The Baltimore Ravens erased a 15-0 first half deficit and nearly pulled off a comeback, but gave up a late fourth-quarter as the Cincinnati Bengals held on for a 23-16 win in the 2014 NFL regular season opener on Sept. 7 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Steve Smith, Adam Jones

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith (89) stiff arms Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones (24) as he runs for an 80-yard touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game in Baltimore, Md., Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Baltimore began its attempt at a comeback with a 13-yard touchdown run by veteran running back Justin Forsett that cut the Bengals’ lead to 15-7 in the third quarter. The Ravens further cut the lead to 15-10 at the top of the fourth quarter after a short field goal made by Justin Tucker. Baltimore then took their first lead of the game a short time later on a 80-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Joe Flacco to veteran receiver Steve Smith Sr. It was the longest pass of Flacco’s career and also one of the prettiest passes he has ever made, as he bought time by scrambling out to his left and allowed Smith to sneak behind the Bengals’ coverage to catch the wide-open deep pass in stride. Smith then took off downfield, stiff-arming an opponent on his way into the end zone.

The touchdown bomb gave the Ravens a 16-15 lead with less than six minutes left after they failed to convert a two-point try. But Baltimore’s lead didn’t last long as Bengals’ fourth-year quarterback Andy Dalton lobbed a bomb of his own, hitting Green in stride for a 77-yard touchdown to retake the lead. Unlike Baltimore, Cincinnati made their two-point conversion and extended their lead to 23-16 with five minutes left in the game.

It was Cincinnati’s first touchdown of the day after scoring their first 15 points of the game on field goals. Baltimore’s defense succeeded in stopping the Bengals until it mattered most. They needed just one more stop after taking a 16-15 lead, but couldn’t come up with the clutch performance at the end of the game.

Flacco marched the Ravens into the red zone on the next drive, and had a minute left on the clock to score a touchdown with a minute left on the clock. But the Ravens called a five-receiver spread set on fourth and four yards to go and the play left the Baltimore’s offensive line vulnerable to the Bengals’ vaunted pass rush, setting up a quick and easy sack on Flacco which ended the game.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) passes the ball during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Baltimore, Md., Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Flacco finished the game with 35 of 62 pass attempts completed for 345 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Smith Sr. led the Ravens with 118 yards on seven catches, including his 80-yard touchdown catch. Fifth-year tight end Dennis Pitta led Baltimore with 10 catches for 83 yards and Forsett led the team on the ground with 70 yards on 11 carries. Forsett did most of the work on the ground for the Ravens after starting running back Bernard Pierce fumbled the ball in the first half.

Dalton finished the game 25 of 38 attempts for 301 passing yards and Green led the Bengals with six catches for 131 yards, including their 77-yard touchdown connection. Green was quiet for most of the game with Ravens top cornerback Jimmy Smith shadowing him. But for some reason, Smith wasn’t guarding Green during the 77-yard touchdown bomb, instead leaving Green to be guarded by Ravens’ backup corner Chykie Brow, and Dalton didn’t hesitate to take advantage.

The win marked the first time in Dalton’s four-year career that he won a game in Baltimore. It was also the first time during seven seasons as head coach where the Ravens lost a season-opening home game.

Baltimore will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11. Kickoff is at 8:30 pm.

Perry Green

AFRO Sports Editor