The Ravens might have to reverse their dismal season without their top two defensive players.
Strong safety Ed Reed and middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the last two NFL defensive players of the year, could both be sidelined when the Ravens play at Pittsburgh on Monday night. Reed missed his first career game with a high ankle sprain, and Lewis left the 10-6 loss in Chicago midway in the fourth quarter with a thigh injury.
The Ravens would put dime back Chad Williams in for Reed and use special teams ace Bart Scott in place of Lewis.
This typifies the struggles of the Ravens, who are 2-4 for the first time since 1999.
"(The Steelers) are probably not taking us seriously. A lot of teams aren't going to take us serious especially at this point of the season," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "The opportunity is still there. We'd better show up, or it's going to be another long night."
The Ravens are entering the toughest stretch of their schedule. Four of their next five games are against the Steelers and the Bengals, with a game at Jacksonville sandwiched in between.
"The only thing I know to do when you're a 2-4 football team is you go back to work and you work your way through it," coach Brian Billick said. "That's what's left of this team right now. What the rest of the year holds for us, we'll find out. But this team will stay together, and it will work."
The injury-riddled defense can't count on the offense to bail it out.
The Ravens have scored just six touchdowns in six games. They are averaging 11.5 points.
"We need to get over that hump where we're executing on a consistent basis," receiver Derrick Mason said. "One drive we're executing, and then we don't do anything for three or four drives. In order for us to be a very good offense, we have to be consistent if we want to put more than six points on the board.
"We're averaging 10 points, and in this league, that's not going to get you any wins. We have to find a way to score some points; that's our main agenda. Forget everything else, how are we on offense going to score some points? Six points isn't the norm in this league."
The passing game has been sporadic with backup Anthony Wright. The running game has been nonexistent with Jamal Lewis.
In fact, Lewis has been held under 100 yards for six straight games, the longest drought of his career.
"Teams kind of get your number," Jamal Lewis said. "They know what you do and they scheme against you. They come in to stop No. 31."
The Ravens crossed into Bears territory three times -- and not past the Chicago 44-yard line after halftime -- in a 10-6 loss at Soldier Field. Managing 199 yards of total offense, the Ravens were held without a touchdown for the first time this season.
A botched assignment by Terrell Suggs led to the game's only touchdown, a 9-yard pass from Kyle Orton to fullback Marc Edwards in the first quarter. The Ravens closed to 7-6 in the second quarter but never threatened in the second half.
Penalties once again hurt the Ravens, who were flagged 11 times for 100 yards. Two penalties helped the Bears convert third downs on their only two scoring drives.
--LB Ray Lewis left in the fourth quarter at Chicago with a thigh injury that bothered him throughout the week. He did not return. Lewis will have an MRI on Monday.
--QB Kyle Boller could return to practice this week and dress as the third quarterback for the Monday night game in Pittsburgh. He could be available to start the Nov. 6 game against the Bengals.
--RB Jamal Lewis continues to struggle, getting held under 60 yards at Chicago for the fourth time this season. He is averaging 2.9 yards a carry.
--FB Alan Ricard injured his left calf in the second quarter at Chicago and did not return. He had missed most of the season because of an injury to his right calf.
--SS Ed Reed could miss the next two games with a high ankle sprain. He was replaced in Chicago by Chad Williams, who is a dependable dime back but lacks Reed's playmaking ability.
--WR Mark Clayton likely will be questionable with an ankle injury for the Monday night game in Pittsburgh after not practicing last week. He was replaced at Chicago by Randy Hymes, who had two catches for 25 yards.
--WR Clarence Moore was inactive for the second straight week even though starter Mark Clayton was out with an ankle injury. Moore struggled in catching the ball as a starter in the first two games of the season.
--K Aaron Elling, a kickoff specialist, was inactive at Chicago for the first time this season.
Coach Marvin Lewis called his team "young" on Sunday, following the Bengals' 27-13 loss to the Steelers.
The Bengals squandered early scoring chances. Rookie wide receiver Chris Henry dropped a would-be touchdown pass in the end zone. Then Shayne Graham missed a 30-yard field goal, his closest miss in 73 attempts as Bengals kicker.
Then they couldn't stop the run, allowing the Steelers 221 rushing yards.
Now 5-2 and clinging to a half-game lead over the Steelers, the Bengals learned another lesson Sunday, Lewis said.
"When you play a close game, I think our guys are realizing, a lot of those plays play into what happens down the line," Lewis said. "We let too many of them get away from us. We're a young team that continues to learn from these lessons."
