Flacco: Benching was best for team
CINCINNATI -- In the end, the result of the Ravens’ regular-season finale was meaningless to them even if it adds up to losing four of their last five games heading into the playoffs.
Coach John Harbaugh sat five starters, not including Ray Lewis who has been out since Oct. 14 when he tore his triceps, in Sunday’s 23-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and most of the starters only played for two series in the first quarter. They gave way to backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor and Bernard Pierce as the Ravens (10-6) enter the postseason as a No. 4 seed.
They’ll host a wild-card playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium vs. the No. 5 seed Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on CBS.
"I don't know if it's disappointing," said Harbaugh, who started 9-2. "It's an accomplishment to be in a position to be able to do that."
Rice finished with 5 yards on 3 carries. He initially was told he wouldn't dress for the game, but at the last minute Harbaugh decided to play him. Pierce, a rookie, had a career-high 22 carries for a game-high 89 yards.
“There’s no game meaningless, especially for us,” Rice said. “We want to win. … I prepared to play all week. I didn’t take any reps off practice. When I got the call I was going to be down then up, I was preparing for war. I gave it all I got for the amount of snaps I had.”
Receiver Anquan Boldin (shoulder), linebacker Terrell Suggs (biceps), right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder/knee), safety Bernard Pollard (ribs) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (knee) weren’t active. Receiver Tandon Doss (ankle) wasn’t, either.
Left tackle Bryant McKinnie saw his first signifcant action as Michael Oher, who replaced him there to start the season, exited early. Bobbie Williams filled in Yanda's spot.
"If we had been playing for more, then we would've played them if we had an opportunity to move up dramatically in the seeding. We would've done that," Harbaugh said. "The guys that we sat down for the most part were mostly injury situations. Start with Marshal on the offensive line, once you start pulling Marshal back -- because that's what's best for him going forward -- then you got to consider (pulling back) Joe and Ray and stuff like that and that's where it went."
On defense, the Ravens were using mostly second-team and third-team players, too. Linebackers Adrian Hamilton and Josh Bynes, safety Omar Brown all began the season on the practice squad.
Taylor started well before his play went south in the fourth quarter. With the game scoreless, he led the Ravens on a 7-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Taylor ran for 28 yards and third-string Anthony Allen followed up with a 20-yard run before scoring the first TD of his career from 2 yards out for a 7-0 lead.
The Bengals stuck with their starters for the first half as Andy Dalton completed an 11-yard TD pass to Marvin Jones just before halftime to tie the score.
Taylor appeared to have the game under control when he made a pivot to get around Vontaze Burfict and reach the end zone from 1 yard to cap an 11-play, 81-yard drive for a 14-13 lead.
After the Bengals (10-6) regained the advantage with a 38-yard field goal from Josh Brown, Taylor threw an interception to Carlos Dunlap that was returned 14 yards for a touchdown. That was too much for the Ravens to recover.
Taylor finished 15-for-25 passing for 149 yards. Flacco went 4-for-8 for 34 yards.
Ravens safety Ed Reed watched the game from the sideline but wore the headset to help coach the secondary, where second-year cornerback Chykie Brown and rookie Omar Brown logged extended minutes.
In his 11th season, Reed is keeping his eye on the big picture and not the defeat.
“The game always means something,” said Reed, who discussed coverages with teammates and the mistakes that were being made. “(The loss) doesn’t worry us. Playoffs are different than the season.”