Dalton almost did it

Ravens' Torrey Smith reaches for a catch in front of Bengals cornerback Nate Clements on Sunday....

Ravens' Torrey Smith reaches for a catch in front of Bengals cornerback Nate Clements on Sunday. (Reuters)

Bill Lankhof, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:46 PM ET

Call it age before beauty.

Rookie Andy Dalton lost the game but won some more believers.

Meantime, the veteran Baltimore Ravens lost Ray Lewis, but used all of their guile to win control of the AFC North with a hard-won 31-24 slugfest over the Cincinnati Bengals.

“No. 1 in the division, that’s huge,” Ravens’ Terrell Suggs said. “Now we’re the master of our destiny.”

Dalton showed flashes of what has made him the rookie sensation of the NFL with determination, some smart decision-making and pinpoint passing. None of that, however, was enough to beat one of the NFL’s toughest, smartest defences.

Dalton had just nine interceptions coming into this game, but he had three Sunday. They were costly, the Ravens converting 14 points off those turnovers. “Whenever we can get turnovers, it definitely makes everybody’s job easier,” Baltimore cornerback Cary Williams told reporters. “It’s just being able to capitalize on opportunities, and we did that today.”

The Ravens also got back to their ground game after asking Joe Flacco to throw a ridiculous 52 passes last week. Ray Rice had 104 yards on 20 carries for two touchdowns. Baltimore ran the ball 28 times with Flacco completing 17 of 27 passes. Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb and Ed Reed all had interceptions for a defence that was doing it without Lewis.

A toe injury ended his streak of 57 consecutive games, dating back to December 2007. The Ravens’ leader and leading tackler watched as they came up with a goal-line stand in the final minute. Down 31-24, Cincinnati reached the Baltimore seven before Suggs collared Dalton, who was called for intentional grounding. On fourth down, Dalton was sacked by Pernell McPhee.

While the Ravens missed Lewis, Dalton was missing game-breaking receiver A.J. Green, out with a bum leg.

So, he turned to Jerome Simpson, who had 152 yards on eight catches, several of the highlight variety. But Cedric Benson was held to 41 yards and the lack of a ground game played into the Ravens’ ball-hawking defence.

That proved decisive.

Both teams were coming off losses, both trying to get back on track. In the end, it was the veteran Ravens who found a way to assert themselves and take control of the division. They move into a tie with Pittsburgh at 7-3, but with two wins over the Steelers hold the tie-breaker. The Bengals fall to 6-4.

This was a game of big plays. The Ravens’ Torrey Smith had 165 yards on six catches. The Bengals opening score was set up by Simpson’s acrobatic 47 yard juggling reception over two Ravens’ defenders. Former CFL star Andrew Hawkins made a diving catch to get the ball inside the 20 and Cedric Benson punched it in from the seven-yard line.

Baltimore stormed back with 17 unanswered points.

Flacco hit on a 35-yard TD strike to Anquan Boldin. The next series there was a 49-yard strike to Torrey Smith that set up Rice to bulldog into the end zone from the one.

But for Dalton, it unravelled within 60 seconds. Two interceptions leading to two touchdowns put Baltimore up 31-14 less than a minute into the fourth quarter. The Ravens went up 24-14 after a Jimmy Smith interception. He had the ball punched out of his arms, but Ravens’ team-mate Brendan Ayanbadejo fell on the fumble inside the five. Rice punched it home to end the third quarter.

Webb’s diving interception was followed by Flacco hitting Smith with a 38-yard TD pass 40 seconds into the final quarter.

But Simpson and Jermaine Gresham filled admirably for Green and Dalton hit Andre Caldwell with a 49-yard TD. And, the young Bengals had a chance to tie in the final seconds, the ball at the seven-yard line. But that’s when the Ravens’ defence played up to Lewis’ expectations.

As he cheered from the sidelines, the defence hassled Dalton into incompletions on three plays. Game over. And, for a second consecutive week, after losing to the Steelers, too, the Bengals get schooled. But they didn’t get embarrassed. The Bengals have game — and a chance for a wild-card berth.

PETERED OUT

The Vikings may have lost more than a game. Adrian Peterson left the game early in the second quarter after a nifty 12-yard run. He lost the shoe on his right foot during the run and his left ankle rolled grotesquely as he was pulled down from behind by a couple of Raiders defenders. He limped off the field and didn’t return, although the team reported later that X-rays showed a sprain and not a fracture.

QUICK HITS

Michael Bush rushed for 109 yards and a TD for the Raiders ... Dolphins’ final TD came on a blocked punt by Chris Clemons, which Lex Hilliard recovered on the goal line for a 35-6 lead. The score on a blocked punt was Miami’s first since 1990 and it snapped a streak of 735 punts without a block by Buffalo’s Brian Moorman ... Bills’ Dave Rayner kicked a career-long 56-yard field goal on the final play of the first half ... The Titans ground game once again ground to a halt. Chris Johnson was held to 13 yards on 12 carries.


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