Talk about having to do a fast rewrite.
Everything pointed to another disappointing effort for the Cincinnati Bengals. They did not make adjustments at the half, as usual, and the Baltimore Ravens did. Baltimore’s offense, which had been completely shut down in the first half, suddenly could not be stopped.
Andy Dalton had thrown four passes in the second half, and all of them had fallen incomplete. The Bengals got the ball back with less than three minutes to play, and the end was in sight.
Here are four winners and three losers from one of the more exciting games in a long time.
The game was over. Cincinnati faced a 4th-and-12 with less than a minute to play and there was no reason to think that anything good was about to happen.
Dalton dropped back and found Boyd over the middle, who ran away from Baltimore defenders for the go-ahead touchdown with 44 seconds remaining. Boyd finished with five receptions for 91 yards.
Joe Mixon looked like a man on a mission early. He carried the ball three times in the Bengals’ opening drive Sunday and accounted for 33 yards in helping Cincinnati jump out to a 7-0 lead. He went into halftime with 77 yards on 14 carries, an average of 5.5 yards per carry.
Mixon got only four more carries in the second half, and finished with 96 yards. He certainly has something to build on in 2018.
Entering the game, the Bengals were next-to-last in the NFL in yards rushing with an average of 81.3 yards per game. Just like last week, Cincinnati exceeded that average in the first half alone.
In addition to Mixon, Giovani Bernard rushed for 50 yards on only eight carries, an average of 6.3 yards per carry, and the Bengals went into the half with 126 yards rushing. Baltimore entered the game with the fifth best rushing defense in the NFL, allowing an average of just 89.4 yards per game.
The offensive line was opening holes all over the place for Cincinnati running backs and kept the vaunted Baltimore pass rushers away from Andy Dalton until late in the game, when the Ravens just put their ears back and came.
Cincinnati has barely noticed that absence of Tyler Eifert this season. Tyler Kroft is more than carrying the load. Kroft had five receptions for 50 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone.
Kroft has been targeted nine times in the red zone this year, and seven of those targets have resulted in touchdowns. Kroft had only two targets in the second half, and finished with six receptions for 53 yards.
Mixon ran well, when given the opportunity, but his fumble after an 8-yard run early in the second quarter resulted in a Baltimore field goal.
A.J. Green had another one of those games. He was unable to stay inbounds on two sidelines catches, the type that he usually makes look easy. He dropped at least one pass and looked completely lost on a pass in the end zone that should have resulted in a touchdown.
Then, as the Bengals are moving for the tying score late, Green draws a 5-yard penalty for not being set.
The Bengals’ special teams were terrible. They gave up an 89-yard kickoff return with 26 seconds left in the first half and resulted in a gift touchdown for the Ravens. Instead of taking a 17-3 lead into the half, Cincinnati clung to a seven-point lead.
Then, midway through the fourth quarter with the Bengals up by four, an unnecessary roughness penalty after a punt gave Baltimore the ball at midfield. Add that to the fact that Kevin Huber was consistently out-punted by his counterpart, Sam Koch.
Huber punted eight times, and was unable to put a single punt inside the Ravens’ 20-yard-line. Koch pinned the Bengals inside their own 20 on three separate occasions.