The last time that Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco squared off against the Cincinnati Bengals, he trudged off the field with an aching left knee and a frustrated look on his face.
Besides absorbing brutal hits from Bengals pass rushers, Flacco was intercepted three times, with his final one returned for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter of a 34-17 road loss in December. The defeat in their season finale prevented the Ravens from reaching the NFL playoffs.
Despite winning the game, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton wasn't feeling much better than Flacco after an uneven performance in which he threw four interceptions.
This hasn't been an uncommon sequence for the two quarterbacks in a key AFC North rivalry that resumes Sunday, when the Ravens and Bengals open the season at M&T Bank Stadium. Flacco and Dalton have struggled mightily of late in this series, often overmatched against stout defenses that have dominated the action.
"It's tough to look back and say that I and we didn't feel very confident going into that game, because we had a lot riding on it," Flacco said of the last game against the Bengals. "We always feel pretty confident, but they got after us a little bit last year, and we didn't play very well in that final game."
Flacco has gone 7-5 in his career against the Bengals, completing 60.9 percent of his throws for 2,134 yards and 12 touchdowns while being sacked 26 times. He's thrown 15 interceptions against the Bengals, including a combined five interceptions in last season's two games. Flacco's career interception total against the Bengals is more than he's thrown against any other NFL team.
"They're a good team, and they've been a good team," Flacco said of the Bengals. "They've always had a good defense. I think when we aren't successful against them, we allow them to get comfortable and do what they like to do. They get after the quarterback, they stop the run game, they get into some of their looks that they feel comfortable playing in and throw offenses off.
"When we've had success against them, we've gone out there and worried about us and played our game and executed, operated quickly. We're confident that we're going to do it our way and focus on us, and that's all we can do."
Dalton has had an even rougher time against the Ravens.
His problems have been glaring, going 2-4 against the Ravens. He's never won a start in Baltimore, with seven interceptions against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
Overall against the Ravens, Dalton has completed just 53.9 percent of his passes for six touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 62.4 quarterback rating. He's been sacked 14 times, including five times in November during a 20-17 overtime loss in Baltimore.
"It starts with our defensive line, how they put pressure on [Dalton] and rattle him and make him do uncomfortable things," Ravens strong safety Matt Elam said. "They always rattle him and keep him uncomfortable and help us on the back end."
Dalton has averaged just 243 passing yards per game against the Ravens.
Although he's a respected young quarterback with 11,360 career passing yards, 80 touchdowns and 49 interceptions for an 85.7 quarterback rating in three NFL seasons, that track record hasn't stood up against the Ravens. Dalton has performed worse statistically against only one other NFL team, with an average quarterback rating of 59.0 during a pair of starts against the Miami Dolphins.
"The Ravens have been good for a long time on defense," Dalton said. "They have a really good scheme with really good players. They present some challenges. They do a good job in some of their blitz packages getting guys free, and they're able to do it with just four guys up front as well. The big thing is you have to stop the pressure up front to have a chance to get down the field on them."
Dalton has had persistent problems on third downs against the Ravens, completing 45.4 percent of his throws against them. Three of his 11 career interceptions against the Ravens have come in the fourth quarter.
The Bengals essentially won in spite of Dalton in December when he completed 21 of 36 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns for a 62.2 passer rating.
Despite Dalton's history of breakdowns against the Ravens, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs doesn't take the former Texas Christian star lightly. And the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year didn't accuse Dalton of being intimidated by the Ravens.
Especially not after how Dalton threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green at the end of regulation to force overtime in November. Especially not after Dalton delivered a strike to Green for a 53-yard touchdown over Elam's head last December.
"This is the NFL: The good ones don't allow you to get in their head," Suggs said. "We've had some success against a lot of quarterbacks in this league, and somehow, someway, they still manage to find a way to beat us sometimes. The good ones never really let you get in their head, and I don't think we're even close to doing that with this kid.
"He shows that he can be a premier quarterback in this league, make all the throws, especially with the weapons he has. He's doing a good job of utilizing them. It's our job to make sure they don't have too much fun on Sunday."
Several players attributed the lack of success for the respective quarterbacks in the series to the shared strength of the defenses, with the Ravens ranking 12th overall in total defense last season.
The Bengals, who have a new defensive coordinator in Paul Guenther after Mike Zimmer left to become the Minnesota Vikings' head coach after last season, were even better. They ranked third in total defense last season and feature Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who has returned from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last season.
The shared familiarity of the defenses about the Ravens' and Bengals' offensive playbooks, respectively, is another element frequently mentioned this week to explain why the quarterbacks have struggled to generate yards and points on a consistent basis.
"It's tough when you know people inside and out. I think that's part of it," Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta said. "The other part of it is these are two really good defenses you're talking about. We've certainly got our work cut out for us.
"They're stout against the run. They rush the passer and they have good guys on the back end. We've got to execute and do what we do well."