The Ravens and Bengals have played each other 32 times in their history, and the stakes have always been high. But, the scenario that played out in Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium at the end of the 2011 campaign was unique.
Heading into Week 17, the Ravens stood at 11-4, in position to clinch their first division crown since 2006, as well as a first-round bye. Cincinnati, at 9-6, was also in a position to get to the postseason, knowing that if they won, they would guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs.
With the contest being played on the road, the Ravens had to answer questions all week about how they were just 3-4 away from M&T Bank Stadium, and hadn't won in Cincinnati since 2008. Still, the mindset leading up to the game was that it didn't matter where the game was being played, just that it was essentially a playoff game. Ray Lewis put it best, saying that the team's focus was about winning, and nothing else.
"This is a playoff game," he said. "The thing is, they're trying to get in and we're already in, and we have to go finish what we started the whole year. And that is that we know we are playing for home-field advantage. We know how big that is – to come play in Baltimore. And there is nothing else on our mind. We know that they are going to give us all they've got. This is a division foe. Marvin [Lewis] is definitely going to have them ready to play. But, we're ready to play as well."
Stat of the game
Baltimore's rushing attack led the way on a cold, blustery day. The Ravens posted 221 yards rushing, controlling the game from beginning to end.
Player of the game
Ray Rice stole the show early and often, rushing for 191 yards, including one 70-yard touchdown on the game's fourth play, and a 51-yarder midway through the fourth quarter virtually sealed it for the Ravens.
Play of the game
With the Ravens clinging to a 17-13 lead, and Cincinnati driving, Terrell Suggs showed why he was named the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year. Suggs came from behind and forced a fumble on Jermaine Gresham and Bernard Pollard recovered, setting up Rice's touchdown run.
Quote of the game
Terrell Suggs on what it feels like to be division champs: "It feels good. Everyone's kind of happy, taking it in. You know what I mean? You wouldn't have thought we won 12 games with the way you've been treating us and bashing us. Twelve wins is 12 wins. If you go undefeated at home, you go undefeated at home. We swept the division and are division champs, with a first-round bye. I'm just going to take it in and celebrate it with my brothers. We did it together."
What it meant
In the end, the Ravens won a hard-fought, AFC North-type game, 24-16. With the defense limiting Cincinnati and Rice setting the offense's pace, Baltimore proved to be too much for the Bengals. The Ravens' win secured them a first-round bye and the AFC's No. 2 seed. Despite the loss, the Bengals would also clinch a playoff spot after losses by the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders.