Bengals 13, Ravens 7

Friday, December 1st 2006, 6:03 am
By: News On 6

CINCINNATI (AP) _ Best two out of three, anyone?

The defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals and the upstart Baltimore Ravens have played twice this season. Both times, the visiting team won. Both times, the game was decided by six points.

See a pattern?

The Bengals' 13-7 victory on Thursday night prevented the Ravens from clinching the division title and left the rivals thinking they might not have seen the last of each other. If the Bengals keep playing this way, they might both make the playoffs.

``I'd play them every day of the week,'' Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. ``We missed an opportunity, but our destiny is still in our hands. We might see them again.''

Despite one of their worst offensive showings of the season, the Ravens (9-3) are still in control of the division. They have a two-game lead over the Bengals (7-5) with only four to go, a huge margin for so late in the season.

``The reality of it is, we're 9-3 and we just have to take care of things and get better,'' said quarterback Steve McNair, who led the offense across midfield only once in the first three quarters.

The Bengals are getting better by the week.

Since they gave up 42 second-half points in a loss to San Diego, the Bengals have gone back to playing like defending champions. Remarkably, one of the league's lowest-ranked defenses is leading the way.

A 30-0 victory in Cleveland last Sunday was their first shutout in 17 years. Four days later, they blanked the Ravens until the final 1:01, when Steve McNair threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason.

The seven consecutive quarters without giving up a point is a franchise record. The seven points allowed in consecutive games also is a franchise first.

``If we keep going like that, we'll be fine,'' safety Dexter Jackson said. ``Everything is possible. Look at the history of the NFL. It's not how you start, it's how you finish.''

The victory left them a half-game behind Kansas City (7-4) and Denver (7-4) for the two AFC wild card berths, with a game left in Denver on Dec. 24. There's a chance to catch Baltimore, but that's a long shot.

Maybe that was the biggest difference on Thursday night. Cincinnati had to win to stay in contention. Baltimore is still in good shape to make the playoffs.

``Any time you have an opportunity to capture the division and don't, it is disappointing,'' coach Brian Billick said. ``When you put yourself in that position and don't follow through, that is unsatisfactory.

``Fortunately, we are in a position where we can control our own destiny and we move forward. We don't have to rely on anyone else. Nothing else has to happen except for us to play good football, and we are capable of that.''

Their rematch turned on one sandlot play.

On their first drive of the second half, Carson Palmer handed off to Rudi Johnson, who turned and flipped the ball back to the quarterback. Downfield, T.J. Houshmandzadeh was sprinting past defenders taken in by the trickery.

``I was a little nervous,'' said Palmer, who was 21-of-32 for 234 yards. ``I didn't have a good view of the secondary. I knew he was open because of the crowd reaction. He did a great job of selling the play.''

No one was near Houshmandzadeh when he caught the flea-flicker pass at the 12-yard line and went into the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown that helped him make his point.

After a 26-20 loss in Baltimore on Nov. 5, Houshmandzadeh rankled some of the Ravens by insisting that everyone knew the Bengals were the better team. He repeated his bold assertion again in the days leading up to the rematch.

``I'm not going to boast and brag about today,'' said Houshmandzadeh, who had 10 catches for a season-high 106 yards. ``I felt we were the better team, and I think we proved it.''

Did they?

``In a sense,'' said Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, who had eight catches for 91 yards. ``We're 1-1. We'll see who's the better team if we have to face them again in the playoffs.''