CINCINNATI — While it remains uncertain whether the Ravens can beat the NFL's elite, there are no doubts that they can manhandle the league's downtrodden.
Showing a steely focus and little mercy, the Ravens routed the lowly Cincinnati Bengals, 34-3, yesterday at a chilly and damp Paul Brown Stadium.
The Ravens improved to 6-0 against teams with losing records. Their average margin of victory is 18.8 points. They have trailed in only two of 24 quarters against those teams.
Worried about an upset? Not the Ravens. They don't just kick teams that are down. They stomp on them.
"It's understandable to look at a game like this and say that's potentially a game that they will overlook. But our guys just aren't there," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "If we stay humble and keep working hard, we'll never be there."
The Ravens rolled up their sleeves to produce perhaps the most lopsided win in their 13-year existence.
Their offense pounded the ball with running back Le'Ron McClain and attacked downfield with Joe Flacco's big arm, totaling 451 yards - 28 short of the team record.
Their defense manhandled the NFL's worst offense, holding Cincinnati to 155 yards (61 off the team record) and six first downs (the second fewest in team history).
Harbaugh called it a "methodical win." Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said it was like getting their "head kicked in."
Whatever way you describe it, this thorough whipping proves the Ravens have a different mentality than a season ago.
"We lost to a no-win team last year," said wide receiver Mark Clayton, referring to the Ravens' loss in Miami. "We know that every time you take the field, you got to bring your 'A' game regardless of records."
In their biggest margin of victory against an AFC North team since 2003, the Ravens (8-4) first hammered Cincinnati (1-10-1) with defense.
The Bengals didn't gain a first down on eight of their first 10 drives. On the Bengals' first six possessions, they ran 18 plays and managed only 20 yards.
"That was my job as a leader, telling these guys that this isn't about a record," linebacker Ray Lewis said.
The Ravens finished off the Bengals in the third quarter with offense. In a span of just more than two minutes, Clayton threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason on a trick play and then made a one-handed, 70-yard touchdown catch.
It was Clayton's first pass in a game since 2002 (his sophomore season at Oklahoma).
"We saw it in practice," Harbaugh said, "[but] that may have been the best he's thrown yet."
For a team that usually knocked teams out in the fourth quarter, the Ravens delivered the decisive blow earlier this time.
Clayton's two big plays on offense increased the Ravens' lead to 27-3 with 5:53 left in the third quarter.
It showed that the Ravens didn't want to just beat the Bengals. They wanted to finish them off early.
"It says we're no longer going to wait on the defense to do things for us," Mason said. "We're going to attack, attack, attack. That's the type of mentality you have to have as an offensive team. If you play not to lose, then you're not going to score many points."
After Clayton's touchdown catch, the Ravens had already tripled Cincinnati's total offense (390-120). They had four times as many first downs (16-4). And they owned time of possession (26:40 to 12:27).
The result was not surprising. With quarterback Carson Palmer missing his eighth game with an elbow injury, the Bengals' offense is ranked last in the NFL. Their defense is playing without seven players who have started at least one game this season.
But the Ravens never gave Cincinnati any hope of an upset.
"We couldn't let their issues become our issues," said right tackle Willie Anderson, who was playing his first game in Cincinnati after spending the past 12 seasons with the Bengals.
With their sixth win in seven games, the Ravens remain one game back of the division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3). Still, the Ravens likely control their shot at the postseason, finishing the season with three of four games at M&T Bank Stadium.
For one of the few times yesterday, the Ravens did take some time to look ahead.
"Playing so many road games early in the season was a burden for us, but we are reaping the rewards now," linebacker Bart Scott said. "We want the road to the playoffs to come through Baltimore."
Winning the ones they should
The Ravens are 6-0 against teams that are below .500:
Ravens 17, Bengals 10
Ravens 28, Browns 10
Ravens 29, Raiders 10
Ravens 37, Browns 27
Ravens 41, Texans 13
Ravens 34, Bengals 3