OWINGS MILLS, Md. – The Baltimore Ravens still have flaws in their running game, Joe Flacco is getting hit far too often in the pocket and the defense let a 17-point lead slip away Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Those shortcomings made it a little more difficult for the Ravens to enjoy a much-needed 20-17 overtime victory that snapped a three-game losing streak and kept the defending Super Bowl champions afloat in the murky AFC playoff picture.
Despite allowing a desperation 51-yard touchdown pass on the final play of regulation, Baltimore (4-5) bounced back to stay in the hunt for the AFC North title and in contention for the conference's second wild-card berth.
"Overcame much adversity ... overcame some of our own mistakes," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "Our guys held strong at the end, especially after the challenging situation at the end of regulation, when you think you have the game in the hand."
The victory bought the Ravens an extra week of time as they patiently wait for running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce to become healthier — and hopefully, Harbaugh believes, more effective.
Baltimore produced only 85 yards on 30 rushing plays against Cincinnati. Rice was limited to 30 yards on 18 carries and Pierce gained 31 yards on eight attempts.
"We need to get better with our run game," Harbaugh said. "We gained a few more yards, but that to me is negligible because we're not as a successful as we want to be. Not even close."
It has been an issue that has plagued the offense for the entire season. If the Ravens could have run more efficiently, then perhaps the Bengals wouldn't have gotten the ball back with 1:28 left after Baltimore went three-and-out in a drive that lasted 27 seconds.
"If it was just one thing, you'd either be able to fix it or throw your hands up and say it's something that you can't fix because you don't have the answer," Harbaugh said of the team's anemic rushing attack. "Neither one of those is true. The answers are there, and it's not just the run game. The pass game ties into it as well. The bottom line is we've got to block better, we've got to get guys blocked better."
Rice had four straight 1,000-yard seasons before this year. At this point, he has 289 yards and is averaging a mere 2.5 yards per carry. Rice missed the third game of the year with a hip flexor strain, and he apparently still hasn't recovered.
"You've got to look at the numbers, and definitely it's not the same," Harbaugh conceded. "So what is it? It's injury, or there's not as much room to run. Or it's both. His health has been a factor, there's no doubt about it. He's working harder to become healthier. That's important to get past that hip flexor. Those are muscle injuries, and it's hard to predict exactly what impact that has, but you've got to assume it's had an impact."
Pierce isn't 100 percent, either.
"Bernard's had his hamstring issues the last five weeks, which he seems to be coming out of," Harbaugh said.
All this would be easier to take if the passing game was clicking, but Flacco threw two interceptions against Cincinnati, lost a fumble upon being hit in the pocket and was sacked five times.
"We got touchdowns which proved to be big, but we struggled all day," Flacco said. "You have to give credit to their defense, but we have to do a lot of things better in order to be successful."
Next up: A duel in Chicago on Sunday against the Bears. The Ravens are 1-4 on the road, but at least they'll be taking some momentum into Soldier Field.
"It was important to win," Harbaugh said of the Cincinnati game. "We were able to do that, and it meant a lot. Now it's important to win the next game."
Harbaugh on Monday was presented with the Amos Alonzo Staff Coaching Award. Previous recipients include Tony Dungy, Bill Belichick and Mike Krzyzewski.
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