Ravens fall to 1-1 as Bengals’ A.J. Green catches three TD passes in 34-23 win.
BENGALS 34, RAVENS 23
CINCINNATI — As Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco took the field early in the second quarter Thursday night, it was hard to say which was more daunting: the past, the present or the possibility of a bright near future.
For as long as he has led the franchise in Baltimore, Flacco has struggled against the Cincinnati Bengals. Now linebacker C. J. Mosley, the quarterback of the Ravens’ defense, had left the game with a bone bruise. What hope was there for a happy ending with Flacco’s history of inefficiency, Mosley’s absence and, maybe worst of all, the team’s three-touchdown deficit in hostile AFC North territory?
Hope did arrive, on the backs of an improved Flacco and a resilient but depleted defense, both sparking a Ravens rally. But in the team’s last gasp, Flacco could not deliver the excellence he had supplied in abundance just days earlier.
His fumble on a third-down sack with 2:52 remaining and the Ravens needing a score was one mistake too many in a 34-23 loss, the team’s eighth defeat in 11 games in Cincinnati (2-0) under Coach John Harbaugh. Flacco fin- ished 32-for-55 passing for 376 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions in a performance that offered no measure of redemption for Tyler Boyd’s dagger-in-the-heart, last-minute catch in last season’s Week 17 loss to the Bengals that extended the team’s playoff absence to three years.
Four days earlier, Flacco was happy to idle on the sideline in the fourth quarter, watching the backups play the Buffalo Bills as they coasted toward the franchise’s third-highest margin of victory. When it mattered late Thursday, he ran the offense the way he likes — fast — and often found his wide receiver who fits that description: John Brown.
His first completion in a drive that got the Ravens within a score was to the free agent signing. His last was a pinpoint 21-yard throw to Brown, who climbed over cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in the near corner of the end zone for a touchdown that seemed to deaden the announced 50,018 in Paul Brown Stadium. A failed twopoint conversion kept the Ravens at arm’s length, down 28-23.
But they could not hold off the Bengals’ stalled offense for long. A crucial third-down penalty on cornerback Tavon Young averted a three-and-out for Cincinnati, and it marched downfield with much of the precision it had earlier. A field goal by Randy Bullock extended the Bengals’ lead to eight with just under three minutes remaining.
Almost as soon as the Ravens got the ball back, Flacco gave it back. The offense’s three-play drive was a case study in how not to finish a 21-point comeback: incomplete pass, incomplete pass, fumble on a scramble Flacco hoped would last longer than it did.
The Ravens had gotten to within 11 points in the third quarter on kicker Justin Tucker’s 55-yard field goal, his 22nd consecutive make dating from last season. But they squandered chance after chance to make the fourth quarter more manageable.
On consecutive drives, the offense gave the ball away, first on a failed fourth-down attempt that running back Javorius “Buck” Allen probably should have converted and then on a pop-fly interception by Flacco. The long ball fell to safety Shawn Williams, who had defensive end Carlos Dunlap’s pressure off the edge to thank.
In a rivalry in which, historically, both starting quarterbacks have been their worst selves more often than not, it was Andy Dalton (24 for 42 for 265 yards and four touchdowns) who shined brightest under the “Thursday Night Football” lights. After a three-andout against the Mosley-led defense, he found the Mosley-less defense to be as different as night and day.
An interception by Flacco on the offense’s second drive gave the Bengals a head start at the Baltimore 16-yard line. A third-down penalty for defensive pass interference on safety Tony Jefferson gave Cincinnati new life in the red zone, and Dalton found star wide receiver A. J. Green (five catches for 69 yards) streaking across the end zone on the next play for a four-yard score.
Young, working against the seven-time Pro Bowl selection in the slot, could not keep up, too far behind to lay even a finger. The next time they tangled on a big play, Young got two hands on Green, but even that was not enough. Green shook off a tackle before outracing safety Eric Weddle to the corner of the end zone with the seeming ease of a light jog for a 32-yard score.
Less than 17 minutes into the game, Green had his third touchdown in three possessions against the Ravens’ undermanned defense, this time besting cornerback Marlon Humphrey. At that point, no one would have blamed the Ravens for wanting a second game against the Bills this season, not the Bengals. Up 21-0, Cincinnati already had nearly as many yards of total offense (151) as the Bills finished with Sunday (153).
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco passed for 376 yards and two touchdowns Thursday but also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.