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The Baltimore Ravens (7-3) moved to top position in the AFC North with a well-earned 31-24 victory over divisional rivals the Cincinnati Bengals (6-4). The most noteworthy injury news prior to this game revolved around Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
A toe injury, which had ruled Lewis out of practice in the week running up to the game, brought to an end a streak of 57 consecutive games started for the 16-year Raven. The Bengals were not without injury concerns of their own, however, having ruled wide receiver A. J. Green inactive following a knee injury sustained a week ago during their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Both teams went three and out on their opening plays, perhaps inevitably, considering the inconsistencies of the Ravens offense recently and the fact, the Ravens are the only team in the N.F.L. to have not conceded points on the opening drive of the game. Despite having home field advantage, the Ravens were the first to give away points, running back Cedric Benson powering into the end zone.
Cincinnati’s lead was short lived, however, with quarterback Joe Flacco rolling right from the snap, and with plenty of time for his receivers to escape their coverage, found Anquan Boldin for a 35-yard touchdown pass.
Baltimore then added another touchdown, this time Ray Rice going over from the one-yard line after a couple of excellent catches from wide receiver Torrey Smith had allowed the Ravens to advance down the field.
The Bengals responded well after the half, answering a Ravens field goal with another rushing touchdown for Benson, reducing Baltimore’s lead to just three points. As in the first half, Ravens struck back quickly with rookie Jimmy Smith grabbing his first interception in the N.F.L.
Smith later fumbled the ball; fortunately for Ravens’ fans, the ball was recovered by Brendon Ayanbadejo, and set up Rice for the one-yard touchdown run. Things quickly went from bad to worse for Cincinnati with Ladarius Webb acrobatically picking off an Andy Dalton pass on the Bengals’ 38-yard line, and Flacco proceeded to throw a touchdown pass to Smith on the first play of Baltimore’s possession, lengthening their lead to 17 points.
Jimmy Smith could not continue to live up to the high standards he had set for himself with his first-ever interception in the N.F.L. as he let Bengals wide receiver Andre Caldwell get away from him and collect a 49-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, the longest scoring play allowed by the Ravens all season.
Hopes of a Cincinnati comeback ignited when tight end Jermaine Gresham juggled the ball as he moved into the end zone, managing to take control of the ball just before he was pushed out of bounds. The Bengals had to settle for a field goal, bringing them to within seven points of Baltimore.
With less than a minute to play, and the Bengals in a first and goal situation, the Baltimore defense, shorn of its on-field leader Lewis, put in a titanic effort, forcing the Bengals to go four and out and secure victory for the home side.
The Ravens’ stuttering performance last week against the Seattle Seahawks was put to bed after this vital victory over the Bengals, although question marks will remain over the consistency of the Ravens, especially against lesser opposition.
Head Coach John Harbaugh will be pleased with a number of players performances, notably wide receiver Smith, who had 165 yards on just six receptions, including one for a touchdown, as well as tailback Rice, who helped his side with 104 yards on 20 carries.
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