Almost too easy.
With Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller fumbling and stumbling, the Bengals (8-3) surged ahead 34-0 late in the third quarter, then weathered a couple of turnovers and defensive lapses that got Baltimore going.
“When you’re up by that much, you think the game’s over,” said Palmer, who threw for 302 yards. “We needed to do a better job of controlling the game.”
Not that it made much of a difference.
With another impressive showing by their offense, the Bengals moved a half-game ahead of Pittsburgh in the AFC North. The Steelers play Monday night in Indianapolis, and the two will meet in Pittsburgh a week later with the division title on the line.
The Bengals are already up for it. Johnson pulled a tattered “Terrible Towel” from his locker after the game and twirled it around.
“We just finished playing Baltimore what, 30 minutes ago, and I’ve got my Terrible Towel,” said Johnson, who uprooted the end zone pylon and putted the football following his 54-yard touchdown catch. “I’m ready.”
They’re on a roll heading into their biggest game in 15 years. They’ve scored 79 points in the last two games, nearly keeping up with Peyton Manning in a loss to the unbeaten Colts a week ago.
“Next week will probably be the biggest game I’ve played since I’ve been in the league,” said T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who caught nine passes for 147 yards. “I would say this will be the biggest game the majority of us have played.”
The Ravens (3-8) did the Bengals a favor and kept the division knotted by upsetting Pittsburgh a week earlier. Their depleted defense couldn’t keep up with the Bengals’ receiving corps.
“It will be the same next week also,” Johnson said. “We just can’t be covered.”
Only a late-game letdown by the Bengals made this one close.
The Ravens are 3-8 for the first time since 1996, their first season after Art Modell moved his team to Baltimore. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator that year, the last time Cincinnati swept their two-game series.
This sweep was emphatic. Cincinnati’s 42 points were the most allowed by the Ravens since a 45-19 loss to Jacksonville on Nov. 1, 1998.
Boller put the Ravens in their early hole. He overthrew an uncovered receiver in the end zone, had three fumbles—he got two of them back—and threw a pair of interceptions that put Cincinnati in control 34-0 in the third quarter. At that point, Boller was 4-of-15 for 37 yards, and the Ravens hadn’t crossed the Bengals’ 35-yard line.
“We stuck to our plan,” said Boller, who finished 18-of-32 for 211 yards with three touchdowns. “I settled down a little. We’re down 34-0, so what’s there to worry about?”
Houshmandzadeh’s fumble and Palmer’s interception helped the Ravens score three touchdowns in a 4-minute, 49-second span. But the Bengals never really worried—they knew the could score however many points they needed against a depleted defense.
Baltimore played its fifth straight game without linebacker Ray Lewis and strong safety Ed Reed. The Ravens were dealt another major loss when free safety Will Demps hurt his right knee in the second quarter. Tests found a torn anterior cruciate ligament that will end his season.
“I could not ask more than the way our guys responded to the circumstances, individually and collectively,” coach Brian Billick said, referring to the injuries. “It was a loss, make no mistake—are we clear on that? I am talking about a team that is fighting through its circumstances, and I couldn’t be prouder of what they did.”
TE Todd Heap had six catches for 87 yards, passing Michael Jackson for third place on the Ravens career list. … Jamal Lewis ran for 113 yards, his first 100-yard game of the season and his eighth in nine games against Cincinnati. … Johnson said his touchdown putt was a tribute to Tiger Woods. “I’m a big fan of Tiger,” he said. “I don’t know any other way to let him know I’m better than him than by showing my skills after a touchdown. That was a good one—not one of my best. I’ve got a very good one next week to top everything I’ve done so far.”