Interceptions helped Ravens shake off uneven start against Arizona and extend AFC North lead

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — After an unusually sluggish start, the Baltimore Ravens forced a couple turnovers that helped jump-start their offense.

Once again, Geno Stone was part of a big play on defense.

Stone's NFL-leading fifth interception gave Baltimore a short field in the second half, and the Ravens went on to a 31-24 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Brandon Stephens also contributed an interception as Baltimore again took advantage of shaky quarterback play by the opposition.

“I think those were definitely crucial throughout the game, and there was definitely some momentum,” linebacker Roquan Smith said after the game. "I’m just excited for those guys, and those guys keep making plays. It’s a great team, so any time any of those guys make plays, we’re all excited for them.”

The Ravens (6-2) lead the AFC North by 1 1/2 games and have their next three at home.

Baltimore and Arizona were tied at 7 when Stephens' interception near midfield led to a touchdown near the end of the second quarter. Then Stone picked off a pass by Joshua Dobbs late in the third, giving the Ravens the ball at the Arizona 23. That set up a TD that made it 21-7.

WHAT'S WORKING

As this year's trade deadline approaches this week, it's another reminder of how successful the last one was for Baltimore. Since acquiring Smith from Chicago last season, the Ravens have allowed 14.9 points and 283 yards per game, both the best marks in the league.

The 24 points Arizona scored matched the most against the Ravens this season, but even that was after the Cardinals padded their total with a touchdown and field goal late in the fourth quarter.

“We were playing against the clock as much as we were the offense in the fourth quarter. We were very vanilla with the call,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “We ran the same call probably 15 times in a row or so, and that’s OK."

WHAT NEEDS WORK

Baltimore was a bit sloppy closing the game out with a sizable lead. Receiver Nelson Agholor tried to short-hop an onside kick and muffed it, enabling Arizona to kick the field goal that cut the lead to seven.

Agholor recovered the next onside kick attempt by the Cardinals.

"He who hesitates is lost on an onside kick recovery, obviously, and it bounced," Harbaugh said. “In the second one, it was the exact same kick, and we went and got it.”

STOCK UP

It was a banner game for defensive lineman Michael Pierce, who knocked down a fourth-down pass in the second quarter and then stuffed a rush attempt on fourth-and-1 on Arizona's next possession. Pierce also had his first sack since 2021.

“It’s how he’s been playing all year," Harbaugh said. "He’s having a great year. He’s doing a great job, and it’s nice to see it kind of pay off in a huge game for him like that.”

STOCK DOWN

Although the Ravens made big plays when they needed to, they weren't all that great defensively at the line of scrimmage for most of Sunday's game. Arizona rushed for 129 yards, just the third team this season to surpass 100 in that department against Baltimore.

INJURIES

When asked about injuries, Harbaugh gave an unsolicited update on linebacker Tyus Bowser, who hasn't played this season because of knee issues.

“I had a chance to talk to Tyus just last week, and Tyus was pretty optimistic. So, I can’t say it’s a guarantee, because it’s just kind of a ... it’s a knee that’s a little angry at times,” Harbaugh said. “But who knows? Maybe we’ll get Tyus back. We’ll see how that goes in the next few weeks.”

KEY NUMBER

32 — The number of current NFL franchises that Ravens guard Kevin Zeitler has beaten as a starter in his 12-year career. Arizona and Tennessee were the last teams he hadn't defeated. The Ravens beat the Titans earlier this month, then beat the Cardinals this past weekend.

Zeitler lost to the Cardinals in 2019 and 2020 while with the New York Giants, and in 2015 when he played for the Cincinnati Bengals.

NEXT STEPS

Although Baltimore has a stretch of games at home coming up, that doesn't mean they'll be easy. The Ravens face the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, and then they take on Cleveland and Cincinnati.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL