Baltimore 27, Cincinnati 23

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CINCINNATI (TICKER) —Coming up short is becoming routine for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Jeff Blake threw a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Todd Heap with 5:12 remaining as the Baltimore Ravens rallied for a 27-23 victory over the Bengals.

The NFL’s worst team, the Bengals (1-11) squandered a nine-point second-half lead, although like usual, they managed to make things interesting.

After Blake’s touchdown pass gave the Ravens the lead, the Bengals nearly rallied for the win, converting on three fourth downs on their final drive.

But after reaching the Ravens 10, the drive stalled, sending the Bengals to their latest tough defeat. In losses the last two weeks to Pittsburgh and Cleveland, the Bengals also had drives stall inside the 10 in the game’s waning moments.

“We could have won any of those games,” Bengals coach Dick LeBeau said. “There were several times we could have won today. They do hurt more as you go along. The answer to that is, don’t let it go on, win the game.”

“I know this is not cruel to me personally,” Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna said. “The hardest part is Monday and Tuesday, when you look back on those one or two plays you wish you could have done differently. When you win, there are still those four of five plays, but it’s easier to think about because you win. You have to continue to battle.”

Jamal Lewis rushed for 121 yards, surpassing 1,000 yards on the season for the Ravens (6-6), who have won two straight to get back to the .500 mark.

“We wanted to get to .500,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “Now that we’re there we want to be better than that. We’re only what a half-game (actually 1 1/2) behind Pittsburgh? We’re right in this. There is no more pressure now but it’s more defined.”

Looking for their second win of the season and trying to beat the Ravens here for the second straight season, the Bengals built a 23-14 lead 5:09 into the third quarter on Kitna’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Chad Johnson.

Johnson - the cousin of Tampa Bay’s Keyshawn Johnson - had four catches for 78 yards. He had three straight 100-yard games entering the contest.

But the Bengals did their best to self destruct, starting on the first play of the fourth quarter when Nick Harris had his punt blocked by Chad Williams and returned 22 yards for a touchdown by Ron Johnson.

“They were taking (safety) Ed Reed out,” Williams explained. “They didn’t block me. I just went right in next to him. I just knew I could get to the ball. I blocked two kicks in college (Southern Mississippi) but never for a touchdown.”

Still holding a two-point lead, the Bengals committed another blunder on their ensuing drive.

After Kitna moved the Bengals into Baltimore territory, he fumbled after colliding with running back Corey Dillon and Adalius Thomas recovered for the Ravens at the 31.

That miscue proved costly as Blake, who played for the Bengals from 1994-99, engineered an 11-play, 69-yard drive to put the Ravens ahead for good.

Blake made a pair of big plays on third down on the drive, running for a yard on 3rd-and-1 and finding running back Chester Taylor for 16 yards on 3rd-and-7 to the Cincinnati 35.

Blake capped the march by hitting Heap with a two-yard TD, giving the Ravens a 27-23 lead with under six minutes to play.

“We made some mistakes but people don’t realize we have the youngest team in the NFL,” Blake said. “We’re going to make mistakes but we’re still winning and learning. There is no frustration when you win. You know things are going to happen.”

Kitna, who completed 30-of-46 passes for 308 yards, tried to rally the Bengals, who methodically moved down the field. He ran for nine yards on 4th-and-2 to keep the drive alive and found Ron Dugans for 15 yards on 4th-and-7.

“Our defense is not about statistics,” Billick said. “Today we made a lot of mental errors but didn’t panic. They make plays.”

Rudi Johnson also ran for two yards on 4th-and-1 to the Baltimore 15.

But the Bengals’ luck on fourth down ran out. On 4th-and-7 from the 10, Kitna’s pass across the middle was batted down by Thomas.

Kitna got off to a good start, orchestrating a 10-play, 70-yard drive in the first quarter that he capped with a four-yard TD pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. But Neil Rackers missed the extra point.

Dillon extended the lead early in the second, running five yards for a touchdown. Dillon rushed for 70 yards, surpassing 1,000 for the sixth straight season.

Blake got the Ravens on the board with 8:26 left in the half, connecting with Travis Taylor on a 39-yard touchdown.

It looked like the Bengals would extend the lead before intermission, but a mistake by Kitna resulted in the Ravens taking a brief lead.

Looking for Dillon in the right flat, Kitna was intercepted by Williams, who scored on a 98-yard return to give Baltimore a 14-13 lead.

“He keeps showing up,” Billick said about the rookie. “We have a lot of guys like that. You hardly know they’re there in training camp and they show up and make plays?”

But after Rudi Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff 42 yards and a personal foul penalty on Peter Boulware, the Bengals extended the lead on Rackers’ 40-yard field goal as time expired.

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