Up next: Ravens rule the roost in AFC

Even without 12-time Pro Bowler Ray Lewis, the Ravens put themselves back on top of the AFC North and – at least temporarily – the entire conference with their victory over Cincinnati on Sunday.


The Ravens outlasted rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals to emerge with a 31-24 victory at M&T Bank Stadium. In doing so, Baltimore improved to 7-3, which was a half-game better than the Patriots (6-3) heading into New England's Monday night game against Kansas City.

Baltimore and Pittsburgh have identical records, but by virtue of the Ravens' season sweep, they own the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

The Ravens would be the AFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs if the season were to end today.

"Seven-3, No. 1 in the division, that's huge," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "And now we're the master of our destiny. We can't take any steps back anymore. November and December are crucial for us. So if we want a chance to make a run at this thing, we need to take care of business."

Baltimore's win was especially satisfying after the egg the team laid in a 22-17 loss to Seattle on Nov. 13, a result that left many wondering whether the Ravens were truly worthy of being considered a championship contender.

Free safety Ed Reed said the Ravens tried to learn from that setback against the Seahawks.

"The best thing about it that you can do is not make those same mistakes," Reed said. "I thought we kind of got back to that a little bit, calling plays and stuff like that, giving them a chance. We've got to learn that (lesson) to be a championship-caliber type of team, what we want to be. This is the NFL. You've got to know how a team is going to play. You've got to come out and play week in and week out."

Added coach John Harbaugh: "Now we have to go to the next one and try to figure out a way to win the next one. That's really the best you can do, and that's what you shoot for."

Baltimore's triumph didn't come easily, however. The offense turned interceptions by cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb into touchdowns to enjoy a 31-14 advantage in the early minutes of the fourth quarter.

Dalton then connected with wide receiver Andre Caldwell on a 49-yard scoring strike to trim the deficit to 10 points. After a three-and-out by the Ravens offense, the Bengals appeared to get another touchdown when Dalton found tight end Jermaine Gresham on a 9-yard pass.

But after a video review, officials ruled that Gresham did not maintain possession when he was tackled by cornerback Cary Williams. Cincinnati was forced to settle for a field goal, and the Ravens' defense later stopped the Bengals on fourth-and-goal from Baltimore's 17 to cement the victory.

It's unclear if Lewis's injured toe will shelve him for the game against San Francisco on Thanksgiving night, but the Ravens are fully aware of the significance of Sunday's win.

"We control our own destiny," tight end Ed Dickson said. "That's all we can do is win one game at a time. We'll celebrate this victory tonight and move onto the next game quickly. We're thinking about San Francisco now, and it would be great to get that victory."

BY THE NUMBERS: 12 -- Consecutive games the Ravens have won after a loss. The streak is the longest active run in the NFL, and the Ravens are now 15-4 after a loss under coach John Harbaugh.

UNDER THE RADAR: Strong safety Bernard Pollard tied inside linebacker Jameel McClain with a team-best nine tackles Sunday. The nine tackles are a season high for Pollard, who also recorded one sack and one pass breakup.

PLAYER NOTES

--- WR Torrey Smith caught six passes for a career-high 165 yards Sunday. The yardage is a franchise single-game record for a rookie, and Smith, the club's second-round pick in April, is the first rookie receiver in team history to amass two 150-yard games in a season.

--- RB Ray Rice finished with 104 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Rice joined former Raven and current Denver Bronco Willis McGahee as the only tailbacks to amass 100 rushing yards against the Bengals this year.

--- CB Jimmy Smith registered the first interception of his career when he stepped in front of an Andy Dalton pass in the third quarter. Smith, the team's first-round pick in April, lined up primarily as the fifth defensive back in the Ravens' nickel package.

--- LB Jarret Johnson overtook former DE Michael McCrary and former LB Jamie Sharper as the franchise's all-time leader in consecutive starts with his 74th straight start Sunday. Johnson is already the Ravens' leader in consecutive games played with 123.


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