Wild day gives Bengals playoff berth; Saturday at 4:30

With the Paul Brown Stadium sellout crowd screaming "Defense, Defense" as Sunday's play-in playoff game rolled into the fourth quarter, the Bengals defense forced four straight Baltimore punts to give its team a shot to make it on its own.

The fans ended up cheering the Chiefs when their 7-3 win over Denver gave the Bengals a Wild Card berth for the playoffs despite a 24-16 loss to the Ravens before 63,439.

The Wild Card game is Saturday at Houston at 4:30 p.m. on Cincinnati's Channel 5.

In the end the Bengals bowed at the feet of Ravens running back Ray Rice when he rushed for nearly 200 yards that included touchdown bolts of 70 and 51 yards to drop the Bengals to 9-7, but the Bengals qualified for the playoffs for the second time in three years when Tim Tebow and Denver bowed to the Chiefs.

With the Ravens leading, 17-13, with seven minutes left in the game, Baltimore forced the game's first turnover when outside linebacker Terrell Suggs knocked the ball out of tight end Jermaine Gresham's hand at the Ravens 41 and three snaps later Rice popped his 51-yarder behind fullback Vonta Leach's big block on middle linebacker Rey Maualuga that cleared out a big patch of green that put the Ravens up 24-13 with 5:41 left.

The third-and-one play mirrored the 70-yarder Rice broke on first-and-10 on the third snap of the game. As the dust cleared, the proud Bengals defense allowed Rice to rush for 191 yards on 24 carries.

After running back Bernard Scott's 25-yard sweep to the left cut the Ravens lead to 17-10 late in the third quarter, left end Carlos Dunlap registered the first Bengals sack of the day when he dumped Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

That set up a drive highlighted by two huge third-down plays. One was wide receiver Andrew Hawkins's nifty reach-and-grab six-yard catch on third-and-six working on cornerback Chris Carr in the middle on the last play of the third quarter and the other was running back Cedric Benson's 11-yard bolt on third-and-one. Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth solved the short-yardage problems that stalked the Bengals in the first half when he drilled Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis to move Benson.

But the drive bogged down at the Baltimore 28 when on first down Dalton's naked bootleg got nothing and he had to throw it away.  

The Bengals didn't deliver a playoff effort in the first half and fell behind the Ravens, 17-3, on a drive at the end of the second quarter that consumed more than five minutes and Cincinnati's first three penalties of the game.

Still, hope was live with the Jets loss to Miami already in the books and the Chiefs win. The Bengals became the sixth seed and second Wild Card team with a date in Houston next weekend.

The Bengals again struggled against opposing tight ends and Flacco found a wide-open Dennis Pitta for a nine-yard touchdown catch in the right corner of the end zone with 11 seconds left in the half as cornerback Kelly Jennings was the only defender in the frame.

While the Ravens were able to efficiently convert their third-and-shorts, the Bengals couldn't in gaining just 19 yards on 12 carries and Dalton's goal-line overthrow may have cost the Bengals a touchdown early in a half he would finish 9-of-14 for 85 yards.

Flacco couldn't get anything deep, but he was deadly underneath even when he couldn't get a completion and finished the half 9-of-12 for 101 yards. On that last drive, Bengals cornerback Nate Clements was called for holding Pitta on a third-and-three from the Ravens 39. Then when Flacco hit tight end Ed Dickson for a 20-yard gain over the middle, Bengals safety Reggie Nelson was called for hitting a defenseless receiver even though he appeared to get Dickson below the head with his shoulder. The extra 15 yards put the ball on the Bengals 25 with 1:52 left in the half and Baltimore got a first down at the 19 when Maualuga was called for illegal contact on Pitta.

The Bengals had a shot to put the Ravens on their 1 to start that drive, but when outside linebacker Manny Lawson went sliding past the stopped ball into the end zone coverering Kevin Huber's punt it became a touchback.   

The Bengals defense's vow to cut down its penchant for giving up the big play melted early when the Ravens got off the bus and immediately put the Bengals into a 10-0 hole in the game's first eight minutes even though they were moving into a wind predicted to gust up to as much as 42 miles per hour.

