Bengals Second Half Magic Falls Seven Points Short In 31-24 Loss To Baltimore

BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 20: Cedric Benson #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates his team's only first half touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 20, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens lead the Bengals 14-7 at the half. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

Cincinnati's defense held the Ravens to 26 yards on five plays late in the fourth quarter, including a critical third and short with Pat Sims making an excellent tackle on Ray Rice before the running back reached the line of scrimmage, forcing Baltimore to punt with 2:39 remaining in the game. Brandon Tate was about to receive a Sam Koch punt with the Bengals facing a seven-point deficit. With plenty of time remaining and a single-possession deficit, could the Bengals dig into that magic well one more time?

On life support all afternoon, being at this position towards the end of the game was nothing more than a miracle.

Four of Cincinnati's six wins have taken place with half-time deficits, riding the the perseverance of a stifling defense and a veteran beyond-his-years quarterback who is not unlike a closer in Major League Baseball, disregarding previous plays no matter how awful or perfect those plays were. And though a third quarter Cedric Benson rushing touchdown reduced Baltimore's lead to three points, the Bengals didn't appear up to the task to mount a comeback to take a commanding wild card lead for this year's playoff picture.

And it was largely Cincinnati's ineffectual offense, combined with an immensely struggling secondary that couldn't slow the speedy Torrey Smith with the absence of cornerback Leon Hall. During Cincinnati's final six possessions in the first half (five punts and an interception), the Bengals offense posted 60 yards on 28 snaps. Andy Dalton completed only 10 of 22 passes for 111 yards passing an ill-advised deep pass into the endzone where Ed Reed picked off the football to conclude the first half.

Even though their opening possession in the second half went 80 yards on seven plays and reduced the deficit to three points, Andy Dalton threw consecutive interceptions towards the end of the third quarter that led to 14 Ravens points, giving Baltimore a 17-point lead with just over 14 minutes remaining in the game. Questionable calls from offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, such as a Bernard Scott backyards pass to Andy Dalton or the option that hasn't worked in the NFL since 1960, not only neutralized precious downs, in the case of the option, the team lost yards on the play.

Following Andy Dalton's third interception early in the fourth quarter, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco completed a 38-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Torrey Smith, giving the Ravens a 31-14 lead. It felt over as Cincinnati mirrored the weather outside, gray, dreary and exhausting.

Yet on Cincinnati's ensuing possession, Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense came alive, concluding an 80-yard drive with an Andre Caldwell 49-yard touchdown reception with just over 11 minutes remaining in the game. Following a defense-enforced three and out, the Bengals put together another 10-play, 71-yard drive that ended with a 27-yard field goal, overturning a Jermaine Gresham touchdown, but reducing Cincinnati's deficit to seven.

Suddenly the Bengals were within striking distance, saturated in the comeback magic they've grown accustomed to drawing on.

Two time outs remaining with 1:57 remaining in the game, Andy Dalton takes the snap from Cincinnati's 42-yard line. Dalton throws short to Jerome Simpson's crossing route, picking up eight yards. Cincinnati's offense sprinted to the line of scrimmage and Dalton throws the football down the left sidelines, targeting Jerome Simpson who extends for the football, hauling in the 43-yard pass. Following an incomplete pass and an intentional grounding, Cincinnati setup with 17 yards needed on third down, oh so close from that game-tying touchdown.

Dalton takes the shotgun snap and scrambles to the left, throwing the football out of bounds setting up the final play of the game. Fourth down. Seventeen yards needed for the game-tying touchdown. Time doesn't matter. It comes down to this play. Dalton takes the shotgun snap and under intense pressure as he's wrapped, Dalton makes a last-ditch effort to get the football to someone. It falls incomplete and Baltimore wins the game.

Questions and notes following Cincinnati's loss to the Ravens on Sunday:

  • Was Jermaine Gresham's overturned touchdown the right call? Even though the football did move within Gresham's grips as the football touched out of bounds, the officials took nearly five minutes to review, concluding that he didn't complete the act of catching. It was the Calvin Johnson call. Right or not, the official enforced the rule properly on that call. It's the rule that needs to be changed.
  • Is offensive coordinator Jay Gruden trying to be too cute by calling an option in a league that hasn't effectively used the option for 40 years?
  • How does the Bengals offense go on a seven-play, 82-yard touchdown drive to punting five consecutive times with a pick to end the first half?
  • Cedric Benson scored two rushing touchdowns on Sunday. It's the first time he's scored two rushing touchdowns in the same game since New Orleans in 2010 and the third time in his career.
  • Andy Dalton posted a career-high 373 yards passing and Jerome Simpson posted a team-high eight receptions and 152 yards receiving.
  • Adam Jones led the team with seven tackles; hardly an inspiring statistic to have your cornerback leading the defense in tackles.
  • Geno Atkins (sack and two quarterback hits) led the defensive line with six total tackles, however Domata Peko led the defensive front with five solo stops.
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