5 things we learned from the Ravens’ 19-14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals – Baltimore Sun
1.) The Ravens got the win they needed but they’re still not the team they want to be.
The Ravens had to beat the struggling Bengals at home to keep a foothold in the AFC North. Their remaining schedule is difficult enough that they can’t afford any slip-ups in their divisional match race with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So in that sense, they left M&T Bank Stadium satisfied Sunday afternoon.
But team leaders Joe Flacco and Terrell Suggs have played enough January football to know that getting to the playoffs is one thing. Playing well enough to win in the postseason is another. And right now, the Ravens aren’t all the way there.
They’ve beaten one team decisively all season — the winless Cleveland Browns. Stingy as their defense has been, we’ve learned how heavily it depends on injured cornerback Jimmy Smith. Meanwhile, the Ravens’ greatest offensive threat is a kicker.“Man, if it ain’t tough it ain’t the Raven way,” Suggs said after the team broke a five-game losing streak against the Bengals. But he didn’t say it in a gloating way. He wants to see his team put games away more cleanly.
Flacco offered similar comments from the offensive side.
“One play happens in the wrong way, for whatever reason, they’re going to be right back in it,” he said, recalling his mindset as he watched the Bengals rally from a 16-3 deficit. “I felt like we let the game get to that point today, and it’s never a good feeling.”
We’ve heard a lot of comments like that from key Ravens this season. They’re happy to hold the division lead with five weeks to go. They believe in their talent. But they know they’ve yet to hit the kind of stride that carried them through the playoffs in 2012.
2.) No one has ever kicked a football better than Justin Tucker is kicking it right now.
Suggs allowed himself a pregnant pause before he answered a question about Tucker, now 27-for-27 on the season.
Like most veterans, the dean of the Ravens is used to treating kickers as not quite people. But even he could not poo-poo a performance in which Tucker made three kicks of 50 yards or more, and saved the team’s sputtering offense.
“He’s gonna love this,” Suggs said. “We’ve got the best kicker in the league. There’s no doubt about it. But we’ve got to keep the young kid humble.”
Tucker’s performance almost transcends best-in-the-league territory. I’ve never seen a kicker hit so casually from beyond 50 yards. Certainly not on a worn grass field in the chilly winds of late November.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece about how Tucker is on the vanguard of a new generation of kickers who are redefining our understanding of efficiency on long field goals.
I spoke to former Ravens kicker Matt Stover for the article and he emphasized how much weather and field conditions affect accuracy, especially on longer kicks. Stover noted he was far more efficient on the well-tended field at M&T Bank Stadium than he had been in his early days in Cleveland.
In that context, he argued Tucker’s performance is more impressive than that of Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey, the only player with a higher career field-goal percentage. Bailey kicks under a retractable roof at home.
Tucker is so confident that at this point, he just runs on the field for kicks of 54 and 57 yards, almost daring coach John Harbaugh to pull him off.
Meanwhile, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent pushed an extra point wide when his team was trying to catch the Ravens in the third quarter. It was his fourth missed PAT in four games. Tucker has never missed one in his career.
So in one area of the game, at least, the Ravens are holding an ace.
3.) The Ravens still need to push the pace on offense more consistently.