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The Ravens survived the Monday night spotlight and escaped from New York — er, New Jersey — with a Rex Ryan-sized win over the Jets.

Outplaying the jaw-jabbering, hard-hitting bunch built in the Ravens' image was a tough enough task in itself.

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Throw in the "Hard Knocks" hype, the bulletin-board banter between football frenemies Ryan and Ray Lewis {photo by Getty} and the unveiling of the Jets' new stadium on national TV, and the Ravens made one heck of a statement in the 10-9 win.

Now comes the tricky part.

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After climbing to their emotional apex to knock off the Jets, the Ravens must avoid a major letdown Sunday against the Bengals — the kings of the mountain in the AFC North in 2009. And they get only five short days to gain their footing and dig in for another grudge match.

"It's very difficult," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "But you know what? It doesn't matter, because that's our challenge. That's a team that beat us twice last year handily, both at our place and at their place. That's a very good team, so we've got our work cut out for us."

Do they ever.

The Bengals gave the Ravens fits a year ago, beating them in a Frank Walker flagfest at M&T Bank Stadium, then coasting to an easy victory in Cincinnati a month later.

In both games, Bengals running back Cedric Benson piled up 100-plus yards. And Cincy's cornerback duo of Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph clamped down so tightly on the Ravens' wide receivers that they probably had to summon Magnus Ver Magnüsson to pry them apart after the final whistle.

Those two games were the difference in the AFC North.

In the offseason, the Ravens and Bengals engaged in an arms race, both teams bolstering their passing attacks in an effort to outdo a fellow AFC North superpower.

Sunday's first encounter isn't as juicy as the Jets game, but beating the Bengals is more important in the standings — and maybe for their psyche, too, after last season's struggles.

I know, I know. You're sick of hearing about the team that the Ravens couldn't beat a year ago. And you're right: This is a new season and we're talking about a different Ravens team.

We saw that on Monday night when they won the kind of tight, tension-filled game they often lost a year ago.

It was the Ravens who didn't make costly mistakes down the stretch. It was the Ravens who steered clear of the dirty laundry. And it was the Ravens who made just enough plays to win — style points be damned.

"I thought we were disciplined," Harbaugh said after the game. "I thought we were poised. I thought we played with fundamental soundness."

The Ravens' next challenge is to maintain their rediscovered focus while prepping for Sunday's AFC North showdown. They have to be drained emotionally and physically after Monday's slugfest, and the game's greatest agitator is already trying to worm his way into their heads.

Tuesday, Bengals wideout Chad Ochocinco lobbed grenades at the Ravens on Twitter. A day later, he talked about knocking Ray Lewis' head off.

If the Ravens can tune out all the noise (again) and beat the Bengals, they'll supplant their nemeses from a year ago atop the AFC North mountain — at least for the moment.

Enjoying another huge win in silence is an added perk.

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