- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: It may not have been pretty, but the Bengals' victory Sunday was just what they needed to build a little momentum entering the postseason. All week players and coaches talked about how they didn't plan on packing it in despite having already earned a playoff berth and another division title. They had every intention of playing their starters throughout the ballgame and doing whatever they could to beat their AFC North-rival Ravens, thereby helping keep the defending league champions out of the playoffs. If the win itself was the good, the bad and ugly were the four turnovers and poorly struck punt the Bengals had in the ballgame. If a team is going to have those miscues, it has to be glad to have them in a win. They could serve as good motivation for Cincinnati, too, as the Bengals look to correct their issues as they get ready for postseason.
Stock watch: Andy Dalton -- Falling. It's hard to truly say the Bengals quarterback's stock is trending downward since he threw for two touchdowns and was close to going beyond the 300-yard mark for a sixth time this season, but he didn't look as good Sunday as he had for most of the rest of the month. Along with his prolific passing numbers, Dalton also threw four interceptions. His first interception came on a deep ball on the game's first play. That pass was slightly underthrown as receiver Marvin Jones had to slow his stride in order to get underneath the ball. When he did, he had the ball ripped from him by Corey Graham. The next interception was the result of miscommunication between Dalton and receiver A.J. Green. They will need to clean that up heading into the postseason. Dalton's performance also came on the same day he set Bengals single-season records in passing yards and touchdowns.
Near-costly Shank: Bengals punter Shawn Powell, brought on two weeks ago in the wake of Kevin Huber's season-ending jaw injury, had a near-costly shank on a third-quarter punt. As he reached back to kick the ball, it appeared his foot got caught in the turf before swinging through and glancing off the ball. When the ball left his foot, it hooked immediately to the left, sailing over the Bengals' sideline and into the first two rows of stadium seats. Altogether, the punt traveled 10 yards, two yards shy of the first down marker the Bengals would have needed to reach if they went for it on fourth-and-12. On the ensuing Ravens drive, Baltimore scored and added a two-point conversion to tie the game. The sequence ended up not hurting the Bengals after all.
Dre's day: Backup cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick had the best performance of his young career, coming away with two interceptions late in the ballgame. Both pickoffs came on consecutive plays on consecutive drives. The second opened the Ravens' second-to-last drive and resulted in an interception return for a touchdown with about four minutes remaining that effectively put the game out of reach.
What's next? The playoffs are up next for the Bengals, who won't know their opponent until the conclusion of Sunday's late afternoon games. They either will play Pittsburgh or San Diego next week at Paul Brown Stadium. If the Patriots lose later Sunday afternoon, Cincinnati will have the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.