It felt like the game was lost midway through the third quarter when Justin Forsett began dicing up Cincinnati's defense as Baltimore recovered from a Bengals-dominated first half. Eight yards. Five yards. Chunks of yards that had Cincinnati's defense on roller skates. In the span of two possessions, the Bengals watched as their 15-point lead disintegrate.
When you're unable to convert possessions into touchdowns, rather relying on Mike Nugent's (usually) reliable leg, you're going to encounter situations such as the Bengals. Despite scoring five times in the first half, the Ravens only needed an 82-yard possession to reduce their deficit to within one score -- during a Justin Forsett 13-yard pitch down the right sidelines late in the third quarter. It's an amazing feat to score five times on your first six possessions, all the while forcing two turnovers on defense with four punts and a forced fumble. All things considered, it was a blowout everywhere but the scoreboard. Justin Tucker converted a chip-shot field goal with 10:28 remaining in the game to reduce Cincinnati's advantage to five points.
Defensively the Bengals were man-handled as the game progressed toward an uncertain conclusion. That was until everything shifted into an impression of the Madden video game franchise. With over six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Steve Smith blew past cornerback Adam Jones, who dropped coverage, down the left sidelines where Joe Flacco completed the 80-yard touchdown. Forsett failed to convert the two-point PAT.
Cincinnati counter-punched with a juggling effort by A.J. Green during a 77-yarder down the right sidelines, taking a 21-16 lead with over five minutes remaining in the game. Dalton connected with Sanu on the two-point conversion, reclaiming a lead with Cincinnati's first touchdown of the season.
Defensively, the Bengals were winded. Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta found gaps in Cincinnati's exhausted defense, crossing midfield north of three minutes. Joe Flacco took advantage of a preventative defense, grabbing chunks of yardage once the game reached the two minute warning.
After a handful of plays, the Ravens had third-and-four from the 16-yard line with 1:09 remaining in the game. Unable to find an open receiver, Flacco held onto the football as Gilberry dropped the quarterback. The Ravens were forced to use their final timeout. Paul Guenther dialed up the blitz again, overloading the left side and sending Reggie Nelson behind Gilberry. Both quickly got to Flacco, sacking the quarterback.
Turnover on downs. Win.
Impressive was this: The Bengals were down, even out. They were on the road. They were winded. The momentum was completely against them. And when it mattered the most, A.J. Green juggled a 77-yard touchdown reception and Wallace Gilberry capped the defensive effort to end the game.
Impressive is Cincinnati's fortitude to open the season.
-- -- --
BENGALS TAKE THE EARLY LEAD
The Baltimore Ravens deferred to the second half after winning the coin toss, giving us an early look at Hue Jackson's offense. Brandon Tate wisely took a knee eight yards deep into the endzone on the season's opening kickoff, setting the Bengals up at their own 20-yard line.
And quickly we learned... the tempo was going to be fast. Very fast. And the plays were quick. Very quick.
Cincinnati went with consecutive plays that quickly got the football out of Andy Dalton's hands. The first, a nine-yard hitch was followed by a wide receiver screen to Mohamed Sanu, picking up six and the first down. Despite a four-yard run, incomplete pass and Jermaine Gresham false start, the Bengals picked up the first down on a middle screen to Giovani Bernard, who crossed midfield on the 16-yard sprint for the first down with 12:45 remaining in the first.
Eventually Cincinnati's drive stalled at Baltimore's 34-yard line under 11 minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Bengals concluded the 11-play drive with a Mike Nugent 49-yard field goal, giving Cincinnati a 3-0 lead.
NOT A FAN OF THE READ OPTION
It makes sense that the Bengals would call a read option with Andy Dalton... to surprise them. It happened on first and ten from the Bengals 40-yard line with 6:46 remaining in the first. Dalton faked the handoff to Giovani Bernard, who carried five tacklers, and gained two yards on the keep... roughly around the spot that Bernard was tackled. The Bengals tried it again on third and two from their own 48-yard line with 5:41 in the first. Baltimore was ready, dropping Dalton for a no-gain and forcing the Bengals to punt. It would be the only time that Cincinnati punted in the first half.
HELLO ADAM JONES
One of the more exciting punt returners in the NFL, Adam Jones, returned a first quarter punt 45 yards to the Ravens 29-yard line with over four minutes remaining. It was typical of Jones. Go this way, then that way, and then make the decision and go. Jones found a lane down the right sidelines before he was knocked out of bounds.
