Ravens fall to 1-1 as Ben­gals’ A.J. Green catches three TD passes in 34-23 win.

BEN­GALS 34, RAVENS 23

The Washington Post - - SPORTS - BY JONAS SHAF­FER

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).

FRANK VICTORES/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco passed for 376 yards and two touch­downs Thurs­day but also threw two in­ter­cep­tions and lost a fum­ble.

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