With a trio of A.J. Green touchdowns, the Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) jumped out to a 21-0 lead and held on for a 34-23 victory over the Baltimore Ravens (1-1) in Week 2. Here’s what we learned on Thursday Night Football:
1. Playing without suspended shutdown corner Jimmy Smith, the Ravens struggled to contain Green in the first half, allowing three scores in 17 minutes. Credit the Bengals for moving Green around the formation, allowing him to do most of his damage out of the slot. With a year to install Bill Lazor’s playbook in addition to an overhauled offensive line and a healthy receiving corps, Cincinnati’s offense is one of the league’s most improved.
From the end of the season opener through the first half of Thursday night’s game, the Bengals scored six touchdowns and a field goal over a span of eight drives. Although Baltimore’s defense put the clamps on for the majority of the second half, Andy Dalton led a 10-play, 65-yard drive that culminated in a field goal to give his team some breathing room in the middle of the fourth quarter. This marks the fifth time Dalton has recorded a four-touchdown performance — and the first time since MVP Matt Ryan in 2016 that a quarterback accomplished the feat before halftime.
2. Not to be outdone, Cincinnati’s defense harassed Joe Flacco throughout, racking up four sacks, 12 deflected passes, four tackles for loss and eight quarterback hits. Just when it appeared that the Ravens were entering comeback mode late in the fourth quarter, Carlos Dunlap forced in an interception by hitting Flacco’s elbow. After a John Brown touchdown brought Baltimore back into striking distance, safety Shawn Williams popped Flacco from behind, forcing a fumble that effectively extinguished any hopes of overtime.
4. The Ravens lost their defensive leader when Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley was carted to the locker room with a knee injury early in the first quarter. As it turned out, the injury is a bone bruise and coach John Harbaugh said an MRI revealed Mosley didn’t suffer any ligament damage. Harbaugh said he wasn’t sure if Mosley would play next week. Considering the possibilities, that has to qualify as good news for a star player whom Hall of Famer Ray Lewis recently touted as the league’s best middle linebacker.
Fourth-round rookie Kenny Young is a promising stand-in with a sack in the opener and eight tackles versus Cincinnati. He lacks Mosley’s experience, however, which helps explain why the middle of the field was wide open for long stretches of the game.
5. A pair of fourth-down gambles backfired on Harbaugh, costing his team a potential 56-yard field goal late in the second quarter and valuable field position in the third quarter.
6. Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson made an appearance for a handful of plays, rushing twice for six yards and functioning as a decoy on a few others. It’s fair to question the timing and effectiveness of the plan to shoehorn Jackson’s unique skill set into action as a ploy to keep defenses guessing. This was certainly an underwhelming showing for Flacco, but is it worth upsetting the veteran’s rhythm when he’s in a groove?
7. What a difference a year makes in the Queen City. The Bengals controlled the trenches on both sides, pushing the Ravens blockers around on defense and keeping Dalton sack-free for four quarters on offense. Their up-tempo pace also had Baltimore’s defensive line tapping out from exhaustion on several occasions.
8. His 84 yards on 21 carries might not reflect a superstar performance, but Joe Mixon is emerging as one of the league’s most impressive all-around backs — as Green testified early this week. Behind a capable offensive line, Mixon has showcased a high-octane blend of power, speed, agility and receiving ability in the first two weeks. Don’t be surprised if he’s playing in the Pro Bowl in early February.
9. Off to a 2-0 start without suspended linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the Bengals find themselves in the driver’s seat of an improved AFC North. That said, the Ravens and Steelers aren’t going away. This has the early look of an especially competitive division that could come down to the season’s final week before establishing a champion.