CINCINNATI — There was nothing on the line when the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals kicked off Sunday, and for much of the afternoon, the visitors played like it at Paul Brown Stadium.
Despite stressing the importance of the game all week, the Ravens’ defense came out and allowed points on the Bengals’ first four drives, and the offense didn’t find the end zone until midway through the fourth quarter.
The lackluster Ravens dug themselves a 17-point halftime hole and never recovered in falling to the Bengals, 27-10, in front of an announced 54,944 at Paul Brown Stadium. The Ravens limped into what figures to be a long offseason with an 8-8 record and a fifth straight loss in Cincinnati. The Bengals finished the season 6-9-1.
“The emotional level wasn’t where it had been in the past,” Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said. “It has to do a lot with what happened last week. Our guys came back and really worked hard. They didn’t sulk, they didn’t pout. We came to work, but to get to that level, you have to play to the level the way we usually do in order to win football games.”
Cincinnati got all the scoring it would need with touchdowns on its first two drives. The Ravens, meanwhile, didn’t get in the end zone until the 8:37 mark of the fourth quarter when rookie running back Kenneth Dixon scored from one yard out.
Otherwise, Joe Flacco was intercepted in the end zone in the second quarter and the Ravens were stopped on fourth and one deep in Bengals’ territory in the third quarter.
In likely his last NFL game, wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. had three catches for 34 yards. Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving plateau after a four catch for 33-yard day. Tight end Dennis Pitta set a career high in receiving yards and also established a single-game franchise record with 11 receptions for a tight end.
Otherwise, the Ravens got nothing accomplished in their final game of the 2016 season. Bengals running back Rex Burkhead had 27 carries for 119 yards and two touchdowns, and quarterback Andy Dalton threw for 226 yards and a touchdown.
The Ravens spoke all week about the importance of finishing strong, trying to get to nine wins. They also wanted to send Smith off on a high note and start the process of moving from their devastating loss the previous week to the Pittsburgh Steelers that eliminated them from the playoffs.
Instead, all their defense did was pick up where it left off in the fourth quarter against the Steelers, when they allowed touchdowns on the final three drives.
Playing without running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, star wide receiver A.J. Green and standout tight end Tyler Eifert, the Bengals moved effortlessly down the field on the Ravens and scored on each of their four first-half drives. Only the Ravens’ defense stiffening in the red zone on two occasions, forcing two short field goals by Randy Bullock, prevented the game from being totally out of control at halftime.
As it was, the Ravens trailed 20-3 and looked like a team that had no interest in being on the field. Perhaps, the microcosm of the half came when Flacco tried to force the ball into Pitta on first and goal from the 2-yard line. A touchdown would have cut the Bengals’ lead to 17-10. Instead, Flacco was intercepted by safety Shawn Williams, and the Bengals turned the turnover into three more points.
“You can’t expect to win when you play a terrible first half in all levels of defense — the front, run defense, missing too many tackles, not stopping them in the red zone,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. “We didn’t come out the way we should have come out. That’s on the leaders, it’s on myself. We came back in the second half and played our style of football, but it was too late.
“You like the character to come back instead of rolling over, but it’s unacceptable. It’s not something to lay your hat on in the offseason, the way we played the first half.”