AFC North: Ravens-Bengals 110809

Bengals are no joke

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
8:06
PM ET
AP Photo/Ed Reinke
Cincinnati running back Cedric Benson ran for 117 yards Sunday against the vaunted Baltimore defense and is a key cog in the resurgence of the Bengals.
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

CINCINNATI -- For a majority of the past 18 years, the Bengals were clearly the laughingstock of the NFL.

Whether it was personnel decisions, coaching hires or overall play on the field, Cincinnati football often produced more comedy than athletic prowess.

But you can stop laughing now. The 2009 Bengals are legit.
Week 9 Coverage
• Kuharsky: Caldwell not challenged
• Walker: Bengals are no joke
• Yasinskas: Hargove plays through pain
• Seifert: Bears at a loss
• Sando: Cardinals hot and cold
• Wojciechowski: Joke's on the Bears
• Mosley: Defense carries Cowboys
• Graham: Patriots pull away
• Reiss: Patriots tame Wildcat
• Clayton: Last Call
• Pasquarelli: Rivers best for a night
• MNF: On the same path | MN HQ
• NFL Nation: Reactions | Wrap-ups | Live

Cincinnati, one of the NFL's biggest surprises, pummeled the Baltimore Ravens in a 17-7 victory at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday. Cincinnati improved to 6-2 and 4-0 in the AFC North, which includes a season sweep of Baltimore (4-4).

"We are for real," Bengals safety Chris Crocker said. "All the talk, and all the hoopla about teams saying we’re the same old Cincinnati, that just fuels our fire. We don’t talk. We do our talking in practice. We don’t go to the press."

It’s about time people stop overlooking the Bengals. Here are four reasons why they should be taken seriously:

Bengals built to win in the AFC North

For the second time this season, the Bengals beat the Ravens at their own game: Hard running and a stout defense.

Bengals tailback Cedric Benson (117 yards, 34 carries) pulled off an extremely tough feat by rushing for more than 100 yards against the Ravens for the second time this season. Cincinnati’s defense registered four sacks and held the high-scoring Ravens to 215 yards of total offense.

It was a physical clinic as the Bengals took control on both sides in the trenches. Baltimore 's talented defense was caught guessing until it finally caught up to Cincinnati in the second half. On offense, the Ravens, usually the bullies, were 1 of 10 on third downs because they were constantly in third-and-long situations.

Cincinnati’s defense has been better than advertised.

“We can be a pretty darn good defense if we do what we are supposed to do and are consistent,” Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers said.

Palmer once again dominant

After missing 12 games with an elbow injury, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is making a strong claim to becoming a top five quarterback again in the NFL. When that’s the case, the Bengals have a chance to beat anyone.

Palmer has had back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons before and it didn’t get the Bengals anywhere. Now, Cincinnati is making Palmer more efficient by throwing the ball less and emphasizing the running game.

Against Baltimore, Palmer threw for 224 yards and one touchdown and had a 91.0 passer rating. He improved to 8-3 in 11 career starts against the Ravens, who were favored to win Sunday.

"I don’t think there was a guy in the room who didn’t think we were going to win," Palmer said of the Bengals. "But we expect to win by more than one or two touchdowns. Of course we only won by 10 [points], but we expected this."

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Bengals 17, Ravens 7

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
4:13
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

CINCINNATI -- The Bengals took one step closer Sunday to claiming the AFC North title.

One of the NFL's biggest surprises, the Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens for the second time this season with a 17-7 victory at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati improved to 6-2 and 4-0 in the AFC North, while the Ravens fell to 4-4 and 1-2 in the division.

The Bengals were dominant early by taking a 17-point lead into intermission. Baltimore's secondary struggled mightily against the pass and was either giving up big catches or big penalties to keep Cincinnati's scoring drives alive.

Bengals tailback Cedric Benson (117 yards) also reached triple digits rushing against Baltimore for the second time this season. Cincinnati's defense was aggressive throughout and held the lead despite the Bengals going scoreless in the second half.

Cincinnati, which beat every team in the division at least once, can take command of the AFC North with a win next week over the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2).

Meanwhile, the veteran Ravens are in deep trouble. They've lost four of their last five and desperately need to string together wins in the final eight games to compete for a wild-card berth in a crowded field in the AFC.

Ravens get on the board

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
3:35
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

CINCINNATI -- It took more than three quarters, but the Baltimore Ravens finally got on the board against the Bengals.

Ravens tailback Ray Rice rushed for a two-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 17-7. It capped an eight-play drive that was the best of the afternoon for Baltimore.

The Ravens are attempting a furious comeback in the fourth quarter. It will be interesting to see what the team has left down the stretch.

Henry likely out for the year

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
2:59
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

CINCINNATI -- The Bengals just confirmed that receiver Chris Henry has a left forearm fracture. He is likely out for the year.
 Henry


Henry is arguably the team's best deep threat. He landed awkwardly on his arm after a reception in the second quarter of Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Second-year receiver Jerome Simpson, who is inactive Sunday, could get more opportunities in the second half of the season with Henry out.

Cincinnati suffered another key injury in the third quarter to starting linebacker Keith Rivers. He hurt his calf and is not expected to return.

Ravens-Bengals halftime notes

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
2:36
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

CINCINNATI -- The Bengals lead the Ravens, 17-0, at halftime of this AFC North showdown.

