BALTIMORE—With 6:49 remaining in the fourth quarter on Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals were in an unusual situation—they were trailing.
Just one play earlier, Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton was stripped by Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Elvis Dumervil and fellow-linebacker CJ Mosley scooped up the fumble and raced 41 yards for a touchdown that gave Baltimore a 17-14 advantage.
This marked the first time Cincinnati had trailed in 2015. But it wouldn’t last long.
On the very next play from scrimmage, Dalton zipped a pass up-the-seam to a racing AJ Green, who broke a pair of tackles and surged 80-yards for a touchdown to put Cincinnati back in front.
But Baltimore didn’t fade away.
The Ravens responded with a nice touchdown drive of their own. Joe Flacco completed a pair of 3rd and longs, and then found wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. from 16 yards out to once again put the Ravens ahead.
Last season, the Bengals had four minutes to drive down the field to beat the Ravens in Baltimore. On Sunday, the opportunity presented itself once again, and ended with the same result.
After an incompletion to begin the drive, Dalton completed his next four passes, to four different receivers, and found Green for a second touchdown, putting the Bengals in front, 28-24, which would stand to be the final score as Cincinnati improved to 3-0.
This capped off a huge game for Dalton, who won his fourth consecutive game against the Ravens, improving his record against the division-foe to 5-4.
Dalton ended the contest with a career-high 383 yards and his second-consecutive three-touchdown performance while Green also set a career-high with 227 receiving yards to go with a pair of fourth-quarter scores.
The Red Rifle capped off Cincinnati’s first possession, a 10-play/67-yard drive, with his first rushing touchdown of the season, diving into the end zone from seven yards out to put Cincinnati on the board first. It was Dalton’s fourth rushing touchdown against Baltimore in their last four meetings.
Once again, Marvin Jones proved how valuable he is to the Cincinnati offense. Jones snagged a 31-yard pass with one hand on the Bengals’ final touchdown drive, and caught a 16-yard touchdown in the second quarter that extended Cincinnati’s lead to 14-0.
The Bengals took that 14-0 lead into the half; in fact, they have combined to outscore their opponents, 52-6, in the first half through the first three games.
Cincinnati thought they would add one more first-half touchdown, but a controversial call took away six points and left the Bengals scoreless.
Dalton completed six of seven passes for 82 yards, but a third-down completion to Mohamad Sanu left the Bengals facing fourth and one from the Baltimore two-yard line.
Cincinnati elected to go for it instead of attempting a chip-shot field goal, and Dalton faked a handoff to Jeremy Hill and found tight end Tyler Eifert for an apparent touchdown.
However, the touchdown was reversed because Eifert failed to “complete the catch.” Like Dez Bryant last season in the playoffs, Eifert did not complete the catch when he fell to the turf, losing the handle of the ball, despite extending past the goal line.
Instead of a touchdown and a 20-point advantage, Cincinnati turned the ball over on downs.
After being the most targeted Bengals’ receiver and catching three touchdowns in the first two games, Eifert ended Sunday’s game with no receptions on three targets.
Cincinnati’s next trip to the red zone, unfortunately, resulted in the same fate.
On the Bengals’ first drive of the second half, Dalton found Green for 47 yards, which once again put Cincinnati in the red zone.
Four plays later, Dalton lofted a fade route for Green that ended in the hands of cornerback Jimmy Smith and kept the score at 14-0. This marked the first interception thrown by Dalton this season.
Flacco and the Ravens’ offense didn’t fare well in the first half, with their five drives resulting in three punts, a missed field goal, and an interception.
Following Smith’s interception, the Ravens attempted a fourth and five from midfield. Flacco found Smith Sr. for a first-down, and two broken tackles later, Smith Sr. out ran the Bengals’ defense for a 50-yard touchdown to put Baltimore on the board.
That was the beginning of a phenomenal game for Smith Sr., who racked up 13 receptions for 186 yards and two touchdowns.
Behind Smith Sr., the Ravens’ offense didn’t produce much. While Smith had 13 receptions, no other Baltimore position player had more than three catches.
In the preview of this matchup, I mentioned Justin Forsett was a top-five runner in 2014, but hasn’t had much success in the first two weeks of this season under new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.
Forsett was bottled up by the Bengals on Sunday, rushing for just 13 yards on ten carries.
The Bengals’ rushing attack was only somewhat more productive. Hill was benched last week after losing two fumbles, and was out-touched by Giovani Bernard on Sunday, 13-12. Bernard would finish the game with 49 yards rushing and Hill would manage just 21.
Vinny Rey may have saved the Bengals’ week two victory with an interception, but it was his pass rush that would wind up clinching this victory.
After Green’s second touchdown, Baltimore had less than two minutes to drive for the winning score.
Facing fourth and three from their own 27, Flacco found Smith Sr. for four yards and an apparent first down.
However, with Rey blitzing, his facemask was snagged by guard Kelechi Osemele, a 15-yard penalty that negated the first down.
On the next play, Flacco’s fourth down heave down the field to Maxx Williams fell incomplete, sealing the Bengals’ 3-0 start.
It was another big win for the Bengals, their second victory of the season on the road in their first division contest of the season.
Around the division, the Cleveland Browns’ comeback attempt fell short, losing to the Oakland Raiders, 27-20.
The Pittsburgh Steelers may have won on the road against the St. Louis Rams, but it didn’t come without a cost—losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with a knee injury. Initial reports have said it’s an MCL injury, and it is expected that Roethlisberger will miss a minimum of four weeks.
Though the injury is unfortunate, it actually offers an enormous opportunity for the Bengals. Without Roethlisberger, the Steelers will now turn to veteran Mike Vick under center.
In the next four weeks, Pittsburgh hosts games against Baltimore (0-3) and the red-hot Arizona Cardinals (3-0), while traveling for contests with the San Diego Chargers (1-2) and the Kansas City Chiefs (1-1).
Meanwhile, the Bengals’ next four weeks are also difficult; with an away game against the Buffalo Bills (2-1) after back-to-back home matchups with the Chiefs, and Seattle Seahawks (1-2).
Cincinnati has their bye in week seven, and will head back to the gridiron for a road game with the Steelers in week eight– the game Roethlisberger will return to if he is, indeed, only out for four games.