Palmer led the Bengals on a fourth-quarter comeback for the third straight game. (AP photo)
Updated: 4 p.m.
BALTIMORE - Carson Palmer and the Bengals found the magic for the third straight week as a 20-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to Andre Caldwell with 22 seconds remaining gave the Bengals a 17-14 win over the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Helped by two crucial penalties against Baltimore and another fourth-down conversion the Bengals went 80 yards in 2:24 on the winning drive to complete the improbable comeback.
On the game-winning drive, facing a fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 34 with 1:47 left, Palmer scrambled for six yards and the first down at the Ravens 40. The play was reminiscent of last week when a similar Palmer fourth-down run on the game's final drive helped the Bengals pull out a 23-20 win at Cleveland.
A 10-yard dumpoff to running back Brian Leonard got the Bengals a first down at midfield with 50 seconds left. On the next play Palmer tried to connect with wide receiver Chad Ochocinco but Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was called for a personal foul after a late hit on Ochocinco and the Bengals had a first down at the Baltimore 35.
Palmer then hit wide receiver Chris Henry on a sideline route for 11 yards to the Ravens 24 with 43 seconds remaining. On the next play Palmer threw an incomplete pass to tight end Daniel Coats at the goal line and on third down a bad snap by center Kyle Cook to Palmer, who was in the shotgun and not ready for the snap, lost six yards as Leonard fell on the ball at the Ravens 40.
On the ensuing play Baltimore safety Ed Reed was called for pass interference against Ochocinco and the Bengals had new life with a first down at the Baltimore 20. Palmer then found a wide open Caldwell across the middle at about the five-yard line and Caldwell went untouched into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Leon Hall intercepted Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco's pass with four seconds left and the Bengals had secured their third consecutive AFC North victory and a spot all alone at the top of the division with a 4-1 mark.
Ravens take lead
The Bengals defense, in an emotional effort, came into M&T Bank Stadium and held the Ravens No. 3 NFL offense without a touchdown until 6:59 left in the game when they couldn't get running back Ray Rice on the ground as he slithered out of a double tackle by Hall and linebacker Brandon Johnson on a 48-yard touchdown run in which he gathered his feet at about the 35 to give the Ravens a 14-10 lead.
Bengals running back Cedric Benson darted and dove for the two longest runs against the Baltimore defense this year, the last one a 28-yard spin move for a touchdown that gave the Bengals a 10-7 lead over the Ravens with 52 seconds left in the third quarter in the showdown of 3-1 AFC North leaders.
The Bengals kept in check Flacco's long ball and didn't give up a pass over 20 yards until earlier in the fourth quarter when wide receiver Mark Clayton got out of tackle by cornerback Johnathan Joseph for 23 yards. And then when the Bengals needed a stop on third-and-long with 3:49 left, former Bengals receiver Kelley Washington had a killing 21-yard catch in a zone.
After ripping off a 17-yarder over the right side, Benson ran a zone play off left tackle Andrew Whitworth and when he spun out of the tackle of linebacker Jameel McClain, all he had was green in front of him for a run that gave him 108 yards on 21 carries. It snapped the Ravens' 39-game streak of holding runners to less than 100 yards and a 20-game streak in the AFC North that stretched back to Bengals running back Rudi Johnson on Nov. 27, 2005.
The Bengals suffered their second long snap foulup of the day and sixth of the year on another high snap over the holder's head. But the Ravens were called for an illegal formation and the Bengals got it right the second time to take a 10-7 lead.
Defenses rule in first half
The Bengals offense did everything it had to do in the first half behind a crafty performance by Palmer but catch the ball and hold on to it while the Ravens took advantage of his one mistake for Reed's 52-yard touchdown interception that gave Baltimore a 7-3 lead at the half.
Palmer hit nine of 16 passes for 174 passes, several while in scrambling mode, and Benson had 58 yards on 15 carries.
But Palmer saw two touchdown passes dropped, one by fullback Jeremi Johnson in the end zone and one by Coats when he had a 35-yard floater down the middle of the field bang off his forearm.
And with the Bengals loaded up for a run in the final two minutes, Ochocinco caught a ball over the middle and had 20 yards and more as he reached the Ravens 25, but that man Reed tipped the ball out of his arms and the Bengals lost the fumble.
That gave the Bengals 230 yards at the half with just a 32-yard Shayne Graham field goal on the board. As expected, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer gave the NFL's No. 3 offense all it could handle, holding it to 113 yards. The Bengals got good pressure on Flacco in getting sacks from left end Robert Geathers and middle linebacker Dhani Jones in holding Flacco to 40 points below his season 90-plus rating on a 10-for-14 day for 70 yards and an interception.
