Ravens re-enter AFC North race by beating Bengals
There's really no telling whether the Baltimore Ravens can rebound from a lackluster start to make a run at defending their AFC North title.
This much is certain: The Ravens' chances of doing so got a whole lot better after they survived an unlikely comeback by the Cincinnati Bengals to pull out a 20-17 overtime victory Sunday.
A loss would have dropped Baltimore into a last-place tie in the division. Instead, Justin Tucker's 46-yard field goal with 5:27 left in overtime got the defending Super Bowl champions within 1 1/2 games of the division-leading Bengals (6-4).
The Ravens (4-5) displayed several flaws - most notably sputtering on offense, blowing a 17-point lead and giving up a desperation 51-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green on the final play of regulation. But they nevertheless ended a three-game losing streak and re-entered the conversation about potential playoff teams from the AFC.
''The thing is I'm most proud of is the heart of our guys,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ''They showed the heart of champions. Where this will lead us, we'll find out.''
The Bengals remain the only team in the AFC North with a winning record, but the cushion isn't as comfortable as it was two weeks ago. Cincinnati lost to Miami in overtime on Oct. 31, and on Sunday became the 16th team in NFL history to lose two straight in OT.
''We can't be down on ourselves,'' Dalton said. ''There's a lot left in the season, and we can control our own fate. We are still in good position with a lot in front of us. We just need to play our best.''
Five things we learned from watching the Bengals-Ravens game:
GREEN IS GOLDEN: Green was targeted 15 times and made eight catches for 151 yards, setting a franchise record with his fifth straight 100-yard game. He accounted for more than half of Cincinnati's yards receiving.
''My numbers are going to come, I don't worry about that,'' he said. ''It's more important to get a win. It's not about stats; it would mean more to me if we had won the game.''
His catch at the end of regulation was a work of art. As everyone gathered at the goal line for Dalton's pass, Green positioned himself behind the pack and caught the deflection after it flicked off the hand of Ravens safety James Ihedigbo, who earlier had the first two interceptions of his career.
''I was just looking for someone to tap the ball so I could catch it,'' Green said.
IMPROVED SECONDARY: That last-second pass aside, the Ravens' secondary performed admirably against one of the best passing units in the NFL.
Baltimore picked off three passes and knocked away several others at the last second. The three interceptions were only one fewer than the Ravens had in their first eight games.
Cornerback Lardarius Webb, who had an interception, said, ''I just told (my teammates) we've got to keep getting our hands on the ball. If we keep getting turnovers, then we can keep winning.''
Harbaugh said: ''Our secondary played tremendously well. Everybody is going to talk about the last play, which is a shame in some ways. Maybe you will talk about the whole game.''
SECOND GUESS: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis isn't afraid to point fingers, even when he has to blame himself for messing up.
On Cincinnati's first offensive series, he called for Dalton to sneak up the middle on fourth-and-1 at the Baltimore 47. Dalton was stuffed short of a first down, the Ravens took over and grabbed a 7-0 lead four plays later.
While Dalton thought he was the victim of a bad spot, Lewis accepted the responsibility for putting his quarterback in an awkward position.
''The official sat on the ball so long there and that's not to our advantage,'' Lewis said. ''In hindsight, I should have called time out there and let us huddle up and do what we were going to do. To look back on it, I'm kicking myself for not calling time out.''
''He's the smartest linebacker we've got right now,'' Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict said. ''He just does a good job of anticipating plays and getting downhill.''
Like Green, Rey would have felt a lot better if his numbers contributed to a victory.
''It's tough, man,'' Rey said. ''It's frustrating to lose in overtime like that.''
GETTING HIS KICKS: Tucker has connected on 16 straight field goal tries and now has five game-winners over his career.
In overtime, he had to contend with a fierce wind as well as the pressure of delivering an important victory.
''We ended up getting the wind behind us;, it was kind of a crosswind,'' Tucker said. ''We had a plan. The ball wasn't going to move too much. We just figured we'd just hit it as close down the middle as possible and give it a shot.''
Tucker hasn't missed a kick since the second week of the season.
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