Bengals Close Again; Can’t Pull Off Comeback Win in 31-24 Loss in Baltimore

For the second straight week, the Bengals hung with one of the big boys in the AFC North.

For the second straight week, they were a couple plays away from a win.

The Ravens intercepted Andy Dalton three times Sunday, turning two into touchdowns, and stopped the rookie quarterback on a final drive to tie Pittsburgh for first place in the AFC North with a 31-24 win over the game Bengals.

Ray Rice rushed for two touchdowns and Joe Flacco passed for a pair, leading Baltimore to a hard-fought win.

Dalton’s last two interceptions — one late in the third quarter and another early in the fourth — both led to Ravens touchdowns on the next play for a 31-14 lead.

The Bengals scored 10 unanswered points and had 1st-and-goal on the seven-yard line on their last drive, but Dalton threw incomplete three times — one was intentional grounding — and was sacked on fourth down.

Baltimore (7-3) played without linebacker Ray Lewis for the first time since 2007 because of a toe injury and tied the idle Steelers atop the tight division.

Cincinnati (6-4) was missing talented rookie receiver A.J. Green (knee) but Dalton threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell during a fourth- quarter rally.

Indeed, the game was peppered with long catches, some of them acrobatic.

Flacco threw for 270 yards and was intercepted once, but he also completed two touchdown passes of 35 yards or longer to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.

Rice rushed 20 times for 104 yards and Smith had six catches for 165 as the Ravens bounced back from a 22-17 loss at Seattle last week to win for the third time in four games.

“A very balanced game,” said Rice. “After everything we went through this week, it was no surprise we wanted to go out there and compete.”

The are 15-4 in games following a loss under head coach John Harbaugh — including 12 wins in a row, the longest active streak in the NFL. They have won seven straight and 15 of their last 16 games at home.

Next up for the Ravens is a home game on Thanksgiving against the 49ers, who are coached by Harbaugh’s brother, Jim. It’s a short week, but they head into it on a high note.”

“I don’t think anybody who saw that football game left the stadium thinking it wasn’t worth spending the day there,” said Harbaugh.

Cincinnati had a five-game winning streak snapped at Pittsburgh last week and has lost back-to-back games for the second time this season.

Dalton, who entered the game 4-1 on the road, passed for 373 yards and Jerome Simpson caught eight balls for 152, including a 47-yard circus catch to set up a touchdown. Cedric Benson had two rushing TDs.

The surprising Bengals had a three-game road winning streak snapped and lost for only the second time in their last five against Baltimore.

Late in the third quarter, Jimmy Smith intercepted Dalton on the right side and fumbled, but the Bengals quarterback was among those who couldn’t get the ball back in a scrum.

Rice scored on a two-yard run on the next play to give the Ravens a 24-14 lead.

Four plays into the ensuing Cincinnati drive, Lardarius Webb picked Dalton off and Flacco found Smith open in the back of the end zone on the next snap for a 38-yard touchdown and 31-14 Ravens lead.

“We gotta play smarter. We didn’t play smart enough today to win the football game,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. “We had too many critical errors at critical times and they took advantage of them.”

Dalton bounced back, spotting Caldwell for a 49-yard touchdown pass that got the Bengals within 10 points.

It looked like they had pulled within three after Jermaine Gresham bobbled, then wrangled, a nine-yard catch and carried it past the left pylon for a TD. But the call was reversed — they said Gresham didn’t control the ball in bounds — and Mike Nugent kicked a 27-yard field goal for the final margin.

Earlier, both teams made big plays to score touchdowns in the first half.

In the first quarter, Simpson’s 47-yard catch on the left sideline to help set up Benson’s seven-yard touchdown run through a crease in the line for a 7-0 Cincinnati lead.

Lunging, Simpson tipped the ball back to himself with his right hand, tapped it with his left and came down with it in his right.

Early in the second, Flacco had plenty of time to see Boldin flash wide-open in the middle of the field for a 35-yard TD that tied the game for the Ravens. Baltimore then took a 14-7 lead on Rice’s one-yard touchdown run that was set up by Smith’s diving 49-yard catch on the right sideline.

Later in the quarter, Smith had a 28-yard catch that could have gone for more, but Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones — starting for the first time since last season — grabbed the rookie by his long hair for the tackle.

“I was kind of confused. That was the first time I had it happen,” said Smith, who wears thin dreadlocks. “I thought it would hurt. But it didn’t hurt at all. … It felt like I was just getting pulled down by my jersey.”

Flacco was intercepted two plays later by Nate Clements, but Dalton was also picked off by Ed Reed in the end zone with 19 seconds left in the half.

Rice broke off a 59-yard run four plays into the third quarter, but the Ravens settled for Billy Cundiff’s 22-yard field goal for a 17-7 lead.

Dalton’s 37-yard pass to Brian Leonard down the left sideline on 3rd-and-3 kept alive an 80-yard drive that ended with Benson’s three-yard touchdown run to get the Bengals within 17-14.

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