Ravens make stand, pick up key AFC North win over Bengals
Ravens back in first place
BALTIMORE - Ray Lewis was furiously waving a towel and wearing sweats, bellowing instructions to his teammates from the sideline instead of operating from his usual spot of authority at middle linebacker.
Even with the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year unable to play due to a toe injury, running back Ray Rice was convinced that the traditionally stingy Baltimore Ravens defense would eventually close down the explosive Cincinnati Bengals' offense.
"I looked at the time on the clock and I said, ‘Our defense will get it done,'" Rice said. "That's the faith that I have in our guys."
And it was justified as rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee sacked precocious Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton on fourth down with 33 seconds left in the fourth quarter to prevent a furious comeback attempt.
The Ravens (7-3) allowed 483 yards of total offense, 373 through the air from Rookie of the Year candidate Dalton, and still managed to pull out a pivotal, clutch victory on Sunday after nearly squandering a 17-point lead.
The Ravens' 31-24 triumph before 71,320 at M&T Bank Stadium propels them back into first place in the AFC North division with six games left in the regular season.
"Number one in the division, that's huge," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Now, we're the master of our destiny. We're in the driver's seat. We can't take any steps back anymore."
They didn't Sunday, advancing behind a productive offense and a timely defense while Lewis preached and handed out pointers.
One play after Suggs got Dalton in the grasp during an intentional grounding penalty on third-and-goal at the Baltimore seven-yard line, it was McPhee who delivered the decisive play to put the game away with the Bengals' threatening at the Ravens' 17-yard line.
McPhee said he noticed by studying game tape that Dalton had a tendency to let the play clock wind down to five seconds before tapping center Kyle Cook's hip. Then, Dalton would look to his left and take the snap.
"I got a good get-off," McPhee said. "I just knew they would snap it every time after he tapped the center's hip. I was paying attention to that. I timed it up pretty good, 100 miles per hour."
The huge play from McPhee was preceded by three Dalton interceptions nabbed by free safety Ed Reed and cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith.
Now, the Ravens are tied with the Steelers for first-place in the division, but own the tie-breaker by virtue of their first sweep of Pittsburgh in five years.
"This one felt special," Rice said. "It's no time to get complacent. You've got to stay humble and stay hungry."
And the Ravens were able to hold off the Bengals (6-4) in part because of referee Ron Winter overturning a nine-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to tight end Jermaine Gresham. with 5:43 left in the fourth quarter
Under the so-called Calvin Johnson rule, a receiver has to maintain control of the ball after going to the ground.
While being guarded by cornerback Cary Williams, Gresham bobbled the football before finally securing it when he crossed into the end zone.
"When the receiver went to the ground, he had the ball in his right hand," Winter told a pool reporter. "The ball touched the ground and his hand came off the ball, and he then re-grasped it and brought it in. When he's going to the ground, he has to maintain control of the ball throughout the process of the catch."
So, the Bengals had to settle for a 27-yard Mike Nugent field goal to trail by a touchdown instead of cutting the Ravens' advantage to three points.
The Ravens are undefeated in three division games, and won this game without Lewis.
"He was there," Suggs said. "We didn't want to make a mental error because when we came to the sideliner we were still going to hear from our general. He was very much out there, as he always is."
Lewis is expected to attempt to play Thursday night against the San Francisco 49ers, but the toe injury could sideline him anywhere from one to four games.
"Ray wanted to give everything to be out there," Reed said. "We told him just stay focused and do what you need to do to get yourself back. We knew we had to win this game to give him some time to get back, get healthy. Ray had a chance to play, but the smart thing to do was not to rush it."
One week removed from a debacle of a loss to the Seattle Seahawks where quarterback Joe Flacco launched a career-high 52 passes and Rice was limited to only five carries, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron manufactured a more balanced game plan.
Flacco delivered two touchdown passes to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith and veteran Anquan Boldin, passing for 270 yards with one interception.
And Rice rushed for 104 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, busting loose for a 59-yard run against the Bengals' second-ranked run defense.
"You want everyone to get involved whether it's run or pass," Flacco said. "The good thing was we were able to break a couple long ones. We struggled a little bit there in the end, but we were able to hit some long ones in the passing game to shorten the field up for us."
