After slow start, Ravens' rally falls short in 23-16 loss to Bengals in season opener

BENGALS 23, RAVENS 16

Trailing by 15 points at halftime, Ravens rebound to take the lead before losing in Week 1

September 07, 2014|Jeff Zrebiec | The Baltimore Sun

As much as the Ravens wanted to forget about the 2013 season, the memories — or should we say nightmares? — came rushing back.

There was the slow start on offense, a few head-scratching miscues by quarterback Joe Flacco and a total abandonment of a punchless running game. Then, when it appeared that an 80-yard Flacco touchdown pass to Steve Smith would make all of that not matter, their defense reverted back to last year’s form with a critical letdown at the worst possible time.

Sound familiar? The Ravens’ 23-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in front of an announced 70,925 at M&T Bank Stadium — a game decided on Andy Dalton’s 77-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green with under five minutes to play — would have fit perfectly into last year’s disappointing 8-8 season. Instead, it provided an ominous debut for the 2014 Ravens, Gary Kubiak’s new-look offense and a defense that had given up the most fourth-quarter points in franchise history last year.

“I don’t even want to talk about last year,” said Ravens’ linebacker Terrell Suggs, who watched the Ravens’ defense hold the Bengals to five field goals before the Green touchdown. “If you remember last year, we gave up seven touchdowns in the opener. It’s a pretty big difference. It doesn’t feel like that year. We just can’t give them the big play. Pretty much our big thing coming into this week was to not let one get over our head. We let one get over our head, but it’s the NFL, it happens.”

Green, who was mostly kept under wraps by a banged-up Ravens’ secondary to that point, made the juggling catch down the right sideline after getting a step on cornerback Chykie Brown. The score came just two plays — and 48 seconds — after Smith hauled in the longest touchdown pass of Flacco’s career.

Smith’s score, which completed a comeback from 15 points down, had seemingly salvaged an afternoon where the Ravens’ offense struggled to run and catch or in Flacco’s case, throw the ball away. The group’s struggles were encapsulated by Flacco taking a sack as time expired in the first half rather than throwing the ball away and setting up a Justin Tucker field-goal attempt.

Flacco, who called it the stupidest decision of his career, made another costly one in the third quarter, throwing the ball right to Bengals linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. Overall, the offense was held scoreless for the game’s first 42 minutes before Justin Forsett’s late third-quarter, 13-yard touchdown run cut the Bengals’ lead to 15-7.

“We just played about as bad as you can, in terms of just simple fundamental things — throwing, catching, running routes, staying up, just running the ball, couple mental busts,” Flacco said. “Just fundamental things that you do every day, and it’s just part of the routine, and we just weren’t doing them well.”

Despite all of that and Green’s touchdown, the Ravens still had a chance to win or at least force overtime. Flacco drove the ball down to the Bengals’ 16-yard line with just over a minute to play but he was sacked on consecutive plays as Cincinnati regained possession and took a knee.

The loss ended the Ravens’ streak of six consecutive home-opening wins under John Harbaugh and 14 consecutive September victories at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens had not lost a home opener since the 2005 season.

“What we didn’t do was execute when we needed to in certain situations, especially early in the game and then right at the end of the game,” Harbaugh said. “So, we’ve got things to go to work on. We had a chance to control the football game. We very easily could have done it by doing some things right.”

With a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, another AFC foe, just four days away, Harbaugh was already ready to turn the page. He really had no choice. But the Ravens’ performance spurred a few questions that will certainly linger into Steelers’ week.

After hiring Kubiak and talking for months about getting back to a run-first defense, Flacco tied a career-high with 62 pass attempts. He completed 35 of them. Some of it was by necessity with the Ravens trailing 15-0 late in the third quarter.

However, even in the first half, when the defense was seemingly on the field forever and struggling to keep up with the Bengals’ no-huddle attack, the Ravens ran the ball just nine times. Bernard Pierce, who got the start with Ray Rice serving the first of a two-game suspension, had just six carries for 14 yards before he was sent to the bench for good after his second-quarter fumble led to Mike Nugent’s fifth first-half field goal.

Behind Forsett, the Ravens gained some traction on the ground in the second half, but it was a classic case of too little, too late.

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