CINCINNATI – Terrell Suggs pulled off a robbery in the clutch, swiping the football away from Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham.
The Baltimore Ravens’ Pro Bowl outside linebacker forced a pivotal fumble in the fourth quarter of a 24-16 win over the Bengals on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Three plays after strong safety Bernard Pollard recovered the loose football, running back Ray Rice scooted 51 yards into the end zone for the Ravens’ final score.
"We like to get turnovers as a defense," said Suggs after breaking his own franchise record with his seventh forced fumble of the season. "The coaches are always forcing that issue, that we have to get turnovers. On the play before, the guy got outside and it was my fault.
"Ray Lewis said you owe me one, pretty much. I said, ‘All right.’ When he caught the ball, I knew he missed it and said, ‘Just go for the strip,’ went for it and got it."
Without Suggs’ contribution, this game could have had an entirely different outcome.
"We needed a play," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "In games like this, you need your best guys to come up with a play in critical moments like that."
The subsequent touchdown by Rice with 5:41 remaining in the fourth quarter staked the Ravens to a 24-13 advantage, enough cushion to hold off the Bengals.
"Obviously, that turnover was a big part of the game," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "For us to score the touchdown was huge."
It wasn’t the only big play from Suggs in the second half.
He sacked rookie quarterback Andy Dalton on the Bengals’ ensuing drive to help limit them to a 23-yard Mike Nugent field goal.
Ordinarily, Suggs has had trouble rushing the passer against Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and only had 1 ½ sacks against them previously over the past five seasons.
"He threw three that were right over my head or outside of my hands," said Suggs, who finished with a career-high 14 sacks in the regular season. "I thought I was going to get a pick, actually. That’s what I was going for, but I’ll take the forced fumble and the sack. It all goes into the stats. We all love stats on defense, particularly me."
After the game in the Ravens’ raucous locker room, Suggs’ teammates chanted, "MVP," to the five-time Pro Bowl selection and former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
"It’s flattering when your team thinks that," Suggs said. "It would be a nice accomplishment to be alongside Ray Lewis and Ed Reed."
YANDA RETURNS: Pro Bowl offensive guard Marshal Yanda played through a lot of pain, starting and playing the entire game despite bruised ribs that prevented him from practicing most of the week.
Yanda delivered the key block on running back Ray Rice’s 70-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, bashing into middle linebacker Rey Maualuga.
"I’m hurting right now, but it’s all good because we won," said Yanda, who signed a five-year, $32 million extension with Baltimore in August. "That was the goal. That was the objective to play because they needed me. I played and we won and it don’t get no better than that."
Yanda had trouble breathing normally as late as Friday and was listed as doubtful on the injury report.
Yanda indicated that his ribs aren’t cracked, but said: "My cartilage is loose from my rib bones. I fell on it again and hurt it again at the end. At that point, I was just going to fight through it."
Yanda’s grit didn’t go unnoticed.
"It was a huge boost," Harbaugh said. "We thought there was a chance he would play, but wasn’t totally sure. There’s not a tougher player I’ve been around in 27 years of coaching."
Considering the severity of the injury, Rice was concerned that Yanda might not be able to play in this game
"You see him after the game and you see him on Monday, you’re like, ‘We might as well prepare without Yanda,’ Rice said. "But then you get out there Friday, and you know he’s in pain but doesn’t complain, and he’s good to go.
"That’s the kind of guy he is. There is a reason why he got paid the money he did. I’m not saying it’s about the money, but it’s well-deserved. He’s a Baltimore Raven."
The first-round playoff bye is especially meaningful for injured players like Yanda to recuperate.
"That was the plan: to play and get the bye," Yanda said. "It’s huge. Things are good in Baltimore right now."
CUNDIFF IS BACK: Billy Cundiff made a strong return after missing last week with a left calf injury.
He booted a 42-yard field goal with no trouble in the first quarter.
He made all of his three extra points and had a pair of touchbacks.
"I had full confidence that I was going to play," Cundiff said. "It was just a matter of making sure they had full confidence that I could last the whole game. It was a constant communication to make sure we were on the same page."
