Bengals sweep Ravens

Updated: 4 p.m.

After racing to a 17-0 lead in the first half, the Bengals defense took over the game in the second half as a frenzied Paul Brown Stadium crowd celebrated Sunday a 4-0 AFC North record and a sweep of Baltimore with a 17-7 victory that pushed Cincinnati to 6-2 and the Ravens to 4-4.

As 64,313 watched a win that marked a sea change in the division, the Bengals gave Baltimore a taste of its own medicine with three straight sacks that ended the last legitimate chance for the Ravens. 

The sacks looked to be shared, but left end Robert Geathers shook off getting shaken up and dropped quarterback Joe Flacco on third down before Jon Fanene and Michael Johnson (his first NFL sack) finished off Flacco.

The Ravens went into no-huddle mode and in 2:43 went 65 yards to get a two-yard touchdown from running back Ray Rice to cut the lead to 17-7 with 12:54 left in the game.

When the Bengals looked to get a big first down off a third-and-seven on quarterback Carson Palmer's 21-yard pass to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, The Ocho fumbled the ball away trying to get yards after the first down.

The defense answered the call though as it did all day when cornerback Johnathan Joseph batted away a third-down pass headed to wide receiver Derrick Mason at about the five-yard line with 6:12 left to extend the Ravens' skein to 0-for-8 on third down. It forced Steve Hauschka's 38-yard field goal and PBS exploded when the kick hooked to the left to keep it at 17-7.

The Bengals just couldn't get that elusive first down to seal it. On a third-and-12 they ran a sweep to running back Brian Leonard to the left with 4:29 left in the game and after taking a big hit from middle linebacker Ray Lewis, Leonard pinballed for five yards more and the refs originally gave him the first down. But the Ravens challenged and the refs said he was inches short, forcing a punt from the Cincinnati 37. 

The second-place Ravens came into the game with an offense ranked third in the NFL in converting third downs, but Baltimore ended the third quarter 0-for-7 on third down and had just 98 yards of offense without a red-zone penetration. Joseph, whose interception ended the Ravens' first drive of the second half, ended the quarter blanketing Mason down the sideline on Flacco's third-and-10 bomb attempt.

Before the touchdown drive, Flacco had completed just eight of 18 passes for 76 yards.

With 30 minutes of work that featured their ball-control offense and ballhawking defense, the Bengals jumped to a 17-0 lead but then came up empty.

Running back Cedric Benson, bidding for back-to-back 100-yard games against the stingy Ravens, racked up 80 yards on 18 carries as the Bengals hogged the ball for 22 minutes and finished the half with 235 yards against a Baltimore defense that allowed just 200 the week before in its demolition of undefeated Denver. Benson did get his 101st yard early in the fourth quarter (he finished with 117 on 34 carries), but in the third quarter he only had 19 yards on seven carries. Ochocinco, who had 45 yards on four catches in the first two drives, didn't have another catch as the clock ticked under 10 minutes left in the game.

The half ended with the Ravens looking to kill the clock with line plunges from their own 1 after Bengals safety Kyries Hebert reached Kevin Huber's punt first as it was about to bounce into the end zone and he leaped into the air and thew it back out to linebacker Rey Maualuga at the 1.

But it was a costly half because wide receiver Chris Henry could be lost for the year with a fractured left forearm after he made 20-yard catch over the middle on the third series and fell awkwardly. Also, WILL linebacker Keith Rivers left for good early in the third quarter with a calf injury.

It was a game of third down as the Bengals converted five of their first seven third downs while they stymied the Ravens on their first four third downs. It was a big effort against an offense ranked third in the leaguer converting third downs. Cornerback Leon Hall punctuated the half when he leaped in front of Mason at midfield a Flacco long ball for an interception.

The Bengals held Mason, Baltimore's leading receiver, to no catches in six quarters this season. He got a catch on the opening drive of the second half. With Palmer racking up 137 yards on 12-of-22 passing, Flacco could only complete four of nine passes in the half for 27 yards.

