The Ravens made a lot of changes in the offseason – a new offense, a revamped offensive line and a younger defense.
But Sunday's 23-16 loss at M&T Bank Stadium played out much like many of the defeats from last year.
The defense bent but didn't break for nearly the entire game. The offense was in an early-game slumber but eventually awoke to take the lead. Just when the defense needed one more stop, it broke.
The Ravens battled last year's AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals tough, overcoming sloppy offensive play and a 15-point halftime deficit to take the lead on an 80-yard touchdown by Steve Smith Sr. with five minutes, 46 seconds remaining.
But Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green went deep for a 77-yard touchdown just two plays later and the Ravens offense fizzled deep in Bengals territory trying to deliver the game-tying touchdown.
In the end, Baltimore came out with an 0-1 start to the season, already putting the Ravens behind division foes Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
"It was a bad day," quarterback Joe Flacco said.
"We got ourselves in position to win, but we didn't play well enough to win it."
Flacco and the new offense struggled for two and a half quarters. The offense, which brought much hope for an improved season, didn't have a good debut.
It was shut out in the first half, which ended in disastrous fashion.
With eight seconds remaining in the half and the Ravens easily in field-goal range, they tried for one more shot at the end zone. But Flacco held onto the ball too long, scrambled and was sacked as the clock ran out, meaning the Ravens couldn't even attempt a field goal.
"That was probably the stupidest play I've ever made in football," Flacco said.
Flacco didn't get a lot of help from his receivers. They dropped too many passes, slipped on a couple key plays and simply didn't execute.
Despite being billed as a run-first attack, the offense ended up unbalanced like a year ago. Flacco threw 62 passes, the most since Baltimore's Week 1 loss in Denver last season. He completed 35 of those passes for 345 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Running back Bernard Pierce – starting in place of suspended Ray Rice – was benched after a second-quarter fumble. Justin Forsett, who had just six rushing attempts last year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, ran 11 times for 70 yards. The Ravens ran a total of 20 times.
"We just played about as bad as you can in terms of simple fundamental things – throwing, catching, running routes, staying up, just running the ball, couple mental busts," Flacco said. "Just fundamental things that you do every day, and it's just part of the routine, and we weren't doing them."
Baltimore's defense kept the Ravens in the game, holding the Bengals to five first-half field goals.
The Bengals offense moved the ball methodically, punted just once in the first half and didn't have any turnovers. But it was held out of the end zone.
But while the Bengals had trouble in the red zone, they at least got points when they could.
Ravens Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker missed his first opportunity of the season as a 55-yard attempt hooked wide right. Flacco's blunder at the end of the half prevented another field-goal chance. Those potential six points proved huge at the end of the game.
Dominated in the first half, the Ravens started to flip the momentum when safety Jeromy Miles blocked a field goal and safety Anthony Levine returned it deep into Bengals territory.
But Baltimore's offense faltered again. Smith dropped what would have been a solid gain, then Flacco was intercepted by linebacker Emmanuel Lamur on the next play when Flacco tried to squeeze a throw to the sideline without having his feet set.
The defense held again and the offense scored its first points late in the third quarter.
Flacco found Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta for multiple catches on the drive. Forsett scampered 13 yards into the end zone for Baltimore's first points with 2:20 remaining. Just like that, the Ravens were only down a touchdown and two-point conversion, 15-7.
The defense responded with its first three-and-out of the game, giving the offense the ball back with a chance to tie.
The Ravens offense moved down the field once again. Forsett found room on the ground and Flacco sacrificed his body and took a huge hit to convert on a fourth-and-1. The Ravens got to the 20-yard line but settled for a 38-yard field goal by Tucker to cut the Bengals' lead to five points, 15-10, with 10:28 remaining.
The defense again forced a punt, which Jacoby Jones muffed but recovered, and the offense had the ballon its own 8-yard line with a chance to take the lead.
Facing a third-and-14 from its own 20-yard line, Flacco was flushed out to his left. With the play broken, Flacco directed Smith, who took off vertically down the field, beating his cornerback over the top.
Flacco flung the pass, Smith cradled it in and raced down the sideline. He viciously stiff-armed Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones to the ground to get into the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown.
Surprisingly, after being outplayed nearly the entire game, the Ravenstook a 16-15 lead.
"Great pass, easy pass to catch – actually one that I did catch," Smith said, alluding to his previous drops. "I just had to get in there. The AFC North is hard, tough-nosed football they say. So I'm trying to adapt to that."
But the lead didn't last long.
On the Bengals' second play of the next drive, Cincinnati sent Green deep. The All-Pro receiver hadn't been much of a factor earlier in the game, but Green needed just one play.
Green got behind cornerback Chykie Brown, who was starting in place of injured Lardarius Webb. Brown was able to recover enough to barely tip the ball with a diving effort, but it also went off Green's hands and took a perfect bounce up so he could recollect it.
Green juked safety Darian Stewart and cruised into the end zone for a 77-yard touchdown. The Bengals scored the two-point conversion to take a 23-16 lead for good with 4:58 left. M&T Bank Stadium was stunned.
Brown said he was anticipating a deep pass, but just didn't play good technique and let Green get behind him.
"We picked a hell of a time to let them in the end zone, if you ask me," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I thought we had it. I thought we had it. … It sucks that we gave up the one big deep one."
The Ravens offense had one final chance to tie the game with a touchdown, and moved the ball well again. It methodically picked up first downs and reached the Bengals' 16-yard line.
But facing a third-and-4, Flacco dropped back and was sacked by Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry. On fourth-and-10, the Bengals sent an overload blitz around the right side and Gilberry sacked Flacco again, ending the game.
"I thought our guys fought back," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Obviously, we have a lot of heart, a lot of determination, and that's a good place to start. What we didn't do was execute when we needed to in certain situations, especially early in the game and then right at the end of the game."