Ravens dig too deep a hole, lose to Bengals

CINCINNATI - In a bizarre reversal of fortune, aggression and focus, the Baltimore Ravens lost a football game to the formerly hapless Cincinnati Bengals. Yes, the Bengals. They didn't resemble that sad-sack outfit that Baltimore had defeated in nine of the previous 10 meetings. These Bengals are led by rookie coach Marvin Lewis.

The architect of Baltimore's relentless Super Bowl defense exhorted his team to capitalize on miscues. They obviously listened to him. Within the Ravens' 34-26 defeat Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, the chief culprits were a flurry of turnovers by rookie quarterback Kyle Boller and Baltimore drawing over a dozen penalties from referee Johnny Grier's crew. Plus, safety Ed Reed suffered the calamity of allowing an underthrown pass to deflect off his right shoulder pad and fall into the waiting hands of a striding Chad Johnson for an 82-yard touchdown in the second quarter. 

It was the Bengals' longest touchdown pass in eight years. "You never want to lose to the Bengals because of they have a reputation for being a perennial loser," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "The fact of the matter is that they're a very capable team. As bad as this loss is and as much as it hurts us, we also realize that this isn't the end of our season." 

Despite the setback, Baltimore (3-3) remains atop the AFC North with a half-game edge over the Cleveland Browns. It's the only division in the league that doesn't feature a team with a winning record. "It was a wakeup call for us," Reed said. "We made a lot of mistakes and they exposed us. We did not look past this team." 

Two fumbles and an interception by Boller led to 17 of the Bengals first-half points. Baltimore fell behind 34-10 by the fourth quarter. Boller didn't emerge completely unscathed medically, either, suffering a mild separation of his left, non-throwing shoulder. He's expected to play next week against the Denver Broncos. "Anytime you turn the ball over, it's bad," Boller said. "I felt I was accurate and the receivers made plays. We've got to get rid of those little mistakes that killed us." 

A pair of late Baltimore touchdowns and 2-point conversions followed by an unsuccessful onside kick in the final seconds ended the contest and set off bittersweet congratulations for Lewis. "Forgive me if I'm not popping champagne bottles for him," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. 

The Ravens mounted 390 yards of total offense behind Boller's career-high 302 yards, two touchdowns and 104.2 quarterback rating. NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis rumbled ahead for 101 yards on 19 carries for his fifth consecutive 100-yard game. Yet, those statistics didn't affect the final result. Not with the Ravens going 2-for-11 on third down attempts. Not with the turnovers by Boller, the league's lowest-rated passer. "I like the way we finished the game in terms of the desire, the effort," Billick said. "You just can't build that big of a deficit. We couldn't overcome our errors and mistakes." 

Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna used the Baltimore secondary for target practice for three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 130.8 quarterback rating. Boller signaled a revived passing game with perfect accuracy on a game-opening drive punctuated by a leaping touchdown catch by Travis Taylor. Then, Baltimore began digging a formidable ditch with turnovers. "Kyle is pretty good about ball security," Billick said. "He's got very good fundamentals of holding onto the bal. Twice, he didn't and it cost us." 

Boller fumbled on a play-action fake in the first quarter when he banged the football into fullback Alan Ricard's hip and lost a wrestling match for the pigskin with linebacker Brian Simmons. Three plays later, Kitna exploited outside linebacker Adalius Thomas to hit streaking tight end Matt Schobel for a 45-yard touchdown to tie the game. One minute later, the first-round draft pick was sacked and stripped by Carl Powell to set up Corey Dillon's 2-yard touchdown run. Boller recovered another of his total of three fumbles on the next drive, but threw a pass behind Frank Sanders that cornerback Tory James managed to snare. That led to a field goal followed by Reed's unusual play staking Cincinnati to a 24-7 lead in the first half. "I had a great read on the ball," Reed said. "I jumped up there and thought I had it. It just went through my hands. It hit my pad, lucky bounce. When it goes bad, it goes bad"

 Baltimore traded field goals in the third quarter. And Kitna found Peter Warrick for a 21-yard touchdown to build a 34-10 lead one play into the fourth quarter. Baltimore closed the gap on: Boller's 73-yard touchdown pass to Taylor, tight end Todd Heap's 2-point conversion, Chester Taylor's touchdown run and another Heap conversion. However, Wade Richey's onside kick glanced off Warrick out of bounds. Kitna kneeled down three times to put the game away. "As bad as you want to say, 'Yeah, it's the Bengals,' it's still an NFL ball club," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We just dug too deep a hole. You want to be mad and upset, but we're 3-3 and ahead of the division. "I would never blow off a loss, but I'm just happy we're not in a hole. I will live and die with my rookie quarterback. I don't care how many turnovers he has."

Aaron Wilson writes for The Carroll County Times

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