BALTIMORE - The Ravens caught the Bengals in the fourth quarter and the AFC North standings in Sunday's 24-21 victory that left both 5-5 and chasing that Wild Card.
But instead of being dejected by the Ravens' 265 rushing yards that is the most allowed in his 16 seasons as Bengals head coach, Marvin Lewis is energized by how the defense responded in its first game under his command.
"It's a race now. That's what we're here for," Lewis said "We're a better team than when we came into this. They learned something about themselves today.
"They played hard. I thought that was important," Lewis said of the defense. "I thought they played better. They did a good job in assignments. I thought that was much better. They understood the corrections and handled it well."
_Middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson, playing for the injured Preston Brown, ended up working with Lewis on the head sets. Lewis said he hit the wrong button a few times in order to talk to Nickerson through the defensive helmet and was rewarded with a quizzical look from Nickerson. But Nickerson said it was only a blip.
"Sometimes he'd miss and press another button," Nickerson said. "I'm looking at him, like, I give him this (a hand signal) and then he'll say it. For the most part we were all good. That just comes with his first game as DC," Nickerson said. "It's a different role for him. He rolled perfectly with it. . He had us early with alerts and when we came to the sideline we're talking about stuff that was going on. I thought it was great."
_The difference in the game? Randy Bullock missed a 51-yard field-goal try wide right with 4:04 left that would have tied it. The inability of the Bengals to keep the ball away from the Ravens in the final 1:46 of the half led to Justin Tucker's 56-yarder at the gun. Tucker has made all of his beyond 50 kicks. Bullock is now one of three from there this season.
_Left end Carlos Dunlap agreed with Lewis about the progress of the defense.
"Great strides. It's a step in the right direction," Dunlap said. "It's clear and evident we were a different defense. We made stops. We got off the field."
Dunlap says work has to be done, but he praised the running of Ravens rookie running back Lamar Jackson.
"A rabbit," Dunlap said. "You have to shoo a rabbit where you want him to go."
Dunlap pointed to the interception that Jackson threw on the first drive of the second half to safety Shawn Williams and set up the Bengals' go-ahead touchdown at 14-13.
"Keep leverage with him," Dunlap said. Don't let him make cuts up the field."
Count cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in the group that thought the defense responded to Lewis.
"I got the calls. I got the checks, everything," Kirkpatrick said. "He made us play fast. He put us in situations where we didn't have to do a whole lot of thinking. He gave us the best game plan that we could have for this game. We were playing fast, rallying to the ball."
_Bottom line? The Ravens were able to run it and as well as the Bengals had run it in the last month, they were terrible and it got them beat because Andy Dalton stayed at third-and-long all day. They finished with 48 yards rushing on 16 tries, a season low. That's the 17th time in the Lewis Era they've rushed for 49 yards or less and the fourth time since Nov. 5, 2017.
"I think that putting the ball in Andy's hands and having to throw the ball way too much to make those conversions because we weren't positive enough on first and second downs, Lewis said."
_Linebacker Vincent Rey said there were some inspirational words at halftime by some defensive leaders, but he wouldn't name them. One of them may have been safety Shawn Williams. Williams led with his words when on back-to-back drives to start the second half he got his team-leading fourth interception and led a surge on the fourth-and-one stop.
"My message was you got to want it more than they do,"Williams said. I think it had a positive effect. Everybody came out in the second half and played more physical." But he did admit with a small smile. "I can't repeat what I said."
_Who? The Bengals got run on for 235 yards by a pair of rookies. One we all know, first-rounder Lamar Jackson, a Heisman Trophy winner. The QB went for 117 yards on 27 carries. The other? Who? An undrafted rookie running back out of Rutgers, the 6-1, 238-pound Gus Edwards, went from nobody to somebody with 115 yards on 17 carries. Here's a guy that came in with 15 carries all year for 64 yards.
"Some of our guys may have been surprised by him, but I know all about him," said Rey, a native New Yorker. "He's a tough guy, he's got good size and he runs hard. I saw him play when he was at Rutgers and I know he has the ability to be a good back."
_Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has four game-winning drives this season (he should have five), but it's a lot tougher without A.J. Green. During the day Dalton threw rookie Auden Tate's first NFL catch, tight end Jordan Franks' second and tight end Matt Lengel's second Bengals catch and second NFL TD. He did get a great 20-yard catch from tight end C.J. Uzomah on the last desperate drive, but if wide receiver Cody Core held on that fourth-and-three into his chest with 1:42 left, it would have been only his sixth catch of the season. There was a lot of contact and Core was looking for a flag, but the game was over.
Images from the week 11 contest as the Bengals face the Ravens.