Baltimore bursts Bengals bubble

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 8, 2003

BALTIMORE - With one dominating performance, Baltimore interrupted the Cincinnati Bengals' turnaround season and showed it is a team not to be ignored.

Jamal Lewis ran for 180 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, and the Ravens gained sole possession of first place in the AFC North with a 31-13 victory Sunday.

''This is a statement game for us in our division,'' said Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, who had an interception and nine tackles. ''We did what we need to do. We're hard to beat when Jamal's running the ball like that and our offense capitalizes on the turnovers we get.''

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The Bengals (7-6) came in looking to improve upon their remarkable season with a fifth straight win. Instead, they played a game that was all too typical of their recent past.

Cincinnati committed five turnovers, yielded a season-high six sacks and had no answer for the punishing runs of Lewis, who scored on runs of 1, 3 and 13 yards.

''They're physical, but we played more physical than they did,'' Jamal Lewis said. ''Everything went exactly the way it was supposed to go.''

Despite playing with a sprained wrist, Lewis ran for 96 yards in the second half and padded his margin as the NFL's leading rusher.

It all added up to the Bengals' seventh straight loss in Baltimore and a disappointing homecoming for Cincinnati first-year head coach Marvin Lewis, the Ravens' defensive coordinator from 1996-2001.

''We can't turn it over like we did today and expect to beat anybody,'' Marvin Lewis said. ''We have a lot of football left; we'll prove what we're made of the next three weeks.''

Baltimore (8-5) moved a game ahead of the Bengals in the AFC North. Cincinnati beat the Ravens in October, and would have gained a tiebreaker with a victory. But the Bengals never led after Jamal Lewis scored a first-quarter touchdown following a Cincinnati turnover.

The game was the opposite of the first meeting, when the Bengals capitalized on Baltimore mistakes to win.

''It was a sour taste in our mouth the last time we played them,'' Ray Lewis said. ''We just knew we didn't play our football game. Yeah, they were riding high, but they had to come into Baltimore sooner or later.''

The game was played in a brisk 20 mph wind. Although Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna blamed the wind for one of his two interceptions, he had no excuse for his two fumbles.

''We just had some really costly turnovers at certain points in the game,'' he said. ''But we'll bounce back. We've done it all year.''

The Bengals hadn't allowed more than four sacks in any game this season, and Kitna had 19 TD passes and four interceptions in his previous nine games.

He finished 23-for-31 for 214 yards. Eleven of his completions were to Peter Warrick, who scored a touchdown but also committed a turnover.

Down 17-10 at halftime, the Bengals promptly moved 47 yards before Shayne Graham kicked a 38-yard field goal.

After a Baltimore punt, Kitna fumbled upon being sacked by rookie Terrell Suggs, who recovered at the Cincinnati 17. Jamal Lewis then ran for 14 yards before scoring from the 3 for a 24-13 lead.

He clinched the victory with 11:48 left, scoring after Will Demps returned an interception 54 yards to the Cincinnati 21.

It was the fifth straight home win for the Ravens, now poised to win the first division title in their history.

''All it does is create the opportunity to get something done that we had set our sights on in training camp,'' Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

A fumble by Jamal Lewis set up a field goal for a 3-0 Cincinnati lead, but Warrick fumbled a punt to set up the first of Lewis' three touchdowns.

Anthony Wright capped a 70-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Robinson to make it 14-3, and after Warrick scored on a 4-yard throw from Kitna, Matt Stover gave the Ravens a seven-point halftime cushion with his 19th straight field goal with 2:09 left in the half.