Everything that has gone wrong with the Ravens this season can be traced back to their last meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals.
In a 27-26 loss to the Bengals last December, the Ravens surrendered 24 points in the fourth quarter - the most in franchise history - and failed to hold a 20-3 lead.
Dating to that defeat, the Ravens have lost eight of 12 games.
Now the Ravens want to see if they can reverse their fortune against the team that changed it in the first place.
They need to in order to avoid a second straight underachieving season.
By coach Brian Billick's estimation, the Ravens (2-5) have virtually no shot at capturing the AFC North and now have to win eight of their last nine games to earn a wild-card spot.
"We would have to get on a heck of a run," Billick said. "We're cognizant of that. Until someone tells us that mathematically it isn't going to happen, that's the hook you have to hold onto. That's where you generate your enthusiasm. Why give up on that hope?
"The way these guys played (Monday) night tells me that they're holding onto that. It was painful (Monday) night but there was a sense of accomplishment to the degree they stepped up to the challenge."
Their next challenge is heightened by an imposing November stretch.
The Ravens' next four games are against winning teams: the AFC North-leading Bengals (6-2) twice, at the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3) and home against the Steelers (5-2). The Ravens haven't beaten a team with a winning record since the New York Jets last November, losing their last four meetings with teams above .500.
But Billick saw a glimmer of hope in the Ravens on Monday night, from the way the defense rallied together without linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed to how the offense scored more points than it did all season.
"We matched our passion and intensity with a certain level of execution that maybe we haven't put together compared to the other games we lost," Billick said. "Hopefully, we can hold onto (the emotion) and not be worn out from the week before, nor wear ourselves out this week, because we're going to have to have the same level of passion and intensity for Cincinnati."
If the Ravens want to pull off the upset, they need to find a way to put up points against the Bengals, the fourth-stingiest defense in the NFL.
The Ravens had some rhythm to their offense Monday night in Pittsburgh, but they left a lot of points on the field. The Ravens marched past the Steelers' 30-yard line six times and came away with one touchdown. In the second half, they couldn't get any closer than the Pittsburgh 22.
The season-long problem for the Ravens has led to seven touchdowns, the fewest in the NFL.
"We're doing all the things that we can: taking the shots down the field, having a guy catch the ball and run with it and handing the ball off," Billick said. "Those are the three ways you can move the ball down there. We've got to orchestrate what we're doing down there better and guys have to make plays."
The Ravens want to run the ball more effectively when they get close to the red zone, which would ease some of the pressure off of Wright.
There are times when Wright can step up and hit a receiver on target deep downfield. And there are the other moments when he misses open receivers for touchdowns, overthrowing Todd Heap and failing to see Derrick Mason.
After the Ravens' touchdown on their first drive, Wright was 1-for-8 for 22 yards when they moved inside the Pittsburgh 30. As a result, the Ravens have just one touchdown in their past 31 drives.
"It's like this team, (Wright) did some very good things in there," Billick said. "He's continuing to improve in terms of taking ownership of the offense in that regard. His completion percentage is good, and he saw the plays down the field much better than the week before. That's a positive game."
SERIES HISTORY: 19th meeting. The Ravens lead the series, 12-6, including a 7-2 record at home. The Ravens have won seven of the last 10 games in the series. But the last loss by the Ravens stung the most. Last December, the Ravens dropped a 27-26 game in which they gave up 24 fourth-quarter points. The Ravens allowed quarterback Carson Palmer to throw for 253 yards and three touchdowns in the second half.
--It seems like the Ravens can never get out of a game without some sort of drama. And Monday night in Pittsburgh was no different.
WR Derrick Mason and QB Anthony Wright exchanged heated words after Wright failed to find an open Mason in the end zone for what would have been a touchdown in the second quarter. Billick, as expected, defused the situation.
"Derrick's very passionate," Billick said. "It was a route he had broken off that, quite frankly, Anthony was not ready for him to break off in that way."
Mason also had words with the coaching staff after being taken out of the game when the Ravens had moved into the Steelers' red zone in the first half.
