BALTIMORE — Their season hanging in the balance after having victory snatched away on a final desperate play of regulation, the Baltimore Ravens responded like champions.
Victimized by a desperation 51-yard touchdown pass to force overtime, the defending Super Bowl winners edged Cincinnati 20-17 on Justin Tucker’s 46-yard field goal with 5:27 left in OT Sunday.
“It’s disappointment,” coach John Harbaugh said of A.J. Green’s catch as the clocked ran out in the fourth quarter. “But you don’t get disheartened. You still have a chance to win the game, still.”
And so they did, after blowing a 17-0 halftime lead.
Bidding to end a three-game skid and remain relevant in the playoff hunt, the Ravens committed three turnovers and managed only 189 yards of offense.
“We’re not playing great right now,” Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco conceded, “but we’re doing the best we can to win.”
The tense win thrust the Ravens (4-5) into a second-place tie in the AFC North, just one game behind Cincinnati (6-4) in the loss column. It was Baltimore’s first victory since Oct. 6.
Four of the Ravens’ five losses have come by a combined 14 points. It seemed like this one was headed in that direction after Andy Dalton forced overtime with that heave to Green to end the fourth quarter.
“I looked back and saw Green with the ball in his hands and I couldn’t believe it,” Ravens cornerback Corey Graham said.
But Baltimore persevered.
“The thing is I’m most proud of is the heart of our guys,” Harbaugh said. “They showed the heart of champions. Where this will lead us, we’ll find out.”
Who knows if the Ravens can rebound from their poor start to make the postseason for a sixth straight year? This much is certain: It would have been much tougher if they were 3-6 and tied for last place with Pittsburgh.
“Thank you, Lord!” shouted James Ihedigbo shouted as he left the field.
Flacco threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, and Ray Rice gained a mere 30 yards on 18 carries. And still, the Ravens prevailed.
“Sometimes you have to win by any means necessary,” Rice said. “Winning heals a lot. Now we’ve got to get on a roll to get back where we want to be.”
Despite their comeback, the Bengals lost their second straight overtime game. Dalton went 24 for 51 for 274 yards and three interceptions and was sacked five times as the Bengals lost to Baltimore for the fifth time in six games.
And now it’s their turn to lament a run of narrow defeats.
“We’ve got to do whatever we can to make one more play, put ourselves in a better position where we can score and have a chance to not let the other team have it,” Dalton said. “Again, it didn’t happen today.”
Almost, but not quite. On the last-second throw in regulation, Green positioned himself behind the pack and caught the deflection after it flicked off the hand of Ihedigbo, who earlier had the first two interceptions of his career.
“I was just looking for someone to tap the ball so I could catch it,” Green said.
The Bengals won the toss before overtime and moved to the Baltimore 33 before Giovani Bernard caught a short pass, reversed field and was tackled for an 11-yard loss on fourth down.
Baltimore then got a pair of first downs before Tucker kicked the winner.
With 151 yards receiving, Green set a franchise record with his fifth straight 100-yard game. And, making his second start of the season, Cincinnati linebacker Vincent Rey had 13 tackles, three sacks and his first career interception.
But it all went for naught.
A gusty afternoon proved troublesome for the Bengals. Mike Nugent missed a 42-yard field goal into the wind and Dalton repeatedly overthrew his receivers. In the second quarter, Ihedigbo picked off a high pass and returned it 37 yards to set up a touchdown for a 17-0 lead.
Baltimore mustered only 94 yards in offense before halftime, but took advantage of Bengals miscues to put together scoring drives of 53, 58 and 11 yards.
Cincinnati had more penalty yards than total offense (114-102) in the first half, and Dalton was 8 for 21 for 47 yards and an interception.
The Bengals’ opening possession ended with a failed fourth-and-1 gamble at the Baltimore 47. Flacco immediately went long. Although he underthrew Jacoby Jones, a pass interference call against Reggie Nelson covered 48 yards. On third down, Dallas Clark caught a 1-yard pass in the end zone — the Ravens’ only first-quarter touchdown since the season opener.
Baltimore quickly got the ball back, and a facemask penalty against Cincinnati’s Chris Crocker contributed to a 58-yard drive that ended with a field goal to make it 10-0.
Things didn’t get better for the Bengals. Nugent shanked a field-goal try to the left, and Ihedigbo’s first interception set up a 7-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith.
Notes: Not only did Ihedigbo get two INTs, but he tied with Daryl Smith for the team lead with nine tackles. … Dalton’s run of four straight 300-yard games ended. … Baltimore is 9-1 in November home games, beginning in 2008.