CINCINNATI -- For a brief moment late in the third quarter at Paul Brown Stadium, there was hope for the Baltimore Ravens.
They had just overcome an 11-point halftime deficit, tying the game on Marlon Brown's touchdown catch and Ray Rice's two-point conversion run. Many miles south, the Miami Dolphins were getting beat by the New York Jets, a result that coupled with a win by Baltimore over the Cincinnati Bengals, would get the Ravens into the playoffs.
But as has been the story all season, the Ravens couldn't keep the momentum or keep themselves from making mistakes. Andy Dalton's 1-yard touchdown run with a little more than eight minutes to play broke the tie, and Joe Flacco's two fourth-quarter interceptions sealed the defeat for the Ravens.
The mistake-prone Ravens were beaten, 34-17, by the Bengals, their playoff hopes crashing with a thud and their offseason starting far earlier than anyone on the team hoped.
Trailing by 10, Flacco was picked off by the Bengals' Dre Kirkpatrick, who returned it 21 yards for a touchdown, putting the game away with a little more than four minutes to play. Flacco walked off the field after the interception with his hands on his hips and then tossed his helmet as he got to the sideline.
The AFC North champion Bengals, who finished the season 8-0 at home, scored the 17 unanswered points after the game was tied, and won despite Dalton throwing four interceptions.
The Ravens got the other result they needed, with the Dolphins falling at home to the Jets. But they didn't take care of their own business. They end their season with an 8-8 record and out of the playoffs for the first time in John Harbaugh's six seasons as coach.
It marks the fourth time in the past eight seasons in which a reigning Super Bowl winner didn't make the playoffs the following year.
Trailing, 17-6, at halftime, the Ravens got back into the game, thanks largely to the Bengals' miscues. Dalton threw his third interception of the game to Lardarius Webb, who returned it into Bengals' territory. Justin Tucker's 34-yard field goal made it 17-9.
The Ravens then got the ball right back and had it at the Cincinnati 40 after a 10-yard punt by Shawn Powell that hooked into the crowd.
Flacco found Brown in the back of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown. Rice's 2-point conversion run tied the game at 17 with just over five minutes left in the third quarter.
The Ravens actually got off to a good start as Corey Graham intercepted Dalton on the game's first play from scrimmage. He returned his team-high fourth interceptions all the way to the Bengals' 21. However, the Ravens managed to get just 1 yard on three plays before Tucker kicked a 38-yard field goal.
Dalton threw another interception on Cincinnati's next possession, this time getting picked off by safety James Ihedigbo. Behind a couple of short passes and hard running from Bernard Scott and Bernard Pierce, the Ravens maintained their only productive drive of the first half.
A 14-yard run by Pierce on third-and-1 set up a first-and-goal situation. The Ravens got all the way down the 4-yard line before Flacco sailed a pass over the head of tight end Dennis Pitta on third down. Tucker's 22-yard field goal made it 6-0 and constituted another missed opportunity for the Ravens.
The Bengals wasted no time in making them play. On the fourth play of their next drive, Dalton found star wide receiver A.J. Green alone for a 53-yard touchdown. Operating from the slot, Green ran right past rookie safety Matt Elam, who tried to grab the receiver as he ran by on his way to the end zone.
A 39-yard field goal by Bengals kicker Mike Nugent made it 10-6 at the 6:36 mark of the second quarter. Instead of answering, the Ravens continued to sputter on offense, all while watching their already banged-up quarterback take a beating.
Flacco, who continued to wear a brace on his left knee, went down hard on his elbow on one throw. Then, with the Ravens backed up to their own goal line, Flacco was drilled by both Carlos Dunlap and Reggie Nelson as he threw from the back of the end zone. Flacco stayed on the ground for a while, holding his left knee, before limping off. He didn't miss a snap, though he also seemed powerless to get the Ravens' offense going.
The Ravens got just one first down on their final four drives of the first half. The Bengals, meanwhile, took a 17-6 lead when Marvin Jones out-dueled Webb to make a juggling 16-yard touchdown catch with 1:51 left before halftime.
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