Bengals win for 'Coach Zim'

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

BALTIMORE -- Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers called Mike Zimmer "amazing."

Safety Chris Crocker said it was unbelievable how much his defensive coordinator showed he cared about the team just by showing up for Sunday's game.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis also carried a heavy heart and said there were no words to describe the emotion of what his team had just overcome.

It was yet another intriguing Sunday in "Bengaldom" as Cincinnati took sole possession of first place in the AFC North with a 17-14 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

The game marked the fifth consecutive thriller for the Bengals (4-1). But the big win was only a backdrop for the heartbreaking situation involving Zimmer, whose wife, Vikki, passed away late Thursday.

Zimmer certainly didn’t have to be in Baltimore Sunday.

According to Lewis, Zimmer went back and forth before choosing to travel with the team. The decision worked out well as Zimmer called a terrific game and the Bengals picked up their biggest win of the season.

"Man, it just lifted guys up," Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph said of Zimmer’s presence. "Once we saw him in practice Saturday morning and knew that he was going with us, it was unbelievable the feeling I had in my stomach."

An emotional Zimmer, who declined to be interviewed Sunday, brought three members of his family to Baltimore to help console him. Zimmer also told the team afterward how much Vikki cared about the Bengals and that, "She’s up there now in heaven smiling at you."

The Bengals certainly played as if they were inspired.

Zimmer’s defense held Baltimore’s high-powered offense scoreless for three-and-a-half quarters. Cincinnati’s offense also contributed 403 total yards, which included an 80-yard drive in the final 2:15 to win the game. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer connected with receiver Andre Caldwell for a 20-yard touchdown with 22 seconds left, which completely took the air out M&T Bank Stadium.

Cincinnati wasn’t perfect -- it had two turnovers and seven penalties. But you had the sense early the underdog Bengals weren’t intimidated by the hostile environment and, eventually, wouldn’t be denied.

"We are prepared for anything," Crocker said of the Bengals’ toughness. "Yes, this was sad. But it was also uplifting because we had a purpose."

Emotionally charged, Cincinnati looked a step or two faster on defense.

The Ravens couldn’t get anything going as the Bengals took away most of the big plays. Cincinnati also made second-year quarterback Joe Flacco look shaky for the first time this season, as he threw for 186 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Bengals tailback Cedric Benson rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown to keep the game within reach. He broke an NFL-best 39-game streak for Baltimore of not allowing a 100-yard rusher. Palmer also stood tall in the pocket and hit receivers Chad Ochocinco and Chris Henry for a combined 10 catches and 186 yards.

Despite trailing in the final period and needing another late comeback, Cincinnati outplayed Baltimore in most major statistical categories. If the Bengals weren’t considered contenders before, they certainly are now.

In the process of getting a win for “Coach Zim,” the Bengals also set themselves up nicely with a 3-0 start in the AFC North. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Bengals are the first team since the merger to win three consecutive division games by three points or fewer. Cincinnati now has quality wins over three teams with .500 records or better in the Ravens (3-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2) and Green Bay Packers (2-2).

Cincinnati entered this season confident, but many pundits were taking a wait-and-see approach.

But currently for the Bengals, seeing is believing.

"A big reason why we play this game is to get respect," Rivers said. "This is the only sport where you can go out every down and earn somebody’s respect. So it’s a cool job in that way."