Jeff Blake stunned the NFL's top-ranked defense early and then again late, but the Baltimore Ravens pulled out the victory anyway.
The Ravens (4-6) watched in disbelief as their defense got shredded early and then failed to hold a 17-point lead, giving Cincinnati a chance to go ahead in the closing minutes.
"This is the first game where our defense didn't play well," said Rod Woodson, who got his 50th career interception. "They had the momentum and they were running with it. We were lucky to hold them with the goal-line stand because we didn't play well."
Blake threw three touchdown passes against a defense that had allowed only two touchdowns in its last three games, and Craig Yeast ran a punt back 86 yards to put the Bengals in position for an improbable victory by a team that has struggled on offense most of the season.
"Sometimes things work, sometimes they don't," coach Bruce Coslet said. "Occasionally we do something right, but we still fell short."
One yard short.
After Ray Lewis was called for interference, setting up a first-and-goal, the Ravens stopped Clif Groce for no gain and dropped Corey Dillon for a yard loss. Woodson then jarred the ball loose from Tony McGee at the back of the end zone, forcing Cincinnati to settle for Doug Pelfrey's tying 19-yard field goal with 1:50 left.
It marked the third week in a row that Cincinnati failed to get into the end zone after a 1st-and-goal from the 1.
"It's tough to score any time when you're on the goal line," Blake said. "You don't just walk in, especially against the No. 1 defense in the NFL."
The Ravens felt they'd just gotten a reprieve.
"That goal-line stand was the key to the game," said Duane Starks, who returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown as the Ravens pulled ahead. "That showed out defense is a great defense, even if we didn't play that well."
Banks completed 6-of-8 to get the Ravens in position for the victory, and Stover matched his season high with a 50-yard kick as time ran out.
Stover kicked five field goals in a 1995 game for Cleveland in the same stadium, including a game-winner in overtime at the same end of the field. The conditions were right for a repeat a warm evening and a gentle breeze at his back.
"I like Cincinnati," Stover said. "The conditions today were fantastic. I went out and hit it easy. I didn't have to bring out the long club. I brought out the 5-iron and put it in there. It barely made it, but it was right down the middle."
Up to that point, it had been a wild match between Blake and the Ravens' vaunted defense, which had allowed only two field goals and a franchise-best 132 yards a week earlier against Jacksonville.
The Bengals' best quarter since their season opener gave them their first lead in six weeks. They also led at halftime for the first time all season, 14-10.
Woodson's 50th interception set up a pivotal touchdown and Starks returned another interception 43 yards for a score seconds later as the Ravens seemed to take control of the game. The two touchdowns in a 55-second span put Baltimore up 31-14 with 4:38 left in the third quarter.
Against the Ravens' defense, it seemed to be plenty. The crowd of about 35,000 started filing for the exits.
Blake had one surprise left. His 15-yard touchdown pass to Scott cut it to 31-21, and Yeast's punt return gave the Bengals a second chance midway through the fourth quarter.
Blake ompleted 20 of 39 for 246 yards, but both of his interceptions cost dearly.
Banks was erratic, completing 24-of-40 for 274 yards. But he was at his best in the last drive, maneuvering the Ravens into field-goal position with one short completion after another on a sore right ankle that he aggravated the previous series.
"I was in a little pain," Banks said. "I was happy to see Matt bail me out."
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