Smith generated 165 receiving yards, third most in a single game in franchise history behind Qadry Ismail and Derrick Alexander.
He hauled in a 49-yarder behind cornerback Nate Clements, also producing a 28-yarder in the second quarter where he was dragged down from behind by his dreadlocks on a legal tackle by cornerback Adam Jones.
The Ravens went ahead 31-14 in the third quarter after Smith's 38-yard touchdown catch over the middle as he dashed past the safeties in a Cover 2 zone.
"When the ball is in the air, he can separate," Flacco said. "So, I put a lot of air under the ball and he was able to go get it."
The Ravens led 24-14 after a two-yard touchdown run by Rice set up by Smith's interception that he fumbled and was recovered by Brendon Ayanbadejo as Winter was sent tumbling to the ground in the pileup for the loose football.
The Bengals mounted a comeback, though, marching 80 yards in five plays as Dalton went after Smith on a 49-yard touchdown pass on a fade to Andre Caldwell up the right sideline.
The Ravens led 14-7 at halftime on a 35-yard touchdown from Boldin and a one-yard score from Rice after running back Cedric Benson staked the Bengals to a 7-0 lead with the first of his two touchdown runs.
The second half belonged to the Ravens, too.
Now, the Ravens have won seven games in a row at home, 12 games in a row immediately after a loss for the longest active streak in the league and are 15-4 under Harbaugh in games following a loss.
After losing three games to teams with losing records following emotional victories, the Ravens have proven their resiliency one more time.
"It's good to bounce back," Suggs said, "but let's not take any more steps back."
Ravens notebook: Hairy situation for record-setting rookie Smith
BALTIMORE – Not even Torrey Smith can run fast enough to leave behind his flowing dreadlocks.
The Baltimore Ravens’ speedy rookie wide receiver was yanked down from behind by his long hair in the second quarter as Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones tackled Smith unconventionally, and legally.
And Smith’s record-setting day that included six receptions for 165 yards and a touchdown during the Ravens’ 31-24 victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium was overshadowed by the unusual play.
“That was my first time having that happen, I was in shock,” Smith said. “I started to pull away. I thought I was going to score Next thing I know, I was getting dragged down by my dreads. It didn’t hurt at all.”
It wasn’t a penalty, though, as NFL vice president of football operations Ray Anderson affirmed in the press box. A player’s hair is regarded as part of their uniform.
At first, Smith thought he had lost some of his hair.
“I guess their running back [Bernard Scott] lost a few dreads on the field, and I knew it wasn’t my dreads,” Smith said. “We were actually standing by it and they were like, ‘Torrey, did you lose a few dreads.’ No, I didn’t lose anything.”
Perhaps Smith just needs a haircut.
“We had that conversation on the sideline,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He just has to run faster, to outrun the dreads.”
Smith was more than fast enough on his 38-yard touchdown catch fourth quarter that staked the Ravens to a 31-14 lead that provided the decisive margin.
Smith broke the Ravens’ franchise record for rookie receiving yards with 590 gained through 10 games, topping Mark Clayton’s previous mark of 471 yards six years ago.
He set career-highs for catches and yardage.
And it marked the third-highest receiving yardage in franchise history behind Qadry Ismail (258 yards, Dec. 12, 1999) and Derrick Alexander (198 yards, Dec. 1, 1996).
“Torrey is getting better each week as a wide receiver,” Flacco said. “He did a great job, and he is a real difference for this offense against that team. They’ve been able to get some pressure on us with their coverage, lock us up pretty tightly and get some pressure with their front four in past years. With Torrey out there, he definitely has some speed and can hurt them in man-to-man coverage. That helped us out.”
Smith also beat cornerback Nate Clements with a head fake and his feet for a 49-yard reception that led to running back Ray Rice’s first touchdown.
“He stretches the field for us,” Rice said. “You’ve got to play us honest. The thing that he’s added to his game is he’s catching underneath routes now. And that’s big for us. Teams are going to notice that.”
In the second half, Smith ran past the Bengals’ two-deep coverage to create separation. He tapped both feet in the back of the end zone, displaying sound form.
Although Smith has played well this year, including a game-winning touchdown catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers and three touchdowns against the St. Louis Rams, he has been plagued by inconsistent hands.
