Ravens trying to stay centered on task at hand

OWINGS MILLS – Orlando Brown said he brooded in relative silence after midnight on the Baltimore Ravens' charter flight after a disheartening loss to the Oakland Raiders. <P> A few curses from the massive offensive tackle accompanied his bout with frustration and confusion early Monday morning. <P> Brown remains puzzled about how Baltimore squandered sole possession of first place in the AFC North with a 20-12 defeat Sunday to a mutinous, injury-riddled outfit.

"I still can't believe it happened," Brown said. "We handed over the control card. It was a real emotional loss.

"On the plane ride back, it would be quiet for a second with guys just shaking their heads and then somebody would yell, ‘Damn!' We lost to a 3-10 team. It ain't right."

Now, the Ravens (8-6) are locked in a duel with the Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) for the division title with no ironclad guarantees about their fate.

Baltimore no longer owns control of its own destiny, and needs to win the remainder of its games, beginning this weekend at the 4-10 Cleveland Browns, and get some help to make the playoffs.

The Ravens hope the Bengals falter after surrendering a one-game edge over them. If the rivals lose or win both of their two final games, the Bengals would still claim the division and automatic playoff berth.

Cincinnati has a key tiebreaker advantage with a superior strength of victory mark if the teams finish the season with identical marks. A win over the Kansas City Chiefs, who beat Baltimore, is a major asset for Marvin Lewis' Bengals.

"This team has got to believe that if we win the next two games, things will work out for us," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Some of it, we no longer have control of, but you've got to believe.

"The key for us is to not get drawn into all the legitimate speculation. It's all very real. It can get real complicated and we just need to keep focusing on the task at hand."

Cincinnati has to travel for a dangerous game against the NFC West-leading St. Louis Rams, who sport a 7-0 mark at Edward Jones Dome.

St. Louis (12-3) features an electric offense with receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, running back Marshall Faulk and quarterback Marc Bulger.

Baltimore already defeated Cleveland in September, 33-13, as NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis shattered the league's single-game rushing mark with 295 yards.

"They're going to come out and try to redeem themselves," Brown said, "but we have a lot of motivation to beat them again.

Seeking to rebound from a typically disastrous recipe in its fourth consecutive road loss, Baltimore had a three-turnover outing to snap a three-game winning streak. The setback included eight penalties and 17-percent offensive inefficiency in third-down situations.

"This is a bump," Billick said. "We've overcome a couple of bumps, and we'll have to overcome this one."

The Ravens fell behind immediately as Anthony Wright's interception set up a short touchdown. Allowing a 71-yard kickoff return led to a Raiders field goal and a 10-3 lead.

"You can't go on the road and spot a team 10 points, not in this league no matter what their record is," Billick said. "That left us vulnerable."

In the fourth quarter, Wright fumbled when he was blasted by blitzing linebacker Napoleon Harris deep in Oakland territory.

Billick reiterated Monday that Wright will remain the starter and announced that rookie Kyle Boller will move past Chris Redman to back up Wright against Cleveland. Boller has recovered from leg surgery.

Wright is 3-2 as a starter, passing for 946 yards with eight touchdowns, six interceptions and a 75.6 quarterback rating.

"We're at the point right now where you can't just arbitrarily move guys in and out, particularly at that position," Billick said. "There's too much at stake right now."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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