Bengals pick off Ravens, 15-10

In a vintage AFC North slugfest in Sunday's Paul Brown Stadium opener, the Bengals rode Mike Nugent's fifth field goal of the game to take a 15-10 lead with 2:48 left in the game and the defense held on the rest of the way to give the Bengals their eighth straight division victory and first win of the season.

In his second game as a Bengal, Nugent hit a 25-yarder for the five-point pad, but the Bengals could have put the Ravens away when WILL linebacker Brandon Johnson picked off a pass off a deflection by defensive tackle Pat Sims at the Ravens 11. But the Bengals could get just four yards and a third down pass to rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley was broken up on the sideline.

But as it did all day, the defense had the answer even though it was down two cornerbacks with injuries to Johnathan Joseph and Adam Jones in the game's last four and a half minutes. But after defensive linemen Michael Johnson and Geno Atkns combined to sack quarterback Joe Flacco on third down, on fourth down safety Chinedum Ndukwe racked up the Bengals' fourth interception of the game.

The Bengals missed a golden chance to get their first touchdown of the game after running back Bernard Scott's 60-yard kick return and Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs' late hit on quarterback Carson Palmer gave Cincinnati a first down on the Ravens 26.

The Bengals defense could only do so much for its offense when Baltimore took a 10-9 lead with 5:46 left in the game on Billy Cundiff's 38-yard field goal.

The Bengals rode Nugent's third field goal of the game to a 9-7 lead with 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Nugent hit a 46-yarder with 14 seconds left in the third quarter after the punchless Bengals offense stalled at the Ravens 21. The Bengals got a life when Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis was called for tripping Palmer on a third-down sack, but their third-down misery would continue on the next one. Palmer, who finished just 16-of-35 passing for 167 yards, was called for intentional grounding when he couldn't get out of the ankle grab of crawling defensive tackle Trevor Pryce.

The Bengals were up in arms earlier in that drive when Palmer lobbed it up to the 6-3 Owens getting position on 5-11 cornerback Fabian Washington in the end zone. Washington appeared to maul him and pin his arms, but with Owens and everyone else screaming, there was no flag.

A week after the Bengals defense sieved up nearly 70 percent of their third downs, it rose up Sunday in the Paul Brown Stadium opener and stuffed the Ravens on six of their first eight third-down tries to take a 6-0 lead into halftime.

It could have been so much more, but the Bengals offense failed on seven of their nine third-down attempts and Palmer couldn't connect on end-zone passes to the open Owens and Chad Ochocinco in drives that ended on Nugent field goals.

It came back to haunt because the Ravens took a 7-6 lead on the first series of the second half when on third-and-eight wide receiver Derrick Mason beat Joseph down the right sideline for a 31-yard touchdown as Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco emerged from a first-half funk. It was Mason's ninth touchdown catch against the Bengals, his most against any team.

The Bengals couldn't match it with a brutal series in which their only first down came on a pass to Ochocinco that came of a fumbled snap. On third-and-five, center Kyle Cook appeared to snap it early and Palmer got buried.

Cornerback Leon Hall followed that up by coming up with the Bengals' second interception of the game when Flacco inexplicably threw the ball into the middle of a covered zone. But even after Hall's 22-yard return put the ball on the Baltimore 45, the Bengals came up with nothing.

Just one yard.

Palmer, inaccurate all day, threw a ball low and away to The Ocho that would have been a first down. On the next play, a third down, Palmer ducked away from pressure, but couldn't get it to The Ocho on the sideline on a play The Ocho was called for pushing off.  

After two shaky opening series, the Bengals no-huddle offense put together a string of strong runs by running back Cedric Benson and Palmer completions to all three of his wide receivers to set up Nugent's 36-yard field goal that gave the Bengals a 3-0 lead on the second snap of the second quarter.

But in the theme that began in the middle of last season, the offense couldn't find a touchdown in the red zone. After Palmer found Shipley in the slot in front of cornerback Chris Carr for a 10-yard gain on third-and-seven, he tried to hit Owens twice in the end zone. Owens had safety Dawan Landry beat down the middle, but Palmer overthrew him. Then on third down, Palmer went for Owens over the middle at the goal line, but Landry dropped an easy interception.

Benson finished the drive with 34 yards on seven carries and converted a third-and-one when he stared down Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis in space on the edge on third-and-one and he dipped his shoulder for a five-yard gain. But that was the only time the Bengals went no-huddle in the half and Benson finished with just 37 yards on 10 carries.

