How weird was yesterday's Ravens-Bengals AFC North battle?
So weird that even though Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith was tackled by his hair in the second quarter, he wasn't the player who had a couple of his dreadlocks ripped out of his head. The clumps of hair left on the M&T Bank Stadium turf yesterday apparently belonged to one of the Bengals' running backs.
So weird that when asked after the game about rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith's interception, safety Ed Reed gave a brief answer, and then inexplicably turned the topic to golf.
"I'm kind of surprised you haven't asked me about the Presidents Cup," said Reed, prompting more than a few confused smiles from reporters. "Congratulations to those guys, Fred Couples and our team. That was huge."
So weird that referee Ron Winter almost recovered a fumble himself when he was knocked into a pile of players during a third quarter scrum.
So weird that Ray Rice actually got 20 carries and 25 touches overall.
Low blow? Sorry.
Highly criticized for their imbalanced offensive attack in a loss to the Seahawks a week prior, the Ravens went to Rice often yesterday, and they were rewarded for their patient approach to establishing the run.
Rice had 104 rushing yards, 43 receiving yards and two touchdowns yesterday, despite the fact that he had just 17 yards on the ground at halftime. Overall, the Ravens averaged just 1.3 yards per carry in the first half, but they stuck with Rice and he delivered.
"I think this week we see when it's in a tough game, you see the balance," said Rice, who had a 59-yard scamper early in the third quarter. "The run sets up the pass. The pass sets up the run. As long as we play balanced football going forward, and the running game being a big part of it, I think we'll be pretty successful."
The running game didn't just pay off in terms of the yardage piled up on the ground, it also allowed the Ravens to set up the play-action pass.
Both of Joe Flacco's touchdown passes came off play fakes, which forced the defense to bite up toward the line of scrimmage, creating openings down the field for Flacco to hit Anquan Boldin for a 35-yard TD and Torrey Smith for a 38-yard score.
Without a commitment to the run, those play-action passes and naked bootlegs would likely not have been as successful.
While Flacco again defended the Ravens' decision to consistently air it out last week against Seattle, insisting the circumstances and positive results dictated such a strategy ("I keep saying it, and people don't want to listen," Flacco said), he also said it was nice to get Rice the football a bit more in the win over Cincinnati.
"It was good," Flacco said. "You want everyone to get involved whether it's run or pass. The good thing was we were able to break a couple long ones. We struggled a little bit there in the end, but we were able to hit some long ones in the passing game to shorten the field up for us."