Chalk up another fourth-quarter comeback for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, as he notched the tenth of his career against the Ravens on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
Palmer's 20-yard touchdown pass to wideout Andre Caldwell with 22 seconds left in the game sealed a 17-14 Bengals victory, assuring a 4-1 Cincinnati club the AFC North lead and giving him a trio of come-from-behind wins over the Ravens.
Baltimore was simply unable to close out the gutty Bengals, who did not flinch in the face of a stout run defense that hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in an NFL-best 39 consecutive games.
Cincinnati running back Cedric Benson rushed for 120 yards on 27 carries, the first time a player has eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground since Kansas City's Larry Johnson did it on Dec. 10, 2006.
His 28-yard touchdown at the 52-second mark of the third quarter gave the Bengals a 10-7 lead before Baltimore's Ray Rice took a short dump-off from quarterback Joe Flacco and raced 48 yards to paydirt.
But it was Palmer's arm – along with a three defensive penalties on the 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive – that proved to be the difference.
"We didn't play well enough in any of the three phases to win," said head coach John Harbaugh. "We didn't finish and find a way in the end to win.
"You have to find a way not to have penalties. You have to find a way to make a play, an interception, whatever it may be."
In the end, the Ravens came up short in the playmaking department.
When Palmer took over in the fourth quarter on Baltimore's 20-yard line, there was 2:15 left on the clock.
On first-and-10, Ravens cornerback Chris Carr was flagged for illegal contact, which negated an incomplete pass.
Later, linebacker Ray Lewis earned a 15-yard penalty that was enforced from the 50-yard line for unnecessary roughness.
Then, a Palmer throw fell to the turf on third-and-16 with 43 seconds remaining, but cornerback Frank Walker was tabbed for pass interference.
That call signaled a fresh set of downs and allowed for Palmer's game-wininng dart to Caldwell.
"I felt like I went around him and batted the ball down, but we haven't watched film yet, so I could be inaccurate," Walker stated. "I'm pretty sure I batted the ball down around him, because I didn't think he was going to throw the ball. I just went around and batted it."
The Ravens were up 14-10 briefly when Flacco, who completed 22 of 31 passes for 186 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, found Rice open in the left flat.
Rice then slipped through a tackle, kept his balance with a hand on the ground and raced 48 yards to the end zone.
"I think they thought my knee was down, but I was just doing an old-school drill, grass picking," Rice said. "I found my way through."
Rice totaled 143 yards of total offense – 69 yards on 14 carries and 74 yards on seven receptions.
It was Benson, however, that moved the chains more. The former first-round draft pick averaged 4.4 yards per attempt while accounting for a game-high seven first downs (one coming from an 11-yard catch).
He also romped through an Antwan Barnes tackle for his 28-yard score.
For a Ravens squad that has not seen a 100-yard rusher in nearly three years and went into the contest as the league's top run defense (59.5 yards allowed per game), the final statistics were shocking.
"We have to do a better job of closing up those holes," said defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. "Cedric Benson found those gaps, and we have to tackle better. We missed the tackle when he scored the touchdown. We have to do a better job of that."
The unit was encouraged by a breakout performance from safety Ed Reed. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year opened the scoring with a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown, and later forced a fumble that gave the Ravens the ball just before halftime.
Reed's touchdown, the sixth interception return for a score in his career, gave Baltimore an early lead.
The Bengals answered with a 32-yard field goal from kicker Shayne Graham in the second quarter, before Reed punched the ball out of wideout Chad Ochocinco's grasp with 1:16 until the break.
Baltimore failed to capitalize on the turnover, though, and the Bengals continued to stay close enough to give Palmer one last chance, a scenario with which most Ravens would normally be comfortable
"I'd take that opportunity every day of the week, being up, long field," said linebacker Jarret Johnson. "I want to be in that opportunity every singles time, and we didn't come through today."