Not on Sunday, though, as the former University of Maryland standout caught six of seven passes thrown in his direction.
“He's becoming a good one,” Flacco said. “He is going to continue to get better and better as the year goes on. Part of that is dealing with a little bit of growing pains and having a breakout.”
At this time, the second-round draft pick doesn’t plan on getting a shorter haircut.
He’s literally too attached.
“I honestly thought about it, but my grandma likes it too much,” Smith said. “I’m a mama and grandmama’s boy, at least for now.”
RICE BACK ON TRACK: One week after barely touching the football in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Rice was involved heavily.
Rice generated the 11th 100-yard rushing game of his career, gaining 104 yards and scoring two touchdowns on 20 carries against the Bengals’ second-ranked run defense.
The Ravens ran the football 28 times and passed it 27 times after attempting 52 throws in Seattle as Rice rushed for 27 yards on five carries.
“It’s no surprise,” Rice said. “You see the balance. The run sets up the pass. The pass sets up the run. As long as we play balanced football going forward and the running game being a big part of it, I think we’ll be pretty successful.”
Rice has rushed for a single-season career-high of eight touchdowns.
He also caught five passes for 43 yards.
“Ray is a great running back,” Bengals safety Reggie Nelson said. “We knew coming into this game that stopping Ray is what we had to do. We just have to do a better job of doing it.”
FIRST INTERCEPTION: It was a mixed bag of results Sunday for rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith.
The imposing first-round draft pick intercepted his first NFL pass in the third quarter, but fumbled it when he was stripped from behind by Jerome Simpson with linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo recovering the loose football.
Smith recorded three tackles, one interception and a pass deflection.
“It was a Cover 2 call inside, he tried to run inside,” Smith said. “As soon as I looked, the ball was there and I wanted to show my returning skills a little bit and it came out. The next time, I’m going to hit the sidelines.”
And Smith also was beaten by Andre Caldwell in the fourth quarter for a 49-yard touchdown.
“I learned a long time ago, this is the NFL,” Smith said. “You get beat, and you make plays. They get paid, too. He’s going to make a play. We ran an all-out blitz. We’re thinking something fast, and he ran a fade.”
This marked Smith’s most extended playing time on defense this season after missing several games with a left high-ankle sprain.
“It felt amazing to get out there and contribute to the team,” Smith said. “It was such a long time being out. It felt great. It felt good to play some more and show your skills.”
Smith operated out of the nickel package primarily.
“Jimmy came in and made a great play,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “He really grew up. He started it all off by getting a pick at the perfect time.”
EVANS RETURNS: Veteran wide receiver Lee Evans returned to play for the first time in seven games after being sidelined with a left ankle injury that has hampered him since the preseason.
“It feels good,” Evans said. “No setbacks. I’m still a work in progress, but health-wise at least I feel good being out there. It’s definitely exciting to be back out there. I’m prepared to go back in for two plays or 50 plays.”
Evans saw limited playing time and didn’t catch a pass while being targeted once on an errant deep pass from Flacco.
“It was close, but we’ll be able to get that timed up a little better down the road,” Evans said. “There’s still a lot more football to be played.”
Evans said he’s on track to play Thursday against the San Francisco 49ers.
“Yeah, no doubt,” he said. “I’ll be ready to play, and it should be an exciting game.”
CLOONEY IN THE HOUSE: Actor George Clooney and his girlfriend, Stacy Keibler, took in the Ravens’ game Sunday with retired Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden posting a photo he took with the Hollywood star on his Twitter account.
Keibler is a former Ravens cheerleader and WWE star who attended Towson University and starred on Dancing With the Stars.
“You know its love when your boyfriend has elbow surgery 2 days ago and takes u to a #ravens game...especially when he's a Bengals fan,"
Keibler wrote on her Twitter account.
Clooney is a native of Kentucky, so being a Bengals fan makes sense geographically.
LINEUP LOOP: The Ravens deactivated wide receiver and kick returner David Reed one week after he lost two fumbles on kickoffs.
The Ravens also scratched wide receiver Tandon Doss, cornerback Chykie Brown, running back Anthony Allen (hamstring), middle linebacker Ray Lewis (toe), outside linebacker Sergio Kindle and defensive tackle Arthur Jones (concussion).
