Bengals have Ravens QB Joe Flacco's number
The Bengals have Joe Flacco's number, and it's the most telling one in the AFC North race.
Three games. Eight interceptions. Three Bengals wins.
The defending division champs had their way with Baltimore's quarterback again Sunday. He threw a career-high four interceptions in Cincinnati's 15-10 victory, a sign that there's still one daunting obstacle to the Ravens overtaking the Bengals for the AFC North crown.
They know how to make Flacco look his worst.
''He has a lot of weapons, and we didn't want to give him any time to find them,'' said linebacker Brandon Johnson, who had one of the four interceptions.
The Bengals' formula works.
In the last two years, Flacco has had some of his worst games against Cincinnati (1-1). He has completed only 56 percent of his passes with two touchdowns, eight interceptions and a minuscule passer rating of 44.4 in their three games. He's thrown 17 interceptions overall in the last two seasons, eight of them against the Bengals.
He's done much better against the two other division teams. His passer rating against Pittsburgh is an above-average 93.4, and it's a superb 107.2 against Cleveland.
It's stunning compared to what he's done against everyone else. As a second-year pro, he completed a franchise-record 63.1 percent of his passes and set a Ravens record with his 88.9 passer rating last year. In the last three games against Cincinnati, his passer ratings have been 70.1, 48.3 and 23.8.
All three games against Cincinnati have followed the same pattern: Take away the deep throw, force Flacco to dump off. Wait for him to get frustrated and force one. Knock him down a lot, too.
''We prefer a team to take check-down passes,'' defensive tackle Pat Sims said Monday. ''We don't want to give them the long routes and take the long shots. We give them the check-down passes, then everybody just runs to the ball.''
Flacco didn't complete a pass in the first quarter Sunday, the first time he'd gone an entire quarter without a completion since his rookie year. In the first half, he went 5 of 17 for 23 yards. His completions went for 10, 6, 5, 1 and 1 yard.
The formula worked again.
The Ravens (1-1) tried to make their passing game more vertical, signing receivers Anquan Boldin and Dante' Stallworth in the offseason. When Stallworth got hurt in preseason, they signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh. On Sunday, Boldin caught five passes for only 35 yards - his longest went for 13 yards - and Houshmandzadeh didn't catch any of the six passes thrown his way.
The Bengals didn't do anything different to get the same result.
''It wasn't going to be no trying to trick them,'' safety Chris Crocker said. ''We just lined up. What they saw is what they got.''
Two of those three Bengals wins have come after emotional weeks that left the defense inspired to beat the Ravens.
Last October, the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer died three days before a game in Baltimore. Zimmer and his family made the trip, and the defense dedicated the game to them. A 17-14 victory put the Bengals in control of the division. Zimmer got the game ball in a teary locker room afterward.
Last week, the defense was seething over its poor showing in a 38-24 loss at New England. No surprise that it was at its best against the Ravens again.
''We knew this was a game we had to win,'' Crocker said. ''This was a big game. We really didn't want to get behind the ball by being 0-2.''