CINCINNATI — Both the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens fancy themselves as being among the harder-hitting defenses in the National Football League.
Even while showing brute force Sunday, though, the mental side proved to be prominent.
With a plus-four turnover differential, the Bengals rallied to win their home opener 15-10 at Paul Brown Stadium.
Four interceptions by four different Bengals — and no giveaways of their own — added up to an eighth consecutive win in AFC North games for Cincinnati.
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Never mind that the Bengals didn't reach the end zone, relying on Mike Nugent for all their points. Nugent went 5-for-5, converting from 36, 30, 46, 38 and 25 yards.
"If you can not throw it to them and not fumble the ball, and you can get a couple on defense, your odds are good of getting a win," quarterback Carson Palmer said.
Palmer went 16-for-35 and 167 error-free yards. Exactly what Coach Marvin Lewis wanted — patience, not letting frustrations rise.
Baltimore, 1-1 like the Bengals, has yet to give up a touchdown, having held the New York Jets to three field goals in the season opener.
However, quarterback Joe Flacco, 17-for-39 and 154 yards Sunday, was picked off by Leon Hall, Brandon Johnson, Adam Jones and Chinedum Ndukwe.
"Any time you have four turnovers, you're not going to win," Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said. "Maybe we could have pulled it out in the end, but we would have said the same thing — we shouldn't have won the game."
Dhani Jones led Cincinnati tacklers with nine. Chris Crocker added seven, the most important coming with 91/2 minutes left, coming across the field as the last Bengal with a shot at Ray Rice. Crocker made the tackle after a 30-yard gain to the Cincinnati 41-yard line and the Ravens wound up settling for a Billy Cundiff field goal that gave Baltimore a 10-9 lead.
"That's the job of a safety. If you can't make open-field tackles, then you can't play," Crocker said. "We worked a lot on tackling this week. We had 17 misses in New England so, 'hey, let's be aggressive and make tackles.' That's all today was about. It was just man-on-man and make plays."
After Cundiff's field goal, Bernard Scott returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards to the Baltimore 41. That, plus a disputed roughing-the-passer call against Terrell Suggs, led to Nugent's go-ahead 38-yard kick with 4:34 left.
"We knew we were desperate and we needed a play on that kickoff return," Scott said. "The guys did their job up front and I just hit the hole and tried to make a play — get in the end zone (or) get good field position for the offense."
Two plays after Nugent's field goal, the Bengals took the ball away again.
Pat Sims batted a Flacco pass. Johnson, who started at linebacker in place of injured Keith Rivers, pulled in the carom and took the ball 9 yards to the Ravens' 11. That led to Nugent's final field goal, a 25-yarder with 2:48 left.
By then, the Cincinnati defense was missing cornerback Johnathan Joseph (cramps) and his backup, Adam Jones (shoulder). In stepped Morgan Trent, and the Bengals stymied Baltimore for three plays. On fourth down, Ndukwe made his interception at the two-minute warning.
What of Cedric Benson, who twice surpassed 100 yards rushing against Baltimore last season? Or the Dynamic Duo, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens?
Benson hammered out 78 yards on 23 carries. Ochocinco caught four passes, including No. 700 of his career, for 44 yards. Owens caught three balls for 57 yards.
Not the pretty passing game that fanatics may have envisioned beforehand.
"The game's going to look like whatever we have to do to win," Lewis said. "And last time I checked, that group (the Ravens) gives up very few big plays. And if you drop back, you'd better get ready to throw it in a hurry."
A pair of second-quarter field goals gave Cincinnati a 6-0 halftime lead. The second of those came after Adam Jones cut in front of Anquan Boldin for a pick. Jones said that he "knew the route" thanks to much time spent watching film. He'll be watching more film this week.
"We came out with a chip on our shoulder today," he said. "We played physical, as you can see. I don't think they were the (more) physical team today. I think we played the most physical, and film don't lie."
Baltimore got the only touchdown, on the opening drive of the second half, when Flacco found Derrick Mason for a 31-yard score.
Nugent's third field goal with 14 seconds left in the quarter gave Cincinnati a 9-7 lead.
"I keep saying every week what everyone else is doing on the field makes my job a lot easier," Nugent said. "The snaps, holds (and blocking) are something I never worry about when I get on the field, and that's probably 75 percent of the field goal. Mentally, that makes it a lot better."