It was supposed to be like any other week, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton, had us believe. Approaching the regular season finale against the Baltimore Ravens, determined meaningless for the Bengals and equally so by the Ravens with most of their starting defense taking the afternoon off. It turned into a game perceived more preseason than regular season finale.
And for the Bengals offense, it was.
One could argue a determination to establish a bland-version of their preseason offense dictated the study of potential postseason opponents, which in my view is futile considering the 15 previous games showing plenty of film-study for opposing teams to glance over. But the point is fair. During Cincinnati’s opening five possessions on offense, the Bengals punted the football each instance, gaining 63 yards on 21 plays, highlighted by three first downs and one possession crossing midfield.
Strangely, and we suspect to reduce the wear and tear of a violent NFL game, A.J. Green wasn’t even targeted by Andy Dalton until one minute remained in the first half, finally posting two receptions for 26 yards during a possession that resulted in Marvin Jones’ first career touchdown, tying the game at seven with 39 seconds remaining in the first half. It would be the last possession Green, and his starting quarterback, would play Sunday afternoon.
Defensively the Bengals were status quo; led by linebacker Vontaze Burfict with 12 first half tackles, limiting the Ravens to a touchdown, five punts and one knee to end the first half. A slight breakdown at the end of the first quarter led to a productive Ravens possession, led mostly by Baltimore backups, taking a 7-0 lead with 17 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
By the time the second half kicked off, both teams reverted to preseason mode on offense, with Bruce Gradkowski starting at quarterback and A.J. Green sporting a winter cap on the sidelines with the best view in the house. Yet the Bengals still managed two field goals, taking a 13-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Defensively the Bengals, with most of their starters, kept the tempo early in the third quarter, pressuring backup Ravens quarterback Tyrod Taylor and forcing the Ravens into two third quarter punts. Eventually a pass interference-assisted touchdown that gave Baltimore a sustained possession that led to first downs were highlighted by multiple pass rushes that broke contain, allowing the speedy Taylor to spin out of the pocket, eventually captured the lead for Baltimore with 12:50 remaining in the game.
Eventually Josh Brown converted on a 39-yard field goal to reclaim the lead with 7:16 remaining in the fourth quarter, further extended by a beautiful Carlos Dunlap pass deflection at the line of scrimmage, which he intercepted and returned for a touchdown. The Bengals take a 23-14 lead and eventually beat the Ravens 23-17 for the first time since 2010.
It's the ninth ten-win season in franchise history and the third during the Marvin Lewis era.
The Cincinnati Bengals wait for the late afternoon games to figure their opponent for the Wild Card weekend next week.