Just when the Ravens looked like they had the Cincinnati Bengals beaten (twice) it slipped through their fingers – again.
Just like in Week 1, the Ravens fell at the buzzer to the rival Bengals, this time, 27-24, at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals are now back in first place in the AFC North. Baltimore falls to 5-3.
In Week 1, Baltimore stunned Cincinnati with a long Steve Smith Sr. touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but fell at the hands of wide receiver A.J. Green and a 77-yard score. Green (toe) wasn't playing this week, but his replacement, Mohammed Sanu, did the job this time.
This time, Smith Sr.'s last attempt was called back on a controversial call by the referees. Offensive pass interference on the Ravens' final drive negated what would have been an 80-yard touchdown.
"That's a good football team. [Stuff] happens," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said.
"I've got to admit, offensive pass interference. That's a pretty [gutsy] call considering the situation. But we're over it. Let's get ready for Pittsburgh."
The Ravens trailed for nearly the entire game, but thanks to back-to-back defensive turnovers, the Ravens had a four-point lead with about four minutes remaining.
It didn't last long, however.
Sanu hauled in an improbable 58-yard catch and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton snuck into the end zone on fourth-and-1 with 57 seconds remaining.
Adding more pain was that the Ravens had a hunch Dalton would sneak and felt they had Dalton's progress stopped. A second push of offensive linemen behind Dalton, which is illegal, took the quarterback into the end zone.
"They could have called forward progress there," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
The two teams fought back and forth in a close game throughout, as each endured a multitude of injuries.
Baltimore was without offensive linemen Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda, wide receiver Torrey Smith, wide receiver Michael Campanaro and cornerback Jimmy Smith for chunks of the game. Campanaro and Jimmy Smith never returned.
Harbaugh was pleased with his team's resolve to put itself in position to win in such difficult circumstances.
"I thought our guys fought," Harbaugh said. "Let it define us. If this is who we are as a football team, I'll take it and we'll go a long way."
Cincinnati jumped out to an early lead thanks to a couple big plays.
Sanu made a highlight-reel leaping one-handed catch on Cincy's first drive and turned it into a 48-yard gain. The Bengals converted on third-and-14, setting them up to score on a Dalton quarterback sneak.
The Bengals, who hadn't won in three weeks, suddenly had a touchdown lead and confidence. Baltimore's offense responded, however.
The Ravens went for it on a fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 41-yard line and converted, then moved the chains on a third-and-10 with a diving catch by Campanaro.
The Ravens went for it on fourth down again just outside the Bengals' goal line, but this time didn't convert. A pass for wide receiver Kamar Aiken hit his hands and fell incomplete.
Baltimore strung together an 18-play, 89-yard drive, but got no points to show for it.
After a quick three-and-out, the Ravens came back down the field – thanks again to a chain-moving third-down catch by Campanaro – but had to settle for a field goal. Kicker Justin Tucker banged a 45-yard field goal through the uprights to cut the Bengals' lead to 7-3 in the second quarter.
Baltimore* *marched into Bengals territory on the next drive, but again got just a field goal. Tucker boomed one from 50 yards out to cut Cincinnati's lead to 7-6 at halftime.
The Ravens had the ball at the start of the second half with a chance to grab the lead.
That's when a pair of Joe Flacco interceptions doomed Baltimore.
On the first, he had good protection and seemingly tried to squeeze a pass to Torrey Smith. The Bengals were in zone coverage and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur came underneath Smith to make the pick.
The Bengals got another big play from Sanu on a 26-yard reverse, then a first down via pass interference on inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. They punched it into the end zone from the 1-yard line on a leap by running back Giovani Bernard.
Instead of the Ravens taking the lead, Cincinnati pushed its lead to 14-6.
On the next drive, Flacco dropped back to throw a quick slant to Smith on third-and-1. Smith collided with a Bengals player in the route and was stopped dead in his tracks. Flacco's pass went directly to Bengals cornerback Adam Jones.
The Bengals turned the Ravens' second turnover into a 32-yard field goal, extending their lead to 17-6 about midway through the third quarter.
