Ravens vs. Bengals: Takeaways from Cincinnati's 34-17 Win over Baltimore
Even better, the victory knocked the defending champions out of the postseason hunt.
Much was learned about the Bengals in the process, including how they react to adversity, injuries and more.
With the playoffs here, there is still much the team can take away from the win over its AFC North rivals. Here are the biggest things of note from Cincinnati's impressive showing to close the season.
Marvin Jones Is the Answer
Cincinnati faithful entered the season wondering who would step up across from A.J. Green, but with the AFC North crown in hand, they have their answer—Marvin Jones.
Jones caught five more passes in Week 17 against the Baltimore Ravens, which gave him another 61 yards and a score.
The duo of Green and Jones made some history as a result, as ESPN's Coley Harvey illustrates:
Jones' TD reception also was his 10th. He and A.J. are in double figures. For the first time the #Bengals have two WRs with 10 TD catches— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) December 29, 2013
Andy Dalton Breaks Records and Is Primed for Playoffs
Andy Dalton has been the most scrutinized player in Cincinnati this season, but his performance against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17 did much to finalize the belief he is the quarterback of the future for the franchise.
Dalton started the game with two interceptions on consecutive drives (one was not his fault) but turned things around to finish with a 21-of-36 line for 281 yards and two touchdowns to four interceptions.
As Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer illustrates, Dalton took a franchise record away from Carson Palmer in the process:
Dalton ties Palmer’s single-season TD mark and Green needs 16 yards to pass Chad Johnson for the team single-season receiving yardage mark— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) December 29, 2013
And Dalton now has the single-season #Bengals passing mark— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) December 29, 2013
The performance, while far from perfect, should help to silence those among the fans who believe Dalton cannot lead the team to a playoff win.
No Tight Ends, No Problem
The Cincinnati Bengals are a team widely hailed as one reliant on a two-tight end system to find offensive success.
That simply was not the case in Week 17 against the Baltimore Ravens.
With both Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert sidelined due to injuries, the Cincinnati offense remained as aggressive as ever with 392 total yards, 281 of which came through the air.
The absence of the top two tight ends simply meant more looks for receivers such as Marvin Jones and the elusive Andrew Hawkins.
Speaking of which...
Andrew Hawkins Getting Hot at Right Time
The Cincinnati Bengals have an elite weapon in the form of receiver Andrew Hawkins, but given the amount of talent on the offensive side of the football in the Queen City, the coaching staff has had a hard time getting the ball in his hands frequently.
Hawkins made the most of his limited opportunities in Week 17 with three receptions for 74 yards—good for an average of 24.7 yards per catch.
Not the most impressive day, but Hawkins led the team in receiving yards and foreshadowed a wrinkle teams will have to deal with in the postseason.
Teams have plenty of film on the other weapons in Cincinnati but not much on the shifty Hawkins, who missed most of the 2013 season with an injury. Hawkins can make or break the team's success in the playoffs with his elite ability after the catch.
Dre Kirkpatrick Is Still a Roller Coaster
Second-year corner Dre Kirkpatrick continues to emerge as one of the most heavily scrutinized players on the Cincinnati Bengals roster.
For every good play against the Baltimore Ravens, he had a bad one.
Kirkpatrick was routinely beat on the double-move once again. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller put it best:
I've never seen Dre Kirkpatrick effectively cover a double-move.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 29, 2013
Then there was the interception late in the game on fourth down, which cost the team a number of yards. Had Kirkpatrick just swatted it away, the Bengals would not have needed to start deeper in their own territory.
But the interception that turned into a touchdown to seal the game is what will stick in the minds of fans, which is fine. That said, the team better hope Terence Newman is ready for the postseason, because teams will still look to pick on Kirkpatrick.
Injuries May Snowball into Major Issue
It seems like the media has been a broken record for weeks—surely injuries will eventually doom the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals.
That broken record must keep spinning after Week 17.
Cincinnati lost more players to injury in the bout with the Baltimore Ravens, including third-string tight end Alex Smith. The Bengals also lost starting center Kyle Cook to an injury, as Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer illustrates:
Cook headed to locker room with a left foot injury. Return is questionable #Bengals— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) December 29, 2013
Backup swing tackle Anthony Collins, who has started at left tackle in recent weeks while Andrew Whitworth has kicked inside, was also lost:
#Bengals report Collins has an ankle injury but is expected to return— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) December 29, 2013
At some point, the simple lack of bodies along the line is going to hurt Cincinnati, right? The same goes for the secondary, which has been without Terence Newman for weeks. It can also be argued for the offense, which seemed to fully show its tight end-less hand against Baltimore.
Depleted Roster Still a Threat
But perhaps not. These Cincinnati Bengals are resilient. Remember, this is the same Cincinnati team that entered the year with its two best defenders healthy.
The losses of defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall have not crippled the Bengals, so perhaps nothing will.
Despite more incessant shuffling along the offensive line against the Baltimore Ravens, Andy Dalton was not sacked, and the team managed 111 total rushing yards.
Despite the absence of Terence Newman, the Cincinnati secondary limited Joe Flacco to 192 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
All of this against the defending champs, who were desperate for a win to make the playoffs. Sure, the Ravens finish the year .500, but another gritty performance shows the Bengals are ready to compete with any team in the postseason—with or without a healthy roster.
Home Dominance Continues
With the win over the Baltimore Ravens to close the season, the Cincinnati Bengals moved to 8-0 at Paul Brown Stadium.
The league's Michael Signora summed it up in an apt manner:
The @Bengals finish 8-0 at home for 1st time in 25 years (1988)— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) December 29, 2013
First up, the San Diego Chargers, as the team illustrated on Twitter:
We know we play the Bengals in Cincinnati in next weekend's wild-card round. Date and time to be announced tonight. #playoffs— San Diego Chargers (@chargers) December 30, 2013
Although the Bengals did not emerge with a first-round bye, kudos should still be sent in their direction for an impressive run in front of home fans during the regular season.