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Bengals stay in game but fall short to Ravens, 19-14

It was a fitting end to the Bengals’ playoff hopes.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals fought hard, but they lost a 19-14 heartbreaker to the Ravens, ending a five game streak of dominance over their AFC North rivals. As per usual, it took a late deficit for Cincinnati to battle back and finally start to gain some ground, but unfortunately, the Bengals couldn’t battle back and revive their playoff hopes. The Bengals are now 3-7-1 and their playoff hopes are essentially dead.

As has been the case this season, the Bengals got off to a rough start in Baltimore. Cincinnati made some changes on defense, starting Josh Shaw in place of the injured Shawn Williams (with Derron Smith also out), playing Darqueze Dennard as the extra corner in nickel packages and Chykie Brown in dime packages. Nick Vigil even took some snaps at linebacker in obvious passing situations. The Ravens still managed to score an early touchdown. Breshad Perriman’s 14-yard grab over Dennard signaled the start of what would be a long game in the midst of what has been an already long season.

The Bengals’ frustrations continued, as a holding penalty on Tyler Eifert — who ended the first half with zero catches on two targets — negated what would’ve been a first down catch by Tyler Boyd. Boyd finished the game as the leading wide receiver with five catches for 22 yards.

After the Bengals punt, a controversial play involving Vontaze Burfict set Twitter on fire. Burfict legally shoved Steve Smith to the ground, frustrating the receiver to the point where he attempted to headbutt the linebacker as he got back to his feet. Smith was called for unnecessary roughness, setting the Ravens back 15 yards.

The Ravens kicked a 51-yard field goal on that drive, taking a quick 10-0 lead. Two more Justin Tucker field goals — all three from 50+ yards — to one 23-yarder from Mike Nugent gave Baltimore a 16-3 lead at the end of the first half.

The Bengals were down 13 at halftime, but they probably should’ve been down even more. On Cincinnati’s only scoring drive of the half — the only Bengals drive that went for more than 5 yards, which probably isn’t a coincidence — Eric Weddle dropped what should’ve been an easy interception.

Granted, the Bengals had a couple of good moments. Rey Maualuga picked off one of the two passes Carlos Dunlap deflected early in the game, both Dunlap and Michael Johnson recorded sacks and four defenders registered tackles for loss in the first half alone.

But with the good comes the bad. Brown was carted off the field after suffering an injury and the offensive line — despite only allowing Andy Dalton to be sacked once in the first half — had its struggles. Jeremy Hill couldn’t break off any long runs and Dalton fumbled a snap on a miscommunication with Russell Bodine. The Bengals also called a bad timeout, costing the team what would’ve been a first down had the offense hurried back to the line and snapped the ball when the Ravens were hesitant to challenge a questionable spot. Even the Cincinnati media seemed frustrated with the coach’s decision-making:

Yet at halftime, the Bengals — short A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard and two of their top three safeties — were down just 13 points. They would also receive the second half kickoff.

Finally the Bengals responded, as Tyler Eifert hauled in a three-yard touchdown pass to pull the Bengals within a score. However, a missed extra point by Mike Nugent strengthened the Ravens’ lead, 16-9. Prior to Eifert’s score, the Bengals made a change on offense, substituting T.J. Johnson into action to replace Russell Bodine.

The Bengals made another switch on defense, sending rookie safety Clayton Fejedelem into action after Shaw went down with an ankle injury. The 2016 seventh-rounder immediately made an impact, tallying consecutive tackles on second and third down to force a fourth down at the end of the third quarter. Unfortunately, the Ravens went for it and would convert that fourth down. Shortly after, Shaw did return.

Bodine eventually made his way back into the game, signaling that the Bengals’ coaching staff likely benched him for a couple of drives just to send a message. Meanwhile, Tucker and Nugent traded field goals to make the game 19-12.

Down seven points with six minutes remaining, the Bengals’ defense needed to make one final stop to give its offense a chance at evening the score. And on third down, Paul Guenther dialed up a play fans have criticized all year long, sending Johnson — a defensive end — into coverage on a corner blitz. Yet Johnson made a huge play, stopping Dennis Pitta short of the first down and forcing a Ravens punt.

From there, Rex Burkhead took over. The often underutilized running back immediately tore through the Ravens’ defense, gaining 28 yards on three consecutive runs before Hill returned to the field. Dalton battled a stingy Ravens defense, moving the offense down the field despite his passes getting batted at the line of scrimmage just about every other play. On the final drive alone, three of Dalton’s passes were deflected. But a late strip-sack by Elvis Dumervil — the third fumble by Dalton and second fumble recovery from Dumervil — ended Cincinnati’s chances at beating the Ravens, all but eliminating the mathematical possibility of a sixth consecutive playoff berth for the Bengals.

The Bengals battled back but couldn’t get the job done, and that’s been the story for them all year long. Cincinnati too often has found itself down early and hasn’t been able to battle back the way it has needed to do. At this point, the Bengals are just a team trying to play spoiler. We’ve seen some of the younger players get into the action throughout the past few weeks, and we’ll more than likely see them play even more as time goes on.

The game ended with the Bengals scoring a safety, as a result of the Ravens intentionally holding just about every Bengals player on the field. Fitting end. Though, it was really over the top and it looked like multiple Ravens were trying to injure or at least inflict pain on Bengals players.