The last 30 minutes of today's game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals looked more like a game that could have taken place in August. With their playoff fate already determined, the Bengals removed most of their first-team offense at halftime. Conversely, with a premium placed on getting healthy and rested, the Ravens decided not to dress half of their starting defense at all.
With the starting Baltimore offense on the sideline midway through the first quarter, the Ravens remained competitive in a game that wasn't decided until the fourth quarter. While most of the Bengals starters remained in the game on defense, Baltimore lost to Cincinnati for the first time in five games.
The final score reflected a competitive contest, but Baltimore was probably happy just to get out of Cincinnati without adding any more names to the team infirmary. The loss dropped the Ravens to 10-6 on the year, but the focus for the team has already shifted to next week's playoff matchup against the Indianapolis Colts.
Here are the final game grades and analysis for the Baltimore Ravens.
The quarterback play from the Ravens was clearly designed to manage the game, take very few risks and avoid turnovers. To that end, both Flacco and Taylor did a fair job. The obvious pick-six can be considered indicative of a backup quarterback playing against a first-string defense.
Joe Flacco: C
Flacco started out nicely on the first possession of the game, but missed his final three throws, badly overthrowing each target. On his only other possession the Ravens went three and out.
Tyrod Taylor: C+
Taylor made one huge mistake on the pick-six, but it was the result of a pretty amazing bit of athleticism from Cincinnati's Carlos Dunlap. Taylor provided some headaches for the Bengals defense as his elusiveness helped extend several plays and get him out of trouble. Taylor's accuracy wasn't great, but it was a pretty nice introduction to the Baltimore fans who weren't aware of his talents.
With Ray Rice put on the shelf early and covered in bubble wrap, it was the Bernard Pierce and Anthony Allen show. The two combined for 32 carries, 130 yards and a touchdown for the day.
Ray Rice: N/A
Bernard Pierce: B+
Pierce was dangerous all day and looked like he could break a long run early. He kept the Bengals' defense honest until Baltimore decided to make its offense more run-oriented. He was physical and shifty, and he looks like a terrific spell for Ray Rice and possibly a future first option if the Baltimore Pro-Bowler slips up or loses a step.
Anthony Allen: B+
Allen gave Pierce a breather when needed and also looked dangerous at times. He is a more physical option than both Rice and Pierce, and seemed to lower his head and initiate contact at the end of his runs. He was the Baltimore short-yardage option once Vonta Leach left the game.
Vonta Leach: N/A
Left the game after the first play after aggravating an injury.
Not the most prolific day for the Baltimore wide receiving corps as Baltimore seemed content to keep the clock rolling with the running game. Baltimore's offense isn't geared toward Tyrod Taylor's talents, so it's hard to blame the receivers for their lack of productivity.
Torrey Smith: N/A
David Reed: B
Solid effort from the former Utah star. He seemed to be Taylor's most popular target when Baltimore decided to throw the ball down the field.
Jacoby Jones: B-
Wasn't the deep threat that Baltimore could have used to stretch the field after Torrey Smith sat down, but still had a pair of nice catches early.
Deonte Thompson: B
Four targets and four catches for the Ravens' No. 6 receiver. Impressive acrobatic catch in the fourth quarter.
Ed Dickson got most of the action for the tight ends this afternoon as Dennis Pitta and his sore knee were allowed to get some rest. Dickson led all Baltimore receivers with six catches and a team-high eight targets.
Dennis Pitta: N/A
Ed Dickson: B
It was nice to see Dickson get back to being active in the Baltimore offense. The Ravens are at their most dangerous when everyone is involved.
The Baltimore offensive line seemed to wear down late in the game and send Tyrod Taylor scrambling around. Of course the Ravens had decided to sit a few of their starters, but hopefully Baltimore will get a better push from the line next week. In fairness, Cincinnati has a nasty front seven. Most of the four sacks occurred with the quarterback stepping out of the pocket.
Bobbie Williams: D
Williams, a former Bengal, had a stupid 15-yard penalty and a false start on the same drive in the second quarter. In the fourth he added a holding penalty to nullify a four-yard run. He is not Marshal Yanda.
Kelechi Osemele: C
Osemele had a bone-headed false start penalty late in the first quarter.
Gino Gradkowski: C
The rookie center did a decent job taking over for Matt Birk. He did have a holding penalty called on him, but it was a decent effort overall. His play was largely overshadowed by the beard of his brother, Bengals quarterback Bruce.
