For one week anyway, the armchair quarterbacks will be silenced.
Make that four days.
The Ravens hung on to beat the Bengals on Sunday, 31-24, setting up a huge Thanksgiving Day showdown with the San Francisco 49′ers and temporarily silencing the masses in Baltimore who spent most of last week hammering the Ravens offense after a lackluster performance in Seattle seven days ago.
A 31-point offensive output and a decent day for Joe Flacco (17/27, 2 TD’s) should be enough to shut everyone up until Thursday.
But maybe not.
The Bengals certainly made it interesting, and if not for a horrifyingly bad video review from referee Ron Winter in the 4th quarter, Baltimore could have found itself on the wrong end of a huge late-game meltdown. Instead, the visitors faced a situation on their final drive that mandated a touchdown. Cincinnati used a long throw to Jerome Simpson with one minute left to get the ball down to the Baltimore seven yard line, but the Ravens defense stiffened and held off Andy Dalton in the game’s final seconds.
Make no mistake about it, this was a huge win for the Ravens, as it moves them to 7-3 and in first place in the AFC North, owning the tiebreaker over idle Pittsburgh (7-3).
But it took everything the Ravens had on both sides of the ball to hold off the pesky Bengals, as Baltimore built a 31-14 lead in the final period before Cincinnati started to rally.
The outcome was even more critical for the Ravens because it came without Ray Lewis on the field. The future Hall-of-Famer missed his first game since December 30, 2007 with a toe injury and is expected to miss Thursday’s home outing with the 49′ers as well.
The game featured a healthy dose of running back Ray Rice, who was able to make an impact both on the ground and in the air, running for 104 yards on 20 carries with two TD’s and adding 43 receiving yards. A week ago, of course, Rice only touched the ball 13 times in the stunning loss at Seattle, causing an uproar with the fanbase throughout the week as everyone demanded more Ray Rice and less Cam Cameron.
Torrey Smith also had a huge day for the Ravens, outracing a beleaguered Bengals secondary and hauling in 6 catches for 165 yards and a 4th quarter touchdown.
Without Leon Hall, the Cincinnati secondary was vulnerable from the start, and the Ravens used an effective mix of run and throw to keep the Bengals guessing just enough to open up the passing lanes for Flacco and Company.
The Bengals are a pretty good team. In year’s past, they’ve come into Baltimore as a shell of what they showed today and got blown out of the gym. Sunday, the Ravens got their first glimpse of rookie QB Andy Dalton and he was decent enough to raise a few eyebrows, despite throwing three interceptions, including one late in the first half that halted what might have been an important scoring drive as the second quarter came to a close. Playing without much-heralded rookie wide receiver A.J. Green, the Bengals offense still looked dangerous enough to cause some concern in the 4th quarter as Dalton scrambled for first downs and hooked up with Jerome Simpson on a huge pass play in the final minute that had the purple faithful chewing their nails.
It might have gone down to the wire, but it still counts as a win for the Ravens, who are now a perfect 3-0 in the AFC North and hold the edge over Pittsburgh by virtue of the season-series tiebreaker.
The Ravens won’t have much time to enjoy this one, but at least the next three days or so won’t include the routine bashing of Cameron and Flacco by the local barstool coaches.
It’s hard to argue with a victory.
Especially one against a division rival that gave you all you could handle.