Just to be safe, the Ravens kept Shayne Graham on the roster and ultimately decided to go with Cundiff after both players made the trip to Cincinnati and warmed up before kickoff.
Cundiff made a 53-yard field goal prior to the game.
"Just the way I was able to make contact with the ball and be aggressive, I could tell it was better," Cundiff said. "There were times when I’ve kind of held off. To now be able to get through it, it makes all the difference.
"The thing that’s really going to make a difference is now that I’ve got a game under my belt. I’ll be able to do a lot of rehab and build up the strength in my leg. The strength still isn’t quite where it needs to be, but it’s still light years better than it was."
BANGED-UP: It was a rough game for the Ravens physically as at least four players sustained injuries.
Starting inside linebacker Jameel McClain was the only one able to return to the game after spraining his knee, and that was out of necessity.
Special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo sprained his quadriceps, and rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith and strong safety Tom Zbikowski suffered concussions.
It’s the second concussion of the season for Zbikowski.
At least the Ravens have a bye this week to heal up.
"We have a much better chance now," Harbaugh said. "Towards the end of the game, we were down six or seven players with various things. It doesn’t look like anything serious, but we had three or four concussions, an MCL sprain and a couple other things. We were scrambling, but now we have two weeks and an opportunity to get healthy"
BOLDIN ON THE MEND: Veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin has made a speedy return from his slightly torn meniscus in his knee that was repaired surgically.
He said he almost felt well enough to play Sunday.
"I’m cool," Boldin said. "I’m able to play. If it was a playoff game, I definitely would have been able to play. I played with it partially torn all year. It got to the point where my knee started catching and I wasn’t able to run or anything like that.
"For me it was a tough decision whether or not to play. The guys told me they would take care of it. I feel like I made the right decision to get ready for the next game."
HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE: The Ravens built an undefeated record at M&T Bank Stadium, going 8-0 in front of their fans.
Now, the AFC North champions host their first home playoff game in five seasons in two weeks.
"This was our goal," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "We won the division and we got a home game. The fans want to see us play at home and they got it. We’re real excited."
WILLIAMS RETURNS: Starting cornerback Cary Williams returned to play after suffering a concussion against the Cleveland Browns that limited him in practice all week.
He passed his baseline neurological test Saturday and started Sunday, recording six tackles and leading Baltimore with three pass deflections.
"I had to get acclimated to the game again because concussions are hard to come back from," Williams said. "I felt good. It took a little while for me to get comfortable. I wanted to be mentally prepared and really not stick my head in on any tackles.
"No head-to-head collisions, avoid them at all costs. It was great being out there with my teammates. They believed in me. When you have those guys behind you, you can’t help but do well."
PITTA TIME: Tight end Dennis Pitta lined up at wide receiver and wound up catching six passes for a career-high 62 yards and a touchdown.
Pitta caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Flacco in the second quarter on a fade route to the corner of the end zone.
"It was a corner route," Pitta said. "The cornerback bit on Torrey Smith as he came across the middle. Joe threw a perfect ball to the corner and we were able to complete that one."
ED REED MISSES TACKLE: Pro Bowl free safety Ed Reed tried to tackle running back Bernard Scott in the third quarter, but his arm tackle attempt wasn’t sufficient to bring him down.
Scott ran away from him for a 25-yard touchdown run.
Reed acknowledged that his shoulder is bothering him. He’s also dealing with a nerve impingement in his neck that has affected his tackling.
"It ain’t so much the nerve impingement as it was my shoulder," Reed said. "On that particular play, when I hit the guy and bounced off, it was just a bad angle.
"I can’t do that. I understand that. I’m just as hard a critic as anybody. Just got to have better angles."
QUICK HITS: The Ravens deactivated receiver Anquan Boldin, Graham, linebackers Sergio Kindle and Dannell Ellerbe (concussion), cornerback Danny Gorrer, rookie running back Anthony Allen and rookie offensive tackle D.J. Jones. … The Bengals scratches were linebacker Dontay Moch (illness), strong safety Taylor Mays (concussion), free safety Robert Sands, wide receiver Armon Binns, defensive tackle Nick Hayden, tight end Colin Cochart and offensive guard Otis Hudson.