The Bengals cut it to 10-3 on Mike Nugent's 46-yard field goal late in the first quarter but his 35-yarder into the wind five minutes into the second quarter stayed wide right to keep it a seven-point deficit.

The miss spoiled a 59-yard drive highlighted by Gresham's 25-yard catch and run over the middle that burned linebacker Jameel McClain.

But on third-and-two from the Baltimore 18, Dalton had tight end Donald Lee open at the goal line but he overthrew it to bring on Nugent and his miss.

It took the Ravens just four snaps and 2:02 to silence the crowd when Rice bolted behind Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda for a stunning 70-yard touchdown run through a an empty secondary that gave Baltimore the 7-0 lead.

The last time the Bengals played the Ravens six weeks ago, Rice's 59-yard run was one of a handful of plays that accounted for the bulk of Baltimore's yards and the Bengals came in harping on stopping the big play. But Yanda tied up Maualuga and Rice shot into the open with safety Chris Crocker blitzing as wide receiver Torrey Smith executed a fake reverse.

Rice went over 100 yards early in the second half for the second time against the Bengals this season, joining Denver's Willis McGahee as the only 100-yard rushers against Cincinnati this season.

After the Bengals went three-and-out on their first series, they blitzed and Flacco found Pitta wide open in a coverage breakdown and an eight-yard flip over the middle turned into a 39-yard play. That set up Billy Cundiff's 42-yarder that made it 10-0 with 6:45 left in the first quarter.

The Bengals were going nowhere on their second series until Dalton found wide receiver A.J. Green for an 18-yard gain on a slant on third-and-seven. An unnecessary roughness call on Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson after Benson got racked up for no gain set up Nugent's 46-yard field goal with 3:02 left in the first quarter.

Looking at a third-and-seven from the Ravens 28, Dalton faced a blitz and his comeback route to wide receiver Jerome Simpson bounced short when Simpson was unable to come back to the ball.

With 5:29 left in the half, the Bengals were looking at a third-and-one from their 37 and for the sixth time on 11 third-and-one snaps this season, Benson didn't get it and that resulted in Baltimore's 80-yard touchdown drive at the end of the half.

The Ravens pounding of the Bengals in both trenches continued halfway into the third quarter. With five minutes left in the third quarter, it was still 17-3 and the Bengals had just 117 yards of offense, 22 on the ground. While they couldn't get anything out of linebacker Brandon Johnson's partially blocked punt that rolled to the Bengals 29, the Ravens averaged 5.8 yards per carry.

PREGAME NOTES:The Bengals took a step closer to the playoffs even before they took a snap Sunday against the Ravens at sold-out Paul Brown Stadium when the Dolphins knocked off the Jets, 19-17.

That meant the Bengals could lose and still go the playoffs if Kansas City beats Denver or San Diego beats Oakland.

After deeming left end Carlos Dunlap questionable for Sunday's game against the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals activated their best pass rusher on a day the state of the forward pass was in question with winds expected to gust up to as much as 42 miles per hour.

So the biggest play might have been the coin toss. The Bengals won it, deferred and took the wind in the first quarter. The wind blewv the ball off the tee twice before cornerback Brandon Ghee held it for Mike Nugent.

Safety Taylor Mays (hamstring), a leading player on all four special teams, was inactive along with tight end Colin Cochart, safety Robert Sands, linebacker Dontay Moch, wide receiver Armon Binns, guard Otis Hudson, and defensive tackle Nick Hayden.

The Ravens opted to dress kicker Billy Cundiff after he missed last week with a calf injury and shelved former Bengal Shayne Graham. They also made wide receiver Anquan Boldin inactive.

Ravens Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda (chest), who missed Wednesday and Thursday and went limited Friday, was active and in the starting lineup.

When the Bengals announced their starting defense, cornerback Nate Clements went last. Clements, an 11-year veteran, has yet to play in the playoffs and head coach Marvin Lewis had him address the team Saturday night.  

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