In the days leading up to the Baltimore Ravens home tilt with the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals, defensive coordinator Dean Pees had three points of emphasis to direct to his players, letting them know exactly what he expected to see in a concerted effort getting Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to turn the football over.
“There are three areas that we really have got to improve in. Getting off the field in two-minute (situations). Number 2, we got to get better in the turnover area. The third area is just not giving up big plays.”
Despite the miraculous tip-drill catch Bengals WR A.J. Green made, with help from Ravens safety James Ihedigbo, batting the ball in the air instead of down for a touchdown to tie the game at 17 with 0:00 on the scoreboard, the Ravens defense allowed one other play of 20 yards or more on the day and held on 4th down-situations late in the game when they needed it the most.
Elvis Dumervil told reporters that the point of finishing the game was driven into their heads all week by head coach John Harbaugh, and though the Green catch may have given the defense every reason to fold, they didn’t.
“One thing we did was we regrouped as a defense and we went out and answered the call.”
Pees didn’t mince words earlier in the week, saying the defense “needed to create turnovers” because “that’s what we’re paid to do and just need to get it done.”
Responding to that, the secondary answered the bell and then some in the Ravens 20-17 victory, picking off Dalton three times (the second straight game Dalton has thrown three picks) and getting help from a furious pass rush that buried the Bengals QB five times.
Though the Ravens had a commanding 17-0 lead, the Bengals chipped away in the 2nd half at the Ravens defense. When it mattered the most in overtime, however, the Bengals faced a 4th and 2 from the Baltimore 33-yard line, the defense mustered up one last huge stop. The result was running back Giovani Bernard with a swarm of defenders around him – going backwards – for an 11 yard loss, setting up Justin Tucker‘s game-winning field goal from 46 yards.
Again, the Ravens answered the bell, getting off the field when they absolutely needed to.
It was a good sign to see a defense, criticized for weeks, step up against their division rival in a game that matters and snap a three-game losing streak.
In a do-or-die game, more importantly, the win keeps the Ravens relevant in a very wild playoff picture in the AFC.