A Rivalry no More

Published 2:21 pm Monday, December 1, 2008

CINCINNATI (AP) — For much of his time in Baltimore, linebacker Ray Lewis has been the leader of a defense that had to do extraordinary things in order for the Ravens to have a chance.

That seems to be changing.

The defense is still extraordinary — take a look at what it just did to the Bengals — but the offense is starting to hold its own, too.

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The Ravens kept pace in the AFC North by beating Cincinnati 34-3 on Sunday with a high-voltage defense and an offense that showed a little sizzle as well. Mark Clayton threw a touchdown pass and caught one, too, as the offense got a little wild.

That renowned defense is noticing.

‘‘I’m telling you, that’s one of the biggest things we have going for us as a defense right now,’’ said Lewis, who had a team-high seven tackles. ‘‘They come to the sideline and the first thing they say is: Get us the ball back.’ On offense, we’re doing so much.’’

It’s the biggest change in the Ravens (8-4), who are still a game behind Pittsburgh but have an enviable December schedule. They play three of their last four at home, including a rematch with the Steelers on Dec. 14.

Everything worked on Sunday against the Bengals (1-10-1), who can’t wait for their season to end. Cincinnati managed only six first downs, tying the franchise low, and punted 11 times, matching the team high. On 10 of their 14 possessions, the Bengals failed to get a first down.

How bad were they?

Cincinnati gained 18 yards on its first play of the game, then a total of 2 on its next 18 plays. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick scrambled for 29 yards and ended up as the team’s leading rusher for the third time this season.

‘‘Terrible,’’ receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. ‘‘I described it like that earlier this season. I can’t think of any other word worse than that. It’s just terrible, really.’’

With the offense spending only 21 minutes on the field on a cold, rainy afternoon, a defense that put three more starters in injured reserve the previous week had a tough time keeping up.

‘‘They had the chance to run a lot of plays,’’ defensive lineman John Thornton said. ‘‘They dialed up everything they had. I think we got to see their whole playbook, we were out there so much.’’

Baltimore has won six of its past seven games, with rookie quarterback Joe Flacco getting to work with a little more of the playbook each week. In Cincinnati, the Ravens added a page for Clayton, a former first-round draft pick who hadn’t thrown a pass since high school.

In the third quarter, he started to run a reverse, pulled up and threw to Derrick Mason, who was wide open for a 32-yard touchdown. The Ravens had practiced the play, with mixed success, but never had the courage to run it in a game.

‘‘We’ve known he could do it,’’ coach John Harbaugh said. ‘‘That’s the best one he’s thrown yet. He’ll be lobbying for more of those.’’

Clayton’s best moment was yet to come. He ran past stumbling cornerback Leon Hall, stretched out his right hand and made a one-handed catch in stride for a 70-yard touchdown play.

‘‘I was just running,’’ said Clayton, who finished with five catches for 164 yards. ‘‘I looked back and the ball was in the air. I just kind of stuck my hand out in the air.’’

Flacco had another beyond-his-years showing, completing 19-of-29 for 280 yards and two touchdowns. In the past seven games, the first-round pick from Delaware has thrown 11 touchdowns with only two interceptions, taking more chances with his receivers.

‘‘I think you see they’re starting to come alive and make all the plays, not just one out of so many,’’ Flacco said. ‘‘I’m starting to trust them more, so I’m putting the ball where they’re going to get it.’’

It’s all very impressive to their imposing linebacker.

‘‘I just think it’s exciting the way we’re playing football right now,’’ Lewis said.