BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens had just left the fieldafter an important 31-24 win over Cincinnati when the grounds crew at their home stadium began putting down a Thanksgiving Day emblem on the artificial turf.
The Ravens won’t have long to celebrate their ascent into first place in the AFC North.
Joe Flacco threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns, rookie Torrey Smith had six catches for 165 yards, and the Ravens (7-3) held off a late charge by the Bengals (6-4) to climb into a tie with Pittsburgh for the division lead.
Baltimore, however, owns the tiebreaker over the Steelers because it has beaten Pittsburgh twice.
“We’re the master of our destiny,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said.
That’s certainly worth savoring, but the Ravens will play their second game in five days on Thursday at home against San Francisco (9-1) in the NFL’s first matchup of head coaches who are brothers.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh was asked if he was thinking about facing Jim Harbaugh on Thanksgiving.
“It’s two really good football teams going at it,” Harbaugh said. “I think, for our parents, it’s good. But you look at what these players are going to have to do to in a four-day period to get past this game, and to me that’s the story.”
The Ravens would love to bask in the afterglow of their win over the Bengals, but there’s just no time.
“It’s going to be quick,” said running back Ray Rice, who ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns. “It’s so fast that you’re on to San Fran right now. I’m going to try to watch some film on San Fran tonight to get the jump start.”
Unfortunately for the Bengals, they will have to wait a full week before getting a chance to rebound from a disappointing defeat. Cincinnati trailed 31-14 early in the fourth quarter but drove to the Baltimore 7 in the final minute before being denied its bid to complete the comeback.
One week earlier, the Bengals rallied from a 14-0 deficit before losing to Pittsburgh.
“In my mind, we’re better than those teams,” tight end Jermaine Gresham said. “They’re great teams and everything, but I think big mistakes killed (us) in some areas. We just have to get better. We will get better.”
The need to play a full 60 minutes against elite competition was a constant refrain in a quiet Cincinnati dressing room, where players lamented their inability to compensate for untimely mistakes and voiced a sense that they could perform at a higher level.
“It comes down to the fourth quarter,” said rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who threw for 373 yards but was intercepted three times. “That’s how every game’s been for us. We’ve got to start faster. We can’t wait around until the end of the game to pick it up, come out and get back in it. It’s definitely going to be a focus for us.”
Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko added, “We played a good game today, but we didn’t finish. Usually, we finish. We need to finish.”
Cincinnati next faces Cleveland at home Sunday.
Down 31-24, Cincinnati had a second-and-goal at the Baltimore 7 when Suggs collared Dalton, who was called for intentional grounding. On fourth-and-goal, Dalton was sacked by Pernell McPhee.
The Bengals needed seven points because on the previous series, an apparent 9-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to Gresham was overturned by a replay that determined the receiver didn’t hold onto the ball at the end of a juggling catch. Cincinnati settled for a field goal with 5:32 remaining.
“When the receiver went to the ground, he had the ball in his right hand,” referee Ron Winter said. “The ball touched the ground and his hand came off the ball.”
Baltimore won despite playing without middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who was inactive with a toe injury. He had played in 57 straight games and hopes to return for the 49ers.
Smith, whose 165 yards were third-most by a receiver in Ravens history, might have had more if Adam Jones didn’t grab hold of Smith’s long dreadlocks at the end of a 28-yard completion in the second quarter.
Jones was initially flagged for a horse-collar tackle, but officials corrected themselves and did not mark off any yardage because it’s legal to tackle a runner by pulling his hair.
“I thought I was going to score,” Smith said. “Next thing I know, I’m getting pulled down by my dreads.”
Dalton went 24 for 45 with a touchdown. Cincinnati was without standout rookie wide receiver A.J. Green, who hurt his right knee a week earlier in a loss to Pittsburgh.
But the Bengals gave Baltimore all it could handle.
“We’ve won six games to this point and we’ll win some more,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’ve just got to circle the wagons, lick our wounds and go.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)