It was far from pretty, but the Bengals found a way to end their season with a win over Baltimore and a 10-6 record. While much of the game was a JV competition between backups, it was ugly, nonetheless.
The Ravens had several players inactive, partially due to a slew of injuries and partially to provide rest to key players heading into the playoffs.
Most of the notable names for the Ravens spent the whole game on the sideline including LB Ray Lewis, S Ed Reed, DT Haloti Ngata, LB Terrell Suggs and WR Anquan Boldin. QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice both played, but their participation was limited to no more than the first half.
During a week when most teams' injury reports are routinely longer, the Bengals decided to start its regular players despite a secured wild-card playoff berth. Albeit, many players saw limited minutes.
As mentioned, it was ugly. By halftime, the Ravens had seven drives. Five of them ended in punts. The Bengals had six offensive drives, five straight punts before sustaining a five play, 42-yard drive ending with a Marvin Jones 11-yard TD reception just before the half.
Backup QB Tyrod Taylor came in for Joe Flacco after two drives. Taylor brought a different dynamic to the game as his elusiveness and running ability are better than those of Flacco. Taylor made a habit of neutralizing the athleticism of the Bengals defensive line with some slippery moves of his own.
Taylor finished the game 15-of-25 for 149 yards and an interception. That interception proved costly as Carlos Dunlap not only deflected Taylor's pass but also caught it and returned it 14 yards for the score.
QB Andy Dalton started for the Bengals but only played the first half. He completed 10 of his 15 pass attempts for 78 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, backup QB Bruce Gradkowski led the Bengal offense. Gradkowski finished the game 5-of-11for 65 yards. He also got the Bengals offense in position for Josh Brown to kick three field goals.
Brown joined the Bengals just before the loss to the Cowboys when K Mike Nugent got injured. Ever since, Brown is 11-of-12 on field-goal attempts, and his only miss was from 56 yards. Today, Brown cashed in from 32, 38 and 47 yards.
If there was a single play of the game, it would have been Carlos Dunlap's interception for touchdown. On the play, Dunlap recognized that Taylor wanted to throw a short pass, so he waited, and just when Taylor released the ball, Dunlap jumped.
He deflected the ball upwards and when it fell back to the ground, Dunlap was waiting for it. He then slipped by one tackler and into the end zone for the 14-yard touchdown before jumping into the stands with some fans.
The Bengals led 16-14 before the play, and Dunlap's TD made it a two possession game. The score came with 6:06 remaining in the game.
The defensive line continued to play well, logging four more sacks. Michael Johnson chipped in with two, while Wallace Gilberry and Dunlap recorded one a piece. The Bengals finish the regular season with 51 sacks, a new record for the Bengals franchise and second in the NFL behind Denver with 52.
The Ravens were able to score another field goal before the end of the game, but the Bengals came out victorious with a 23-17 win.
Prior to the game, Bengals RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis sustained a hamstring injury that held him out of the game. Green-Ellis missed practice this week due to illness. RBs Brian Leonard, Cedric Peerman and Daniel Herron will have to carry the load if Green-Ellis is unable to play in the playoffs.
Green-Ellis had an abysmal 14 yards rushing on 15 carries against the Steelers last week after rushing for more than every other running back in the NFL other than Adrian Peterson for a span of six weeks.
Today against the Ravens, the Bengals had an atrocious 47 yards rushing without Green-Ellis. His presence in the backfield could be the single-biggest factor to the Bengals' success, thus far.
Marvin Jones led all receivers with five catches for 45 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Tate also chipped in with 53 yards on three catches. AFC Pro Bowl starting WR A.J. Green only had two catches for 26 yards, however, they came in dramatic fashion.
Green hadn't been targeted all game until late in the second quarter. It was 3rd-and-5 when Dalton found him for 17 yards. The next play, Dalton found him again for nine. Not long after that, Green took his place on the bench for the rest of the game.
Green's two catches brought his total to 97 for the year. He will look to surpass the 100-catch mark during the playoffs, making him the third player in Bengals history to do so, joining Bengals legends Carl Pickins and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
While today's game didn't mean anything for the Bengals' playoff positioning, all wins against AFC North opponents are valued wins. It allowed the Bengals to finish the season 10-6—a record that seemed unlikely when they were 3-5 after Week 9.
The Bengals will plan for a trip to Houston where they'll face the Texans in the playoffs next weekend.