The other lesson, and it's not a new one in football, is the importance of stopping the run. Playing with a 24-6 lead, the Steelers did not pass once in the fourth quarter. They ran 20 times.
"It's the way this league works: If you don't stop the run, you're probably going to get your tail kicked," defensive tackle Bryan Robinson said.
Next up are the 1-5 Green Bay Packers. They fit the model of the teams the Bengals have defeated this season. Cincinnati's five victories have come against teams that are a combined 9-22.
After the Packers, the Bengals will travel to Baltimore to play their third AFC North division game. The Bengals still could enter their bye at 7-2, which would position them for a serious playoff run that wouldn't demand a perfect December.
Carson Palmer did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 12 games, and the Steelers turned two Palmer interceptions into 10 points in the third quarter, cruising to a 27-13 victory. No question, Pittsburgh is still the team to beat in the AFC North.
Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes, and the Steelers ran for 221 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown by tailback Willie Parker.
The first quarter hinted of another productive offensive game. The Bengals ran 23 of the first 26 offensive plays but led only 3-0. A would-be touchdown catch by Chad Johnson was overturned on a challenge, and rookie receiver Chris Henry dropped what would have been a 12-yard touchdown pass from Palmer.
--RB Rudi Johnson ran just 12 times for 65 yards (5.4-yard average) against Pittsburgh. He ran nine times for 46 yards in the first quarter alone, and his final three carries came in the third quarter. "I feel like a thief. And I don't steal," a frustrated Johnson said afterward.
Johnson's rushing attempts have decreased in each of the past three games. He had 19 in Game 4, 18 each of the previous two games and 12 Sunday.
"It ain't because of me. Ain't because of me. I had 50 in the first (quarter)," he said. "You tell me. You do the math. Last time I checked. That's all I'm saying."
--QB Carson Palmer had two streaks end Sunday. He had thrown 169 passes without an interception before throwing two in the third quarter that the Steelers turned into 10 points. And Palmer's streak of nine consecutive games with a passer rating of 100-plus ended with a thud. The two interceptions, coupled with his first game without a touchdown pass after throwing one in 12 straight, left him with a 53.8 rating.
--WR Chad Johnson had 94 receiving yards but dropped a bubble screen early against the Steelers. Half of his yards came on one fourth-quarter catch.
--DE Duane Clemons had the Bengals' only sack of Ben Roethlisberger. Clemons, playing just his second game after a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, is poised to get more playing time. He makes plays in the defensive line.
--WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, after missing two games with a bruised hand, returned to make a team-high seven catches against the Steelers. He said his hand felt no worse afterward than coming in.
The string of struggling quarterbacks on the Browns' schedule continues this week when they face the Texans' David Carr in Houston. In successive weeks they faced the Bears' Kyle Orton and the Ravens' Anthony Wright.
Last week Cleveland played Detroit. Lions quarterback Joey Harrington had been having so many problems that Jeff Garcia was made the starter instead. The Browns shut down Orton, but at one point Wright completed 18 of 22 passes. Garcia was 22 of 34 passes for 210 yards.
"I don't care what (Carr's) rating is," cornerback Daylon McCutcheon said. "If he's in the NFL, he has to be good. Their team would have been 8-8 if they beat us last year, and it's essentially the same team."
The Browns concluded last season in Houston on Jan. 2. The Browns won 22-14. Carr completed 15 of 25 passes but for only 114 yards. His longest completion was 15 yards, and he was sacked six times. The Browns would take that again, but six sacks is unlikely, despite the number of times Carr has been dumped this season, including five last week while attempting only nine passes against the Colts.
If Carr is to have a good day passing, the Browns are a team he could post numbers against. Pass rush continues to be a problem for the Browns (eight sacks in six games) and they continue to play soft in pass coverage. Quarterbacks have completed 71.9 percent of their passes against the Browns.
The philosophy is to give up yards but not give up points. The Colts scored 13, the Bears 10, the Ravens 16 and the Lions 13. Manning completed 19 of 23 passes, Orton 16 of 26 and Wright 23 of 31.
"We've been able to keep (our opponents) out of the end zone so far and hold them to field-goal attempts," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. "Hopefully, that will continue. If they can keep hanging in there, improve the offense and get on track, then we can put ourselves in positions to win in the fourth quarter."
The Browns defense played well again, but the offense failed to post a touchdown for the second straight week during a 13-10 loss to the Lions. The offense has scored two touchdowns in the past four games. The only touchdown against the Lions was scored on a 90-yard kickoff return by Joshua Cribbs.
