Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 12/30/12
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals knew heading into Sunday's game against Baltimore that no matter what they did, it wouldn't change the fact they would go to the postseason as the AFC's sixth seed. After beating the Ravens 23-17 at Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals will carry the momentum of seven wins in their last eight games into their first-round playoff matchup against the Houston Texans. Both teams played their backups generously knowing they'd be in action again next week to open the playoffs. Baltimore will play host to the Indianapolis Colts. Josh Brown made three field goals in the second half, and defensive end Carlos Dunlap returned an interception for a 14-yard touchdown with 6:06 remaining as Cincinnati closed out the regular season with its first victory against Baltimore since Sept. 19, 2010. The Bengals and Ravens both finished 10-6, but Baltimore is the AFC North champion by virtue of a better division record (4-2 to 3-3). It is the Ravens' second straight AFC North championship. Baltimore will be the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs. Cincinnati beat its two top division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore, the past two weeks. Baltimore defeated the Bengals 44-13 on a Monday night in the season opener. "This, for me, was big because I missed the Monday night opener and I wanted to get a piece of them, especially with how they did us," Dunlap said. "It doesn't mean anything if we don't make some noise in the playoffs. That's our main focus." Cincinnati earned its fourth playoff appearance in 10 seasons under head coach Marvin Lewis. The Bengals are 0-3 in those previous years, including a 31-10 loss at Houston in a wild-card game last season. They will be the No. 6 seed for the second straight season, and they knew going into play Sunday that nothing they did against the Ravens would change that fact. The Ravens have lost four of their past five games, but they will be playing in the postseason for a fifth consecutive season. "We're ready. We prepared for 16 games, and we prepared to be in the playoffs," said Baltimore safety Ed Reed, who started the game but played sparingly. "It's a matter of going out and executing, and may the best team win." Cincinnati rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict was credited with 18 tackles, including 10 solo tackles, while middle linebacker Rey Maualuga added 10 tackles. "I'm glad that's over. That's a difficult situation to be in," Lewis said. "I thought our guys handled it about as well as you could handle it." Baltimore led 14-13 after backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor scored his first career touchdown on a 1-yard run with 12:50 remaining in the fourth quarter. Brown, who had field goals of 47 yards and 32 yards in the third quarter, gave Cincinnati a 16-14 lead with a 38-yard field goal on the Bengals' ensuing drive. Dunlap tipped a Taylor pass at the line of scrimmage, caught it and returned it with 6:06 remaining for his second career touchdown. The Cincinnati defense had four sacks Sunday, giving the Bengals a franchise-record 51 for the season. The previous record was 48 by the 2001 team. Baltimore had five starters -- safety Bernard Pollard, linebacker Terrell Suggs, guard Marshal Yanda, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata -- inactive for the game as well as linebacker Ray Lewis. Lewis was activated to the 53-man roster from injured reserve this week. He hasn't played since Oct. 14 due to a torn triceps. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco left the game after two series, while Ravens running back Ray Rice played just the opening possession. "The goal today was two-fold," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "First, put ourselves in the best position possible going forward in the playoffs, and to win the game. We obviously did not win the game, and we are disappointed in that, but we feel like we are in the best position going forward into the playoffs, and that is all that matters." Baltimore took a 7-0 lead on a 2-yard run by Anthony Allen with 17 seconds left in the first quarter. The Ravens' drive of 80 yards consisted of seven running plays. Cincinnati had just 63 yards of offense on its first five possessions with three first downs and five punts in the first half. The Bengals tied the score on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Marvin Jones with 39 seconds left in the half. Dalton completed all five of his pass attempts on the drive to account for all 42 yards. Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green caught two passes for 26 yards during the drive. It was the only two times he was targeted in the game. Bruce Gradkowski replaced Dalton to start the second half. Gradkowski went 5-for-11 for 65 yards. He completed a 44-yard pass to Brandon Tate to set up Brown's go-ahead, 38-yard field goal. Taylor completed 15 of 25 passes for 149 yards. He was intercepted once. He also rushed for 65 yards and one touchdown on nine carries. NOTES: Rice had three carries for 5 yards. He also picked a personal foul for unnecessary roughness, taking Baltimore out of field-goal range in the first quarter... Rookie Bernard Pierce replaced Rice and rushed for 89 yards on 22 carries... Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker missed a 45-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, just his third miss out of 32 attempts this season. He came back and made a 49-yarder with 1:21 remaining to provide the final score. ... Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis did not carry the ball after suffering a hamstring injury in pregame warm-ups... Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson got two sacks to push his season total to 11.5. Teammate Geno Atkins finished the season with 13 sacks. It's the first time since 1981 that Cincinnati has had two players with at least 10 sacks. Reggie Williams had 11 sacks and Eddie Edwards 10 sacks in 1981, a year before the NFL began keeping sacks as an official stat. ... Cincinnati closed out the regular season 4-4 at home after going 6-2 on the road.
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