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Bengals bounce Ravens from wild-card spot

The SportsXchange

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals completed their first undefeated season at home since 1988 with a 34-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens to win the AFC North title.

The Bengals will play the AFC's final qualifier, the San Diego Chargers, in Cincinnati next Sunday.

Quarterback Andy Dalton overcame a career-high four interceptions by throwing for 281 yards and a pair of touchdowns and ran for the go-ahead touchdown in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter as the Bengals finished the regular season 11-5.

Cincinnati outscored Baltimore 17-0 in the fourth quarter after the Ravens (8-8) had come back from a 17-6 halftime deficit to tie the game.

"You don't win the game in the first, second or third quarter," said Cincinnati linebacker Rey Maualuga. "It all comes down to the fourth and when everyone rallies and does their job this is what happens. We came out with the W."

Baltimore will miss the postseason for the first time in six seasons under the leadership of head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco.

The Ravens became the 15th Super Bowl champion that failed to reach the playoffs the following season.

"That's it. That ends it. That stings," said Harbaugh.

Flacco completed 30 of 50 passes for 192 yards and one touchdown but was picked off three times in the fourth quarter.

Dalton threw interceptions on Cincinnati's first two possessions, including the first offensive play of the game, but Baltimore turned those takeaways into just six points. Justin Tucker made field goals of 38 and 22 yards as the Ravens took the lead.

Baltimore converted just one of its four red-zone possessions into touchdowns.

"If we could have gotten 14 or even 10 points there, it would have made a big difference," said Harbaugh. "When you have some momentum and you have a chance to get out in front of them like the way we did and getting turnovers the way we did, and (then) not converting those into touchdowns. ... That's been an issue down the stretch for us."

Cincinnati answered with a 53-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to wide receiver A.J. Green, their 11th scoring connection of the season, with 17 seconds left in the first quarter to wipe out that deficit. The Bengals had gained 25 yards on three runs by BenJarvus Green-Ellis before Dalton used a play-action fake that caught safety Matt Elam out of position.

That score tied Dalton with Carson Palmer for the franchise record for most touchdown passes in a season with 32. He took over the record with 1:51 left in the first half with a 16-yard throw to Marvin Jones. Dalton also surpassed Palmer for most yards passing in a single season with 4,296.

"It's an honor to accomplish those things," Dalton said. "There have been some really good quarterbacks who have played here, so it's going to be cool to look back on all these things."

The Ravens tied the game with 11 points off of two more Cincinnati mistakes leading off the third quarter. Cornerback Lardarius Webb picked off Dalton and returned it 19 yards to the Cincinnati 47, leading to a Tucker 34-yard field goal. A 10-yard punt by Cincinnati's Shawn Powell gave the Ravens possession at the Cincinnati 40 and they turned that opportunity into their only touchdown of the game, an 8-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Marlon Brown. Ray Rice added a 2-point conversion run to tie the score.

Dalton regained the lead for the Bengals with a 1-yard run off a read-option fake with 13:29 left in the fourth quarter to cap a 12-play, 90-yard drive.

Cincinnati scored 10 points off of its three interceptions of Flacco. Two of those three interceptions were by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who returned the second interception 21 yards for his first career touchdown with 4:07 left to play. The Bengals sacked Flacco twice, were credited with seven hits on Flacco and broke up 12 pass attempts.

"It's tough, it's disappointing, but we're an 8-8 football team -- we don't deserve to be in there," said Flacco. "Everybody in that locker room is used to winning and getting in the playoffs and giving ourselves a shot to win it all."

NOTES: K Justin Tucker set a Baltimore franchise records for field goals made (38) and points (141) in a season. ... Joe Flacco set a career-high for yards passing in a season with (3,912). ... Cincinnati played without TEs Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert. Gresham was inactive with a hamstring injury, while Eifert suffered a neck injury last week against Minnesota. They lost backup Alex Smith to a dislocated wrist in the second half. ... The Bengals have had 16 touchdown drives of 81 or more yards this season, including eight of 90 or more yards. ... The Bengals finished with their best record since 2005 when they also went 11-5 and won the AFC North.

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