Here are some notes and observations:
  • The Bengals drew up a great offensive game plan entering this game. They are testing Baltimore cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Domonique Foxworth nearly every chance they find the corners in man coverage. Oftentimes Baltimore is in soft coverage in fear of not getting beat deep, and Cincinnati is piling up the yards.
  • On top of that, I don’t see the same energy from Baltimore’s defense that I saw last week against the Denver Broncos. The Ravens aren’t winning many one-on-one matchups against the Bengals and their receivers are beating Baltimore’s secondary pretty effortlessly. Cincinnati tailback Cedric Benson also has 80 rushing yards in the first half and is on pace to get triple digits against Baltimore for the second time this season.
  • Including the game against the Chicago Bears, the Bengals have scored 62 points in the past six quarters. This is easily as well and efficient as Cincinnati's offense has played all season. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer has thrown for 137 yards and a touchdown.
  • Interesting note: When Washington was injured and left the game in the second quarter, rookie Lardarius Webb was the replacement. Baltimore has gone to veterans Chris Carr and Frank Walker earlier this season but seems to be increasingly losing confidence in the pair of veterans. Walker is inactive Sunday. Washington eventually returned to the game.

Bengals' Henry carted off

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
2:03
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

CINCINNATI -- The Bengals have played great early but suffered a loss to their receiving corps.

Receiver Chris Henry was carted off the field with a left forearm injury. He landed awkwardly after making a reception in the second quarter.

Henry is out for the game.

Caldwell hurts Ravens again

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
1:19
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

CINCINNATI -- The Bengals' first touchdown Sunday looked like a replay of their last meeting with the Baltimore Ravens.

Second-year receiver Andre Caldwell beat Chris Carr for a 6-yard touchdown catch to put Cincinnati up 7-0 in this big AFC North matchup. Caldwell also beat Carr for a touchdown to win the previous meeting in Baltimore.

Cincinnati drove down the field with a simple game plan. The Bengals picked on Baltimore's corners, avoided safety Ed Reed and ran the football effectively.

It's well-documented that Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is 7-3 against Baltimore in his career. On the first drive Sunday, he completed five of his first seven passes for 39 yards and a touchdown.

(Update: Cincinnati tailback Cedric Benson scored another touchdown to give the Bengals a 14-0 lead. Cincinnati already has 117 yards of total offense.)

Ravens-Bengals inactives

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
11:44
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

CINCINNATI -- Here are the players you won't see in Sunday’s AFC North showdown between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals:

Ravens (4-3)
Bengals (5-2)

Video: Ravens-Bengals pregame report

November, 8, 2009
11/08/09
10:16
AM ET

Rachel Nichols reports on the Ravens’ and Bengals’ pregame preparations.

Final Word: AFC North

November, 6, 2009
11/06/09
4:00
PM ET

NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

 
 AP Photo/Nick Wass
 Can Cedric Benson top 100 rushing yards against the Ravens twice in one season?
As Benson goes: So far this season Cedric Benson has been the biggest indicator of success for the first-place Cincinnati Bengals (5-2). In two losses, Benson rushed for a combined total of 120 yards. He averaged 3.6 and 2.8 yards per carry, respectively, in defeats to the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans. On Sunday, Benson has a rare opportunity to rush for 100 yards twice against the Baltimore Ravens (4-3) in the same season. On Oct. 11, Benson gained 120 yards in a 17-14 victory, ending Baltimore’s 39-game streak of keeping tailbacks under 100 yards.

Andre the Giant: Sunday could mark the much-anticipated debut of Bengals rookie first-round pick Andre Smith, who is listed as questionable. The right tackle missed all of training camp in a contract dispute and the first seven games of the regular season with a broken bone in his foot. Although Smith is practicing, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has been mum on the subject all week. But the Bengals plan to bring him along gradually, as opposed to rushing him into the starting lineup.

Second chance: Can the Ravens' secondary do it again? After struggling all season, Baltimore's pass defense was solid in last week’s 30-7 victory over Denver. The Ravens had two weeks to correct their issues, and for one game, they appear to be heading in the right direction. An improved pass rush also helped, which is an area Baltimore struggled in its first game against Cincinnati. Doing it a second time on the road against the Bengals' passing attack will make a statement that Baltimore's defense is back to its usual form.

Extended break: Not only did the Pittsburgh Steelers have a bye. But playing on "Monday Night Football" will give the team 15 days of preparation before they meet the Broncos. The Steelers are well-rested and they heavily emphasized ball security during the break. Pittsburgh fumbled the football five times, losing four, in its last two games. The fumbling didn't result in any losses for the Steelers but could in the second half of the season if the trend continues. Pittsburgh is handling the football kind of similar to the way I'm handling it here.

A look ahead: Strength of schedules are hard to quantify before the season. But now that we separated some of the contenders and pretenders through eight weeks, we have a much better indication of the challenges ahead for the four AFC North teams. Right now the Ravens have the toughest strength of schedule in the division for the remaining games with a .523 winning percentage, which is also fifth in the NFL. Pittsburgh’s is No. 13 with a .462 opponent winning percentage. The Cleveland Browns (.439) are No. 15 and the Bengals (.433) are right behind Cleveland at No. 16. This could play a huge factor as three division teams vie for the playoffs down the stretch.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider