BALTIMORE — In a duel for first place in the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals found a way to win another close game.
For the Baltimore Ravens, it was a familiar loss.
Carson Palmer threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell with 22 seconds left to cap an 80-yard drive fueled by Baltimore penalties, and the Bengals escaped with a 17-14 victory Sunday.
All five of Cincinnati’s games this season have been decided by seven points or fewer. The Bengals have won three straight games by three points apiece, and at this point they seem like they wouldn’t want it any other way.
‘‘They believe they can win, no matter what the circumstances are,’’ coach Marvin Lewis said. ‘‘We keep talking about that. Don’t worry about it, don’t flinch, keep playing.’’
The Bengals (4-1) appeared destined to come out on the short end of this one until Palmer masterfully directed the final drive — with the help of three yellow flags.
An illegal contact penalty against Chris Carr and an unnecessary roughness call against Ray Lewis preceded the topper, a pass interference penalty against Frank Walker on a third-and-16 from the Baltimore 30 (although the infraction was called by the officials against Ed Reed).
On the next play, Palmer found Caldwell over the middle for the game-winning score.
After the following kickoff, thousands of fans among the 71,161 directed a derisive chant toward the referee crew.
Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson ran for 120 yards, becoming the first player in 40 games to eclipse 100 yards against the Ravens. Palmer was 18 for 31 for 271 yards, and Chad Ochocinco had seven catches for 94 yards.
‘‘We weren’t as sound as we should have been. Offensively, and as a whole, we had a couple of turnovers,’’ Ochocinco said. ‘‘But we were able to find some breaks and make our way. We were able to capitalize on the last drive.’’
Baltimore (3-2) has lost two straight after starting 3-0 for the second time in franchise history. Last week, two roughing the passer calls played a key part in a 27-21 defeat at New England.
Against Cincinnati, the Ravens were penalized 10 times for 76 yards, with several of the infractions seemingly coming at the worst possible time.
‘‘Some tough calls. But you can’t leave it in their hands,’’ Baltimore defensive tackle Kelly Gregg said.
It was a mantra repeated by several of his teammates.
‘‘I’m not going there with you. I don’t do the referee thing,’’ defensive end Trevor Pryce said. ‘‘If you dominate, the calls don’t matter.’’
The Ravens, quite simply, did not come close to dominating. They were limited to one offensive touchdown after averaging 32.5 points in their first four games, and the defense yielded 403 yards — including 142 on the ground.
Which is one reason why the Ravens weren’t overly critical of the officials.
‘‘The officials, they’re just calling the game,’’ Walker said. ‘‘These games are close because we let them be close.’’
Baltimore trailed 10-7 when Ray Rice took a screen pass from Joe Flacco, then turned upfield with several tacklers in his way. After ducking linebacker Brandon Johnson, the 5-foot-8 running back dipped his left arm and stayed upright by planting his fingers on the artificial turf before completing the 48-yard play.
Then it was Palmer’s turn.
‘‘That was Carson in the huddle, being very confident, being very sound, keeping everybody calm,’’ Ochocinco said. ‘‘When he talks the way he does in that huddle, with that confidence and that swagger like that, there’s no doubt that we’re going to go down and score.’’
It was the second time the Bengals had to rally. A 52-yard interception return for a touchdown by Reed gave the Ravens a 7-0 lead in the second quarter, and later in the half, Reed knocked the ball loose from Ochocinco that Baltimore recovered at its own 16.
The Bengals took a 10-7 lead in the third quarter with an 84-yard drive kept alive by a penalty against Baltimore cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who was called for illegal contact during a third-down play in which Palmer was sacked. Four plays later, Benson broke loose for a 28-yard touchdown run, which put him over 100.
Cincinnati botched the extra point, but the Ravens were called for illegal formation and Shayne Graham converted the extra chance.
Notes: Larry Johnson of KC, in 2006, was the last RB to rush for 100 yards against the Ravens. … Cincinnati is 4-2 in Baltimore over the last six years. … The Bengals are 8 for 9 on fourth down this season.
Cincinnati 0 3 7 7 — 17
Baltimore 0 7 0 7 — 14
Mar—C.Walker 21 pass from Anderson (Ratanamorn kick), :34.
Cin—Benson 28 run (Graham kick), :52.
Bal—Rice 48 pass from Flacco (Hauschka kick), 6:59.
Cin—Caldwell 20 pass from C.Palmer (Graham kick), :22.
First downs 22 12
Total NetYards 403 257
Rushes-yards 34-142 18-82
Passing 261 175
Punt Returns 3-26 2-1
Kickoff Returns 3-59 3-85
Interceptions Ret. 2-21 1-52
Comp-Att-Int 18-31-1 22-31-2
Sacked-Yards Lost 1-10 2-11
Punts 4-40.0 6-45.3
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 7-39 10-76
Time ofPossession 34:19 25:41
RUSHING—Cincinnati, Benson 27-120, C.Palmer 5-18, Scott 1-3, Leonard 1-1. Baltimore, Rice 14-69, Flacco 1-9, L.McClain 2-6, McGahee 1-(minus 2).
PASSING—Cincinnati, C.Palmer 18-31-1-271. Baltimore, Flacco 22-31-2-186.
RECEIVING—Cincinnati, Ochocinco 7-94, Henry 3-92, Leonard 3-30, Caldwell 2-33, Benson 2-16, Foschi 1-6. Baltimore, Rice 7-74, Heap 7-41, Clayton 3-36, L.McClain 3-10, K.Washington 1-21, McGahee 1-4.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.