Lewis’ streak of 57 consecutive games ended.
The Bengals played without rookie wide receiver A.J. Green due to a hyperextended right knee and was replaced by Andre Caldwell.
They also scratched safety Robert Sands, linebacker Dontay Moch, offensive guard Clint Boling, offensive tackle Anthony Collins, tight end Donald Lee and wide receiver Ryan Whalen.
Jones started in place of Kelly Jennings at right cornerback.
NO INJURIES: The Ravens reported no major injuries after the game.
Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe tweaked an existing groin injury, and kick returner Tom Zbikowski has a sore leg.
Zbikowski was shaken up early in the game and Chris Carr came in the game, but had no returns.
SURE HANDS: Zbikowski didn’t fumble on his lone kickoff return despite being crushed by Bengals safety Taylor Mays.
The return went for 26 yards.
“I figured I wanted to get the nerves out,” Zbikowski said. “It was a gray area whether I wanted to return it, but I wanted to get things going a little bit. I took a nice little bit, but I figured that was going to be the best shot they'd give out all day.
“All I was thinking was hold on to it. I just wanted to hold on to it and see what happens. I wasn’t worried about scoring a touchdown. I just wanted to get a feel for it again.”
QUICK HITS: The Ravens improved to 57-1 when they have at least a plus-2 turnover margin. The Ravens were plus-2 against Cincinnati and are plus-3 for the season after intercepting three passes. … Flacco has now fumbled an NFL-high 10 times, losing five.
Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson started his 74th consecutive game, setting a new franchise record. He has played in 123 consecutive games, another team record. His starting streak ranks second among NFL active linebackers behind Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher’s 173 games. … The Ravens have scored at least 30 points in five of seven wins this season. They’re averaging 25.6 points at home, which is on pace to set a team record of 410 points in a season. … Flacco has won 15 of his past 16 home games, completing 60.9 percent of his throws in those games for 3,877 yards, 24 touchdowns and six interceptions for a 98.3 passer rating. … The Ravens game captains were Rice and safeties Bernard Pollard and Haruki Nakamura.
Stover inducted into Ravens’ Ring of Honor
BALTIMORE - It was yet another classic Matt Stover moment as he was inducted into the Baltimore Ravens' Ring of Honor on Sunday following a video montage of his clutch field goals.
The retired Pro Bowl kicker joined offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, linebacker Peter Boulware, running back Earnest Byner, defensive end Michael McCrary and former owner Art Modell in the Ring of Honor as he was honored at halftime of the Ravens' 31-24 victory over Cincinnati.
"It's surreal," Stover said. "It's, ‘Wow, did that just happen?'"
Stover is the leading scorer in Ravens franchise history with 1,464 points on 354 field goals and 402 extra points. He ranks fourth in NFL history for scoring.
Stover dedicated his speech to the fans.
"They embraced us as their own," said Stover, one of the original Cleveland Browns who came to Baltimore for the Ravens' inaugural season. "I thought it was appropriate to make sure the fans knew where I was coming from. There was no question that I felt humbled by their presence.
"I wanted to mention going out there on the field, kicking a game-winning field goal, knowing that they were already cheering before I ever kicked the ball, that gave me an amazing amount of strength. I wanted them to know how awesome that was."
Stover made three of his 14 career game-winning field goals against the Bengals, scoring 284 points against them for his most points against any opponent. And he connected on 35 field goals during the Ravens' Super Bowl championship season.
For his ceremony, Stover was surrounded by his family as well as Modell, owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome, team president Dick Cass, Ogden and McCrary.
"It wasn't just me up there," Stover said. "That's why my final statement was, ‘You know the name up there, Matt Stover. It isn't just Matt Stover. Everybody else is up there with me.' And I mean that. It's really nice to have that unconditional love, to make sure that your family and the people who are around you are there for you."
BALTIMORE RAVENS' REPORT CARD
Joe Flacco was much more composed this game and made better decisions with the exception of one horrible interception where he threw into heavy coverage. Overall, he was decisive and accurate and delivered good spirals to throw two touchdown passes as he finished with 270 yards for a 105.5 quarterback rating. With 27 throws and 17 completions from Flacco, this was a more balanced attack. He also fumbled for the 10th time this year, which leads the NFL, but it was recovered.
