Last Sunday, the Ravens held off a late Bengals comeback to pull out a crucial 31-24 win. Some of the biggest plays of the game came from the Ravens' rookies. Torrey Smith caught a touchdown, Jimmy Smith got his first career interception, and Pernell McPhee's sack ended the game. The Bengals would open up the scoring with a 7-yard Cedric Benson touchdown run in the first quarter. But Flacco, who struggled early, responded well, and found an open Anquan Boldin, who fought his way to the end zone to tie up the game. Then, a Ray Rice touchdown would give the Ravens a 14-7 lead at halftime. After a Billy Cundiff field goal deep in Bengals territory, Benson got in the end zone once again to bring the Bengals within three. Not long after, Ray Rice would score again, and it was a two-possession game late in the third. In the first minute of the fourth, however, Flacco connected deep in the end zone with Torrey Smith, and the Bengals now trailed by three scores. But young Andy Dalton would not give in quite yet, finding Andre Caldwell open along the sidelines for a touchdown. On the Bengals next drive, a field goal would bring them just a touchdown away from tying the game. When they got the ball back, Dalton anchored a drive that moved the Bengals deep into Ravens territory with plenty of time to work with. But an intentional grounding call on second down not only backed up the Bengals, but also resulted in a loss of down. On fourth down, Dalton was brought down by the rookie McPhee, and the Ravens escaped with the win. While Dalton did impress with his poise against the toughest defense he's yet to face, his mistakes late in the game ended up costing the Bengals a chance to win. For the Ravens, this win puts the pressure on the Bengals to win the teams' second matchup in January, or else the Ravens gain control of that tiebreaker as well.
Player of the Game: Ravens QB Joe Flacco-17/27 for 270 yards, 2 passing touchdowns
Last Week's Key to the Game: Last week, I stressed the importance of ball handling, which the Ravens did well for the most part. While Flacco was picked once, his winning performance made up for the one mistake.
The Brother Bowl. The Battle of the Brothers. The Harbaugh Bowl. Whatever you may like to call it, the Ravens matchup with the 9-1 San Francisco 49ers is going to be a game to remember. It will be the first time that brothers will face each other as NFL head coaches, as the Ravens' John Harbaugh goes head-to-head with his brother Jim (a former Ravens QB), the first-year coach of the 49ers. When the game was first put on the schedule, it figured to be a money-maker simply because of the brothers, but the surprising success of the Niners will take this game to a whole different level. Perhaps the most surprising team in the NFL this year, the Niners top-ranked defense has confused every offense to come their way. Led by LB Patrick Willis, a carbon copy of his counterpart Ray Lewis, the Niners defense is yet to give up a rushing touchdown, but will face Ray Rice this week, who has 8 on the year. The Niners secondary has been the weak link, but the team still leads the NFL in takeaways. Many have gone as far as to compare this Niners defense to the Ravens championship defense of 2000, and the teams certainly do have similar characteristics. Neither had a big-name quarterback, while the running backs have played an important role in the offense. 49ers RB Frank Gore has rushed for 100 or more yards in five games this season. He is a bit banged up, but is expected to play Thursday night. If the Ravens defense can contain Gore, the 49ers will have to rely on inconsistent QB Alex Smith. The former first overall pick had struggled mightily in the past, but has begun to flourish under his new head coach. We should be able to get a better idea of Smith's real skills against a ball-thirsty Ravens defense, so look out for how Smith reacts to that. With these two defenses ranking among the tops in the league, we shouldn't expect to see many points on the scoreboard. Another thing to keep in mind is the short week the teams had to prepare for this game. Both teams played Sunday afternoon, but the Niners' week included a cross-country flight. While that shouldn't become a factor, remember that these are human beings playing the game, and that it is very possible fatigue will come into play. With all of these factors, I think the Ravens do hold a slight advantage. I'm proud to say I'm confident in what Joe Flacco will be able to do, and I think he will use all he has to help pull out this win. I have the Ravens winning a thriller, 20-16.
Key to the Game: Once again, Cam Cameron's play-calling will become a major factor. We've seen him give up on Ray Rice after just a few failed carries, and against a defense as strong as the 49ers, this could easily happen again. Sticking to the game-plan and giving Rice the carries he deserves will open up more for Flacco in the passing game, which in turn will help the Ravens offense overcome the Niners.
Key Matchups for 49ers at Ravens
Ravens S Ed Reed vs. 49ers QB Alex Smith Edge: Reed
Ravens LB Jarret Johnson vs. 49ers TE Vernon Davis Edge: Davis
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. 49ers LB Patrick Willis Edge: Push
Ravens WR Anquan Boldin vs. 49ers CB Carlos Rogers Edge: Boldin
LB Ray Lewis-Foot-QST
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Thigh-QST
CB Chris Carr-Back-QST
WR Braylon Edwards-Knee-QST
RB Frank Gore-Knee-PRB
AFC North Standings
Team W L
Ravens 7 3
Steelers 7 3
Bengals 6 4
Browns 4 6
AFC North Outlook: With the Ravens and Steelers technically tied (the tiebreaker does not come into play until the end of the year), a win for the Ravens would be huge in keeping pace in the division. A Steelers loss makes them two games behind the Ravens. The Steelers visit Kansas City on Sunday night. The Bengals host the Browns.
That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, have a happy Thanksgiving, see you next week and Go Ravens!