BALTIMORE — In one exciting jaunt down the sideline, Ed Reed ran his way into the record book and took the heart out of the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Baltimore Ravens standout safety also tweaked his hamstring, which gave him an opportunity to work on his standup routine at the podium after Baltimore’s 44-13 rout on Monday night.
Reed’s 34-yard interception return for a touchdown was the highlight of a solid performance by the Baltimore defense and one of the key plays in the game. The score put the Ravens up 34-13 late in the third quarter and sealed the Bengals’ fate.
“I think it was part of it,” said Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton, who threw the pass.
The interception gave Reed 1,497 yards in interception returns, eclipsing the previous NFL mark of 1,483 by Rod Woodson. Reed’s dash for the end zone was punctuated by a desperate dive at the front pylon in the left corner.
“I wasn’t going to let an O-lineman catch me,” he said with a grin. “That’s why I dove. I strained my hamstring trying to dive. You know, I’m 34 in two hours (at midnight Tuesday). Father Time catches up to you.”
He said the hamstring injury was “minor.”
Joe Flacco had an outstanding game in Baltimore’s no-huddle offense, going 21 for 29 for 299 yards and two touchdowns. That certainly was a huge part of the Ravens’ 11th straight home win and ninth consecutive victory within the AFC North.
But the defense, playing its first game under coordinator Dean Pees, did its part. Haloti Ngata had two of Baltimore’s four sacks, proving the Ravens just might survive without NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, who’s out indefinitely with a torn right Achilles tendon.
“We didn’t play perfectly as a defense,” middle linebacker Ray Lewis said, “but when it got to where we needed to make plays, we made the plays we were supposed to make.”
After letting an early 14-point lead dwindle to 17-13, the Ravens pulled away by scoring 24 straight points in just over six minutes. Ray Rice ran for 68 yards and two short scores, but instead of dominating the Baltimore attack in his usual fashion, the running back took a back seat to Flacco.
“Obviously, everything went pretty well for us tonight,” Flacco said.
Not so for the Bengals, who made the playoffs last year without beating a team that qualified for postseason play. In this one, Cincinnati once again came up short against a high-caliber opponent.
“That certainly wasn’t what we expected to have out there today,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “We got outplayed and we got outcoached.”
Defensive tackle Domata Peko said, “They just beat us today, and we’ve got to get better.”
It’s hard to imagine the Bengals playing much worse.
“They beat us in all three phases of the game and they played well,” offensive tackle Andre Smith said. “We need to think about how we can get better. We need to go back to Cincinnati, get to work and improve.”
Dalton went 22 for 37 for 221 yards, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 91 yards and a score in his Cincinnati debut.
Dalton went 4 for 5 for 56 yards in the opening possession of the second half, and although the march stalled at the Baltimore 1, Mike Nugent kicked a 19-yard field goal to get the Bengals to 17-13.
Flacco brought the Ravens right back, throwing a bit of Rice into the mix with excellent results. Rice caught a screen pass for 18 yards and ran for 13 more during an 89-yard drive in which Flacco went 5 for 7 for 73 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dennis Pitta.
After a 40-yard field goal by Ravens rookie Justin Tucker made it 27-13 with 1:13 left in the quarter, Reed struck exactly one minute later.
Flacco went 12 for 15 for 183 yards in the first half to stake Baltimore to a 17-10 lead.
Flacco set the tone for the shootout on the game’s first offensive play, throwing deep to Torrey Smith for a 52-yard gain. That set up a 46-yard field goal by Tucker.
Baltimore quickly forced a punt, and Flacco went back to work. He completed a 16-yarder to Jacoby Jones on a third-and-15, tossed a 1-yard pass to Rice on a fourth-and-1 and watched from the backfield as Rice completed the 12-play, 63-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run behind a fine block by fullback Vonta Leach.
“It was really fun for me. I barely got hit tonight,” Rice said.
After Dalton got Cincinnati to 10-3 with a 76-yard march that ended with a field goal, Flacco capped an 82-yard drive by splitting two defenders with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin.
The Ravens finally punted with 6 minutes left in the first half, and Dalton used the rest of the time to move the Bengals to their lone touchdown. The Bengals twice converted fourth downs on the 81-yard march, the last one a 6-yard run into the end zone by Green-Ellis on a fourth-and-1.
NOTES: Ravens owner Art Modell was honored with a tribute and a moment of silence before the game. ... Ravens coach John Harbaugh is 5-0 in openers. ... Cincinnati has lost four straight vs. Baltimore after winning three in a row.