Monday, December 31, 2012
Joe Flacco went to the bench after only two series. Andy Dalton left at halftime. With little at stake, the Ravens and Bengals gave their regular-season finale more of a preseason feel.
Carlos Dunlap returned an interception 14 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter Sunday, sending the Cincinnati Bengals to a 23-17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in a game that didn’t much matter to either playoff-bound team.
Played like it, too.
The Ravens (10-6) had already clinched their second straight AFC North title, putting them in line to host Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts next weekend.
The Bengals (10-6) were locked into the sixth seed as the final wild-card team. The only question was who they would play in the opening round, and that wouldn’t be answered until games were completed.
So, they went into preseason mode on a 26-degree afternoon with a wind chill of 16.
Josh Brown kicked three field goals in the second half. Dunlap tipped one of Tyrod Taylor’s passes to himself and returned it for a clinching touchdown with 6:06 left, jumping into the stands and sitting there for several seconds while fans smacked his back.
The Bengals headed into the playoffs for the second straight season after beating rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore in back-to-back weeks.
They’d been 0-6 against them over the past two seasons, so a strong finish represented a breakthrough, even though the win on Sunday resembled more of an exhibition than anything.
The Ravens sat some of their banged-up playmakers and pulled Flacco and running back Ray Rice after the second series. Receiver Anquan Boldin, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Terrell Suggs were inactive, giving them a week to rest.
The Bengals were trying to get their running game into postseason shape after it managed only 14 yards during a 13-10 win in Pittsburgh a week earlier.
Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis pulled a hamstring during pregame warm-ups and didn’t play.
The Bengals went with a conservative approach. Dalton didn’t even throw toward A.J. Green until the final drive of the first half, keeping the Pro Bowl receiver out of harm’s way.