the edge. Rookie 318-pound nose tackle Renell Wren also could get a shot out there in his fourth pro game.
Joining the inactive down linemen were left tackles Andre Smith (ankle) and Cordy Glenn (concussion) as well as wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle) and third quarterback Jake Dolegala. That meant rookie running back Trayveon Williams made his NFL debut.
Wide receiver Alex Erickson was back in the starting lineup after getting a concussion 15 snaps into last week's game. For the first time this season the Bengals started with John Jerry at left tackle and Billy Price at left guard.
For the Ravens, starting linebacker Patrick Onwuasor was inactive and they were looking at using two backers that weren't in Baltimore two weeks ago: Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, briefly a Bengal.