Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton convinced Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs that he was handing the football off to rookie running back Giovani Bernard in the fourth quarter Sunday, selling his fake adeptly enough to get Suggs to crash down inside.
Dalton wound up keeping it himself on the zone-read play and strolled into the end zone untouched.
The 1-yard touchdown run capped the Bengals' pivotal 12-play, 90-yard drive that broke a 17-17 deadlock and ultimately led to a 34-17 victory at Paul Brown Stadium that blocked the Ravens from reaching the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year.
The touchdown was symptomatic of a frustrating, unproductive game for Suggs and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil as they combined for one tackle, no sacks and no quarterback hits on Dalton. The Ravens' secondary provided four interceptions despite a complete lack of pressure from the front seven. Dalton was never sacked or hit by anyone Sunday.
"We need to spend our whole offseason starting now making sure that come next year, we don't have to feel like this again," said Suggs, who had one tackle. "Everything is built so this don't happen again. We just got to take a good look as a team, to make sure this never happens to this organization again and to our city."
Dumervil and Suggs had combined for 19.5 sacks entering the game, but neither player got to Dalton Sunday as he got rid of the ball quickly after being sacked five times during a 20-17 overtime loss to the Ravens on Nov. 10 at M&T Bank Stadium.
"After the last game, Dalton didn't want to take the hits," Dumervil said. "He got the ball out a little quicker. Our secondary did a good job, but it would have been a little better if we would have got to him a couple of times. Obviously, we didn't expect to go down like this."
The Ravens' tendency of breaking down in the fourth quarter continued Sunday when Dalton engineered the tie-breaking drive that lasted 6 minutes and 41 seconds.
The key plays were the Ravens' failure to contain Bernard, who eluded defenders to pick up 27 yards on a screen pass down to the Baltimore 25-yard line and cornerback Jimmy Smith being flagged for pass interference in the end zone three plays later. That 14-yard penalty set the Bengals up at the Ravens' 1-yard line with Dalton scoring on the ensuing play.
"We need to have all 11 men running to the ball," said cornerback Lardarius Webb, who intercepted Dalton once along with Smith, cornerback Corey Graham and strong safety James Ihedigbo. "Everybody's got to be doing his job. If someone is not doing his job, screens go against us. We've got to have a Ravens mentality defense. Everybody's got to be running to the ball. We like to blitz and bring pressure, screens work against that."
Although Webb didn't blame anyone, Smith pointed the finger directly at himself as the primary reason why the Bengals scored.
"I take credit for that whole drive because I missed a tackle on [Bernard], and he went on down the line," Smith said. "Then, we switch sides and I got a holding penalty in the end zone. So, that whole seven points, I kind of put on my shoulders. That's my fault for that one."
However, the Ravens' defensive problems late in games aren't new. Being unable to close out games by getting a key stop is something that cropped up frequently, including during losses to the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears as well as during wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Bengals earlier this season.
"Absolutely, that's the goal: to finish the game," Smith said. "We knew we were going to be in a dogfight. We didn't think it would come down to [fourth quarter] the way it did, but we knew we were going to have to make some plays. Unfortunately, we just came up short."
During the Bengals' longest drive of the game, Dalton also ran around Suggs for nine yards and a first down. It was a pattern for Suggs, who got into a habit of trying to close down inside plays and left the defense vulnerable outside as he failed to set the edge.
"That was a key drive," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That turned it for them. That was a statement drive for them, I thought, in the sense that they were able to take it down the field and score a touchdown. That was probably the difference in the second half. After that, there were some other plays that put it away for them. But, right there, that was critical."
Following an interception by Joe Flacco on the next series, the defense managed to limit the Bengals to a field goal as they stopped them from gaining a yard on the next series.
The damage was already done, though, on the previous drive.
"It's big, but it's all in how you respond," Suggs said. "After they scored the touchdown, they got a turnover. It was a sudden change, and I think the defense responded, only giving up three and still allowing for us to do something special ...
"If you looked at the two teams the past two weeks, one team played championship football and the other team didn't. It's very unfortunate for us. We never felt like this, ever. It's like the first heartbreak."