Great players make great plays. And they make them when it matters most.
Enter Terrell Suggs and Ray Rice, both of whom came up with game-changing plays on Sunday in Cincinnati, sparking the Ravens to a 24-16 win over the Bengals that handed Baltimore the AFC North crown with a 12-4 regular season record.
Suggs, quiet for most of the day, came up with the first huge play in the 4th quarter when he slapped the ball out of Jermaine Gresham’s hands with 7:15 left in the game when the Bengals were trailing 17-13 and mounting a possible game-winning drive.
Three plays later, Ray Rice scampered 51 yards into the end zone to make it 24-13 in favor of the Ravens and that effectively sealed the deal for Baltimore, paving the way for a first-round playoff bye and a home game at M&T Bank Stadium sometime on the weekend of January 14-15.
When the game was on the line, the Ravens two best players of 2011 came through. Suggs and Rice. Rice and Suggs. Either way you rank them in ’11, those two figured out a way to be the difference on Sunday in Cincinnati.
They got some major help from the Bengals along the way, as Marvin Lewis did his best to stymie Cincinnati’s progress in the first half with some soft decisions on a pair of 4th and inches situations. A missed field goal from Mike Nugent – which, honestly, might have actually been good – was also helpful, as the Bengals looked hopeless in the opening 30 minutes.
But as they’ve done time and time again this season, the Ravens couldn’t put an opponent away, even though it looked like they wanted to be put away.
The Ravens couldn’t generate much offense in the 3rd quarter and the defense started to wear down, with a glaring missed tackle from Ed Reed highlighting a Cincinnati comeback that saw the Bengals climb to within 4 points at 17-13 before Suggs’s heroics led to the Rice TD run with 5:41 to play in the game.
There’s no telling which Ravens team will show up in two weeks when the playoffs begin. It’s been that kind of season in Baltimore, where despite seeing the team win 12 of 16 games, an air of uncertainty remains about the club’s ability to put together 60 minutes of good football.
It happened again on Sunday in Cincinnati, where the Ravens dominated the first half, then slowly lost their way until the Bengals clawed back to make it 17-13 in the 4th quarter.
Two weeks from now, a 35 or 45 minute effort against either the Steelers, Broncos or Texans might spell doom for the Ravens.
But on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, a 40 minute effort was good enough for the Ravens, who used two big plays from their two best players to pull out a win and earn a home playoff game for the first time since January 13, 2007.