For close to 40 minutes, Monday’s season opener between the Bengals and Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore was everything a fan could have asked for.
There were big hits, big plays, big momentum shifts and the scoreboard read 17-13 in favor of the home team following 10 unanswered points from the Cardiac Cats.
But then it happened. I know not what “it” was, but it turned an old-fashioned AFC North slobberknocker into a forgettable Week 1 defeat, leaving Marvin Lewis and co. much work to do before next week’s home opener with the Cleveland Browns.
Cincinnati had gotten back into the game with its 10 unanswered and had the Ravens stopped.
Not completely, but it was a 3rd-and-8. Almost automatic the way Cincinnati’s defense had performed on third downs in this game. But this was Joe Flacco’s night. The Ravens’ signal-caller lobbed a prayer into the end zone as he fell away from his o-line and it was answered by Dennis Pitta, who hauled in the floater for a 10-yard score that gave Baltimore an 11-point lead with 5:18 remaining in the third quarter.
On the ensuing possession, Andrew Hawkins was just touched down by Ray Lewis (instant replay confirmed the call) to turn a first down and potential scoring drive into a three-and-out.
And things got worse from there.
Flacco found a wide open Pitta for 25 yards to open Baltimore’s ensuing drive that resulted in a field goal that made the Ravens’ advantage 14.
It quickly became 21 when Ed Reed turned his 10th-career interception vs. the Bengals into a pick-6 and with 13 seconds left in the third quarter, a game that was tight as can be just five minutes earlier, was all but over.
Andy Dalton lost a fumble on the second play of the fourth quarter and Baltimore cashed in with another touchdown against a deflated Bengals squad before tacking on one more field goal to reach the 44-13 final margin.
For a young team like these Bengals, momentum will be a huge factor. A couple bad breaks snowballed into 27 unanswered points for the Ravens and a nasty Week 1 loss that will surely have the team being questioned by every pundit and Monday (or Tuesday) morning quarterback.
The mission for Lewis and his staff now is to not let this one loss turn into two. The Bengals have a winnable game coming up next Sunday against Cleveland. It will be difficult to come back after an embarrassing stretch like we saw tonight. How the team responds next week will tell us a lot about the 2012 Cincinnati Bengals and I’ve still got high hopes for this group, which played arguably the AFC ‘s best team to a stalemate for better than two quarters.
In many respects, the season begins next Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. This night will soon be a distant memory and the upcoming stretch – six games vs. teams who were .500 or worse last year in the next seven – gives Cincinnati plenty of opportunities to erase these memories and move on toward its goal of back-to-back playoff appearances.
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