BALTIMORE (AP) — Although three games do not necessarily determine the outcome of an NFL season, the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens have started their 2015 journey on vastly divergent paths.
After defeating Baltimore 28-24 on Sunday, the unbeaten Bengals are alone atop the AFC North. Though all is not lost for the winless Ravens, their position in the cellar puts the pressure on them to play exceptionally well over the final 13 games.
"How do you think 3-0 feels?" Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "It's early in the season, but I'd rather be 3-0 here than where Baltimore is right now."
The Ravens are 0-3 for the first time in franchise history. The last team to lose its first three games and reach the postseason was the 1998 Buffalo Bills.
Until this year, it had been a decade since Baltimore started 0-2.
"We've got to have a short memory and get going," linebacker Elvis Dumervil said.
Cincinnati, on the other hand, will be seeking to maintain the momentum generated by wins over Oakland, San Diego and Baltimore.
"It's the kind of start you always want to have, and it says a lot about the people we have on this team," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "We like where we are right now."
Dalton went 20 for 32 for 383 yards and three touchdowns. His favorite target was A.J. Green, who finished with 10 catches for a career-high 227 yards and two scores — including the game-winner with 2:10 left.
The Ravens lost despite getting 362 yards passing from Joe Flacco, who twice connected with Steve Smith for touchdowns. Smith had 13 catches for 186 yards, but it wasn't enough to offset a miserable performance by the defense.
Some things we learned from Sunday's game:
UNSTOPPABLE GREEN: As usual, the Ravens had no answer for Green, whose 227 yards receiving were second-most in franchise history.
Green spent most of the afternoon being shadowed by Jimmy Smith, who picked off a pass but came out on the losing end of the duel.
"One of these days, we'll figure out how to cover A.J. Green," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "It'd be nice if we did that one time before he retires. They re-signed him, didn't they? So, he's going to be around for a while. We better figure it out."
GROUND TO A HALT: Among the Ravens' many flaws this season is the lack of a running game.
Baltimore gained only 36 yards on the ground, including a mere 13 on 10 carries from featured back Justin Forsett.
"We just need to run the ball better," guard Marshal Yanda said, "and it needs to start right now."
The Ravens on Thursday night face the Pittsburgh Steelers, who surrendered only 71 yards rushing to the Rams on Sunday.
FLAG DAY: Both teams were flagged for numerous penalties, many of them at critical times.
Cincinnati was penalized nine times for 67 yards, and the Ravens were cited for 13 infractions totaling 116 yards.
"Way too many penalties," Harbaugh lamented.
During the Bengals' first touchdown drive, Ravens cornerback Rashaan Melvin drew a trifecta of calls: holding, illegal use of hands and pass interference.
GOING FOR 4-0: Not long after stripping off their uniforms, the Bengals began thinking about their next game against Kansas City.
"We have the Chiefs next week, and we have a lot to correct," coach Marvin Lewis said.
These three wins guarantee nothing down the road.
"It just reminds me of last year when we were 3-0, then we kind of blew it," running back Jeremy Hill said. "We're not content with what we have right now. We have to keep on pounding and keep on working."
SMITH'S BIG DAY: Steve Smith cast aside his lofty numbers because it came in a losing effort.
"Ultimately, it's up to wins and losses. That's what we consume ourselves with," he said. "We lost. We lost as a team."
There won't be much time to think about this defeat, because the Ravens have a quick turnaround before going to Pittsburgh.
"We have to put our tissues away and go out there and get ready to practice," Smith said.