Ravens run over Bengals in Monday Night Football opener
Ravens running back Ray Rice (centre) is lifted up by teammates after scoring a touchdown against the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md., Sept. 10, 2012. (GARY CAMERON/Reuters)
The Baltimore Ravens would have made the late Art Modell proud on Monday.
Modell, the former Ravens owner and an instrumental figure in making Monday Night Football a fixture in America, passed away last Thursday at the age of 87.
Sporting helmet decals commemorating Modell, the Ravens hammered the AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals in the season opener, 44-13, thanks in part to a terrific performance by Joe Flacco.
Flacco completed 21-of-29 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns, as Baltimore (1-0) scored 27 unanswered points to win its 11th straight regular season game at M&T Bank Stadium.
Ray Rice totaled 93 yards from scrimmage and ran for two scores, Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin each caught a touchdown pass and Ed Reed recorded the seventh interception return for a touchdown of his illustrious career.
The Ravens are coming off a 12-4 campaign that ended in an AFC Championship Game loss to the New England Patriots.
The Bengals (0-1) also made the postseason with a surprising 9-7 record behind a pair of offensive rookies in Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, but lost in the wild card round against the Houston Texans.
Dalton had a tough start to his sophomore season, hitting 22-of-37 attempts for 221 yards with an interception and a lost fumble. Green caught five passes for 70 yards.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 91 yards and a TD on 18 carries in his Cincinnati debut.
"We got out-played and out-coached," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. "We didn't play well enough to win in any phase."
The Ravens scored their first three times with the ball and were looking to build on a 17-3 lead late in the second quarter when Flacco was sacked on third down near midfield, forcing a punt.
Cincinnati gained momentum by keeping the Ravens off the field for 11 1/2 of the next 12 minutes.
A 13-play, 81-yard trek ate up over 5 1/2 minutes and ended with Green-Ellis powering his own into the end zone on 4th-and-1 from the 6-yard line just 18 seconds before halftime.
The Bengals got the ball on the second-half kickoff and nearly scored another touchdown, but Dalton, on 3rd-and-goal from the seven, was stopped a yard short of the goal line on a designed draw.
Mike Nugent cut the deficit to four with a 19-yard field goal, but the Bengals had no answers for Baltimore's no-huddle offense the rest of the way.
Facing a 3rd-and-8 from the Cincinnati 10, Flacco threw a jump ball off his back foot. Pitta out-jumped Bengals cornerback Leon Hall in the end zone and held on for the score with 5:18 left in the third quarter.
"That completion to Dennis was big. It got us going," Flacco said. "It put a lot of pressure on their offense, and that's when our defense is at its best."
Rookie kicker Justin Tucker added a 40-yard field goal a little later, and Reed essentially put the game away in the final seconds on the frame.
Dalton's pass intended for Brandon Tate sailed high, and the omnipresent Reed was there for the interception. He ran up the left sideline for 34 yards, stayed inbounds and put the ball over the pylon for his 10th career defensive TD. He also passed Rod Woodson for the most interception return yards in NFL history with 1,497.
"We got some pressure on Dalton. ... It gives you a chance to make plays," Reed said.
The Ravens kept the pressure on, and Ray Lewis forced a Dalton fumble on the second play of the fourth quarter. Baltimore recovered at Cincinnati's 28-yard line, and three plays later Rice went over the left guard for a 1-yard TD.
Flacco was out of the game midway through the fourth quarter, and Tyrod Taylor led a drive that culminated in Turner's 39-yard field goal to finish off the rout.
Flacco showed off his arm on the very first snap, as he threw a 52-yard bomb down the middle of the field to Torrey Smith to reach the Bengals' 27-yard line. A sack on third down brought out the kicker unit, and Tucker booted a 46-yard field goal to put the Ravens on the board.
Cincinnati went three-and-out on its first drive, and the Ravens put together a 12-play, 63-yard march that made it 10-0. Rice highlighted the drive with a one-handed grab to move the chains on fourth down, then finished it off with a 7-yard draw for a touchdown with 6:30 left in the first quarter.
A promising Bengals drive stalled in the red zone, and Nugent kicked a 34-yard field goal on the second play of the second quarter.
Baltimore scored just five plays later, as Jacoby Jones caught a 25-yard pass to cross midfield before Boldin hauled in a 34-yard TD between two defenders for a 17-3 cushion.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is 5-0 in season openers ... Baltimore has won nine consecutive non-postseason contests against AFC North members ... Reed has 10 career interceptions against the Bengals ... Rice gained 68 yards on 10 carries and caught three passes for 25 yards ... Pitta had five catches for 73 yards, while Boldin caught four for 63 ... Andrew Hawkins led Cincinnati's receiving corps with eight catches and 86 yards ... The Ravens outgained the Bengals, 430-322.