Cincinnati picked up a first down after Tyler Eifert hauled in a 14-yard reception over the middle to the Ravens nine-yard line with 3:41 remaining in the first. It was costly as Eifert appears to have dislocated his right elbow. Cincinnati was unable to capitalize on Jones' excellent return after the Bengals attempted to run on three consecutive tries from inside the nine-yard line. Mike Nugent converted the 22-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a 6-0 lead.
SUSPECTING A FIELD GOAL TREND HERE
Cincinnati's offense was all of the place... and we mean that as a matter of description. Positive description. When you think the Bengals were going to throw it, they ran. When you believed that they're going to run, they threw. When you believed that they're going to throw the football to Jeremy Hill on a screen to the right, Dalton lobs a screen pass to Brandon Tate on the left.
Hue Jackson kept up with the high tempo deception on Cincinnati's fourth possession of the game, which began at their own 35-yard line to open the second quarter. Cincinnati moved the football 55 yards on 11 plays on the drive, even reaching Baltimore's 10-yard line with 10:25 remaining in the first half. Unfortunately Andy Dalton and Jermaine Gresham are unable to hook up on a sure-touchdown on second and eight. Dalton overthrew A.J. Green in the back of the endzone on third down.
Mike Nugent converted the 28-yard field goal with over ten minutes remaining to give Cincinnati a 9-0 lead.
On three of Cincinnati's first four possessions on offense, the Bengals scored points... OK, only field goals but points regardless. Cincinnati opened their fifth possession from their own 45-yard line after Justin Tucker's missed 55-yarder with 7:56 remaining in the first half. Cincinnati covered 27 yards on eight plays, including a brilliant Jermaine Gresham screen that converted a third-and-ten scenario. Unfortunately the Bengals stalled at Baltimore's 28-yard line, forcing Mike Nugent to convert his fourth field goal in the first half.
Then after Vontaze Burfict forced and recovered a Bernard Pierce fumble, Cincinnati kick-started their sixth possession from the Ravens 23-yard line. As if we needed clarification on Cincinnati's offensive woes, the Bengals took a 15-0 lead on a... you got it. A field goal.
Nugent tied an NFL record with five field goals in a half.
THE O.M.G. MOMENT OF THE GAME
As the first half was coming to an end, the Baltimore Ravens reached Cincinnati's 15-yard line with eight seconds remaining -- moving the football 61 yards. A field goal is inevitable. A touchdown, possible -- Joe Flacco attempted several shots downfield before the end of the half. With a timeout in their pocket, Flacco takes the snap and... scrambles. He keeps scrambling. Then when the eighth second expires, Flacco throws the football into the ground for an incomplete pass.
The first half had already expired.
Yikes. Hilarious. Bengals took a 15-0 lead into the locker room.
First half thoughts? Best responses gets into our post game recap.— Cincy Jungle (@CincyJungle) September 7, 2014
SO, ABOUT GIOVANI...
Once Brandon Tate completed his motion from right to left, Andy Dalton took the third down snap from the Bengals 16-yard line. With no one on Baltimore's roster covering Giovani, Dalton lobbed the football towards his running back, who sprinted 32 yards down the right sidelines. That's how you flip-the-field.
AND THEN THINGS GOT WEIRD
Unable to gain the first down with over nine minutes remaining in the third, Mike Nugent came out on the field for his sixth field goal attempt. Former Bengals safety Jeromy Miles blocked the field goal and the Ravens returned it 34 yards to the Bengals 40-yard line.
Was the momentum shifting?
Maybe. Two plays later, Joe Flacco poorly threw the football to tight end Owen Daniels. Linebacker Emanuel Lamur jumped the route for the interception, giving Cincinnati the football at their own 39-yard line.
No, the momentum wasn't shifting.
THE RAVENS OWNED THE THIRD QUARTER
Cincinnati's effort in the third quarter was shockingly ineffective. A blocked field goal led to consecutive punts -- including the first three-and-out of the afternoon with over 51 seconds remaining in the third. In the meantime, Baltimore moved the football 82 yards before pitching the football to Justin Forsett, who went 13 yards down the sidelines for a touchdown.
The Ravens take a 15-7 lead while the Bengals offense is struggling and the defense is slowing.
Now... momentum then shifted like a roller coaster.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict suffered a concussion late in the second quarter during a hit on quarterback Joe Flacco.
Tight end Tyler Eifert suffered an injury that many speculated was a dislocated elbow during a 14-yard reception early in the first quarter.