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Bengals’ win puts them in playoff conversation

CINCINNATI — Done with all the drama, the Bengals are grinding their way into the playoff conversation.

Cedric Benson topped 100 yards again on Sunday, and the Bengals scored on their first three possessions, setting up a 17-7 victory over Baltimore that kept surprising Cincinnati atop the AFC North and undefeated against division foes.

With a win next Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Bengals (6-2) would be in position to make the playoffs for only the second time in the past 19 years. They won the division in 2005 with a team that still had a lot to learn.

“We’re much more mature,” said quarterback Carson Palmer, who improved to 8-3 career against the Ravens. “We’re a better team. We were a good team back then; we were kind of young and dumb. This team has more guys that understand how rare this opportunity is.”

Cincinnati would be in control of the division with a win at Pittsburgh (5-2), which plays Denver on Monday night. The Bengals are 4-0 in division games, including a two-game sweep of the Ravens (4-4).

“That’s pretty cool,” receiver Chad Ochocinco said. “I like being in the driver’s seat. Today was a statement game. I want every game to be a statement game.”

The Ravens have frittered away every advantage they gained by starting the season 3-0. There’s been a lot of self-destruction involved — dropped passes, missed kicks and penalties galore.

“We’re not in a great spot,” said Joe Flacco, who was frustrated all afternoon and threw a pair of interceptions. “We’re in a tough spot.”

They’ve been at their worst against the Bengals, who took advantage of three Ravens penalties to pull off a last-minute touchdown in Baltimore on Oct. 11, a 17-14 victory that gained national notice.

Bengals stats

Baltimore 0 0 0 7 — 7

Cincinnati 14 3 0 0 — 17

First Quarter

Cin—Caldwell 6 pass from C.Palmer (Graham kick), 8:55.

Cin—Benson 1 run (Graham kick), 2:23.

Second Quarter

Cin—FG Graham 23, 7:45.

Fourth Quarter

Bal—Rice 2 run (Hauschka kick), 12:54.

A—64,313.

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Bal Cin

First downs 16 20

Total Net Yards 215 369

Rushes-yards 17-55 39-146

Passing 160 223

Punt Returns 3-12 3-25

Kickoff Returns 4-85 2-17

Interceptions Ret. 0-0 2-(-2)

Comp-Att-Int 18-32-2 20-33-0

Sacked-Yards Lost 4-35 1-1

Punts 5-49.8 5-46.4

Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-1

Penalties-Yards 7-80 6-40

Time of Possession 20:00 40:00

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INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING—Baltimore, Rice 12-48, Flacco 2-3, L.McClain 2-2, Mason 1-2. Cincinnati, Benson 34-117, Leonard 3-11, C.Palmer 1-10, Coles 1-8.

PASSING—Baltimore, Flacco 18-32-2-195. Cincinnati, C.Palmer 20-33-0-224.

RECEIVING—Baltimore, Rice 8-87, Mason 3-31, Heap 3-28, L.McClain 2-24, Clayton 1-15, K.Washington 1-10. Cincinnati, Coles 6-72, Ochocinco 5-66, Leonard 3-19, Caldwell 3-15, Foschi 2-32, Henry 1-20.

MISSED FIELD GOALS—Baltimore, Hauschka 38 (WL).