COMMENTARY | The crowd at M&T Bank Stadium was silent, standing in disbelief about what unraveled in front of their eyes on Sunday. A final heave by the Cincinnati Bengals turned into an unlikely tip drill by the Baltimore Ravens defense, which propelled the AFC North favorites into overtime.
Heading into the extended period, the momentum was riding with the team that overcame a 17-0 deficit despite a dreadful performance from its quarterback. When they won the coin flip and elected to receive, the script for an unlikely comeback seemed to be reality.
That is, until the Ravens defense managed one stop that could potentially change the course of their title defense. They broke up a play designed on 4th and 2 for running back Giovani Bernard, an explosive rookie that tried to overcome the swarming purple jerseys by running in reverse for a major loss.
It proved to be enough for a Ravens offense that was capable of putting kicker Justin Tucker in his range to kick the game-winning field goal. The defending champions not only kept the division race wide open, but are also in a position to secure the final wild card spot after losses for the Titans and Chargers this weekend.
And the praise should all go to a defense who played its best game of the season, resembling the formidable unit that ran the table last season.
The front seven won the battle up front against the Cincinnati offensive line. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil provided the constant pressure on Andy Dalton, and were especially effective when lining up on the same side.
Haloti Ngata had arguably his best showing of the season in the first half, before spraining his left knee, and was limited the rest of the second half.
The secondary, especially, had its best outing to date. Lardarius Webb has struggled the majority of this season, but was effective in the nickel. Corey Graham and Jimmy Smith were also very consistent against a Bengals offense that has produced against the Jets and Dolphins in recent weeks.
While the story will be an offense that continues with its great deal of struggles, the defense is playing the role that has been considered "the norm" for the past decade. A formidable pass rush, an above average run defense and quality pass defense are not common themes for a defense nowadays in the offense-heavy NFL.
But they are still the backbone of this franchise, and have kept the Ravens in every game this season besides the Week 1 debacle at Denver. A road trip to Chicago against the Bears is up next, who are unsure if Jay Cutler will return for his second straight start.
That follows with matchups against the Jets, Steelers, and Vikings, three potential wins for a team in the thick of the playoff race.
There will certainly be questions regarding the team's consistency moving forward, especially with an offense that struggles to find its identity. However, one thing is certain: the defense will give them a chance to compete in the wide-open AFC.
Matt Miselis has covered the Baltimore Ravens for five years. He has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report and has been featured on ESPN Radio and CBSSports.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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