Monday night's game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens was supposed to be a close-knit affair, but the Ravens made it known they aren't willing to give up the AFC North just yet.
The veteran Ravens asserted themselves early against Andy Dalton and the young Bengals, jumping out to a 17-3 lead and never looking back.
Baltimore ended up winning in a blowout, 44-13.
Baltimore and Cincinnati entered the game as prime contenders for the AFC North title, with the aging Pittsburgh Steelers still in the mix. The Ravens and Steelers went 12-4 last season (Ravens captured the division title), while the up-and-coming Bengals went 9-7 behind a promising young core.
Monday's game figured to be a defensive battle, but Joe Flacco got off to an electric start, leading the Ravens to a score on their first three possessions, capped off by a 34-yard strike to Anquan Boldin early in the second quarter (although the catch was questionable).
Running back Ray Rice was effective in limited carries, and deep threat Torrey Smith was able to get free for a 52-yard catch in the early going. Rice stepped it up in the second half.
Third-year tight end Dennis Pitta had a strong game, catching a touchdown in the third quarter to ultimately put the Ravens up, 24-13, after the extra point.
Cincinnati's run game looked better with BenJarvus Green-Ellis as the No. 1 back, and receivers A.J. Green and Andrew Hawkins had decent games, but Dalton struggled as the game wore on. Ed Reed ran back an interception 34 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter, and Dalton coughed up a fumble on the next drive. The Bengals' young signal-caller finished 22-of-37 for 221 yards and one interception.
Ed Reed now has 1,497 career interception return yards. That is a new NFL all-time record!— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 11, 2012
In the end, Baltimore's two-touchdown lead to start the game ultimately was too much to overcome for the Bengals.
If Flacco continues to throw like this (remember, consistency was an issue last season), the Ravens will be a legit Super Bowl contender. The defense is still there for a unit that allowed 1.29 points per drive last season, second in the NFL (per FootballOutsiders.com).
In what figures to be yet another competitive battle for the AFC North crown this season, Baltimore looks like the early favorite.