Bengals-Ravens: Rivals meet Sunday in battle for survival
BALTIMORE (AP) — When the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens face each other this late in the season, the matchup usually involves two teams vying for a high seed in postseason play.
The situation will be quite different on Sunday.
This time, it’s about survival.
The Ravens (5-5) need a victory to remain in first place in the lackluster AFC North. With games at New England, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati still on the schedule, Baltimore can ill afford to drop below .500 with five weeks to go.
“Everyone knows what lies ahead of us. You definitely want to win all your home games,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “That is when you have your best edge, your best chance to win. You take care of your home games and you split on the road, and it pretty much takes care of itself. These are not only big games, they are monumental.”
The stakes are even higher for Cincinnati (3-6-1). With a loss Sunday, the Bengals can pretty much bid farewell to their run of five straight playoff appearances.
“Really for us, to salvage our season and make it worth something for us, we need to take this opportunity to go on the road and win a big game,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “If we can do that, we’ll have a chance.”
Cincinnati had the same mindset last Sunday at home against Buffalo. But a season-ending injury to running back Giovani Bernard (torn ACL) and a severe hamstring injury to receiver A.J. Green contributed heavily to a 16-12 defeat.
Without Green, the Bengals’ passing game came to a halt in the second half: no points, four straight three-and-outs, and just five first downs.
Green will not be available in a pivotal game for the Bengals.
“We feel like we have to win as many as we can,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “Obviously, it starts this week.”
Some things to know about this AFC North rivalry, which is tied at 20 wins apiece:
STREAKING: The Bengals have five straight victories over the Ravens, winning the last four by a combined 22 points.
“That is like that kid you have to fight every day until you win. They have been kind of picking on us,” Suggs said. “Five straight is five straight. Numbers do not lie. They have kind of had our number. We are going to see what we can do to change that.”
Not if the Bengals can help it.
“Anytime you can beat a team like that five games in a row, that’s big.,” Dalton said. “For us, we have to keep that going.”
FOURTH-QUARTER FOLLIES: The Bengals have been at their worst in the fourth quarter. Dalton’s fourth-quarter passer rating is 82.6, ranking 23rd in the NFL. He’s thrown three interceptions in the fourth quarter and only three touchdowns, none in the last five games.
“If we win some fourth quarters, we could be talking about a completely different scenario,” running back Jeremy Hill said. “But that’s what-ifs, and what-ifs have gotten us 3-6. So we can’t live in that anymore.”
LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE: Five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda played left guard for the Ravens last week, a switch spurred by a nagging sore left shoulder. He performed well against the Cowboys, so it’s not imperative he return to his usual spot at right guard on Sunday.
“The ability to do what he did, the willingness to do it, and then to be able to pull it off is pretty remarkable,” coach John Harbaugh said. “But you know what? He has another game. People have seen him at left guard now, so the new challenge is the next challenge.”
MAKING A KICK: The Bengals considered replacing kicker Mike Nugent after he missed two extra points off the right upright last Sunday. He also missed an extra point and a field goal during a 27-27 tie with Washington on Oct. 30. Another poor showing could prompt a move.
“This is where we’re going to be today,” Lewis said Monday, after announcing that he was sticking with Nugent.
Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, in contrast, is 23 for 23 on field goal tries and perfect on 14 conversions — the only kicker this season with no misses.
SEEING PURPLE: Some of Green’s best games have come against the Ravens, including 10 catches for a career-high 227 yards last September in Baltimore. In eight career games against Baltimore, Green has 41 receptions for 726 yards with six touchdowns.
“The next man moves up and gets going,” Lewis said. “Everybody has to adjust. Everybody has to pick up the slack.”
AP Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed.