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In the NFL, what they drum into your head daily is this: Every game is a big game.

There's never a game for which the head coach gathers his team around him and says: "Men, we don't need this one. It's just another game. So take this week to hit your iPods and PlayStation Portables and chill, OK?"

On the other hand, there's no question some games are bigger than others.

Which brings us to today's meeting between the Ravens and Bengals at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium.

The fact is, the Ravens have had this one circled on their calendars for weeks, ever since Oct. 11, when the Bengals came into M&T; Bank Stadium and found the Ravens suffering from a collective case of narcolepsy.

Remember that disaster?

You would've thought the Ravens would be sky-high for that game. They were coming off a loss at New England, where Mark Clayton dropped that pass in the waning seconds, in what's known around here as The Play That Must Never Be Mentioned Again.

Instead, the Ravens seemed to sleep-walk against the Bengals. And the result was a 17-14 loss that embarrassed the Ravens way more than they let on publicly.

The Bengals came from behind to win it, pushing the defense all over the field before Carson Palmer hooked up with Andre Caldwell for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds left.

Penalties helped kill the Ravens down the stretch, too, including that vicious helmet-to-helmet hit Ray Lewis laid on Chad Ochocinco that nearly decapitated the wide receiver and ended his Twitter career forever. (More on that later.)

So now the Ravens find themselves with a 4-3 record, a game behind the 5-2 Bengals in the tough AFC North.

Sure, they might have a breather next week against the Browns, although that's a Monday night game in Cleveland and even lousy teams get up for Monday night games.

But after that, it's a pair of home games against the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers, two teams that won't roll over just because they see Baltimore on the schedule.

Which means this is another must-win game today, although God forbid you say "must-win game" around the Castle these days.

Because then you get the "every game's a big game" speech before they throw you out of the building.

OK, I'm kidding about them throwing you out.

But don't bring up the subject. It's not worth it.

The main theme that emerged from the Castle last week was this: The Ravens felt they didn't play anywhere near their best in that first game against the Bengals.

That's not exactly a revelation, of course.

But it speaks to how badly that loss still stings the Ravens. And how much they want revenge today.

"You look back on that game and that's one of those games where, as a team, you kind of let it get away from you," Derrick Mason said delicately. "[The Bengals] played good. But we had some opportunities here and there that we didn't capitalize on."

Oh, you bet they didn't. And it still haunts them.

What the Ravens want to do today is capitalize on the momentum generated by that dominating 30-7 win over the previously undefeated Denver Broncos last week.

On defense, they'll try to contain Cedric Benson, the big Bengals running back who mauled them for 120 yards in that first meeting.

And they'll try to get the same consistent pass rush on Palmer that they got last week on the Broncos' Kyle Orton, who looked like he needed an ambulance by the time it was all over.

Offensively, it's no secret the Ravens will try to establish the running game early and hope it enables Joe Flacco to take some shots downfield to his receivers.

Big game, Ravens-Bengals. Bitter divisional rivals and all that. Oh, and it's nice to see some things don't change.

Yes, by that I mean Ochocinco tried to heat up the Twitter wars again.

You'll recall that before the last Ravens-Bengals game, Ochocinco was using Twitter to trash-talk various Ravens defensive backs.

I understand he did some serial tweeting again last week, hoping to get into their heads.

But apparently the Ravens didn't pay much attention this time.

In fact, when safety Ed Reed was asked whether he read Ochocinco's tweets, his face took on a pained expression, like a man suffering gastric distress.

"Next question," he said quickly.

I wanted to ask whether today's was a must-win game.

But, again, you don't want to go there with this team.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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