After three games, Andy Dalton has a passer rating of 119.3, his second best three game stretch during his NFL career (Weeks 6-8 in 2013 when he had a 126 rating being his best). And despite some errors, he looked decisive leading his offense successfully in a crazy fourth quarter and ultimately was able to claim the win. The Bengals are now 3-0 and the Ravens secured their first ever 0-3 start in franchise history.
Dalton, continuing to look vastly-improved this season, completed 20/32 passes for 383 yards, 3 touchdowns an interception and had his first rushing touchdown of the season. The 383 yards were a career-high. Helping him achieve that feat, A.J. Green had 227 yards (another career high) on 10 receptions with two touchdowns. Green had 3 receptions for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone, each of which gave Cincinnati leads during the wild final 15 minutes of the game.
"A.J. is so competitive," Dalton said after the game of his star receiver. "I am so fortunate that we came here together. He is so talented, and I’m glad he is on our team."
The game was one that came down to the wire after the Bengals were leading 14-0 going into halftime.
There was a point in the fourth quarter where Cincinnati faced a three-point deficit with 2:16 remaining on the clock.
Baltimore had already wiped out Cincinnati's lead (and confidence) scoring 24 points in the second half, including a painfully frustrating Elvis Dumervil strip-sack fumble that led to a C.J. Mosley touchdown. The ground rumbled, the seas boiled and Cincinnati was taking a beautifully crafted 2-0 start and destroying it with a dreadfully performed third quarter against a division rival. Defensively, the Bengals couldn't tackle and the offense had only just recaptured some rhythm midway into the fourth -- thanks to Green's 80-yard touchdown reception.
"Even after that long one to A.J. I knew it wasn’t over because of history and the way things go," Dalton said on Sunday night."
With the ball at the seven-yard line with 2:16 remaining in the fourth quarter Cincinnati called trips formation with Marvin Jones split wide left, A.J. Green to his right in the slot and Mohamed Sanu outside Andrew Whitworth's left shoulder. Tyler Eifert was wide right and Giovani Bernard flanked Dalton's right.
Dalton surveyed the defense.
Seconds later, Dalton elected to bring Eifert back inside, changing his assignment to a blocking tight end. Shouting instructions to his offensive line, Dalton appeared to have changed the play call and blocking schemes. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis called Dalton's adjustments "huge".
Sanu crossed the middle while Jones ran a three-yard square-in, allowing a significant gap in Baltimore's coverage to expand inside the endzone. Green sprinted toward the back left pylon with cornerback Jimmy Smith trailing.
It was too easy.
Touchdown! A.J. Green. Bengals leading 28-24 with 2:10 remaining in the game. https://t.co/rv3D04OEVR— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 27, 2015
The touchdown gave Cincinnati a 28-24 lead with 2:10 remaining in the game. Baltimore, with a timeout and the two minute warning remaining, were unable to secure another first down and Cincinnati buried the clock on their ensuing possession.
According to Pro Football Reference, this is Dalton's 14 game-winning drive and 10th fourth-quarter comeback. And despite some mistakes earlier in the game, he looked on point throughout the fourth quarter, with hope never lost in his ability.
In his post-game press conference, Dalton expressed his pride in the offense and specifically how the A.J. Green 80-yard touchdown pass turned out. "It was one of those plays that we had designed, and I knew the way they lined up, I thought A.J. (Green) would be open. Our guys did a great job against the blitz, and he ran a great route. He made a few guys miss, and he took it in. I'm really happy for our guys, especially up front."
Marvin Lewis was proud of Dalton's execution of the game, too. ""He did some great things today and the last touchdown was huge," Lewis said. "He did a great job. The one where he had the fumble, he tried to hold on at the last second. He thought he had a play there. He’s always learning, and that’s the good thing about Andy Dalton. I’m just pleased for him today."
Dalton had the above-mentioned fumble, his first sack of the season and a redzone interception on Sunday, but still, his play in the fourth quarter shows how improved he's looking this season. He was, after all the final quarterback to be left unsacked in the NFL this season. Those types of plays are going to happen, but it's recovering from them and being able to lead the team well from behind that should be acknowledged.
"It’s the kind of start you always want to have," Dalton said. "And it says a lot about the people we have on this team. We’re going to keep playing one week at a time, but we like where we are right now."