Bryant McKinnie: C
Once upon a time, McKinnie was one of the most dominant tackles in the NFL. That seems oh so long ago. Someone in the league for that long shouldn't be picking up false start penalties.
Michael Oher: C+
One of the few starters that stayed in the game throughout, Oher had a fairly solid game. At least he wasn't flagged for any dumb penalties.
The defensive line made life difficult for Andy Dalton for the entire first half. The fabled "tuck rule" cost the Ravens a sack and a turnover as Bryan Hall appeared to have caused a turnover. The tackles and ends were pretty disruptive all day and helped hold the Bengals to 189 total yards and only nine first downs.
Bryan Hall: B-
In limited action, Hall made his presence felt by Dalton with the near-turnover.
Arthur Jones: B
Jones had a nice day at the office collecting five tackles and helping to contain the pocket.
Ma'ake Kemoeatu: B+
Kemoeatu made his presence felt up the middle, clogging up the running lanes. He also finished the day with a sack.
DeAngelo Tyson: B-
Tyson had a solid game at the other end position finishing with three tackles and keeping pressure on the quarterbacks.
The linebackers had an excellent game with some sure tackling and complete containment of the Bengals' tight ends. The makeshift crew only surrendered 47 yards on the ground and one offensive touchdown.
Dannell Ellerbe: A-
I love Ellerbe's constant pursuit of the ball. He has emerged this season to make life after Ray Lewis seem plausible. He had a nice day with six tackles, two for a loss.
Josh Bynes: A-
Another solid sub that has helped provide depth at the linebacker position, Bynes has come on strong toward the end of the season. He finished today with a game-high nine tackles.
Paul Kruger: B+
Kruger's stats weren't off the charts today, but he seemed to always be near the ball.
Brendon Ayanbadejo: B
He finished with five tackles and was a key to the stingy Baltimore run defense.
With Baltimore's two starting safeties sitting out, the Ravens dipped into the reserve pool using Sean Considine and James Ihedigbo in the defensive backfield. All defensive backs were used today with Jimmy Smith seeing the most action since his hernia surgery. All told, the Ravens held Cincinnati to only 142 yards through the air.
Sean Considine: C+
Decent job supporting the run. Most of the tackling didn't get past the linebackers, though.
James Ihedigbo: C
Wasn't called on to make many plays, but helped with one pass defensed.
Jimmy Smith: B
Smith looked pretty solid overall. He was flagged for a pass interference after he lost his footing, but made four tackles and looked like a decent option at the corner.
Chykie Brown: C+
Though he made a great play early in the game, Brown got beaten badly by backup receiver Brandon Tate for a 44-yard gain. Brown will be a very good corner one day, but needs to stay alert on every play to be more consistent.
Chris Johnson: C
Two tackles on the day for Johnson who was only tested a couple of times in pass coverage.
The Ravens had a pretty poor effort collectively on special teams. Field position was a key part of the game and Baltimore was unable to overcome some excellent field position given to Cincinnati all game. Conversely, the Bengals were able to neutralize Baltimore's normally explosive return game and pin Baltimore deep in its own end throughout the game.
Sam Koch: D-
The only reason Koch doesn't get an F is because of his fake punt run. Normally one of the best and consistent punters in the NFL, Koch was woefully bad. Seven punts for a 36.6 yard average and a long of 43 is well below average for Baltimore's punter.
Justin Tucker: C-
The normally reliable kicker missed a 45-yard kick that would have extended Baltimore's lead to four points and possibly changed the complexion of the game. Tucker redeemed himself with a 49-yarder later in the fourth quarter.
Jacoby Jones: C
Jones was unable to break loose from the Cincinnati kicking coverage finishing with six returns for a 23.5 average. The Bengals punting unit was even better allowing only one punt return from seven punts for six yards.
I can't really find fault in any coaching decisions today. Obviously the Ravens decided before kickoff that the goal was to get out of Ohio as healthy as possible while remaining somewhat competitive. The failures that affected the final scoreline come down to execution or lack thereof from a couple of different areas. Field position was a crucial part of the game and can be directly attributed to 16 of Cincinnati's points.
The other seven came from a poor decision from Tyrod Taylor and an incredibly athletic play from Carlos Dunlap. In spite of the score, the Baltimore defense played very well against a good Cincinnati offense. The other side of the ball gave some quality reps to Bernard Pierce and some of the other players on offense who wouldn't normally see the field.
The team leaves Ohio without losing any ground in the playoff picture and with another week for some key players to recover. For a team that needs rest more than any other in the league, a day off was probably the best coaching decision of the day for John Harbaugh.