CINCINNATI, OH – For the fifth straight year, the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium, this time wining 27-10 on New Year’s Day.
“We did not play well,” head coach John Harbaugh said after the game. “Our emotional level was not where it has been in the past, and I think it has to do with what it happens last week. … It was definitely our worst game of the year.”
The Ravens finish the season 8-8 and will miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons since winning Super Bowl 47. The Bengals go 6-9-1 and will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The Pittsburgh Steelers officially win the AFC North at 10-6, and will be the AFC’s #3 seed in the playoffs. The Browns will finish in last place in the division with a record of 1-15.
Even without star wide receiver A.J. Green and running back Jeremy Hill, the Bengals had no trouble getting their offense going in the first quarter. Quarterback Andy Dalton completed his first 10 passes of the game, one of those being a touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah. Running back Rex Burkhead scored on Cincinnati’s first offensive possession on a 5-yard run, and at the end of the first quarter the Bengals had jumped out to a 14-3 lead. Burkhead finished the game with 119 rushing yards, making it the third game in a row that the Ravens defense allowed a 100-yard rusher.
The Ravens’ run defense simply collapsed in the final quarter of the season after being so stellar the first 12 games.
After the Bengals kicked a field goal on their first possession of the second quarter, the Ravens had an opportunity to make it a one-score game. The Ravens had a first-and-goal on Cincinnati’s 2-yard line, but when Joe Flacco tired to throw a pass to tight end Dennis Pitta, he was intercepted by Bengals safety Shawn Williams. That turnover lead to a Bengals field goal before the half, and the Ravens had dug themselves into a 20-3 hole.
Not much occurred in the third quarter, but the Ravens finally got into the end zone early in the fourth quarter. Flacco found receiver Breshad Perriman, who raced down the left sideline and scored what appeared to be a 40-yard touchdown. However, upon reviewing the play, the call was reversed when replay showed that Perriman’s right elbow touched the ground before he reached over the goal line with the ball. After the review, The Ravens got the ball on the Bengals’ 1-yard line, and got rookie running back Kenneth Dixon marched into the end zone to score his second rushing touchdown of the season.
On Baltimore’s next drive, the Ravens could not convert a fourth down play and gave the Bengals the ball back on the Baltimore 25-yard line. The Bengals answered with a six-play drive that ended with a five-yard run from Burkhead, which would be the final nail in the coffin for the Ravens. After this score, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh started pulling some of the offensive starters, including Flacco and receiver Steve Smith Sr., who was playing in his final career game.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Smith Sr. said to a CBS reporter after the game upon being asked if Sunday was indeed his final game. “At some point, it comes to an end. I have a beautiful wife, and four kids that need their dad. I need my kids, so I’m going home to Charlotte to be with my family.”
Smith Sr. finished the game with just three receptions for 34 yards. He finishes his 16-year career with 1,031 receptions (12th in NFL history), 14,731 yards (seventh in NFL history) and 81 touchdowns.
Smith’s absence next season will be one of several holes the Ravens will be looking to fill as the offseason begins. The Ravens did improve from last season, winning three more games. However, the Ravens came up short of their goal of making the playoffs. They finished 2-6 on the road, losing their final six road games. They switched offensive coordinators five games into the season, and the play-calling did not improve. Not only are there changes on the roster looming, but perhaps on the coaching staff as well with there already being rumblings that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg could be fired.
As mentioned, the Steelers will represent the AFC North in the playoffs as the #3 seed. They will host the #6 seeded Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field next weekend. Earlier this season, the Dolphins defeated the Steelers 30-15 in Miami. Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi ran for 204 yards in that game.
As for the Ravens, the offseason begins this week, with the annual “State of the Ravens” press conference taking place in the coming days. With not making the playoffs three out of the past four seasons, it will be interesting to hear what Harbaugh, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti have to say about the future of the Baltimore Ravens.