Defense leads the way in Ravens’ overtime win

It’s easy to wonder whether the Ravens were pleased with a 20-17 overtime win over the Bengals or frustrated the game even made it to overtime in the first place.

After dominating Sunday’s game through three quarters only to watch their lead disappear on a last-second Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expired in regulation, the Ravens didn’t come unraveled. Justin Tucker’s 46-yard field goal on the team’s first possession in overtime lifted the Ravens to a key three-point win over the division-leading Bengals and gave the team its first win in more than a month.

Let’s just call it a feeling of relief.

“I don’t know if this is exciting,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. “It would’ve been more exciting to be on Cincinnati’s side. Obviously, we won which was exciting, but I don’t know if it was as much exciting as it was one of those where you wipe your forehead and say, ‘Thank God we got out of this one.’ Having said that, it is a big win and you take them no matter how you get them.”

For three quarters, Sunday’s game boasted a Ravens team that reminded fans of its championship caliber play from a year ago. Flacco and the Ravens offense jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first half, as the offense took advantage of favorable field position to pick up an early cushion. The defense, meanwhile, helped keep one of the league’s most dangerous offenses off the scoreboard.

But, as I read in my book of cliches this morning, there’s a reason they play for 60 minutes.

Trailing by a touchdown, and facing a fourth-down situation with two seconds on the clock, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton reared back and tossed a Hail Mary prayer to the right side of the end zone. The ball reached its target - even with a surging wind that wreaked havoc on both offenses - and a slew of orange and purple jerseys jumped in the air.

Safety James Ihedigbo tipped the ball toward the back of the end zone, where Bengals receiver A.J. Green stood wide-open. Green easily hauled in the loose ball for the game-tying touchdown, forcing the more than 70,000 in attendance to watch as purple jerseys sat stunned at the goal line while Bengals players celebrated around them. The score sent the game into overtime and appeared to send all of the momentum to the Bengals.

“It was disappointing, but you don’t get disheartened,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You have a chance to win the game still. The game’s not over. I’m proud of the fact that our guys looked at it that way and our team looked at it that way.”

As Harbaugh said, the play left the Ravens disappointed, but far from disheartened. It only meant the teams would play a little longer. In overtime, the Bengals took the initial possession and had the ball in Ravens territory with a chance to kick the go-ahead field goal. But with wind playing a factor all afternoon, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis elected to keep his offense on the field for a fourth-and-2, where it was Ihedigbo - the man who only minutes earlier watched his hail mary deflection fall right into the hands of an open receiver - who made his final big play in game full of them.

“I look at myself as a great player and that’s what I aspire to be,” Ihedigbo said. “At the end of the day, I had two interceptions and I made the bonehead play to put us in the position where we were. But you can do one of two things: You can sulk your head and be like, ‘Aw man, we gave up another one,’ or you can say, “Next time they throw the ball in my vicinity, I’m going to make a play’ and that’s what I did.”

Ihedigbo’s “vicinity” may as well have been the entire field Sunday. On top of making the key fourth-down stop in overtime, the seventh-year safety recorded his first two career interceptions and was part of a Ravens secondary that forced Dalon into constant trouble. Dalton finished the day with 274 yards and two touchdowns, but was forced to throw the ball 51 times, tossing three interceptions and taking five sacks in the loss.

“We have a motto that once you put it on tape, that’s what is expected of you and defensively we played lights out today,” Ihedigbo said. “I made the reference back to the 2000 defense where they didn’t give up anything to anybody and you go with that mindset and it shows.”

Meanwhile, the Bengals defense had a star of its own, as linebacker Vincent Rey, who replaced injured linebacker Rey Maualuga in the starting lineup, picked up three sacks and an interception for a defense that, after allowing 17 points in the first half, shut down the Ravens attack.

Flacco finished with 119 yards on 18 completions and had a pair of interceptions to go along with two touchdown passes. Running back Ray Rice had a forgettable day, totaling just 24 yards on 14 carries for an average of 1.7 yards per carry.

“We struggled. We’ve got to get better,” Flacco said of his team’s offensive performance. “We definitely got something going early with a little help from our defense giving us some short fields and we got some touchdowns which proved to be big, but we struggled all day. You have to give credit to their defense, but we’ve got to do a lot of things better in order to be successful moving forward.”

Despite the late-game heroics from the Bengals, the win puts the Ravens at 4-5 on the season and right back in the hunt for a third straight AFC North crown. The win snapped a three-game losing streak and evened Baltimore’s divisional mark at 2-2 with a home game against the Steelers and a trip to Cincinnati still looming. The Bengals, meanwhile, fall to 6-4 and 1-2 against the AFC North.