It took an ugly win, but the Baltimore Ravens have finally ended a five-game losing streak to the Cincinnati Bengals. The 19-14 win today gave the Ravens their first win over the division rival Bengals since November 10, 2013.
The win was a huge one for the Ravens as it kept them in first place in the division at 6-5. On the other side of the coin, it was a devastating loss for the Bengals, who dropped to 3-7-1 and are now all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. This win moved the Ravens to 4-0 in the division and helps them to keep pace with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who got to 6-5 on Thanksgiving night with a 28-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
But as has so often been the case with the 2016 Ravens, this win won’t earn the team much style points. Breshad Perriman rebounded from not receiving a single target in Week 11, by catching a 14-yard touchdown on the Ravens’ first offensive drive, where they easily moved the ball and got 75 yards on 11 plays. However, that was the only time that the Ravens were able to find the endzone all day. Every other point came courtesy of Justin Tucker as he scored 12 points by converting on all four of his field goal attempts.
A mighty defensive effort was instrumental in preserving the lead. The Bengals did score one touchdown to make things interesting late in the game, however overall the Ravens’ defense did a good job shutting them down. Andy Dalton had two fumbles that were recovered by the Ravens’ defense and the return of Elvis Dumervil helped to generate a Ravens’ pass rush that sacked Dalton three times.
Here’s a look at some of the other key takeaways from the Ravens’ win.
1. Dumervil’s return keys dominant defensive performance.
The Ravens allowed 14 points today, which at first glance doesn’t look like a dominant performance. But a closer look reveals that this was not a typical 14 points where the defense allows two offensive touchdowns. The Bengals scored just one touchdown, a three-yard reception from Dalton to Tyler Eifert late in the third quarter. Mike Nugent added two field goals and the Ravens essentially gifted the Bengals a safety on the final play of the game, when Sam Koch stalled punting the ball and ran out of the back of the endzone at the end of regulation.
The Bengals had a difficult time on offense throughout the day. They simply couldn’t get anything going in the running game, totaling just 64 rushing yards. Bengals’ starting running back Jeremy Hill actually left the game briefly for an injury and though he returned, he was not effective with only 21 yards on 12 attempts.
With AJ Green out for the Bengals, they didn’t have a whole lot of success in the passing game either. Eifert unsurprisingly led the team in yards with 68, on his five catches. Shareece Wright and Tavon Young did a good job containing the Bengals’ wide receivers, with only Tyler Boyd making any impact among that group. Boyd had 62 yards on five receptions, however basically all his catches came on short passes as Dalton didn’t really have any success passing deep.
Dumervil’s return paid major dividends in the pass rush. Dalton entered the game as the third-most sacked quarterback in football and yesterday he was sacked three more times, twice by Terrell Suggs and once by Dumervil. The Dumervil sack was the play that essentially clinched the Ravens’ win as it resulted in a forced fumble that was recovered by Lawrence Guy. All throughout that last Bengals drive, the Ravens were tipping the ball and putting smothering pressure on Dalton and that ultimately paid off with the crucial turnover.
2. Justin Tucker “killing it” in the kicking game.
There’s no denying Tucker’s importance to the Ravens, especially considering that their offense has had their share of struggles this season. But yesterday, Tucker seemed to go into a whole other gear as he scored 13 of the Ravens’ 19 points. He converted three field goals of 50 yards or longer, becoming just the third kicker to do that in an NFL game.
Tucker currently leads the NFL with 34 consecutive field goals made. The streak dates back to last season, as Tucker has not missed a kick in 2016 making him the only kicker this season to start every game and not miss a field goal. He also clearly is not lacking for confidence. Before his 57-yard attempt in the second quarter, he told his holder Koch that this kick would be “legendary” and then went on to drill it through the uprights.
Having a kicker who is nearly automatic provides hope for struggling offenses. Yeah, the Ravens couldn’t score touchdowns, but yesterday they didn’t need to. They just needed to get a few first downs so that they were in Bengals’ territory and then trot Tucker out for another field goal try. With so many kickers in the NFL struggling with merely converting extra points, the Ravens have to feel good about having arguably the best kicker in the NFL on their roster.
3. Offense goes into shell in the second half yet again.
This game was the third time this season that the Ravens took a 10-0 lead early in the game. The previous two times both ended up as embarrassing losses, first to the Washington Redskins in Week 5 and then to the New York Giants in Week 6. The offense got out to a fast start in both those games, before hitting a wall and ultimately being unable to catch up after the opposing team took the lead.
The sad reality is that could have easily been the case yesterday. Even after having such a bad day offensively, Dalton was driving his offense down the field late for the potential game-tying touchdown. The Dumervil forced fumble prevented that and ultimately bailed out an offense that had played poorly in the second half.
The Ravens went 0-for-6 on third downs in the second half, which means that they had a hard time sustaining offensive drives. In the run game, Kenneth Dixon and Terrance West combined for 97 rushing yards, which looks decent, however the Bengals had the 28th best run defense and so it was a little disappointing the Ravens’ run offense couldn’t capitalize on that matchup.
Joe Flacco was sacked just twice, however he had a pedestrian passing performance going 25-of-36 for 234 yards, a touchdown and an interception. None of the receivers did much with Dennis Pitta continuing a recent cool streak by only putting up 34 yards on three receptions. Steve Smith Sr. followed up his big game in Dallas last week by catching four passes for 20 yards and costing the team 15 yards on a dumb unnecessary roughness penalty.
Perriman did a nice job on his touchdown, but that was his only reception on the day. Mike Wallace had a big 31-yard reception on a third down, but he still ended his day with a relatively disappointing 57 yards on three catches. The Ravens are going to need more from their offense, both running game and passing game, if they are to keep pace with the higher-scoring offenses they will almost certainly run into in late December and early January.
The Ravens are now looking at a difficult schedule for the month of December, with all four of their games scheduled against teams that are .500 or better. They do get a rematch with the Bengals on their regular schedule finale on New Year’s Day, but for that game to mean anything, the Ravens will have to knock off some impressive competition before then.
The next team up for them is the 7-4 Miami Dolphins, a team that is red-hot right now. They have won six straight and are very much in the thick of the AFC Wild Card picture. The Ravens will be home for this game, however three of their final four games are road games. With them and the Steelers still tied for first in the AFC North, it should be an exciting finishing stretch for both these teams.