--Despite the loss, players were given Tuesday and Wednesday off, leaving two full days to prepare for the Cincinnati Bengals. Billick said he plans to cram the normal three-day preparation into the two.
"We need the time," Billick said. "Our guys are tired and sore, didn't get in until 4 o'clock in the morning. They're beat up a little bit, as you can imagine any time you play a good, physical game like that."
Billick has been criticized heavily this season for being "soft" with his players.
--The Ravens are coming off their game as far as pass protection goes.
They allowed the Steelers to sack Anthony Wright twice and only gave up a handful of pressures. This protection gave enough time for Wright to complete eight passes of 15 yards or more (his best total of the season), including deep throws down the middle of the field of 31, 16, 15 and 15 yards to Derrick Mason.
"Our offensive line, our backs and tight ends blocked very well," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "The Steelers force you into a lot of one-on-ones with your backs and tight ends in protection. That's part of the key to their pressure. Our guys did a great job with it. The protection was great all night."
--With the game there for the taking for the Ravens, breakdowns in the secondary allowed Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to march his team 37 yards in two plays, all but assuring a potential field goal in the final minutes of the game.
Roethlisberger hit Antwaan Randle El for 14 yards over the middle of the field, then found Quincy Morgan for 23 yards on the side of Chris McAlister to the Ravens' 42, completions that helped set up Jeff Reed's eventual game-winning kick.
Why did it look so easy for Roethlisberger?
"Alignment, assignment was fine," Billick said. "The technique of getting the proper jam. We didn't get the proper jam that you need in that situation. Physically, we just didn't get the right step, the right hand position, the whole nine yards."
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 - Touchdowns scored by the Ravens this season in seven games, an NFL low.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When a team says it will work harder, what it is really saying is it must work smarter. When you don't succeed, you examine all you do as coaches and see if you can find a solution to coming up short. The players look for answers from us. We try to provide them. There is no curling up in the fetal position and crying for mom." - Coach Brian Billick on fighting through a 2-5 start, his worst with the Ravens since 1999.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Ravens could return three injured starters - defensive end Tony Weaver (toe), receiver Mark Clayton (ankle) and fullback Ovie Mughelli (ankle) - for Sunday's game against the Bengals (6-2).
But that news was offset by the setbacks of S Ed Reed (ankle) and quarterback Kyle Boller (toe).
The Ravens had hoped Boller would be healthy enough to reclaim his starting job from Anthony Wright by this time, but he felt soreness after returning to practice last week.
Coach Brian Billick said Boller is "unlikely" to play against the Bengals and didn't sound upbeat about his chances of coming back next week.
"I'm now in some gray area here as to how he feels," Billick said. "The timeframe that we're hoping for just isn't happening right now."
The Ravens had seemed equally optimistic last week about Reed returning against Cincinnati. Now, it appears as if the Ravens will be without Reed and Lewis for a second straight game.
"Ed Reed probably has a bit further to go," Billick said.
--RB Jamal Lewis has averaged 55.3 yards a game, which is 27th in the NFL. It's the worst seven-game start of his career.
--QB Anthony Wright has struggled throwing the ball deep this season. He has four completions over 25 yards.
--QB Kyle Boller probably will be out for another two games. He could try to practice with the scout team this week.
--WR Derrick Mason leads the NFL with 19 catches for 183 yards on third downs.
--DE Terrell Suggs is tied for the team lead in sacks (two) and tops the team in forced fumbles (two).
--FS Will Demps ranks second in tackles with 44, trailing only linebacker Ray Lewis.
--RB Chester Taylor leads the Ravens running backs - and ranks third on the team - with 21 catches for 155 yards.
GAME PLAN: The Ravens only have to watch a little bit of tape to know where to attack the Bengals. In Cincinnati's two losses, the defense allowed 181 yards rushing to Jacksonville and 221 yards rushing to Pittsburgh. That means the Ravens will rely on Lewis to break out of his season-long slump. The Ravens want to avoid putting quarterback Anthony Wright in obvious passing situations. The Bengals have five players with at least two interceptions.
