Ravens poised for stretch drive; Bengals' run is a stretch
BALTIMORE (AP) All that has transpired for the Baltimore Ravens this month has put them in position for, as safety Eric Weddle put it, ''A December to Remember.''
The Ravens followed a winless October with a 3-1 November, capped by a 19-14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Baltimore (6-5) climbed back into a tie with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North with five games to go.
''We have to win every game, we feel, this last stretch,'' Weddle said.
The Bengals (3-7-1) feel the same way. The difference is, that might not be good enough to get them into the postseason for the sixth consecutive year.
''We have been able to control it ourselves. Now we need help,'' coach Marvin Lewis said.
After spending five straight Decembers fighting for playoff position, Cincinnati is now in a situation where one more loss may end its postseason hopes.
''It starts to wear on you,'' cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. ''I'm a winner. I've never been in this situation. But at the end of the day, when you're a competitor you keep competing, especially when your back is against the wall.''
Some things we learned about the Ravens and Bengals on Sunday:
PERFECT AND IMPERFECT: Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has been perfect in 11 games this year. After connecting from 52, 57 , 54 and 36 yards, Tucker is 27 for 27 and has made all 15 of his conversion attempts.
It was the 11th time Tucker has kicked at least four field goals in a game. Baltimore is 10-1 when that happens.
''To be on this kind of roll is good, but it doesn't end today,'' Tucker said. ''Hopefully this is something that would help carry our team all the way to the playoffs.''
Tucker's counterpart Sunday, Cincinnati's Mike Nugent, missed his third straight extra point try (over two games) and has misfired on four of 23 conversion attempts this year.
TIPPING HIS HAND: A handful of Andy Dalton's 22 incompletions came when Ravens defenders tipped his passes at the line of scrimmage, sending spirals everywhere but toward their intended targets.
Since Dalton stands 6-foot-2, it seemed like a concerted effort by the Baltimore defense to simply reach for the ball instead of applying an all-out rush.
''I'd have to watch (film), but my guess is they weren't rushing as much, just putting their hands up,'' Dalton said.
Dalton was sacked three times and lost two fumbles. In his defense, he played without injured wide receiver A.J. Green and running back Giovani Bernard and was backed by a running game that could muster only 64 yards on 20 attempts.
ELVIS IN THE BUILDING: The return of Elvis Dumervil was a big factor in Baltimore's strong defensive effort.
Playing in his third game of the season and for the first time in five weeks, the Ravens' sack specialist stripped Dalton of the ball with just over a minute left to seal the victory.
''It was a great start,'' Dumervil said. ''I'm still a little rusty, but I'm fine-tuning things and hopefully I can be peaking at the right time.''
The road back from foot surgery has been difficult for the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker. Dumervil missed the first three games of the season before seeing action in back-to-back games in early October. That was it until Sunday.
''For him to play so well is satisfying for him, I'm sure,'' coach John Harbaugh said, ''but it's really satisfying for me and everyone else.''
MISSING MAN FORMATION: With Bernard (ACL) out for the season and Green (hamstring) sidelined, the Bengals offense looked elsewhere for production. Halfback Rex Burkhead averaged 5.8 yards on each of his five carries against the NFL's top rushing defense, and wide receiver Tyler Boyd made five catches for 62 yards.
''It felt good to get out there, get your hand on the ball and get some touches,'' Burkhead said. ''I feel like I could have played better. I'm never satisfied. I always look for ways to improve.''
KOCH'S BIG DAY: Tucker wasn't the only special teams star for the Ravens. Punter Sam Koch averaged 44.4 yards per kick and dropped four of his five punts inside the 20.
He also ran the clock out on the final play, prancing around in the end zone while his teammates literally held off the Cincinnati rush.
Koch eventually ran out of the end zone for a safety. There were multiple Ravens holding on the play - intentionally - because a game can end on a play that features an offensive infraction.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL.