For once, the Baltimore Ravens' offense had to bail out the defense.
On a gloomy afternoon at Cinergy Field, when the usually reliable Ravens defense was unable to hold a big lead, the offense carried the day. Matt Stover kicked a 50-yard field goal as four seconds ticked off the clock to give Baltimore a 34-31 victory today before an announced crowd of 43,279.
"The fact that they fought back through all this emotionally after three weeks on the road is a good sign," Baltimore Coach Brian Billick said.
The Ravens (4-6) fell behind 14-0 before scoring 31 consecutive points. Then they watched the Bengals (1-10) come back, eventually tying the score at 31 on Doug Pelfrey's 19-yard field goal with 1 minute 50 seconds remaining.
Pelfrey's field goal came after one of the few defensive highlights for the Ravens. Following a pass interference call on middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the Bengals had first and goal at the Ravens 1 but were unable to get across the goal line for a touchdown.
The Ravens' defense came into Cincinnati yielding a mere 237.9 yards per game, tied with Jacksonville for the NFL lead. Baltimore had held its last two opponents--Jacksonville and Cleveland--to fewer than 200 yards total offense.
But a defense that had given up only two touchdowns in the past three games gave up two in the first quarter. Baltimore failed to stop several sustained Cincinnati drives and wound up yielding 348 yards total offense.
Cincinnati quarterback Jeff Blake completed 20 of 39 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns, although he did not have to face one of the Ravens' top pass rushers for most of the afternoon. Strong-side linebacker Peter Boulware, who leads the team with eight sacks, dislocated his right shoulder early in the first quarter and left the game. Doctors will examine Boulware again Monday, and his status for next week's game at home against Jacksonville is uncertain.
"The defense, we did not play well," said safety Rod Woodson, who notched his 50th career interception in the third quarter. "It's going to be ugly film to watch tomorrow. But I'd rather play like this and win than shut a team down for 130 yards total offense and lose."
The defense did have its moments. Cornerback Duane Starks capped Baltimore's 21-point third quarter when he intercepted a pass by Blake that was intended for Carl Pickens and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown to put the Ravens ahead 31-14.
But after Blake's 15-yard touchdown to Darnay Scott, Cincinnati's Craig Yeast returned Kyle Richardson's 56-yard punt 86 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to narrow Baltimore's lead to 31-28.
After Cincinnati tied it on Pelfrey's field goal, quarterback Tony Banks completed 6 of 8 passes to lead the Ravens on their game-winning drive. Banks finished 24 of 40 for 274 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Early on, Baltimore's offense had its own troubles. In two wins over the Bengals last season, the Ravens had rushed for 428 yards. Today, however, Baltimore managed 18 yards rushing in the first half and 56 yards for the game. The offensive line struggled not only to create space for running back Errict Rhett, but also to protect Banks, who was sacked seven times.
"Some of them were in some tough situations," Billick said. "To be honest with you, more than half of those were the backs and that's something that's got to improve."
The Ravens took the lead in the third quarter on a two-yard touchdown run by Rhett that was set up by Banks's 73-yard pass to Billy Davis. Then Patrick Johnson, whom coaches had held out of three of the past four games, caught a 25-yard touchdown pass to put the Ravens ahead 24-14. Johnson, who caught 12 passes last season, had the best game of his NFL career, with six receptions for 73 yards and one touchdown. He started in place of Justin Armour, who is out with a calf injury.