Defensively, the Ravens believe they can shut down running back Rudi Johnson. The key for them is to not allow quarterback Carson Palmer to have time to throw deep passes. The Ravens historically have had trouble with Cincinnati receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Expect the Ravens to give Palmer several different looks in their blitz packages.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Ravens RB Jamal Lewis vs. Bengals run defense: Jamal Lewis has gained at least 100 yards in every one of his seven career games against the Bengals, which is an NFL record. The Bengals are giving up 4.7 yards a carry, which is third worst in the NFL.
Ravens CB Chris McAlister vs. Bengals WR Chad Johnson: McAlister has had a solid season, leading the Ravens with 10 passes broken up. Johnson had a career-high 161 yards on 10 catches in the last meeting in Baltimore.
Ravens QB Anthony Wright vs. Bengals CB Deltha O'Neal: Wright has thrown at least one interception in 12 of 14 games with the Ravens. O'Neal has an NFL-best six interceptions this season, raising his total to 10 picks in 20 career games with Cincinnati.
INJURY IMPACT: LB Ray Lewis (hamstring) will miss his second game of the season. He will be replaced by Tommy Polley at middle linebacker. Bart Scott will start at Polley's weak-side linebacker spot.
--SS Ed Reed (high ankle sprain) will miss his third career game. He will be replaced by Chad Williams.
--QB Kyle Boller (toe) is doubtful and still can't move around well on his hyperextended big toe. He will be replaced by Anthony Wright.
--DE Tony Weaver (toe) has improved but remains questionable. He could be upgraded if he has no setbacks in practice. He would be replaced by Jarret Johnson.
--WR Mark Clayton (ankle) is questionable but has the best chance of all the injured players to play. If he can't start, he would be replaced by Randy Hymes.
--FB Ovie Mughelli (ankle) is questionable but he has moved around better and could start.
Simply put, the Bengals are not as good as their 6-2 record would suggest, just as the Ravens showed they are better than their 2-5 record with a solid performance Monday night at Pittsburgh.
AFC North division rivals Cincinnati and the Ravens will meet Sunday in Baltimore with the Ravens coming off a short week and clinging to hopes of a playoff spot.
The Bengals, with a victory, could head into their bye week with a 7-2 record and two weeks to prepare for Indianapolis at home.
The last time the Bengals played in Baltimore, Dec. 5 of last season, they pulled off the second greatest road comeback in franchise history.
The Bengals rallied from a 20-3 deficit at the end of the third quarter to win 27-26. More important for the Bengals, the victory snapped a 42-game losing streak on the road to teams with winning records. The Ravens were 7-4 coming into that game.
The Bengals have won two games on the road against teams with winning records, also having defeated Philadelphia 38-10 in the 2004 season finale, even though the Eagles held out many starters. The Bengals will have a chance to extend that road streak to three Dec. 4 when they play at Pittsburgh, currently 5-2.
But the victory at Baltimore taught the Bengals something about themselves. They proved to themselves they could win on the road. Including that game, they are 4-2 on the road in their last six. The Bengals also took a big step in showing that they could play with another of the division's strong teams. In fact, under coach Marvin Lewis, Baltimore's former defensive coordinator, the Bengals are 2-2 against the Ravens.
The Bengals had lost seven in a row in Baltimore before Dec. 5. Quarterback Carson Palmer threw three touchdowns and for 200 yards in the fourth quarter and ended with 382 passing yards.
"That was the best half I played that year," Palmer said Wednesday. "I think it just gave me confidence. I just saw Ray Lewis and looked him in the eye. I saw Ed Reed, Chris McAlister. I know what I can do.
"(But) I still felt like I hadn't proven myself yet. It was only my (12th) game. I think it just gave me confidence and showed me what I could do and what our offense is capable of doing."
Shayne Graham kicked the winning field goal from 24 yards as time expired. Bengals wide receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh teamed for three touchdowns and 332 receiving yards.
