Patriots

AFC: Ravens force five Dalton turnovers, shut out Bengals, 20-0

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AFC: Ravens force five Dalton turnovers, shut out Bengals, 20-0

CINCINNATI -- With Joe Flacco easing back in from a back injury, the Ravens went out and got a victory old-style.

Baltimore's rebuilt defense picked off Andy Dalton four times and forced him to fumble Sunday, and the Ravens pulled away to a 20-0 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals that reminded them of the days when they'd win games with a defense that got into quarterbacks' heads.

"I like to see touchdowns, but if we've got to play lights-out defense, that's what we're going to do," said linebacker Terrell Suggs , who had a pair of sacks and tipped a pass.

The Ravens pressured Dalton into matching his career high for interceptions , three of them in the first half. Two were tipped, and the other was a throw he forced into double coverage in the end zone that C.J. Mosley picked off.

The Ravens took control with a pair of touchdowns 24 seconds apart late in the half. Flacco saw the Bengals ready to blitz with no defender in the middle of the field, and he hit Jeremy Maclin in stride on a slant for a 48-yard catch-and-run.

Two plays later, Suggs batted Dalton's pass high in the air and Lardarius Webb grabbed it. Terrance West's 2-yard touchdown run made it 17-0.

The Ravens didn't need anything else, given how the defense was dominating.

"Any time you get a shutout, it's huge," said safety Tony Jefferson, one of the new additions. "To do it today in the opener? Man!"

The Ravens' overriding question was how Flacco would hold up after missing all of camp and the preseason with a bad back. The defense made sure he didn't have to do much. Flacco was 9 of 17 for 121 yards with an interception against a defense missing suspended linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones.

"It was one of our old-fashioned games," said Flacco , in his 10th season. "It reminded me of one of our games when I was a rookie."

The Bengals had breakdowns everywhere as they were shut out in a season opener for the first time since 1979. They'd never been blanked in a home opener. The Bengals managed only 221 total yards and had nine penalties.

"This was as disappointing as it can be," coach Marvin Lewis said.

Baltimore has tormented Dalton like few others. He's had nine three-interception games during his career, four of them against Baltimore. His only other four-interception game also was against the Ravens in the 2013.

"It wasn't confusing," Dalton said. "I just didn't play well."

After missing the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, Baltimore put its emphasis on upgrading the defense. It paid off right away, with newcomer Brandon Carr getting the first interception .

Dalton was under heavy pressure behind Cincinnati's inexperienced line and finished 16 of 31 for 170 yards and was sacked five times.

SHUTOUT HISTORY

It was the Ravens' third season-opening shutout. They also blanked Pittsburgh in 2000 and Tampa Bay in 2006, both on the road. The Bengals hadn't been blanked in their season opener since 1979, when they lost at Denver 10-0. They hadn't been shut out at Paul Brown Stadium since 2001 by the Bears.

GRIND `EM DOWN

The Ravens essentially put it away with a 17-play, 81-yard drive in the third quarter that lasted 9 minutes, 38 seconds and ended in a field goal. The drive included 14 runs for 54 yards, two incompletions and three penalties on the Bengals: unnecessary roughness, pass interference and defensive holding.

The Ravens rushed for 157 yards overall, including 90 by West and 71 by Javorius Allen.

"This was a game that running the ball turned out to be a key," coach John Harbaugh said . "I thought we were really patient with it."

INJURIES

Ravens RB Danny Woodhead injured his left hamstring on the opening series and didn't return, another setback for a depleted offense. LB Za'Darius Smith hurt his left knee in the second quarter and was helped off the field.

Bengals RG guard Trey Hopkins hurt his left knee late in the first half and didn't return. DE Michael Johnson suffered a concussion on the final play of the first half and didn't return.

UP NEXT

Ravens play at Cleveland. They've won three in a row against the Browns.

Bengals host Texans on Thursday night. Houston has won its last two and seven of eight against Cincinnati, including a pair of first-round playoff games.

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.