The Bengals just missed getting a touchdown on that second red-zone series when Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington slipped covering Ochocinco in the corner of the end zone on third-and-seven. But Palmer threw too wide and Nugent hit his second field goal of the day from 30 yards with 9:46 left in the half.

The drive was set up the Bengals' first interception of the season, a pick by cornerback Adam Jones when he jumped inside Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin and returned it 10 yards to the Baltimore 35. The offense overcame a holding call on Cook when Owens caught a ball over the middle and ran through a Washington tackle on a 16-yarder that was mostly run after catch.

But the Bengals couldn't overcome left guard Nate Livings' false start on third-and-one.

Palmer finished the half just 10-of-19 for 89 yards, but it was better than the struggling Flacco, who was a brutal 5-of-17 for 23 yards in the first half.

With right tackle Andre Smith getting the start and Dennis Roland acting as the extra tackle, the Bengals got nabbed for an illegal substitution in the huddle on third down to blow up the first drive. On second down Palmer had tight end Jermaine Gresham open over the middle, but missed him when Gresham stopped his route on what looked to be some miscommunication.

The Bengals defense held on its second third down of the game. With former Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh lining up against cornerback Adam Jones on the outside, Flacco went for wide receiver Boldin in the slot but he was well covered by cornerback Leon Hall.

The Bengals did get a first down on their second series, but couldn't capitalize when Benson ripped off a nine-yard run on first down. Palmer had Owens open on a  sideline route but threw it short. Then running back Bernard Scott got stoned on third-and-one on a blitz by Ray Lewis.

The Bengals came out flying on defense and harassed Flacco into missing nine of his first 13 throws and limited him to 17 yards. Late in the first half, with Flacco under huge pressure, he flung up a desperate third-and-10 lob down field to Houshmandzadeh working on Adam Jones. Houshmandzadeh leaped inside and appeared to come down with the ball, but Jones made enough contact with him to jar the ball loose.

The PBS crowd gave it pretty good to Houshmandzadeh during the half, particularly when safety Chinedum Ndukwe knocked a ball out of his hands on the sidelines.

Ravens running back Ray Rice had a pretty good half on the ground with 39 yards on eight carries, but the Bengals defense throttled him in the air, holding him to just one catch.

Adam Jones went into the locker room with a shoulder problem in the third quarter and his return was questionable.

PREGAME NOTES: Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis opted for the healthiest of his healthiest roster in quite some time Sunday when he deactivated WILL linebacker Keith Rivers and running back Brian Leonard with foot issues for the game against the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium.

With wide receiver Andre Caldwell returning to practice last week after a groin injury, he was active and Jerome Simpson was inactive. Defensive linemen Jon Fanene (hamstring) and Carlos Dunlap were down and tackle Pat Sims was up against the Ravens running game. 

For the second straight game rookie center-guard Reggie Stephens and cornerback Brandon Ghee were out. Simpson was active for the opener, but was inactive for the 23rd time in his career Sunday. Leonard practiced full go all three practice days last week for the first time since he injured the foot in the Aug. 8 preseason opener. With Rivers out after getting hurt last week in New England, special teams captain Brandon Johnson gets the start, an assignment that he performed well last year.

In the three games Rivers missed, Johnson had get great production with 25 tackles, including 13 against Cleveland. And when Rivers got hurt against these Ravens, Johnson came off the bench for a sack that forced a third-quarter punt in the 17-7 win on Nov. 8.

The Ravens activated their best cornerback who missed last week in Lardarius Webb. Webb has been coming back from last season's ACL injury.

Former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh emerged from the visitors locker room about two hours before the game and chatted it up. He spent some time Saturday night at the home of his running mate for all those years, Chad Ochocinco, where he visited with The Ocho's mother and played with his kids.

Houshmandzadeh apparently hasn't been able to find the comfortable black socks he had in Cincinnati, so the Ocho brought him out two pairs. He waved at a kid standing in the front row of the end-zone seats holding a No. 84 Houshmandzadeh Bengals jersey and as he stood on the goal line, he waved for Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer to throw him the ball. But Palmer hadn't warmed up yet, so he just walked up to him, put his arm around his shoulder, and they started talking instead of throwing.

Needing a 2009 performance out of their 2010 defense, the Bengals announced their starters in their all whites, a usual road outfit in which they are 6-13. Honorary captain Anthony Muñoz, the Bengals Hall of Fame left tackle, joined the game captains for the flip. Baltimore won the toss, deferred, and the Bengals took the ball. 

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