Ravens nip Bengals, but settle for wild-card spot

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BALTIMORE | The Baltimore Ravens were already in the playoffs, so their focus on the final day of the regular season was to gain momentum and hope for a little luck.

They took care of the first part — albeit shakily — and got no help with the second part.

Ed Reed had two interceptions and Ray Lewis recovered two fumbles, part of an opportunistic defense that carried the Ravens over the Cincinnati Bengals 13-7 Sunday.

Despite the victory, the Ravens (12-4) failed to get the help necessary to win the AFC North. Baltimore needed Pittsburgh to lose to Cleveland, but the Steelers won 41-9 to make the Ravens a wild-card entrant.

“We came in and took care of business, which was to go from 11 to 12,” Lewis said. “That’s the most important thing, for us to get that 12th victory. I just think it’s huge.”

Baltimore will enter the playoffs with a four-game winning streak, but they face the prospect of playing all their games on the road — just like in the previous two years.

“I think one reason why, for us, it never matters is because our defense, we travel very well on the road,” Lewis said. “We play extremely well on the road.”

Baltimore won its only Super Bowl, after the 2000 season, as a wild-card team.

Ray Rice scored on a 7-yard run and Billy Cundiff kicked two field goals for the Ravens, who gave up 395 yards but forced five turnovers. Baltimore had lost three straight to Cincinnati — including a 15-10 decision in Week 2 that proved decisive in the tiebreaking system that enabled Pittsburgh to win the division.

Sunday’s victory was not assured until Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer threw an incompletion on a fourth-down play from the Baltimore 2 with 10 seconds left. That ended Cincinnati’s modest two-game winning streak and dropped the Bengals to 4-12.

“It was a game that we had a chance and didn’t finish it,” Palmer said. “We feel awful because we had the chance to go into the offseason with a pleasant feeling at least. But just didn’t make the plays we needed to all game.”

Palmer went 32 for 45 for 305 yards but was intercepted twice and lost a fumble. Jerome Simpson caught 12 passes for 123 yards and a score for the Bengals, who were without injured receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco.

The defending AFC North champions endured a 10-game losing streak and went 1-7 on the road. After an eight-year run in which he’s had only two winning seasons, Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis will discuss his status on Monday with owner Mike Brown.

“All I know is, officially today I’m no longer employed,” Lewis said. “Where I am right now in my coaching career is a different point from where I was eight years ago, and I think this football team is a lot different than it was eight years ago, and that’s good. … We’re in a good spot.”

After being held to a pair of field goals in the first half, Baltimore went up 13-0 on Rice’s TD run with 5:47 left in the third quarter.

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