8:20 p.m. ET
Clear 62 degrees
Key Decision #1: (CIN ball, leading 28-7 / first-and-10 on CIN 38 / 1:22 Q2)
• The Bengals have played an excellent first half, and now have the ball, good starting position, and all three timeouts. Just a FG here probably delivers a game-winning blow in this game.
• No matter what, the Bengals have to make wise play calls and at least run some clock in this series so that the Ravens do not have another possession before the half, especially since head coach Marvin Lewis knows the Ravens still have all three timeouts.
• Instead, the Bengals throw three straight incompletions and only run off 20 seconds.
• The Ravens get one final first-half possession, march down the field and score a TD, closing the first-half deficit to 28-14.
Key Decision #2: (CIN ball, leading 28-23 / first-and-10 BAL 16 / 5:08 Q4)
• CIN has been losing momentum since the end of the first half, and they are just trying to hang on at this point.
• However, a nice long run by RB Joe Mixon (who returned to the game after a knee injury) gave the Bengals much-needed momentum and a nice opportunity for a winning TD score on this series.
• But poor, extremely conservative play calls of two inside runs (one to an injured Mixon, who had just came off a long run) were stuffed.
• Now the Bengals faced a third-and-12 and they threw a short completion and had to settle for a FG, thereby keeping BAL in the game until the end.
• This was a typical Thursday night affair; the home team has a clear, early advantage as the traveling team often comes out sluggish, which the Ravens did.
• However, the Ravens made very nice in-game adjustments on both sides of the ball to climb back from a large early deficit and put themselves in a position to win the game. Once QB Joe Flacco found some rhythm with his young TE group, he went to them with success. The Ravens did a good job of keeping their poise and varied their tempo until they found something that worked.
• We did not like the early offensive game plan by the Ravens, however. It was disjointed, and got away from the run game early.
• We very much did not like John Harbaugh’s decision for a 2-point extra point try while trailing 28-23 with over nine minutes left in the game. We understand that he wanted to close to within 28-25, but nine minutes is a long time, and his defense was stiffening and continuing to give the Ravens’ offense an opportunity. If he kicks the extra point (with perhaps the best kicker in the NFL, Justin Tucker) and makes it 28-24 and the Ravens score another TD, then they have a full FG lead. As it turned out, the Ravens did get the ball back with plenty of time for another TD drive, but down 31-23 at that point, Harbaugh would have been forced to try another 2-point conversion simply to tie the game. Harbaugh is too good of a coach to make such a mistake, but this has been a trend with his decision-making going back to last season.
• The Bengals played well offensively early in the game; we liked the game plan and personnel usage offensively. They moved QB Andy Dalton around frequently and really had the Ravens defense stretched and confused. Once they amassed a three-TD lead, however, it is as if they had run out of plays. The offense started becoming very conservative, the formation variety stalled, and they simply showed that they do not yet know how to close out a game.
• We also did not like how the Bengals used the play clock while ahead by two scores in the second half. Plays did not go off with any consistency relative to the play clock. When you’re ahead by two scores late, snapping the ball with 18 seconds left on the play clock is not judicious.