CINCINNATI (AP) No playing this one down. The Bengals got off to a good start by making a significant breakthrough for a team that has only a few more of those left to make during the regular season.
Even now, they’re already talking about the playoffs.
The offense came up with a big play at the end and the defense was tough all along during a 23-16 win in Baltimore on Sunday that suggests the Bengals are in good shape to defend their AFC North title.
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Of course, it’s always more than that with this team. The goal that’s never far from mind is to reach the playoffs a fourth straight season and finally win one in the postseason, something they haven’t done since the 1990 season.
For now, they’ve ended a four-game losing streak in Baltimore to put themselves one-up on the team that’s been their closest competition the past few years.
And they did it by rallying instead of crumbling after blowing a big lead.
”You never know when the time will come that you have to make a play, and it came at the end,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. ”We made a big one at the end. There was a lot of fight in this team, and that’s what we love to see.”
The Bengals settled for five field goals and a 15-0 lead before the the Ravens went ahead 16-15 on Joe Flacco’s 80-yard pass to Steve Smith with 5:46 left.
Dalton and A.J. Green hooked up on a 77-yard touchdown to match it – the Pro Bowl receiver juggled the ball before pulling it in – and the defense held on in the closing minutes after Baltimore reached the 16-yard line.
Dalton and Green had never won in Baltimore, going 0-3. They’d won in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, the two other division sites, but Dalton has played some of his worst games in Baltimore.
He was 25 of 38 for 301 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and no sacks on Sunday, by far his best performance there.
Several times he got rid of the ball instead of trying to force a throw or taking a sack.
”It starts with your quarterback,” coach Marvin Lewis said on Monday. ”Our quarterback made some good decisions to throw the ball away yesterday and come back the next play.”
It was a pronounced change for Dalton. In his first three games in Baltimore, he completed only 53 percent of his passes with three touchdowns, seven interceptions, 11 sacks and a passer rating of 58.7.
The Bengals were able to give him some time, and Dalton avoided the game-turning mistake.
”Being able to be physical with those guys and not give them the opportunity to just tee off on you is the key,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ”In the past, they’ve been able to bring rushers on the field and really tee off on us there on third down and stuff.”
The Bengals had two notable injuries. Tight end Tyler Eifert hurt his right elbow in the first half and Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict suffered a concussion. Lewis wouldn’t provide updates on either player.
Cincinnati (1-0) has its home opener on Sunday against Atlanta (1-0), which beat New Orleans 37-34 in overtime for its own breakthrough.
The Bengals went unbeaten at Paul Brown Stadium during the regular season last year, only to lose their playoff game at home to San Diego.
Notes: DT Geno Atkins played 49 of the 88 plays and had one tackle. Also, he got to Flacco once as he threw. Lewis was pleased with the showing as part of Atkins’ comeback from a torn ACL last Oct. 31. ”There’s no way we can simulate big people pushing on you (in practice),” Lewis said. ”That part of his game will continue to return as he gets more and more snaps of that.”
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