It all adds up to a bad, bad loss for the Ravens on Sunday, as Cincinnati claimed sole possession of first place in the AFC North with a stunning 17-14 win.
Hate to say I told you so, but I did tell you so: The Bengals have a good football team. They have a VERY good defense.
And the cakewalk to the AFC division crown has officially come to an end at the 5-game mark of the regular season.
Worst of all, perhaps, is next Sunday’s pre-bye visit to Minneapolis, where the Vikings wait with their powerful offense. It’s not as if the October 18 game at Minnesota is “must-win” or anything — after all, plenty of teams who start 3-3 have made the post-season in NFL history — but it should be categorized as “really, really need to win” if that makes any sense at all. No team wants to lose three straight games and then hit the bye week having to think about a losing streak for 13 days.
Sunday in the loss to Cincinnati, we became convinced of two things: 1. These aren’t your father’s Bengals. This team they’ve assembled in Southern Ohio is pretty decent and they have the makings of a well rounded club. 2. This isn’t your father’s Ravens defense, either. Vulnerable against the pass…to say the least — and not at all capable of getting to the quarterback for some reason…has taken the purple defense down a notch or two. Good defense these days in Baltimore? Sure. Great defense? Not hardly.
There’s still a lot of football left to play. Although a lot of fans have already hit the panic button – per usual, in Baltimore – the team certainly WON’T do that over the next six days. They’ll do their best to figure out why they’re not hitting on all cylinders right now. If they don’t win in Minnesota next Sunday, it won’t be because they didn’t do the work this coming week. They’ll be burning the midnight oil in Owings Mills this week, you can bet on that.
Cincinnati wanted Sunday’s game more. I’m not sure how or why, but they looked to me like a team that wanted it more than the Ravens did.
Maybe the Bengals thought they had something to prove. Maybe the Ravens thought Bruce Coslet’s Bengals were going to show up.
The final scoring drive featured an uncharacteristic mistake from Ray Lewis and a very “tough” call on Frank Walker. I won’t use the word “questionable” to describe the Walker interference penalty, because doing so would imply that I deemed the call to possibly be wrong. It was pass interference, I guess…but that’s a tough spot to throw a flag. Less than a minute to go. Good, hard football being played. I don’t know man…tough break for Frank Walker on that one.
I can’t be quite as forgiving on Ray Lewis, even though it’s fair to note that three Sundays ago he crashed through the offensive line in San Diego and b-slapped Darren Sproles in the final minute to preserve the Baltimore win. In that game, he made the great play at the right time. In Sunday’s loss to the Bengals, his helmet-to-helmet hit on Chad Johnson was a terrible decision at the wrong time. It was completely out-of-line and over-the-top. It’s the kind of play you see on replay and you say to yourself, “What in THE hell was he thinking about there?”
It was also on that drive where John Harbaugh failed to read the game properly. After the penalty on Frank Walker, Harbaugh would have been wise to use his team’s 2nd time out there…calm down his defense…evaluate the personnel and the defensive package(s) he wanted to use…and give his club a chance to fully prepare for the final 27 seconds.
Instead, with the crowd roaring their disapproval and his players head’s spinning, Harbaugh failed to gather his troops and Carson Palmer connected with Andre Caldwell on the very next play after Walker’s penalty, capping off an 80-yard drive in 1:53.
Joe Flacco had an off day.
Willis McGahee didn’t break a sweat.
And the Ravens offense only scored one touchdown.
We should just man-up and call it like it is.
The Bengals have a good football team.
The Ravens have a good football team.
Sunday, in Baltimore, the Bengals were better.
And it wasn’t really that close, in all fairness.
But it’s only one game.
Anytime you lose at home, it’s bad.
Anytime you lose to a division rival, it’s bad.
But they all count the same.
It’s a 16-game season.
We’re only five games into it.
There’s a lot of football left to be played.