- The Washington Times - Monday, October 12, 2009

BALTIMORE | In a duel for first place in the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals found a way to win another close game.

For the Baltimore Ravens, it was a familiar loss.

Carson Palmer threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell with 22 seconds left to cap an 80-yard drive fueled by Baltimore penalties, and the Bengals escaped with a 17-14 victory Sunday.

All five of Cincinnati’s games this season have been decided by seven points or fewer. The Bengals have won three straight games by three points apiece, and at this point they seem like they wouldn’t want it any other way.

“They believe they can win no matter what the circumstances are,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “We keep talking about that. Don’t worry about it, don’t flinch, keep playing.”

The Bengals (4-1) appeared destined to come out on the short end of this one until Palmer masterfully directed the final drive - with the help of three yellow flags.

An illegal contact penalty against Chris Carr and an unnecessary roughness call against Ray Lewis preceded the topper, a pass interference penalty against Frank Walker on a third-and-16 from the Baltimore 30 (although the infraction was called by the officials against Ed Reed).

On the next play, Palmer found Caldwell over the middle for the game-winning score.

After the following kickoff, thousands of fans among the 71,161 directed a derisive chant toward the referee crew.

Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson ran for 120 yards, becoming the first player in 40 games to eclipse 100 yards against the Ravens. Palmer was 18-for-31 for 271 yards, and Chad Ochocinco had seven catches for 94 yards.

“We weren’t as sound as we should have been. Offensively and as a whole we had a couple of turnovers,” Ochocinco said. “But we were able to find some breaks and make our way. We were able to capitalize on the last drive.”

Baltimore (3-2) has lost two straight after starting 3-0 for the second time in franchise history. Last week, two roughing-the-passer calls played a key part in a 27-21 defeat at New England.

Against Cincinnati, the Ravens were penalized 10 times for 76 yards, with several of the infractions seemingly coming at the worst possible time.

“Some tough calls. But you can’t leave it in their hands,” Baltimore defensive tackle Kelly Gregg said.

It was a mantra repeated by several of his teammates.

“I’m not going there with you. I don’t do the referee thing,” defensive end Trevor Pryce said. “If you dominate, the calls don’t matter.”

The Ravens, quite simply, did not come close to dominating. They were limited to one offensive touchdown after averaging 32.5 points in their first four games, and the defense yielded 403 yards - including 142 on the ground.

Which is one reason why the Ravens weren’t overly critical of the officials.

“The officials, they’re just calling the game,” Walker said. “These games are close because we let them be close.”

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