Sunday, September 23, 2018

Ravens, Bengals back together after last season's thriller

CINCINNATI (AP) — Andy Dalton came to the line on fourth-and-12 from the Baltimore 49-yard line.

He knew it could be the final play of the Bengals' losing season — and maybe of Marvin Lewis' coaching career in Cincinnati, too.

The 70,507 fans at M&T Bank Stadium were on their feet, cheering for one more defensive stop that would put the Ravens back in the playoffs.

Instead, Dalton found Tyler Boyd open in the middle of a pack of defenders at the 23-yard line. Boyd caught the ball, slipped through the arms of two defenders and reached the end zone , completing a play that would redirect both franchises.

The Ravens were out of the playoffs for the third straight year — Buffalo got its long-awaited chance instead.

And when the Bengals returned to Cincinnati after a second straight losing season, owner Mike Brown decided to give Lewis a two-year extension based in part upon the Bengals' 31-27 win that day.

The Ravens (1-0) opened this season with a 47-3 win over the Bills and turned their focus to that one play from last December that lingers in the back of their minds.

"If I were to say 'no,' I'd be lying," Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr said. "We've still got that bitter taste in our mouths."

The Bengals (1-0) haven't forgotten about it, either. The final game of a 7-9 finish became the start of an overhaul for their offense that finished last in the league. They changed four of their five starters on the line, and they looked better during a 34-23 win at Indianapolis on Sunday.

For them, the last-minute touchdown in Baltimore became a starting point.

"I think from last season, winning the last two games gave us momentum," receiver A.J. Green said.

Some things to watch Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium:

TRIO OF TROUBLE

The Ravens retooled their receiving group during the offseason to give Joe Flacco a better chance to shine, and the results last week were profound. Flacco threw three touchdown passes, one to each of the newcomers: John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead.

Overall, Flacco completed 25 of 34 passes for 236 yards with three touchdowns in little more than a half. His passer rating of 121.7 was his highest since 2014. He's fit in smoothly with the new trio of targets.

"John is a different type of player, just with his speed and what he does to defenders," Flacco said. "Crabtree has a special way of running routes and getting in position and making big catches. Willie is an easy guy to get on the same page with, from an early point, just because he does everything so much the right way."

PURPLE REIGN

Baltimore held the Bills to just 33 yards and no first downs in the first half. The Ravens finished with six sacks and two interceptions. Last year in the season opener at Cincinnati, the Ravens picked off Dalton four times, matching his career high, and gave Cincinnati its first opening shutout in club history 20-0.

DALTON RENEWED

Dalton is coming off one of his worst seasons, tied largely to the offensive line's failures. Working behind a revamped line, he completed 21 of 28 for 243 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 109.7 at Indianapolis, a notable improvement over last season.

"Andy played unbelievable," said Green, who caught a 38-yard touchdown pass.

IN THE MIX

After limiting LeSean McCoy to 22 yards on seven carries last week, the Ravens have turned their attention toward Joe Mixon, the Bengals' second-year running back who is front-and-center in their overhauled offense. He ran for 96 yards against the Ravens in the final game last season, and ran for 95 against the Colts in addition to catching five passes for 54 yards.

PRIME TIME PLAYERS?

The Ravens are 7-2 on Thursday night with five straight wins. Overall, Baltimore is 28-25 in games played on Sunday, Monday or Thursday night. The Bengals are 18-45 in those games. They're 5-14 in prime time games since 2011 — 0-5 on Sunday night, 2-5 on Monday night, 3-3 on Thursday night and 0-1 on Saturday night.

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AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in Owings Mills, Maryland, contributed to this report.

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