Bengals relish rare home opener vs Ravens and rusty Flacco
CINCINNATI (AP) Cornerback Leon Hall tried to slap the ball away and clinch a season-opening win for the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
Instead, the ball deflected right to Brandon Stokely , who caught it and kept going for one of the NFL’s most incredible finishes. His 87-yard catch-and-run with 11 seconds left gave the Broncos a 12-7 win in 2009.
The Bengals haven’t opened a season at home since.
Cincinnati ends its long streak of road starts Sunday when it hosts the Baltimore Ravens , who could have used more time to get Joe Flacco and their injury-staggered line settled.
Instead, the Bengals get to have the crowd behind them, which could be beneficial for their young offensive line.
”It’s nice for us to open up at home in the normal surroundings,” said Andy Dalton, who has opened on the road six times. ”We’re going to have the fans behind us, and we have that home-field advantage. I definitely think it’s a great way to start the season, as we haven’t done it before.”
In the seven years since they most recently opened at home, the Bengals have gone 4-3 in their first games. They’ve won the past three at Baltimore, Oakland and the Jets.
Having the crowd behind them instead of working against them should be helpful especially to their young offensive line – left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, right tackle Jake Fisher and right guard Trey Hopkins have 16 NFL starts combined.
It also presents yet another challenge for Flacco, who missed all of training camp and the preseason because of a bad back. The Ravens were hit hard by injuries in camp, leaving their offensive line a work in progress. They had only one week to try to get their timing smoothed out, so they’re not really sure what it’s going to look like the first time out.
”We are going to find out real quick here,” Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. ”We have been putting just a little bit of extra time in because of Joe’s situation.”
Some things to watch Sunday:
FLACCO’S RUST: The 10th-year veteran didn’t start throwing in practice until last weekend, so his timing is bound to be off. There’s also the question of how his back will respond to getting hit. Flacco has struggled against the Bengals when healthy, going 8-9 with 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He’s by far the biggest focus of attention on Sunday.
”It is not ideal, but I have been doing this for a long time and I am going to make the most of it,” Flacco said.
A.J.’S RETURN: Bengals receiver A.J. Green missed the last half of last season with a hamstring injury. He’s fully recovered and ready for another big game against the Ravens. He missed both against Baltimore last season because of the injury. Some of his best games have come against the Ravens, including his career-best 227-yard game in 2015. In the 2014 season opener at Baltimore, his 77-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter set up a 23-16 win. Linebacker Terrell Suggs reminds his teammates to watch out for Green, given what he’s done against them.
”All the time,” Suggs said. ”They are going to give him the ball often and early.”
YOUNG BENGALS: Cincinnati fields its youngest team in several years, including that inexperienced offensive line. Rookies Jordan Willis and Ryan Glasgow and second-year tackle Andrew Billings fill out the defensive line rotation. Coach Marvin Lewis is hoping that the home field helps them settle in during the first game.
”Our approach has changed this entire camp,” Lewis said. ”We’ve had more competitive things since we started back in April because we knew we were going to be in this situation.”
FILL-INS FOR PACMAN AND BURFICT: Two of Cincinnati’s starters are suspended for the opener. Cornerback Adam ”Pacman” Jones got a one-game penalty from the league for his offseason misdemeanor conviction. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict got three games for his egregious hit on a Chiefs player in the preseason. Former first-round picks Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson III are expected to share Jones’ role on Sunday.
CLOSE ONES: The AFC North rivals have a history of games featuring big plays and close finishes. Eleven of the past 14 games have been decided by one score. The series is tied 21-21, with each team having a 14-7 record at home. The Bengals have won their past five games against the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium.
AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in Owings Mills, Maryland, contributed to this report.
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