Ravens full-go for finale; Bengals to sit key players (Jan 01, 2017)
Even though the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals enter their regular-season finale without any playoff implications, they are approaching the game Sunday in different ways.
The Ravens (8-7) plan to play their regular starters and salvage a winning season. The Bengals (5-9), however, are decimated with injuries and have shut down several top players, including tight end Tyler Eifert, guard Clint Boling and receiver A.J. Green, who was ruled out Wednesday by coach Marvin Lewis. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is still in concussion protocol and he is listed as doubtful.
Baltimore was eliminated from the postseason with a 31-27 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday. The sting of that game will likely resonate throughout the offseason because the Ravens allowed the go-ahead touchdown with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh is determined to end the season on a high note. Baltimore will also try to end a four-game losing streak at Paul Brown Stadium.
"We want to go win it," Harbaugh said. "We do want to be 9-7. It is important to have one more win than we potentially could have. I do not care what the record is."
The game will also be bittersweet for Ravens receiver Steve Smith, who will likely retire after the game. Smith, 37, is just one of just 11 players in history with more than 1,000 catches and 14,000 yards receiving.
This year, he has 67 receptions for 765 yards and leads the team with five touchdown receptions and 12 catches over 20 yards.
"I'm going to miss it," Smith said about retiring from football. "I'm going to mourn. It's something that's part of my life for 16 years. There will be a transition."
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has already passed for a career-high 4,050 yards. He also has 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. However, the offense has been mostly inconsistent for much of the season.
There are questions surrounding the future of Marty Mornhinweg, who is the Ravens' fifth different offensive coordinator in as many seasons. Mornhinweg took over the job when Marc Trestman was fired after a 16-10 loss to the Washington Redskins on Oct. 9.
However, the offense still sputtered under Mornhinweg. Flacco is embracing the opportunity to play better one more time this season.
"We're professionals, that's what we loved to do," Flacco said. "I'm excited about it. We're optimistic about this week. It's another chance to go out there and play the game we love."
Baltimore will be without cornerback Jimmy Smith for the third straight game because of a high ankle sprain. The Ravens have struggled without Smith in the lineup, especially in the previous game when Steelers receiver Antonio Brown was able to catch 10 passes for 96 yards and scored the winning touchdown.
The Bengals have struggled throughout much of the season. Cincinnati suffered a devastating blow when both Green (hamstring) and running back running back Giovani Bernard (knee) were injured in the 16-12 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 20.
Cincinnati was not able to overcome those injuries the following week in a 19-14 loss in Baltimore. Since that game, the Bengals have gone 2-2, which was not good enough to get them back in the playoff hunt.
As a result, the future is uncertain for Lewis. There have been conflicting reports over whether he will return next season. Lewis took over the team in 2003 and is the second-longest tenured coach in the NFL behind Bill Belichick.
This is the first time in six years the Bengals did not make the playoffs.
"It's been an opportunity that we kind of started and had to restart," Lewis said about the playoff run. "We've had to retool with different players and new coaches and so forth a few times. Each and every time, you have to figure out a new way and build things up. We'll be well into that process soon because we haven't been good enough this season."
Despite missing some of his top targets because of the injuries, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had a solid season, throwing for 3,980 yards with 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Dalton is 314 passing yards from breaking his franchise record (4,293) for most in a season.
"You're still playing, playing for pride," Dalton said of the finale with no playoffs ahead. "You've got to treat it like it's a normal week. You've got to prepare the same way because all you have to do 1/8it 3/8 for is one more week for this season.
"There's part of you that could be like, 'well, you're not playing for anything,' but that's the thing that you have to fight."