The Bengals passing game brought the Bengals into the red zone on the game's first series, but another field-goal snafu cost them points with 7:56 left in the first quarter and Reed returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter as the Ravens took a 7-0 lead with 12:17 left in the first half.
But the Bengals came back to put the ball on the Baltimore 9 with Palmer's longest pass to a wide receiver since Nov. 12, 2006 when he double-pumped and stepped back off a scramble and hit Henry for a 73-yard play as Henry ran past cornerback Domonique Foxworth and made the catch despite a pass interference call.
But on the next snap Jeremi Johnson dropped a scramble throw in the end zone and on third-and-nine defensive end Jarret Johnson steamed in untouched over the Bengals right side for a sack. This time the 32-yard field goal was good to cut Baltimore's lead to 7-3 with more than 10:16 left in the half.
On the first attempt, struggling long snapper Brad St. Louis let go with another high one on a 32-yard attempt, but holder Kevin Huber got it down. When he did, Graham hesitated and hooked a line drive woefully short to the left. Defensive tackle Kelly Gregg was credited with a deflection.
The Bengals stopped the Ravens bid for their own red-zone field goal when an incomplete shovel pass and a false start on center Matt Birk moved the ball back to the Bengals 20 on a third-and-16. Joseph then leaped in front of tight end Todd Heap in the end zone for his third interception in as many games and he returned it his own 20 and the first quarter ended scoreless.
It's the first time since 2005 when cornerback Deltha O'Neal had one in four straight games that a Bengal has had picks in three straight games. It was also Joseph's second straight end-zone interception.
But the Bengals kept alive the season-long trend of killing themselves. After Benson ripped off a 10-yard run, Palmer hit Henry for a 20-yard catch to the Ravens 30 that was negated by Cook's holding call. That set up a third-and-13 and the Ravens blitzed from the right side and it appeared that Palmer thought he had one-on-one coverage with Ochocinco matched up with cornerback Fabian Washington on the right sideline. As Palmer threw it, Reed swooped in from the middle of the field, flashed in front of Ochocinco and took it back the other way down the side for a 52-yard touchdown return, the sixth interception of his career.
Palmer did hit Ochocinco three times for 46 yards in the first drive, including a 21-yarder and 16-yarder on third down, to get the ball to the Baltimore 14. But nose tackle Haloti Ngata shot the gap past right guard Bobbie Williams to dump Benson for a five-yard loss and the Bengals were then hit with a delay of game penalty to force the flubbed field goal.
It was a typical day at The Bank for the Bengals, and it was a grind job. The Bengals appeared to recover a fumble at the Ravens 20 by Chinedum Ndukwe, but the replay challenge was upheld even though it looked like wide receiver Mark Clayton's knee had yet to touch the ground on the tackle.
The Ocho had five catches for 75 yards in the first half.
Early in the second half it appeared that Bengals safety Roy Williams, who sat out last week, was not playing and that Ndukwe was taking his place.
Palmer had to wear a glove on his left hand in the second half afterhis hand got stepped on by a Ravens defender. Palmer was laterdiagnosed with a sprained thumb and was wearing a wrap on his handduring his postgame press conference.
He was forced to hand the ball off to Benson each time with his right hand even when he normally would have used his left hand to hand off.
PREGAME NOTES: For the second straight week, defensive tackle Tank Johnson (foot) is inactive and Pat Sims got the start.
Wide receiver Jerome Simpson and rookie tight end Chase Coffman kept their string intact of not being active for a game this season. Also down were backup SAM linebacker and big special teams contributor Rashad Jeanty with a fractured finger. With starting safety Roy Williams (forearm) back and backup safety Chinedum Ndukwe (hamstring) healthy enough to play, rookie safety Tom Nelson was inactive. So were offensive linemen Scott Kooistra and Andre Smith. Smith continued his rehab from a broken foot working out on the field in pregame.
Also on the field before the game was the family of Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. After Zimmer's wife Vikki, 50, died suddenly Thursday, he decided to coach the game and his father, son, and daughter accompanied him on the team charter. Zimmer's father, Bill, a Hall of Fame high school coach in Illinois, Adam, an assistant linebackers coach with the Saints, and Corri, the couple's oldest daughter, visited briefly with some coaches and players before taking their seats in the stands.
For the Ravens, left tackle Jared Gaither was inactive, meaning rookie Michael Oher got his first NFL start at left tackle and right guard Marshal Yanda moved from right guard to right tackle.
The Bengals emerged in their white jerseys and black pants and tried to get to .500 in that ensemble, in which they ared 9-10-1. The Ravens won the toss and chose to kick to the Bengals. The Bengals put wide receiver Andre Caldwell on the goal line and running back Bernard Scott on the 5 and Caldwell had his second best return of the season for 33 yards.