Since winning that afternoon and including that victory over the Ravens, the Bengals are 9-4 in their last 13. Rewind four weeks further back and the Bengals are 12-5 since they lost a poorly played game on Halloween 2004 at Tennessee.
Lewis saw that Tennessee game as a watershed experience.
"I think that, to me, is where we decided that we're no longer going to give away football games," Lewis said. "You're going to have to earn it. And I think that's been (the) key."
SERIES HISTORY: 18th meeting. The Ravens lead the series, 11-6. Baltimore has a 7-2 edge at home. The Bengals outscored the Ravens 24-6 in the fourth quarter last year at M&T Bank Stadium to win 27-26, snapping a seven-game losing streak in Baltimore. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, the former Ravens defensive coordinator in the Super Bowl run, is 2-2 against his former boss, Ravens coach Brian Billick.
--With a 6-2 start, the Bengals now have an 80 percent chance of making the playoffs. Since the NFL expanded to its 12-team postseason format in 1990, 65 teams have started 6-2. Of them, 52 reached the postseason.
--In summary, why are the Bengals 6-2 and one-half game in front in the AFC North?
1. Their six victories have come against teams (Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago, Houston, Tennessee and Green Bay) that are a combined 12-31, but you play the schedule you get. They've lost to Pittsburgh (now 5-2) and Jacksonville (now 4-3).
2. They lead the NFL with a plus-20 turnover differential. The Bengals have scored 84 points off turnovers, including one interception returned for a touchdown. The Bengals have eight giveaways and 28 takeaways.
3. Carson Palmer is having a Pro Bowl season. He leads the NFL with 16 touchdown passes and has 2,037 passing yards through eight games. He has thrown just five interceptions, down from the 18 he threw in 13 starts last season. He has a 100.0-plus passer rating in 7 of 8 games this season 10 of the last 11. He also has completed passes to at least six receivers in each of the eight games this season.
--The Bengals run defense remains the biggest weak spot. They are 22nd at 125 yards a game. In their two losses, the Bengals allowed 181 yards to Jacksonville and 221 to Pittsburgh. The way to beat the Bengals is get ahead and run the ball relentlessly.
--Marvin Lewis has coached 40 games with the Bengals. He is 22-18.
--The Bengals have held first place in their division (AFC North) for six consecutive weeks, a franchise first since 1990. They also are tied with Denver with a 6-2 record for second best in the NFL (.750). Indianapolis is the only undefeated team left at 7-0.
--Chad Johnson has a new list in his locker, courtesy of coach Marvin Lewis. Johnson had taken down his "Who covered 85 in 2005?" list Monday to put up a Baltimore-specific list that featured the names of all of the Ravens' defensive backs. Lewis was tipped off to the new list and, at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, replaced it with a laminated list of his own.
"Did 85 do everything he could to lead His Team to Victory 11-6-05?"
That heading was then followed by this series of questions, which had "yes" and "no" boxes printed behind them.
Did he study extra tape?
Zero mental errors in practice?
Make a teammate better?
See all Sights and Hots? (Sights and hot reads refer to a receiver's ability to recognize a blitzing defense and quickly alter his route to a short one.)
Did He Run After the catch?
Did He Finish in Blocking?
Lewis said of his list, "I had a little alert, yep. Appreciate that. You know, communication and identification (are) important this week. I made it last night about 11:30. My list is important. It's up there."
Said Johnson: "Ask the chief. (Lewis) did it. He messed up my fun for the week, man - anything else? I'm trying to think of some trash to talk here, but I've got a brain freeze."
--The Bengals intercepted Brett Favre five times on Sunday in their 21-14 victory. Favre had not thrown five interceptions in 214 previous regular season games.
--The Bengals have won seven in a row against NFC teams, sweeping the East in 2004 and starting 3-0 against the North with Detroit remaining on their schedule.
