The Baltimore Ravens brought the Cincinnati Bengals down to earth on Sunday in their overtime, 20-17 defeat of the AFC North's top team. Now at 4-5 and tied for second place in the division with the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens have found themselves only 1.5 games back from the 6-4 Bengals.
The AFC North is very much up for grabs, with the Bengals dropping their second game in a row and the Ravens snapping a three-game losing streak. But though the win was big, it also provided examples of why the Ravens are still far from being true playoff contenders.
On offense, the Ravens struggled much as they have all season. Two Joe Flacco touchdown passes in the first half made it appear as though Baltimore had righted those wrongs. They went into halftime up 17-0, but they had only 94 yards of total offense, with Flacco completing only nine of his 18 pass attempts for two touchdowns and an interception.
*Browns on bye in Week 10
The run game was again disappointing. Including overtime, the Ravens had just 85 rushing yards on their 30 attempts, good for an average of just 2.8 yards per carry. It wasn't augmented by a sharp passing game—Flacco had only 140 passing yards on his 20-of-36 passing and he added no additional points after the first half. He turned the ball over three times, with two interceptions and a lost fumble.
Defensively, the Ravens went from holding the Bengals to only 102 first-half yards to giving up a total of 364. Though they picked off Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton three times, they also allowed 17 unanswered Cincinnati points in the second half.
They dialed up the pressure, with five total sacks on Dalton, but at the same time they gave up 151 yards to Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Considering Green had just seven yards in the first half, it's fair to say they failed to shut down the Bengals' biggest offensive weapon when it mattered the most.
And while safety James Ihedigbo was Baltimore's most effective defender, leading the team in tackles and intercepting Dalton twice, he'll also be remembered as the Ravens player who tipped the Hail Mary touchdown into Green's hands, forcing overtime.
Baltimore converted only three of their 16 third downs; they were aided immensely by nine Bengals penalties for 134 yards, six of which netted Ravens first downs. Torrey Smith was the team's leading receiver, but he had just 46 yards (and a useful touchdown). The Ravens should consider themselves lucky that their three turnovers were matched by three Dalton picks. This was not an inspiring win, despite how necessary it was for Baltimore's season.
The Ravens benefited from playing an uncharacteristically struggling Bengals team this week. There will be few wins ahead for the Ravens if Flacco throws for only 140 yards while the defense gives up over 350 yards to their opponents. On any other day, in any other game, this would have been a Ravens loss.
The Ravens don't just need to be more consistent in order to emerge as late-season playoff contenders—they need to be better on both offense and defense, and then try to sustain it. This win did not shake the facts that they cannot run the ball well, that they lack playmakers at wideout, and that the defense makes just as many mistakes as big plays.
Things don't get easier for the Ravens in the coming weeks. They take on the Bears in Chicago next Sunday and host the New York Jets and then rival Pittsburgh Steelers in Weeks 12 and 13. After a home game versus the Minnesota Vikings, they have a tough three-game stretch to close the year—an away game against the Detroit Lions, a home contest versus the New England Patriots, and the Bengals in Cincinnati in Week 17.
That's a tough slate of games, and few will be winnable if they play like they did against the Bengals on Sunday. While this win keeps the Ravens' postseason hopes alive on paper, it also represents everything that is wrong with this team—and why even a postseason appearance seems to be a stretch, wide-open division or not.