The Ravens shouldn't be able to claim a win against the Bengals

The game should have ended in a tie.

As the Ravens walked off the field after beating the Cincinnati Bengals, 20-17, in overtime, there was jubilation in the Ravens locker room because the victory kept them in contention in the AFC North.

But there wasn't much else to celebrate. The Ravens blew a 17-0 lead. Their two top rushers combined for 61 yards on 26 carries and quarterback Joe Flacco had only 140 yards passing while completing 20-of-36 passes. He threw two interceptions and would have had four if the Bengals could catch.

Go ahead and jump up and down, but there was no indication that the Ravens have become a better team. Cincinnati had 134 yards of penalties and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis made two poor decisions to go for it on fourth down instead of punting. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton finished with a rating of 52.2 slightly behind Flacco's 60.

We're used to winning ugly in Baltimore, but the Ravens usually get better.

"We struggled. We've got to get better," Flacco said. "We have to do a lot of things better in order to be successful. We've got to look at this and try to catapult ourselves the rest of the way."

The Ravens did get a strong defensive effort, but even that is questionable because the Bengals played so poorly. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees came up with good schemes and he kept Dalton off balance most of the game with blitzes inside and pressure off the corner. The Ravens got pressure from outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, and the inside players on the line did a good job of closing down passing lanes and jumping into Dalton's sight lines.

As for the secondary, this was their best game since beating the Houston Texans on Sept. 22. Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham were physical and fellow cornerback Lardarius Webb played his best game since suffering a season ending knee injury in October of last year. Safety James Ihedigbo was superb.

But Dalton, as awful as he was, still threw for 274 yards and his receivers dropped five passes, including one that should have been a touchdown. The Ravens gave up the "Hail Mary" touchdown pass at the end to send the game it into overtime, and you left wondering if the Ravens were that good, or the Bengals were just having a bad day at the office.

But when a team holds skilled players like A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Tyler Eifert to two touchdowns, it does say something, right?

"Oh yes, it can start something, but we can't let this get over our heads, thinking we're something that we're not," Webb said. "We've got to still keep working. It was a great victory for the team to build our confidence, but we've got to go back to work tomorrow and get better."

The offense still has so much to work on and the most disturbing is the lack of a running game. In the end, that always comes back to hurt a team especially in the postseason.

Despite entering the fourth quarter with a 14-point lead Sunday, the Ravens couldn't run a lot of time off the clock because they had no rushing game and couldn't get first downs.

Their clock management was poor. At one point, still with the 14-point lead, the Ravens ran four straight plays with 10, 16, 12 and 10 seconds left on the play clock. That would never happen to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

It's unacceptable.

Those are the things that continue to plague the Ravens. Those are the things that cost teams championships, and so will the poor play of Flacco. Without a running game, the Ravens count on him and he can't carry the offense. Regardless of what the Ravens do, they have been inept on offense.

They've switched offensive line coaches and went to a new blocking scheme which was the old blocking scheme. On Sunday, they added the flea -flicker and put defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in the short yardage package. They ran a reverse to No. 3 quarterback Tyrod Taylor (should have been done weeks ago) and threw short, quick passes into the flats to slow the rush on Flacco.

Regardless, the Ravens had only 189 yards of total offense, just 95 in the second half. They were just three of 16 on third down, and the Bengals were without their three best defensive players because of injuries.

That's not good.

"We've got to run the ball better," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We've got to get our passing game going, too. Those two things go hand in hand. There are plenty of things for us to look at, individually and collectively and we're going to look at them hard, like we always do. We've got to find a way to move the ball better. We will. We have to."

That's an understatement. The win was great because it kept the Ravens within striking distance of the Bengals who might be in the middle of their annual meltdown. The NFL is a watered down league, and the AFC North is downright sorry.

The Ravens have now split with the Browns, lost to Pittsburgh and beat the Bengals. But it's not just about winning, but winning and getting better.

The Ravens won Sunday, but there wasn't anything you could take away to say they had turned the corner and were a better team.

They weren't.

The game should have ended in a tie.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

 
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