Trent Dilfer completed just 10 of 19 passes for 73 yards. He threw three interceptions and had a 22.4 passer rating. He has turned the ball over eight times in the past three games. He had a 53.3 rating the previous week in a 16-3 loss to the Ravens.
"I played a stinker," Dilfer said. "Last week I didn't play my best, either. I came out feeling good. I felt we could move the ball and score points, and it didn't work."
--RB Reuben Droughns rushed for 100 yards against Detroit, the first time he's reached that milestone with the Browns. But six games into the season, the Browns still do not have a rushing touchdown.
--CB Gary Baxter was knocked out in the first quarter against Detroit with a pectoral injury and might miss a month.
--WR Braylon Edwards returned to the lineup against Detroit after missing two games recovering from an arm infection. He led the Browns with three catches.
--P Kyle Richardson has become a liability. He punted six times against the Lions. He hit one well, landing the ball on the 3 midway through the fourth quarter.
--LT L.J. Shelton continues to have a problem with penalties. He was called for illegal procedure and holding against Detroit. He has been penalized six times in the last three games.
Pittsburgh can deliver a virtual knockout blow Monday night to the Baltimore Ravens, who were slight favorites to win the AFC North Division this season.
What looked as though it would be another in a long line of showdowns between these two bitter rivals looks more lopsided today as the Ravens lug a 2-4 record into Heinz Field to play the 4-2 Steelers.
It will be the second straight division game for Pittsburgh, which kept the race tight by winning in Cincinnati on Sunday.
When the Ravens play the Steelers this time, Baltimore's Todd Heap won't be the only tight end who is a weapon in the receiving game. Pittsburgh has finally discovered the position after a decade of ignoring it. Rookie Heath Miller is second behind Hines Ward on the team with 15 receptions, four of them for touchdowns.
Miller has led the Steelers in receiving the past two games. The last time a tight end was the lone team leader in a game was Eric Green in 1994. Steelers tight ends caught only 22 passes all of last season, led by Jerame Tuman's nine. No tight end has caught 20 passes in a season for the Steelers since Mark Bruener did it as a rookie in 1995.
At 6-foot-5, Miller is the biggest target on the field, something the Steelers lost when Plaxico Burress signed as a free agent with the Giants this year.
"It means a lot, especially with the loss of Plaxico, having Heath come around," Ward said. "He's starting to come into his own. Each week he's getting better and better."
Ward warned defenses: "You're going to have to do something about Heath. He's a weapon on the field. When he goes out there and he starts to demand double teams, then it will open things up on the outside."
Miller caught 14 of his 16 passes in the past three games as he and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger built a rapport.
"We have gotten him more involved as he's become more comfortable in this offense," coach Bill Cowher said. "Heath Miller is quite a target to throw to. He's a big guy, and he goes after the catch. He's become a bigger part of our offense."
But first, Miller, who caught 144 passes at Virginia, had to prove himself as a blocker in the Steelers offense that likes to grind things out.
"I think it all starts with his blocking," offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. "That's one thing Heath's done since he first got here is to become a better blocker, especially earlier than we thought he would. That really makes it easier to put him in there. It gives him more opportunities to catch the ball. Play-action is big; he's made big plays for us. We have to find way to get him the ball."
The Steelers ran 47 times for a season-high 221 yards and disrupted Carson Palmer and Cincinnati's offense to win 27-13 in Paul Brown Stadium and keep the Bengals from expanding their AFC North lead. Cincinnati holds a half-game edge at 5-2 over the 4-2 Steelers.
The Steelers ended Palmer's streak of 169 passes without an interception by picking him off twice in the third quarter. They also ended his streak of 100-point passer ratings at nine games. He had a 53.8.
Ben Roethlisberger returned after missing one game with a knee injury to throw only 14 passes. He completed nine, two of them for touchdowns to Heath Miller and Hines Ward. Willie Parker had his third 100-yard game, rushing for 131 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries.
--CB Ike Taylor shadowed Bengals WR Chad Johnson on Sunday, something the Steelers have not done with a corner since Rod Woodson played for them. Johnson caught four passes for 94 yards and no touchdowns.
--QB Tommy Maddox has been dropped to No. 3 and likely will stay there the rest of the season. Charlie Batch is the No. 2 quarterback.
--CB Bryant McFadden, the Steelers' second-round pick, replaced an ineffective Willie Williams early in Cincinnati and played the rest of the game.
--WR Cedrick Wilson has a broken bone and torn ligament in his left wrist. He played but dropped one pass in Cincinnati and did not have a catch.
--RB Jerome Bettis came off the bench to carry 13 times for 56 yards against Cincinnati after he was virtually ignored in the previous game.