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Bengals face key road test against Ravens in NFL Week 11

Cincinnati, coming off an AFC North loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, travels to Baltimore, another division rival that recently fell to Seattle.

November 15, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • Cincinnati defensive end Robert Geathers slaps hands with his teammates prior to the start of Sunday's game against Pittsburgh. The Bengals face a tough challenge this week against the Baltimore Ravens.
Cincinnati defensive end Robert Geathers slaps hands with his teammates… (Tony Tribble / Associated…)

The feel-good resurrection of the Cincinnati Bengals has shifted into the teeth of NFL late-November reality.

The Bengals were leading the AFC North last week when they played host to the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cincinnati rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, whose ability to avoid pressure and mistakes was the top reason for the Bengals' rise, had two fourth-quarter passes intercepted in a 24-17 loss that dropped his team to second place.

Now, a trip to Baltimore, another 6-3 divisional rival, awaits.

The Ravens are 4-0 at home and chafing after turning in a dud performance, losing at Seattle.

"Huge game," said Cincinnati Coach Marvin Lewis, a former coordinator of the Ravens' hard-nosed defense. "We enforce the positives, make the corrections and revisions and move forward. We know what's at stake."

With the poised Dalton (1,866 yards, 14 touchdowns) directing the offense, leaning on fellow rookie receiver A.J. Green and veteran running back Cedric Benson, Lewis has done what he's does best — direct the defense. Cincinnati's defense is the NFL's fourth best, and ranks No. 2 in the league against the run (86.8 yards per game).

The defense kept the Steelers game close and the Bengals were moving toward a tying touchdown when Dalton, who had previously suffered an interception on a tipped pass, threw to Steelers defensive back William Gay with 2 minutes 27 seconds remaining. It was Dalton's ninth interception, and now he confronts, on the road, the NFL's best defense.

Still, Lewis likes what he sees in the Texas Christian product.

"He did a good job with pressure, picking it up — extending plays, moving away, throwing it away," Lewis said. "That's what you've got to do against these guys.

"I don't think this team has to worry about being able to play with the so-called elite in the AFC — we can and we will. We will go back to work and prepare and go beat the next team we have to play. That's our key now."

The Bengals' schedule includes a Dec. 4 trip to Pittsburgh, a Dec. 11 home game at AFC South-leading Houston, and a Jan. 1 home contest against the Ravens.

Dalton won't be a rookie when that's all over.

Other games:

San Diego (4-5) at Chicago (6-3)

The unraveling Chargers have lost four straight and the Bears have won four in a row after dominating visiting Detroit last week. The showcase Sunday afternoon game marks a renewal of the animated Philip Rivers-Jay Cutler rivalry.

Tennessee (5-4) at Atlanta (5-4)

Falcons Coach Mike Smith could be kicking himself for the rest of the season for not punting from his 29-yard line in overtime Sunday, setting up a winning field goal by division leader New Orleans. The Titans have been surprisingly strong, with just one blowout loss, and now running back Chris Johnson is back after rushing for 130 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's rout of Carolina.

Arizona (3-6) at San Francisco (8-1)

The 49ers took a significant step toward a first-round playoff bye by defeating the New York Giants last weekend, and now they have a chance to clinch their first winning season since 2002 while moving closer to a playoff berth (startling, given that Thanksgiving is still more than a week away).

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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