Running back: B-plus
The Ravens wisely got Ray Rice involved again after a five-carry game in Seattle, and he rewarded their renewed faith with a pair of touchdown runs. He would have had even more yards if not for penalties, finishing the game with 104 yards on 20 carries. He also caught five passes for 43 yards. Fullback Vonta Leach unleashed some thunderous lead blocks. Ricky Williams isn't providing much production as a backup, gaining three yards on five carries.
Rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith had the best game of his NFL career, even better than his three touchdowns against the St. Louis Rams. He caught six passes for 165 yards and one touchdown, sprinting past cornerbacks for large chunks of real estate. He even delivered an effective head fake on veteran Nate Clements. Anquan Boldin caught a touchdown pass, running hard after the catch. Tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta were quiet, combining for four receptions for 22 yards.
Offensive line: B
The blocking was solid as Joe Flacco was only sacked once. They opened up some gaping holes for Ray Rice to roam through, and even had some decent blocks in the red zone. The Bengals have a formidable defensive line headlined by Geno Atkins and Domata Peko, and center Matt Birk and right offensive guard Marshal Yanda had some strong double-teams in short-yardage situations. The Ravens rushed for 105 yards on 28 carries.
Defensive line: C
They built a wall to slow down Cedric Benson, who scored two touchdowns in short yardage. He was limited to 41 yards on 15 carries. They also contained speedy backup Bernard Scott for the most part except for his long run of 18 yards. Rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee had a key sack to end the game. It was a very quiet game for Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody.
With emotional leader and middle linebacker Ray Lewis sidelined with a toe injury, Dannell Ellerbe did a viable job of filling in for him. And inside linebackers Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayanbadejo both had good days with McClain leading the defense with nine tackles. Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs disappeared again against Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, the top left tackle in the AFC North. Suggs had five tackles, but finished with zero sacks.
They intercepted rookie quarterback Andy Dalton three times with Ed Reed, Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith all picking him off. However, he also passed for 373 yards and a touchdown. Strong safety Bernard Pollard provided a physical presence with nine tackles and a sack.
Special teams: B
No fumbles on kickoff returns one week after David Reed lost two. Tom Zbikowski withstood a huge hit from Taylor Mays and held onto the football on a 26-yard kickoff return. Punter Sam Koch averaged 48.9 yards with a long boot of 61 yards and three downed inside the Bengals' 20-yard line. Billy Cundiff hit his only field goal from 22 yards. They contained dangerous return man Brandon Tate.
Three Keys to the Game
BALTIMORE -- Seven days after being embarrassed by the Seattle Seahawks, the Baltimore Ravens reclaimed first place in the AFC North with a dramatic victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Here are the keys to the Ravens' 31-24 win on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium over the Bengals:
1. The Ravens managed to finally put away precocious rookie quarterback Andy Dalton when rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee sacked him on fourth down at the Ravens' 22-yard line with 33 seconds to play, effectively ending the game.
Another major fourth-quarter play that prevented the Bengals from executing a comeback was when an instant replay review overturned Cincinnati tight end Jermaine Gresham's touchdown catch. The referee determined that Gresham didn't maintain possession all the way to the ground under the so-called Calvin Johnson rule. The Bengals had to settle for a field goal, requiring them to need a touchdown to even tie the game, which they ultimately couldn't.
2. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron remembered that Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice is still on the team, calling his number for 20 runs for 104 yards and two touchdowns one week removed from a head-scratching five carries for 27 yards. Rice also caught five passes for 43 yards and was much more heavily involved this time. The Ravens had a good balance of runs to passes with quarterback Joe Flacco launching 27 passes instead of the career-high 52 he tossed against Seattle. He completed 17 of them for 270 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His favorite target was speedy rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith, who registered a career-high 165 yards on six receptions with one touchdown. Anquan Boldin made his one catch count, dashing into the end zone from 35 yards out.
3. Defensively, the Ravens bent but didn't break even with All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis sidelined with a toe injury. Inside linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayanbadejo took up the slack as Bengals star running back Cedric Benson only rushed for 41 yards on 15 carries. He did score two short-yardage touchdowns, though. The secondary held off Dalton, intercepting him three times. He still did a lot of damage through the air with 373 yards and a touchdown on 45 throws.