The Cincinnati Bengals had nothing to play for in Week 17, other than pride, which was a stark contrast from the span lasting from 2011-2015. If it was indeed Marvin Lewis’ final game as the Bengals’ head coach, many facets of the 2017 season finale were fitting.
At the end of the game, the Bengals pulled out a 31-27 win, stunning the Ravens and ending their 2017 season without a playoff berth.
It was cold and windy in Baltimore, as kickoff netted the coldest game ever at M & T Bank Stadium. Even so, the Bengals shot off to a hot start.
Baltimore had the driver’s seat for a Wild Card berth, but without a win, they needed substantial help. Regardless of the Ravens’ postseason scenarios, the Bengals weren’t going to make the Ravens’ potential entrance to the postseason very easy.
Riding the running back duo of Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard on the opening drive, the Bengals cruised down the field for an early 7-0 lead. Mixon had three carries for 34 yards, while Bernard had two for 13 and Dalton capped the march with a touchdown pass to Tyler Kroft.
The Bengals’ offense didn’t even face a third down on the opening drive and Dalton was a perfect 3-of-3. Cincinnati’s defense held the Ravens to a punt on their opening drive, capping a great first few minutes of the game.
Ravens running back Alex Collins was a headache for the Bengals’ defense throughout the afternoon, as Joe Flacco used him on handoffs and dump-off passes. Weather played a factor early though, particularly for the Ravens’ offense, as drops were prevalent from both Collins and Mike Wallace.
Cincinnati had nine first downs and 74 rushing yards in the first quarter, while Baltimore had just 24 yards and one first down. Unfortunately, the disparity in those statistics only netted a 7-0 lead as the second quarter began.
The Bengals’ defense held their end of the bargain as well, as the Ravens started with four punts in the season finale. Still, after starting 3-of-3 passing, Dalton didn’t fare as well in the second quarter, going 3-of-10 in subsequent drives.
But, as struggling teams often do, holiday handouts were given to Baltimore. After a solid start, Mixon committed a rookie mistake and lost his second fumble of the year, which led to a Justin Tucker field goal.
As the middle of the second quarter approached, Cincinnati’s offense crawled into its shell. Pressure on Dalton was prevalent, as he was forced to either check-down or throw the ball away.
However, as both drops and batted passes plagued the Ravens’ offense, Cincinnati’s offense finally took advantage again before the half. Using a plethora of weapons headed by Kroft, Dalton found his tight end in the end zone again to take a 14-3 lead with just more than four minutes to play.
The Bengals’ offense wasn’t done, though. After holding down the Ravens and Flacco once again, Cincinnati was on the move in the final minutes of the half. Unfortunately, Dalton and A.J. Green continued to be reading different playbooks, as they couldn’t connect on a couple of critical passes. Even so, Randy Bullock nailed a field goal to give the Bengals a 17-3 lead, as halftime approached.
But, if you were wondering why the Ravens were playoff-bound, despite their offensive issues, look no further than Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and kick returner/wide receiver Chris Moore. The former University of Cincinnati product returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards to put Baltimore in scoring position after the Bengals’ field goal. The Ravens took advantage with a Flacco touchdown pass to Moore with four seconds left in the half.
As the third quarter started, the Ravens attempted to build off of their momentum from late in the first half. Baltimore moved the chains a couple of times, but just as they were getting rolling, Moore tipped a Flacco pass into the waiting arms of Darqueze Dennard who scooped it up and ran 89 yards down the field for a pick six, the first of his NFL career.
Flacco must have been mad as he returned to the field to orchestrate an eight-play, 61 yard drive that would end with a touchdown scored by Alex Collins on fourth down. Trying to maintain and build on their lead, the Bengals' offense returned to the field but couldn't get anything going as the Dalton to Green connection continued to show it's not working as well as we've grown used to over the last seven years.
After stalling out after Baltimore’s response, the Ravens were on the move again. As the fourth quarter started, Baltimore got into the red zone, thanks to numerous big plays on third down. Yet, in true Ravens form, the settled for another Tucker field goal to cut Cincinnati’s lead 24-20.
However, as has been a theme throughout the past two seasons, the Bengals didn’t show up in the second half. It didn’t help that Brandon Bell and Hardy Nickerson, Jr. were anchoring the defense, but an inexplicable 12-men-on-the-field penalty gave the Ravens new life.
After a couple of plays that seemed oh-so Baltimore, Flacco used the short passing game to his advantage. After so many drops on Sunday, Wallace caught a critical touchdown pass to lead to 17 unanswered Ravens points.
As time wound down, Baltimore attempted to milk the clock on offense, but that didn’t happen. Cincinnati received the ball back with under three minutes to play, but more was at stake.
With both Tennessee and Buffalo winning on Sunday, the Ravens needed a win against the Bengals to get into the postseason. The Bengals and their beleaguered head coach had other plans, however.
The yellow hankies were prevalent on Cincinnati’s final drive, as two were called against Baltimore and one against the Bengals. Yet, on 4th-and-12, with their postseason hopes on the line, Lewis’ Bengals stepped up for the first time this year,
Dalton hit Tyler Boyd on that fourth down for his third touchdown pass of the day. Because of the score, the Ravens were against the wall, both in the game and for the postseason.
The Bengals defense held strong on the ensuing possession, as the Bengals beat the Ravens, 31-27. In what could be his final game against his former employer, Lewis’ Bengals put up a fine effort in the 2017 season finale.