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Ravens Can Take Control Of AFC North In Cincinnati

CINCINNATI (AP) -- The Ravens opened the season at home with their worst game.

They were still digging out of the Ray Rice mess when they hosted the Bengals that first week. What happened next was ugly all around.

Dropped passes. Missed throws. Time mismanagement. And even when they managed to overcome all of that and get a lead, they somehow let A.J. Green get open deep for a juggling, 77-yard touchdown catch and a 23-16 win that put the Bengals in good shape for another AFC North title.

A few weeks later, it's the Ravens (5-2) who have a chance to take control of the division.

A win on Sunday at Cincinnati (3-2-1) would give Baltimore a split of their season series and the upper hand in the race. They then go to Pittsburgh for a Sunday night game that represents a chance to take a stronger hold on the division.

"I think it's obvious," quarterback Joe Flacco said, "but that doesn't mean that anything is given to you down the road. "I think if we go out there and we play the way we expect ourselves to play, then it'll be a good outcome, and that's all we can really focus on to this point."

The Bengals have done a U-turn since that opening win. They started 3-0 and were the NFL's last unbeaten team, getting consideration as an up-and-coming contender for the AFC title. It's all unraveled in the last three weeks with a 43-17 loss at New England, a 37-37 tie at home with Carolina and a 27-0 loss at Indianapolis.

A win would get them out of their rut and give them their first series sweep of the Ravens since 2009. A loss would leave them in trouble.

"Yeah, I think this is a real important game for us," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "Throughout the year I always say it's about the longevity of the season, not just one game, but this is an important one. It's a chance for us to claim back our position in the division and not only that, but to go 2-0 against them would be a great way to continue the rest of the season."

Some things to watch at Paul Brown Stadium:

RAVENS' SACKS: In that opening game, the Ravens failed to get to Andy Dalton, who wasn't sacked. They've stepped it up lately, getting five sacks in each of the last two games, their best such streak since December 2006. Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs are known for getting to the quarterback, but 6-foot-3, 280-pound linebacker Pernell McPhee had two sacks last week and four this season.

"A guy who's that size, with that quickness, to be able to go inside, outside, he's a special player," Dumervil said of McPhee. "I've never been around a guy like that before."

WHERE THERE'S A WILL: Ravens safety Will Hill missed the opener against Cincinnati while serving a six-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy. He returned last week and had two tackles and got to quarterback Matt Ryan during a blitz on his first series of a 29-7 win over Atlanta.

"For the first game, being kind of out for six weeks, it looks like he played well," coach John Harbaugh said.

HEADS UP: The Bengals are trying to get linebacker Vontaze Burfict to stop putting his head down while making tackles, resulting in concussions and neck injuries. He's missed two full games and parts of others with concussions. He suffered a neck injury early in the loss at Indianapolis.

"Like I said, it does us no good with him sitting on the sideline after five snaps," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "It does us more harm than good. So he's got to learn to do it for him and for the team and for everyone involved."

DEFENSIVE MESS: Cincinnati's defense has been shredded during the three-game down swing, giving up 505, 431 and 506 yards. The Bengals are second-to-last in the NFL in yards allowed, a shocking turnaround for a unit that finished third overall last year.

"Everybody in here should be eager for the challenge at hand," cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones said. "You have to ignore the noise. When it's good, you have to ignore it. And when it's bad, you have to ignore it."

WHAT ABOUT A.J.? Cincinnati struggled without Green last week, failing to cross midfield until the fourth quarter in Indianapolis. Green has missed the last two games with an injured right big toe, hurt in the season opener in Baltimore. He was limited to jogging on the side during practice this week.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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