By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
BALTIMORE (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals can’t ignore their shortcoming of last season: an 0-7 record against teams that made the playoffs, followed by a humbling loss to Houston in the wild-card round.
For that reason, the Bengals have put a huge priority on defeating the AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens on Monday night.
“Oh man, it would be great,” wide receiver A.J. Green said. “Last year we lost (twice) to Baltimore and the Steelers. If we want to get over that hump, we have to beat those two at least once.”
The Bengals went 9-7, good enough for a wild-card spot but too far behind the Ravens and Pittsburgh to make an impression on the two best teams in the division. Although Cincinnati did have a feel-good win against a Buffalo team that faded in the stretch, coach Marvin Lewis stressed the need for improvement in 2012 — beginning with the opener.
“Well, it’s an important game,” Lewis said. “Buffalo was undefeated, and we beat them, and they were the cat’s meow. You have to win, you have to win against good teams, and until you do everybody can say and do what they want.”
Lewis’ assertion appears to have worked its way down to the players, who are eager to put an end to their annoying run of losses against the league’s elite teams.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” Green said. “They are probably one of the best teams in our division. So, if we want to be one of the best, we have to beat the best.”
The Ravens had plenty to be proud about in 2011. Before losing to New England in the AFC title game, Baltimore swept the AFC North schedule and went 9-0 at home.
Unlike the Bengals, the Ravens see no reason to dwell on last season.
“Man, the streaks were last year. It’s a whole new year,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “This is a whole new start and a whole new team. We’re not going to worry about any of those streaks we had last year. We’re trying to start a streak this year, and it starts by going 1-0.”
Pressed further, Webb said, “Please leave last year in last year. We swept the division last year, yes we did. We won all home games last year, yes we did. But that was last year. Please forget it. It’s a new year. We just want to go 1-0 against Cincinnati.”
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis struck a similar chord.
Asked what it means to bring an 11-game home winning streak into the game (including the postseason), along with an NFL-best eight-game run within the division, Lewis said: “The only thing it means is that we can continue the streak starting with the Cincinnati Bengals and going 1-0 at home. Everything of 2011 is done. It’s done. That chapter is closed.
Now we have a whole new chapter ahead of us. We would really enjoy coming out of the gate 1-0 at home and definitely in the division. It would be huge for us.”
The Ravens have won 18 of 19 at home. Superior play and familiarity with their surroundings are two reasons, but most of all, it’s those 70,000 screaming fans.
“We have great fans here, and I think when our defense gets out there and is playing with that much noise, it causes the other offense to really think about some of the things that they are doing,” Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco said. “It can get us going a little bit. Our fans are incredible, and we pack that stadium each week. Obviously, I’m a little biased, but it’s just a great place to play, and I think we definitely feel the energy of the crowd. We feel comfortable there.”
This will be Baltimore’s first game since former majority owner Art Modell died Thursday. If the Ravens needed any more incentive Monday night than starting the season with a win over a division foe on national television, they got it.
“When you think about Art, what else kind of motivation do you need?” Lewis said. “If you know anything about him, you know anything about what he did (for) this league and what he meant to this organization, why wouldn’t you go play for something that special? Because he is watching. He’ll always be watching, and he’ll definitely be missed.
“This season we will definitely dedicate to him and give it everything we’ve got. Hopefully, we can sit another Lombardi Trophy beside him.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)