Pulling out all the stops

CINCINNATI — CINCINNATI - No NFL record-setting interception return for a touchdown. No multisack performance. And that's just fine with the Ravens' defense.

The defense played a starring role in the Ravens' convincing 34-3 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium yesterday, but the effort did not rely on an individual star.


Five players recorded at least a half-sack, but only linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo was credited with a full sack. Strong safety Jim Leonhard returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown, but the score occurred with 2:28 left in the fourth quarter when the Ravens had a stranglehold on the game's outcome and the quarterback was a Palmer not named Carson. (It was his younger brother Jordan.)

"Everyone came out today and did their jobs," defensive tackle Justin Bannan said. "No one tried to reinvent the wheel, no one tried to do too much. Everyone just came out and did their jobs. We knew that's all we had to do, and we would be fine."


The NFL's second-ranked defense proved to be too overpowering for a Bengals offense that entered yesterday's contest as the least productive in the league.

Cincinnati managed just six first downs, a season low. The team's 155 yards of offense were the fewest since the Bengals collected 154 in their season-opening 17-10 loss to these same Ravens on Sept. 7.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick misfired on 19 of 31 passes, was sacked three times and watched three of his passes get batted down at the line of scrimmage.

"What we noticed in film study is that he gets a lot of balls batted down," linebacker Bart Scott said. "He's a shorter quarterback [6 feet 2]. In our experience with previous quarterbacks, we know that they need a pocket - the same pocket that they use to throw through, they use to run through. So if we can stir that pocket up and get a left hand up against a right-handed quarterback, we'll be able to have a greater chance to get a lot of hands on the ball. If we're able to do that, that's discouraging to an offense as well because not only do they not get the ball off, but their receiver doesn't even get an opportunity to compete for the football."

Said Fitzpatrick, who was hit 10 times and eventually benched for Palmer: "We've been struggling all year, and it compounds that playing against a defense like this and not getting the ball moving around."

The Ravens also padded their three-and-out total, forcing Cincinnati into nine in 14 possessions and punter Kyle Larson into a team-record-tying 11 punts. The Ravens' defense entered the game tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the NFL lead with 41 three and outs.

"We take pride in three and outs, we really do," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Just the way the guys are flying to the football, it's just ... incredible when you actually see how many people are making plays, no matter who it is."

By limiting Cincinnati to a field goal, the defense has not surrendered a touchdown since the second quarter of the Ravens' 30-10 loss to the New York Giants on Nov. 16 - a span of 10 quarters. During that same stretch, the unit has returned two interceptions for touchdowns (Leonhard's and Ed Reed's 108-yard return against the Philadelphia Eagles).


"In this league, that is pretty hard to do," coach John Harbaugh said. " ... Our [defense] was off the charts. It was a completely dominant performance."