CINCINNATI — The last person a quarterback wants to see not faked out by a naked bootleg is Haloti Ngata. The Baltimore Ravens behemoth defensive lineman is much quicker than his looks would suggest.
Andy Dalton found that out the hard way Sunday. The Bengals were by no means cruising against the Ravens in the fourth quarter but they were leading 20-14 and had picked up a couple of third-down conversions after the defense forced the first punt of the game by Baltimore’s Sam Koch. There was six minutes, 49 seconds left on the clock and the Bengals were at the Ravens 32-yard line facing a second-and-6. This was the chance to close out the game.
Then Haloti Ngata showed up in Dalton’s face, forcing a fumble and setting off a series of events that took the Bengals from thinking win to putting their backs to a wall 80 yards away from victory against a defense that had allowed just one measly field goal in the final two minutes of a game this season.
October hadn’t been the kindest of months to the Bengals. Trailing 24-20 with 3:59 to go, things didn’t look promising for a positive end to the month. Dalton wasn’t thinking that way, however.
"Just have confidence that we were going to go down and score," said Dalton about his message to the team as they huddled up for the first time. "Regardless of what goes on, you have to make up in your mind that the next play is going to be a big one. It’s exactly what we needed to have happen. Things can turn around pretty quickly when you have everyone on board."
After three weeks of frustration, things finally turned the Bengals’ way.
Dalton scored on a fourth down 1-yard sneak, getting some additional help from his offensive linemen in the process, with 57 seconds left to play to lift the Bengals to a 27-24 win and a sweep of the season series against the Ravens. The win wasn’t secured until an apparent 80-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Steve Smith Sr. was wiped out on an offensive pass interference call against Smith Sr. for knocking over Bengals safety George Iloka on his way to the ball.
The final 6:49 of the game was a roller coaster of momentum and emotional swings for both teams. The more desperate team found a way to win a game it couldn’t afford to lose.
"That was what we expected — a total, total football game for 60 minutes," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "You’ve got to give our guys credit for hanging in there. We had some bad plays today, and we have some things we have to get corrected — very simple things — and that’s going to be the fun of it, the challenge of it. We’ve got to get it together. It’s great to do it with a win."
The Bengals (4-2-1) trailed the Ravens (5-3) for just 6:22 in their two games this season but needed to score touchdowns late in the fourth quarter and then get defensive stops in both games. Dalton threw a 77-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green in with just under five minutes to play in Week 1’s 23-16 win at Baltimore. He completed 3 of 5 passes for 72 yards on Sunday, including a 53-yard pass to Mohamed Sanu on a third-and-10 play that took the Bengals into Ravens territory. He added a 13-yard pass to recently acquired Greg Little on third-and-2 from the 19 that set up his winning sneak.
On the two previous drives, Dalton had lost the aforementioned fumble that led to a Ravens touchdown and was then intercepted when Sanu had a pass intended for him stripped away by safety Matt Elam and into the hands of linebacker C.J. Mosley. The defense limited that damage to a field goal and four-point deficit.
"We knew we were going to have another opportunity after they scored," said right tackle Andre Smith. "There was going to be another opportunity for us to score so we knew we had to take full advantage of everything."
Smith had a first half to forget. He was beaten by Terrell Suggs for one sack and called for two holding penalties that not only cost the Bengals 20 yards for the infraction but also wiped out 39 yards in completions to Little and Brandon Tate that would have set up the Bengals in Baltimore territory on two different drives.
He did a little soul searching at halftime
"I came in and self-checked myself, (there were) things I wasn’t supposed to be doing," said Smith. "I’m a better player than I was playing like. Just be that guy. Be that guy that I know I can be."
The Bengals didn’t commit any penalties in the second half after being flagged six times as a team in the first half. They weren’t perfect in the second half but they self-checked as a team at the most important time.
"It gives guys a little bit of ‘oomph’ and a little bit of confidence that if we don’t beat ourselves we’re going to be hard to beat," said cornerback Adam Jones. "It was a good team win. It’s hard to win these games but we pulled one off and hopefully this will get us on the road."