Winless Ravens feel ‘urgency’ in matchup with Bengals
BALTIMORE (AP) — Under normal circumstances, the Baltimore Ravens would place a high priority on winning their home opener against the rival Cincinnati Bengals.
Following its first 0-2 start under coach John Harbaugh, Baltimore realizes Sunday’s AFC North matchup might end up being the most important game of the season.
“I think it definitely adds a little bit of urgency,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “Whether it should or shouldn’t, it probably does a little bit, just because it doesn’t feel good to be in a hole, 0-2. The fact of the matter is we’ve lost two games in a row before; it just hasn’t been at the beginning of the season.”
During their eight years together, Flacco and Harbaugh have never been in this setting. The Ravens are the only existing NFL franchise that has never started 0-3, and they intend to keep it that way.
“I know we don’t want to be in a situation where I’m sitting up here next week talking about the same stuff,” Flacco said.
Although a Cincinnati victory would not necessarily crush the Ravens’ postseason aspirations, it would certainly enhance the Bengals’ chances of earning a fifth straight playoff berth. Seventy-five percent of teams that started 3-0 from 1990-2014 made the playoffs.
Baltimore opened with a 19-13 loss at Denver before absorbing a stunning 37-33 defeat at Oakland.
“Anytime any team starts 0-2, everything is magnified,” Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith said. “All the glaring errors are magnified, and people are examining and telling you the reasons why.”
Defensive tackle Brendan Williams said: “It weighs on us. The only way we’re going to get that weight off of us is with a W.”
The previous team to reach the playoffs after starting 0-3 was the 1998 Buffalo Bills.
“Right now their backs are against the wall. We understand that,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. “We know what we’re going up against.”
Some things to look for Sunday:
NO WEAKNESS: Asked to assess the Bengals’ offensive firepower, Harbaugh rattled off a list of qualities that excluded no one.
“The whole cast of characters there on offense is very talented and gifted: tight ends, running backs, quarterback,” he said. “And they have a heck of an offensive line. I’d say they’re the total package.”
He speaks from experience. Cincinnati has won three straight in the series, putting up 34, 23 and 27 points.
This season, Dalton hasn’t been sacked or thrown an interception and has completed 68 percent of his throws with five TDs.
PICK AND CHOOSE: Jeremy Hill’s two fumbles in Cincinnati’s win over the Chargers last Sunday got him benched in the third quarter. Backup Giovani Bernard — who usually gets a few series during a game — took it from there and piled up 123 yards overall, his second-highest career total.
Hill hasn’t lost his job, but it will be interesting to see if Bernard gets a bigger role.
“Gio is always part of the plan,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “Both players are part of the plan.”
SACKLESS: With sack-specialist Terrell Suggs out for the season with torn Achilles tendon, the Ravens are counting on Elvis Dumbervil to put pressure on the quarterback.
Dumervil had 17 sacks last season, but is still looking for his first this year.
“Sacks come in bunches. Once they start coming, they start rolling,” Dumervil said. “But, the first thing we want to get done is we have to get this W. That’s more important right now.”
HOMECOMING: It’s been 14 years since Lewis served as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator, yet the Ravens will always occupy a place in his heart.
“They are still my second-favorite team,” Lewis said. “There’s a lot of the same people still in place from my time there. But we compete against them year in and year out in this division. It’s an important game for us.”
Now in his 13th year as Cincinnati’s head coach, Lewis is 14-10 against Baltimore and 7-7 against Harbaugh.
WHAT’S HUE GOT UP HIS SLEEVE? Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson — Baltimore’s former quarterbacks coach — has gotten more creative with the full complement of his offense available this season. Right tackle Andre Smith lined up next to left tackle Andrew Whitworth for several plays last week, and defensive lineman Domata Peko has been used as an extra run blocker. Jackson has brought in offensive lineman Jake Fisher as an extra blocker on run plays, making him an eligible receiver. Fisher slipped away uncovered for a 31-yard catch last week.
AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL