All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis was forced to watch from the sideline as the Ravens defense yielded big chunks of yards.
Meanwhile, Joe Flacco and the Ravens often criticized offense put up points, and Lewis’ teammates came up huge when it counted most in a 31-24 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Baltimore (7-3) has now moved into sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
The Ravens were without their superstar middle linebacker for the first time since 2007 (58 games), and the team nearly blew a 31-14 lead in the final 14 minutes of the game. Bengals rookie Andy Dalton torched the Ravens secondary throwing for a career best 373 yards, while the Bengals gained a season high 483 yards of total offense.
On the other side, Flacco threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns, and rookie Torrey Smith hauled in six receptions for 165 yards and a touchdown. Ray Rice got involved early and often, ending the day with 104 rushing yards and two scores on 20 carries.
Even without Lewis, who sat out due to a toe injury, the Ravens defensive unit managed three interceptions and turned in a game-saving-goal-line stand in the final seconds of the game.
Rallying from 31-14 down, to make the score 31-24, Cincinnati reached the Baltimore seven-yard-line before Terrell Suggs collared Dalton to the ground leading to an intentional grounding penalty. Then, on fourth-and-goal from the Ravens 17-yard-line, Dalton was sacked by rookie Pernell McPhee to put the game on ice.
The Bengals (6-4) needed a touchdown because on their previous drive, an apparent nine-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to tight end Jermaine Gresham was overturned by a replay that determined Gresham lost possession of the ball at the end of a juggling catch. On fourth-and-two, the Bengals settled for a Mike Nugent field goal with 5:32 remaining in the game.
The Ravens will look to carry this momentum into Thursday night as they play host to head coach John Harbaugh’s brother, Jim and the San Francisco 49ers who come to Baltimore atop the NFC West at 9-1.