On a day when the weather was gloomy and the energy level in Paul Brown Stadium was non-existent in a place where the Ravens hadn’t won in three previous tries, Baltimore took Cincinnati, and specifically defensive back Leon Hall, to the woodshed in a 34-3 victory over the Bengals.
Wide receiver Mark Clayton had a huge day with five catches for 164 yards that included a one-handed, 70-yard touchdown catch that will make the slow-motion NFL Films highlights this week. He also threw a perfect spiral for a TD on a trick play to receiver Derrick Mason.
Hall was the obvious target when quarterback Joe Flacco went to the air as Hall was burned on the Clayton catch, and he didn’t sniff out the wide receiver pass when Clayton threw to Mason for a 32-yard score in the third quarter until it was too late.
It was a game that the Ravens were expected to win handily, and Baltimore controlled the clock, the line of scrimmage both ways, and outside of a long drive that resulted in a field goal late in the second quarter, the woeful Bengals. Cincinnati punted 11 times as the Ravens’ defense forced eight three-and-outs and returned their fifth interception for a touchdown on 20 picks this season on a Jim Leonhard 35-yard TD romp late in the fourth quarter.
The Ravens offense also got a boost as tight end Todd Heap found his way through the defensive backs in the end zone to catch a 4-yard TD pass from Flacco that extended the Baltimore lead to 13-0 late in the first half. The evolving comfort level between Flacco and Heap will only help offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and the Ravens expand the playbook in the final four regular-season games.
Baltimore picked up a key division and conference victory it might need if the Ravens get into a fight for one of the two wild-card spots. The first half was not very highlight worthy as Cincinnati could not sustain a drive until the end of the half when the Bengals got a field goal for their only points. The Ravens were not able to crack the end zone until Heap’s catch as steady Matt Stover hit a pair of field goals for a 6-0 lead.
Once the Ravens extended the lead to 27-3 in the third quarter, the bruising run game took over as the Bengals were knocked back by the Baltimore offensive line. On the other side, Bengals QB Ryan Fitzgerald looked lost as the Ravens defense applied the vice grips.
Now, it’s on to the “Beltway Battle” against the 7-5 Redskins next Sunday night in M&T Bank Stadium in the biggest home game to date in the John Harbaugh era — until the Pittsburgh Steelers come in the following week.
As the 8-4 Ravens showed in their effort against the Bengals today, they will not be caught looking ahead to the next opponent when the current challenge is ahead of them on the field.