Bengals defense, Ravens mistakes result in 27-20 Cincinnati victory

CINCINNATI – With wounded players shuffling off in waves, what was left of the Cincinnati Bengals rallied for a win that hurt so good.

Steve McNair’s interception – his fourth gaffe of the game – set up Carson Palmer’s fourth-quarter touchdown pass, and Cincinnati’s suspect defense pulled off a goal-line stand last night that preserved a 27-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

In a bruising season opener matching the last two AFC North champs, the Bengals were the last one standing – barely.

“We know it’s going to be a hard-fought game when we play these guys – tough, physical,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “It’s important to in the physical football games because you put so much into it.”

Kyle Boller took over after McNair strained his groin in the fourth quarter – the last in a nonstop run of injuries for both teams – and led the Ravens to the 1-yard line in the closing seconds.

A pass interference penalty on Todd Heap negated his catch in the end zone, and Boller’s final pass deflected off Heap’s shoulder and was intercepted in the end zone by diving lineman Michael Myers.

The Bengals had to work with a makeshift offensive line that was missing three starters by the second quarter. They also briefly lost kicker Shayne Graham, costing them on an extra-point try.

Even receiver Chad Johnson limped off at one point, evidently suffering from a cramp. The Pro Bowl receiver and incessant self-promoter came up big for the Bengals, catching five passes for 95 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown.

“I told you I would give you a show,” Johnson said.

Both teams overcame significant injuries to send the game to a frantic finish.

Safety Ed Reed returned a punt untouched 63 yards for a touchdown that put the Ravens ahead 20-19 early in the fourth quarter and silenced the crowd of 66,093, the second-largest in Paul Brown Stadium’s history. Reed had to return kicks because B.J. Sams sprained a knee.

The emotional lift didn’t last long. McNair had the most to do with that.

In his second season running the Ravens’ offense, he had one of his worst games. McNair fumbled on a sack, muffed a handoff to running back Willis McGahee, and let the ball slip out of his hand on a pass attempt. Linebacker Landon Johnson caught that fumble in mid-air and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown.