The Ravens gave themselves a terrific chance to jump on the Bengals, picking off Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton on his first two possessions. But the offense simply couldn't seize the opportunity, failing to move the ball at all the first time and then stalling on the Cincinnati 4-yard line. After that? The Ravens gained a whopping 23 yards the rest of the first half as the Bengals surged by them to a 17-6 lead. The reasons were many. The offensive line played another poor game, leaving an already gimpy Joe Flacco to take brutal hits on his throwing shoulder and his wrapped knee. After a promising start, the running game disappeared into the vortex where it's resided most of the season. The Ravens tried to mix it up by using Bernard Scott in lieu of a hobbled Ray Rice. Didn¿t matter. Flacco played gamely but couldn't evade the Cincinnati rush and missed some throws he¿d usually complete when healthy. But this is an old story now. The offense never really got untracked in 2013. Start with the line, where right tackle Michael Oher struggled to the worst run-blocking season of his career, center Gino Gradkoswki failed to fill Matt Birk's shoes and A. Q. Shipley couldn't establish himself as a starting guard after Kelechi Osemele's back gave out. The shoddy run blocking, combined with subpar seasons from Rice and Bernard Pierce, added up to a historically poor running game for a team that always relied on its balance. Flacco, in turn, scuffled though his most difficult season, attempting too many risky throws and failing to find a consistent receiving threat behind Torrey Smith. Perhaps the Ravens needed him to be the kind of franchise quarterback who glosses over all imperfections. But honestly, he's never been that. One great Super Bowl performance wasn't going to transform him into Peyton Manning. Flacco is, as ever, a tough dude with a big arm who's plenty good enough to win with a well balanced roster. In any event, the big-play offense that carried the Raven¿s through last year's playoffs never reappeared. And it would be a surprise if the front office doesn't respond with significant personnel changes in the offseason.
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