Billick takes close look after Ravens' loss

OWINGS MILLS - Dissecting the reasons behind the Baltimore Ravens' losing equation didn't require Brian Billick to wield a scalpel or a microscope. The Ravens' 34-26 loss Sunday to the Cincinnati Bengals isn't all that complicated to understand.

Three turnovers from rookie quarterback Kyle Boller, a secondary victimized by a strange bounce and the Bengals' speed outside in addition to over a dozen penalties combined to spell defeat for Baltimore.

The Ravens (3-3) squandered an opportunity to pad their half-game advantage atop the AFC North, which is the only division in the league that doesn't feature a team with a winning mark. "Losing to Cincinnati is obviously something we had no intention of doing," receiver Frank Sanders said. "Neither was playing the way we did."

Within that vein, Billick expressed disappointment before detailing Boller's two fumbles and one interception, safety Ed Reed's deflected pass turning into a long Chad Johnson touchdown and finding fault with referee Johnny Grier's crew.

"When you throw 13 penalties on top of it, both real and imagined, that's going to affect it," Billick said.

Boller's first fumble occurred on a play-action fake when he accidentally brushed the football against fullback Alan Ricard's hip. His second fumble was ripped away from him by defensive end Carl Powell. Both set up touchdowns. Boller was then intercepted by cornerback Tory James when his pass was thrown behind Sanders to lead to a field goal.

"Kyle has very strong pocket techniques and protects the ball very well," Billick said. "I'm not going to overreact to it. Clearly, it's something we need to be aware of and continue to work on his mechanics."

Boller mounted a comeback in the second half, suffering a mild sprained left shoulder while achieving his top career showing with 302 yards, two touchdowns and a 104.2 quarterback rating. His quarterback rating jumped from 46.2 to 58.7, and Baltimore no longer ranks last in the league in passing, moving up to No. 31 overall.

"He made some throws that only a handful of guys in this league could make that throw, some caught, some not," Billick said. "I was very comfortable with his decisions."

Yet, Boller's fumbles and interception in the first half directly led to 17 Bengals points. And an eventual 34-10 deficit was too much to overcome.

"Those were huge fumbles in the beginning," Boller said. "You can't give the opponent the ball on the 20-yard line and not expect them to score, no matter how good your defense is."

Boller did demonstrate toughness after injuring his non-throwing shoulder in the final minutes on a rough hit by defensive end Justin Smith.

The first-round draft pick insisted on staying in the game to finish what he had started. "There was no way that he was coming out of the game, and that's a good sign," Billick said. "For him to come back and make the throws he did after being hurt, you've got to be impressed with that."

The Ravens' defense is ranked ninth overall, but allowed Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna to pass for 274 yards and three touchdowns for a 130.8 quarterback rating.

Plus, Reed had an uncharacteristically subpar outing with two dropped interceptions, including one that bounced off his shoulder pads to Johnson for an 82-yard touchdown.

"What do you tell Ed Reed?" Billick said. "I'll wager a month's pay that if he's in that situation 100 times, the other 99 he picks it off or knocks it down."

Billick wasn't nearly as forgiving of the defense for faltering in sudden-change situations, although it was the offense that created those short fields to defend. Baltimore allowed Cincinnati to convert 7-of-15 third downs.

"The thing that I was most disappointed about is we have come to expect a lot from our defense and there were a lot of instances where I thought the defense would normally shut down a team to give us an opportunity," said Billick, who pointed out the Bengals' 12-play, 72-yard scoring drive that lasted 6:09 to open the third quarter as an example.

Billick also took exception with a few of the season-high 13 penalties for 113 yards assessed against his football team. An instant-replay challenge went against Billick, costing him a timeout in the first half. Grier upheld a call that James wasn't down before a 31-yard interception of Boller's interception. Television replays seemed to indicate that Sanders tagged James down.

"I know I touched him," Sanders said. "There was no question about it."

Billick said he remains an advocate of instant replay, but wants it to be modified to have game officials in the press box more involved in the process. The Ravens did have a call overturned in their favor after it was initially ruled that tight end Todd Heap didn't catch a pass in bounds.

"I don't know that Johnny wasn't looking at pictures of his kids in that little booth," Billick said of the decision on James' interception. "Let's take it upstairs."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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