Flacco now has four interceptions in his past two games.
"If I don't turn the ball over, we're going to be a tough team to beat," Flacco said.
Baltimore wasn't done at that point though.
The Ravens drove back down the field thanks to their rookie class. Tight end Crockett Gillmore stretched to move the chains on third-and-10. Then rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro caught a* *pass and scampered 29 yards, then ran it into the end zone from 10 yards out for the Ravens' first touchdown of the game.
Running back Justin Forsett punched it in on the two-point conversion to pull the Ravens within a field goal, 17-14, with two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Just when the Ravens needed a defensive stop most, the Bengals strung together one of their better offensive drives.
They drove inside the red zone with a 12-play, 65-yard drive, but were forced to settle for a 33-yard field goal after Dalton missed wide open receiver Greg Little in the end zone. The Ravens trailed by six points, 20-14, with 11:24 left.
Baltimore's offense needed to come up with a touchdown.
Flacco tried to go for the jugular, but came up empty twice. He had Smith Sr. open on a crossing route on second down, but tried for a home run to Aiken and was just a bit too deep. On third-and-2, Flacco could have run for the first down, but threw a pass too wide and out of bounds intended for Smith Sr.
The Bengals put together another strong drive into Ravens'territory. Ravens cornerback Dominique Franks came close to a pick-six, but the Bengals converted on the next play.
Then everything changed. Baltimore's defense put them back in the game.
Dalton dropped back to pass, but was immediately swarmed by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Ngata knocked the ball loose from Dalton and linebacker Daryl Smith scooped it up and returned it 39 yards. The Ravens had the ball at the 8-yard line.
Taliaferro ran it around the left edge from there, giving the Ravens their first lead of the game, 21-20, with 6:31 left.
"No matter how many touchdowns we run for, we've got to come out with the win," Taliaferro said. "That's all that matters at the end of the day."
The madness was just getting started.
On the Bengals' first play from scrimmage after the kickoff, Dalton hit Sanu over the middle. Safety Matt Elam had his hands around the ball and ripped it out. It flew up into the air and was picked off by Mosley.
Mosley returned it into Bengals' territory, setting up the offense with a chance to extend the lead. The offense moved the ball just enough to put Tucker in range again.
Tucker hammered a 53-yarder through the uprights. He was 3-for-3 on the day with field goals from 45, 50 and 53 yards.
The defense needed one more stop.
On third-and-10, Dalton launched a pass down the left sideline for Sanu. The Ravens had deep coverage, but rookie safety Terrence Brooks didn't look up for the ball and seemed to get lost. Sanu adjusted and made the catch inside of Brooks. Sanu took it 53 yards and deep into Ravens'territory.
"I had position on him," Brooks said. "I guess he recognized it quicker than I did and slipped up under me. It's an underthrown ball and he just went and made a play."
The Bengals took the ball 19 more yards from there, including converting on third down with a 13-yard pass featuring missed tackles. They got it to the 1-yard line with a minute left and faced fourth-and-goal.
Cincinnati snapped it to Dalton, who lunged forward and then got a boost from his blockers behind him.
"We were playing for it because they're a big quarterback sneak team," Mosley said.
"The second push got him in. We've been on both sides. If that was us, we would have been happy he got the second push. We've just got to be better and keep them out of the red zone next time."
Baltimore's final shot at a comeback fell short because of a yellow flag. Smith Sr. had gotten deep down the field and Flacco stepped up to launch the pass.
Smith was covered by Bengals safety George Iloka, and the two jockeyed with their hands for a second as the ball came in. Smith made the catch as Iloka fell to the turf, then the Ravens receiver turned up field and cruised into the end zone.
It was seemingly the ballgame, but then it wasn't. Baltimore's celebration turned quickly to frustration.
"Ultimately, you hope you don't allow plays like that to determine a win and a loss," Smith Sr. said. "It happens. I'm not disappointed, I'm not upset, I'm not frustrated, I'm just exhausted. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to play next week."
The Ravens will head to Pittsburgh next week to face the rival Steelers. Instead of taking a strong hold in the AFC North on Sunday, it's wide open again.