Seismic shift in North

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Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones beats Ravens safety Kendrick Lewis to put the Bengals up, 14-0.

Bengals nose tackle Domata Peko had never heard it that quiet in that Ravens' den of inequity known as M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens have won nearly 80 percent of their games in the last decade.

"I've been coming here for 10 years and it was the quietest I've ever heard it," Peko said after the 28-24 acid trip. "Even when we were up 14-0. Then A.J. (Green) shut them up."

You could not only hear a pin drop, but that was the sound of the AFC North shifting away from the pre-season prognostications that buried the Bengals behind Baltimore and Pittsburgh. It's not even October and the Bengals have a three-game lead over the Ravens. And with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffering a knee injury that may keep him out a month or more, the Bengals are suddenly in command.

Dare we breathe it? At the moment aren't the Bengals, Broncos, and Patriots the class of the AFC?

Of course, that's what they were saying after last year's 3-0 start and the Bengals went on the road and got ripped by eventual Super Bowl champion New England the week the Patriots were supposedly all washed up.

And that's why left tackle Andrew Whitworth felt like his team took a big step Sunday after they silenced the masses and survived the go-for-broke Ravens who pulled off a fake punt from their own 27 early in the second quarter and then scored a TD on fourth-and-five from the 50 midway through the third quarter.

 "Today was the game. It was the same scenario as last year," Whitworth said. "Last year we were 3-0 and New England was written off after they lost in Kansas City. We came out and didn't play very well. Then we come to Baltimore  and everyone is saying there is a chance for their season to be over. We were going to get their best and then some more. Every year you see us progress. That was the next one. Playing a team in their place that should have every reason to win and still come in and get a win."

Only one team has beaten the John Harbaugh-coached Ravens in September at home. The Green-Dalton Bengals twice. Only one team has won a home opener here in the last decade. The Green-Dalton Bengals twice. And the other thing that has to make Whitworth feel so good is they survived more disasters than the last man on earth:

  • Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith's gargantuan 186-yard effort on 13 catches, the biggest day by an opposing receiver since the Falcons' Roddy White broke the 200-yard mark against them five years ago.
  • Tight end Tyler Eifert's disappearing touchdown that would have put them up 21-0 at halftime. It got overturned by the officials on a call that had everyone scratching their heads but Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. Including Eifert. But Lewis should know since he's on the NFL competition committee.
  • Dalton's first interception of the season, which was only the fourth of his career in the red zone. It was the second straight red-zone trip they came away with no points as Dalton lofted it for Green in the right corner but cornerback Jimmy  Smith picked off what would have been a 21-0 dagger on the first series of the second half. Smith boxed him out and that had Green saying he should have at least knocked it down and Dalton saying he should have thrown a better ball.

But look at how rare it was. Dalton came into the game with the NFL's third best ratio of career TD passes to picks in the red zone behind only Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.

  • Elvis Dumervil's sack-and-strip of Dalton, working against Eifert, that resulted in inside linebacker C.J. Mosley's 41-yard fumble return TD that put the Bengals in a deficit for the first time this season. And at that point you thought maybe you were seeing things. Wasn't that Ed Reed going all the way and wasn't that Peter Boulware or Terrell Suggs knocking the ball out?
  • There were the nine penalties for 67 yards, including a holding call on running back Giovani Bernard's 15-yard run, an illegal man down field on Eifert's 17-yard catch on a screen, and linebacker Chris Carter's roughing the QB flag that turned a Baltimore punt into three points.

But they survived it all.

Cincinnati Bengals take on the Baltimore Ravens in week 3 of the regular season 09/27/2015

"It's hard to do it twice in a game and hats off to our guys," said a drained Lewis, who could have been talking about winning here twice. "Driving down the field twice and getting back control of the game. Obviously, we still have a ways to go. A lot of corrections to make. We can't have the penalties. We have to do a better job on defense and just keep plugging. We have a lot to coach off of. It was a hard-fought win. The way the NFL is supposed to be. That's a good football team that we came on top of today."

They survived because guys like cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick kept plugging. He hurt his shoulder when he couldn't take Smith down on the goal line on his 50-yard touchdown play in the middle of the third quarter and Smith outfought him in the end zone for the 16-yard TD that gave the Ravens a 24-21 lead with 3:56 left.

"He's a good competitor and player," Kirkpatrick said. "They were moving him around in different spots to free him up. That's what you have to do when your best player is out there. You move him to different spots to get him the ball. I feel like when we play them again, we won't change anything. I feel like we had a great game plan, and we just have to execute a little bit better."  

 But the Bengals survived Sunday because guys like Kirkpatrick simply weren't coming out.

"I'm going to be alright. I just have to do a little extra this week, and keep fighting," Kirkpatrick said. "It's a long, physical season. You just have to fight through all the injuries. It's my shoulder, but I just wanted to keep fighting for this team. I landed kind of awkward, but it's good to have guys rally around you, to pick up where you left off, and finish this game strong with a win." 

During the week, Kirkpatrick talked about how he and fellow cornerback Adam Jones had to keep their composure playing against the  feisty, combative Smith. There were no flags and Jones got his third interception of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco when Flacco threw an ill-advised heave at fullback Kyle Juszczyk on the sidelines. Jones seemed  to have a sixth sense that Flacco was going to gun it off his back foot at the last instant as end Will Clarke backed right tackle Rick Wagner into the QB. Jones jumped the route at the Ravens 30 and the Bengals went up 14-0 four plays later.

"It was a little play-action. I just thought Kyle was sitting out there,"  Flacco said. "He was the cloud corner. I thought he had sunk back in and was helping out. I didn't see him. He was, like, behind the Ieft tackle. I thought Kyle was sitting out there by himself, so it was just bad vision, I guess, at the end of the day. I didn't see him sitting there until the ball came out, and the line kind of cleared, and I saw him coming, jumping the pass."

It is never pretty when you play the Ravens. But they survived. The Bengals could only get 2.8 yards per carry on the ground with running back Jeremy Hill at just 1.8 on 12 carries and running back Giovani Bernard at 3.8 on 13 carries.

But that gets back to the Ravens daring Dalton to beat them. As they blitzed all out, right tackle Andre Smith made sure their best sacker, Dumervil, didn't rough up Dalton.

"He did a fabulous job on Dumervil," Whitworth said.

The man who couldn't hear anything after it was over summed it up best.

"That's what this game is about," Peko said. "When the defense is down, we need the offense to pick us up, and when the offense is down, the defense picks us up. When both are down, special teams can carry us. That's what this game is about. It is about our team playing together as a unit, and lifting each other up."

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