Regular season. Over.
Andy Dalton breaks two single-season records for touchdowns and yards passing. Dre Kirkpatrick makes a decision to intercept a deep fourth down pass, but makes up for it with a pick-six on the ensuing Ravens possession to give Cincinnati a 34-17 lead.
A masterful game ends a masterful regular season, building impressive momentum heading into the postseason.
After the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens 34-17 at Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals have secured the third seed for the 2013 playoffs. If the Buffalo Bills beat the New England Patriots, Cincinnati will move into the second seed and be awarded a first-round bye next week.
Huge props to the Bengals defense, holding Baltimore to only 222 yards of offense while generating three interceptions and a touchdown on Kirkpatrick's interception for return for a touchdown. Props to special teams (minus Shawn Powell), turning Jacoby Jones into nothing more than cat feeder.
It wasn't pretty early.
Cincinnati's opening two possessions resulted in interceptions. Baltimore took advantage by scoring field goals on each, taking a 6-0 lead early in the first quarter. Cincinnati established their footing with their third possession at their own 22-yard line following a Brandon Tate 28-yard kickoff return. After a series of aggressive runs by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Bengals have second down from their own 47-yard line with :26 seconds remaining in the first.
Dalton took the snap from backup center Trevor Robinson, watching as A.J. Green put together this move called "running faster than all of you", crushing the coverage by at least five yards. Dalton completed the 53-yard touchdown to give Cincinnati a 7-6 lead. That was Dalton's 32nd touchdown of the season, tying Carson Palmer for most in a single season in franchise history.
Shawn Powell pinned the Ravens at their own one-yard line with 13:43 remaining in the second and Cincinnati's defense only allowed one-yard on a quarterback sneak. Following consecutive incomplete passes and a 41-yard punt, the Bengals have the football at Baltimore's 43-yard line. After gaining a first down on Giovani Bernard's juggling 15-yard screen, Andy Dalton couldn't connect on any of his three succeeding passes into the endzone. Mike Nugent converted the 39-yard field goal to take a 10-6 lead with 6:41 remaining.
With the Bengals defense stalling Baltimore into a sense of depression (did you see their sidelines in the second quarter), the offense is capitalizing. Starting from their own 48-yard line with 4:41 remaining in the second quarter, the Bengals conducted a five-play possession that gained 52 yards but it was the final play that deserves the recognition.
With two minutes remaining in the first half, Dalton and the Bengals have third and three from the Ravens 16-yard line. The third-year quarterback eased the football over the defense for Marvin Jones, he laid out and hauled in a beautiful reception to give Cincinnati a 17-6 lead. The touchdown is Dalton's 33rd on the season, breaking Carson Palmer's franchise record of 32.
Then it began unraveling in the third quarter.
Andy Dalton throws an interception on Cincinnati's opening possession in the third quarter on a play that was clearly the result of bad communication between Dalton and wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher. Baltimore strings together a 26-yard possession that results in a field goal, reducing Cincinnati's lead 17-9.
With the help of a penalty, the Bengals lose two yards on the ensuing possession and Shawn Powell massively blows a 10-yard punt into the stands, giving Baltimore the football at Cincinnati's 40-yard line. The Ravens go the distance in six plays and score a touchdown with 5:19 remaining, reducing Cincinnati's lead to two points. Baltimore attempted a two-point conversion, but it led to an incomplete pass after Chris Crocker was called for defensive holding. Flacco pitched the football on the free PAT down from the Bengals one-yard line, and Ray Rice turns the corner for the conversion.
The game is tied at 17 with 5:13 remaining in the third quarter.
Then the Bengals recovered.
Andy Dalton throws three interceptions, and the Ravens scored points. Shawn Powell kicked a ten-yard football into the stands, and the Ravens tied the game at 17. Yet all of that mattered not when the Cincinnati Bengals responded to the Ravens game-tying touchdown with their own 90-yard touchdown drive to take a 24-17 lead with over 13 minutes remaining in the fourth.
On the first play of the Ravens ensuing possession, Michael Johnson batted down the football and Chris Crocker picked off the floater with a nine-yard return to the Bengals 20-yard line. Unfortunately the Bengals couldn't gain a yard. Instead, Mike Nugent converted the 38-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a two-possession lead, 27-17.
The Bengals had their foot on Baltimore's throat with an Andrew Hawkins 38-yard run and James Ihedigbo unnecessary roughness, putting Cincinnati at the Ravens 12-yard line with 9:16 remaining in the fourth. BenJarvus Green-Ellis powered the football to the one-yard line through the entire Ravens defense. Instead of running again, Andy Dalton throws his fourth interception of the day on a back-shoulder throw that hung up long enough for the Ravens to intercept.
Cincinnati's defense eventually recovered after a series of bad plays, largely the result of penalties, capped by a fourth down interception by Dre Kirkpatrick with 7:57 remaining in the game. Kirkpatrick added another interception on Baltimore's ensuing possession, returning the pick for a touchdown to give Cincinnati a 34-17 lead.