Takeaway turns into points, Ravens lead early (Bengals up 17-6)

The Ravens have had a near-perfect start to this game. They won the toss to start the second half with the ball, and ended up essentially starting the contest with the ball as well.

Corey Graham intercepted Andy Dalton on the Bengals’ first snap of the game, giving Baltimore the ball at the Cincinnati 21. It was Graham’s fourth interception of the year and ended Dalton’s streak of 132 pass attempts without a pick, which was the longest active stretch in the NFL. The Bengals have been great at protecting the ball at home as well - that was just the 11th home turnover by the team this season.

The Ravens only managed one yard from there, however, and had to settle for a Justin Tucker 38-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead. Perfect would’ve been seven points on the board, but at least Baltimore is ahead to start this all-important regular season finale.

Dalton was intercepted again on the Bengals’ second possession, this time by James Ihedigbo. It was Ihedigbo’s third pick of the year, all of which have come against Dalton, who now has 31 touchdowns passes and 18 interceptions on the year. Oh, and make that 12 home turnovers for Cincinnati this season.

Update: The Ravens again turned an interception into points, but not seven. Baltimore leads 6-0 after Tucker’s 22-yard field goal with 2:30 to go in the first quarter.

The Ravens had to drive for this one, going 61 yards in 12 plays and 6:37. But they stalled at the Bengals’ 4 and had to take the field goal. Still a one-score game late in the first quarter.

Update II: Unable to fully capitalize on two interceptions to start the game, the Ravens have been burned for failing to cross the goal line.

The Bengals, seemingly given life by forcing the Ravens to kick two field goals after the turnovers, have taken a 7-6 lead on a 53-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to A.J. Green. The star wideout beat rookie safety Matt Elam with 26 seconds to go in the first quarter.

It was Green’s sixth career touchdown catch of more than 50 yards and his 11th touchdown reception of the season, tying a career high. Dalton’s scoring toss was his 32nd of 2013, tying Carson Palmer’s single-season team record.

On to the second quarter. Oh, and FYI, the Dolphins and Jets are still scoreless heading to the second quarter while the Steelers lead the Browns 7-0 heading to the second.

Update III: After the Ravens had to punt from their own end zone and the Bengals started at the Baltimore 43, Cincinnati extended its lead to 10-6 on a 39-yard field goal by Mike Nugent.

The Bengals have scored 10 straight points and 6:31 remains in the first half.

Of note, quarterback Joe Flacco is looking pained physically. Two drives ago, he landed on his right elbow and was shown favoring his elbow/shoulder on the sideline. Then on the Ravens’ last possession, he took a hard hit from Carlos Dunlap, tangling his injured left knee with the rusher in the process. Flacco could be seen grabbing for the knee and letting out a scream on the play.

But the man seems to be fearless. No apparent medical attention on the sidelines, and he’s still in the game. While no one around the team would want this, maybe missing the postseason would be good for the health of the franchise quarterback.

To update the early games with relevance to the Ravens, the Dolphins and Jets are tied 7-7 in the second quarter while the Steelers lead the Browns 14-0 in the second.

Update IV: Make that 17 straight points for the Bengals after Marvin Jones made a beautiful 16-yard touchdown catch with 1:51 to go in the first half.

The Ravens, who at one time led the NFL in red zone defense, have now allowed touchdowns in their opponents’ last 10 red zone trips.

Dalton just set Cincinnati’s single-season record for passing yards on that drive, which ended with the Bengals ahead 17-6.

Things are not looking good for the Ravens, who have just 80 yards of offense so far and can’t afford to lose with the Steelers winning and the Dolphins tied. If Baltimore loses, it can only make the playoffs if the Dolphins, Steelers and Chargers all lose.