Bengals wide receiver Andre Caldwell and his offense picked up right where it  left off against the Ravens and the Bears when he caught Palmer's six-yard touchdown pass on third-and-six to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead after the game's first drive gobbled 12 plays and the first 6:05.

When the Bengals converted on their next drive as well, they took a 14-0 lead into the second quarter by hogging the ball for nearly 11 minutes as Palmer hit seven of his first 12 passes for 64 yards. The beat went on when Shayne Graham kicked a 23-yard field goal and the Bengals took a 17-0 lead late in the second quarter.

The Bengals rebounded when Palmer rolled out and hit wide receiver Laveranues Coles on third and long for a 14-yard gain as he took a hit from two defenders. After Palmer dove head first on a 10-yard scramble, he stood up and rolled out again and hit tight end J.P. Foschi over the middle for a 20-yard gain to set up Graham's field goal.

It was Caldwell that beat the Ravens last month with a 20-yard touchdown catch with 22 seconds left and it marked the Bengals' eighth consecutive score under Palmer dating back to the Bears win.

Palmer bought himself a few seconds in the pocket as he moved right and found Caldwell sitting in a zone for his third third-down conversion of the drive. He found Ochocinco (four catches for 45 yards in the first half) on third-and-10 and Leonard on third-and-three and Benson had a 21-yard run behind fullback Jeremi Johnson's block on linebacker Terrell Suggs to get into the red zone.

The Bengals dodged misfortune on the first snap of the next series when The Ocho lost a fumble at about his own 40 that Baltimore recovered, but safety Dawan Landry was called for a penalty on the play. Left guard Evan Mathis hurt his ankle in a pileup on the drive and Nate Livings replaced him the rest of the way.

Palmer ripped off his ninth consecutive scoring drive when Benson went behind Johnson again on a one-yard touchdown run to cap a 10-play 80-yard drive highlighted by a fourth-and-two at the Baltimore 39. Palmer went for it all with linebackers Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe coming up the middle on the blitz. His line picked it up and cornerback Fabian Washington couldn't stay with Ochocinco down the left sideline and was flagged for pass interference at the Ravens 15.

Coles then made a superb play on the reverse as he avoided safety Ed Reed's tackle near the line of scrimmage and he spun away to pick up eight yards to set up Benson's score. The Ocho continued to bedevil the Ravens. He hooked up with Palmer on a 17-yard play in the drive, a leaping catch on the sideline that Palmer threaded between Reed and Washington.

Then on the next snap Palmer took a hellacious hit on an unblocked blitz, but he quickly delivered an out route on which The Ocho made a diving catch for nine yards.

The Bengals defense responded on its first series by getting the Ravens off the field on their second third down when Hall jumped a slant route to Mason on third and three and Mason had to knock it away to avoid an interception.

PREGAME NOTES:Although the Bengals practiced all 61 players Friday, strong safety Roy Williams (forearm) and rookie right tackle Andre Smith (foot) were inactive for Sunday's game against the Ravens with moves that appeared to be related to their injuries.

Williams has now missed the last three games and Smith has had only three full practices since breaking his foot Sept. 1 and six since signing his contract. The Ravens didn't suit up their big nose tackle, Haloti Ngata (ankle).

Although Smith was cleared for contact at the beginning of the week, the indication is the club doesn't think he's ready to play several snaps in case somebody gets hurt. The Bengals also made inactive newly acquired fullback Fui Vakapuna, linebacker Dan Skuta, and defensive tackle Orien Harris. Wide receiver Jerome Simpson  and tight end Chase Coffman, as they have been all season, were inactive.

The deactivation of Harris suggests the health of defensive linemen dinged against Houston Oct. 18 (Domata Peko, Pat Sims, Frostee Rucker) is back to normal.

As his team appeared in their black jerseys and white pants (in which they are 11-15), head coach Marvin Lewis chose to announce the offensive starters individually. With temperatatures soaring near the 70s under a cloudless sky in their first November game of the season, the Bengals won the toss and chose to accept the kickoff heading to the river. Both Andre Caldwell and Bernard Scott went back to receive.

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