Bengals take big step forward in AFC North

BALTIMORE (AP) The Cincinnati Bengals probably couldn't imagine a better way to begin defense of their AFC North title than to defeat a division rival in its own stadium.

Especially when it's the Baltimore Ravens.

''Anytime you come in here and win a football game, it's a big win,'' Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said Sunday after the Bengals beat the Ravens 23-16. ''It's a division win, and it's on the road.''

The Bengals, who had lost four straight in Baltimore, considered this game to be a gauge of their improvement during the offseason.

''We did exactly what we set out to do there today,'' said Andy Dalton, whose 77-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green with 4:58 left proved to be the difference. ''There are a lot of tough places to play in this league and this is certainly one of the toughest. It was the only place I had not won since joining the Bengals.''

Cincinnati blew a 15-point lead but answered an 80-yard touchdown with a long pass of its own to end Baltimore's run of eight straight season-opening wins at home.

''It's big for the team, man, just taking that next step to being a great team,'' Green said. ''I think these games right here prepare us for going into the postseason.''

The Ravens, in contrast, must rebound quickly from a disheartening defeat. There can't be much lamenting this one, not with another division matchup looming against Pittsburgh at home on Thursday night.

''This game has to get put behind you,'' right tackle Rick Wagner said. ''Think about it the rest of the night, and then when you wake up (Monday) morning, it's all Steelers.''

A few things we learned from the Bengals-Ravens opener:

PASS HAPPY: First-year offensive coordinators Hue Jackson of Cincinnati and Gary Kubiak of Baltimore talked all summer about the importance of establishing the run, but both teams became pass-happy quite quickly.

Dalton ran several times off the read-option in the first half but ending up completing 25 of 38 passes for 301 yards. Joe Flacco matched his career high with 62 passes, completing 35 for 345 yards, including an 80-yard strike to newcomer Steve Smith.

''Joe played a great game, but we need to make sure he doesn't have to throw as much,'' said Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, who had a career-high 10 catches.

PICKING UP PACMAN: After Green caught his decisive touchdown pass, the first player to greet him on the Bengals sideline was cornerback Adam ''Pacman'' Jones, who offered both congratulations and thanks.

It was Jones who was both beaten and abused on the TD pass from Flacco to Smith.

Smith got separation on Jones and then threw him unceremoniously to the ground to clear a path to the end zone. But Green's catch provided the Bengals with a happy ending.

''It's great to come into a hostile environment and win,'' Jones said.

WINNING THE BATTLE: Hold the ball, win the game. The key to victory for Bengals was avoiding giveaways on offense.

''I don't think we had a turnover on the day and that's huge, right?'' Lewis said. ''That's been the key to this series since I've been the head coach in Cincinnati. Whoever wins this turnover battle is going to win this football game, more times than not.''

The Bengals forced two turnovers, a Bernard Pierce fumble and a Flacco interception.

''We knew most of these games come down to turnovers,'' Dalton said. ''We came into the game with the goal of not having any turnovers and we felt that we could win if we didn't turn the ball over, which we did.''

BLOCK THAT KICK: When Jeromy Miles signed with the Ravens last season after spending three years with Bengals, he knew he had to contribute on special teams.

His did that Sunday in grand fashion, blocking a 45-yard field goal attempt with Baltimore down by 15 in the third quarter.

''It was just one of those situations where we just needed a play,'' Miles said.

Baltimore hadn't blocked a field goal try since 2009 - against Cincinnati.

HOLD THE RICE: Starting in place of suspended running back Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce gained 14 yards and lost a fumble.

He was outperformed by Justin Forsett, who gained 70 and scored a touchdown.

''This game is done. It's shaken off. On to next week,'' Pierce said.

Rice's two-game suspension for domestic violence ends after the Pittsburgh game.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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