--It's a national story, for some reason. But a Bengals fan, later identified as Gregory Gall, 31, of Cincinnati, ran onto the field Sunday at a key point toward the end of Bengals' 21-14 victory over the Packers. Gall was arrested and charged with resisting arrest, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct while intoxicated and, amazingly, pleaded not guilty in court.
Green Bay, trailing 21-14, had the ball at the Bengals 28-yard line with less than 30 seconds left. Game officials whistled the play dead just as Packers quarterback Brett Favre dropped back to pass. Gall took the ball out of Favre's right hand and eluded officers in a sprint toward the south end zone. He finally was tackled after out-running security personnel, two of whom collided. The Bengals said he jumped from the stands onto a cart that was parked beside the 9-foot wall behind Green Bay's bench, on the east side of Paul Brown Stadium.
Asked if the intrusion broke his team's concentration, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, "I think it broke theirs. That's good. We'll slip him $20 later." Lewis was far more serious about the incident Monday, saying stadium security officials were upset that it happened and saying he was concerned because a fan got so close to a player.
Lewis thought officials had called an illegal procedure penalty against Green Bay before he caught a glimpse of the fan. The clock was reset to 26 seconds, and Favre was sacked by defensive end Duane Clemons.
"You want the fans' help, but you don't need that much," said Bengals defensive end Justin Smith, also laughing.
Gall, in handcuffs, was escorted out of the stadium by a Cincinnati Police officer. One side of his face was covered with small black pellets from the stadium FieldTurf. A bill was introduced Monday in the Ohio House that would increase such an offense to a first-degree misdemeanor, which would up the fine to $1,000 and require mandatory jail time. A Cincinnati Police officer in the stadium security office said Ohio currently does not have a law requiring mandatory jail time for such an offense. The officer said it was a fourth-degree misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and/or a $250 fine.
BY THE NUMBERS: 15 - Interceptions the Bengals have this season against the three teams they faced from the NFC North. The Bengals picked off five passes against each of these quarterbacks: Green Bay's Brett Favre, Chicago's rookie Kyle Orton and Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper. The Bengals have a league best 20 interceptions.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When you play against a division team, most people don't know football, everybody said the Steelers would blow (the Ravens) out. As players, we knew that wasn't going to happen. Baltimore is tough. They are just like the Steelers. They have the same game plan. They may pass the ball a little more. They have the same makeup. They want to run the ball. They play good defense. It's the same thing." -- Bengals DT John Thornton, discussing the Ravens and their 20-19 loss Monday night at Pittsburgh.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Bengals are down one roster spot after waiving rookie guard Steven Vieira. The Bengals would like to sign Vieira to their practice squad.
The most likely candidate to get the 53rd spot is second-year linebacker Caleb Miller, who has been practicing since Oct. 19. Miller had to undergo ankle surgery right before training camp started and has been on the physically unable to perform list since Sept. 3.
Miller played in 13 games as a rookie with three starts. He had 36 total tackles on defense and six on special teams. The team's first of two third-round draft picks in 2004, Miller would be expected to play special teams immediately.
--WR Chris Henry, a rookie, is now officially listed as the second-string wide receiver behind T.J. Houshmandzadeh at one of the starting spots. Kelley Washington was demoted to third. Henry has 16 receptions for a 15.1-yard average and two touchdowns.
--QB Carson Palmer, in two career starts against Baltimore, has thrown for 698 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions. Palmer is on pace to throw 32 touchdowns pass this season, which would break by three the franchise record of 29 by Ken Anderson in 1981.
--WR Chad Johnson likes playing the Ravens. He said he looks forward to the two games every year. In two games against Baltimore last season, Johnson had 18 receptions for 260 yards and two touchdowns. In eight career games vs. the Ravens, Johnson has 39 catches for 621 yards and five touchdowns.
--DE Duane Clemons has played in just three games, yet he's tied with fellow end Justin Smith for the team lead with two sacks.
--CB Deltha O'Neal leads the NFL with six interceptions, and all six have come against NFC North quarterbacks: Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper (3), Green Bay's Brett Favre (2) and Chicago's Kyle Orton (1). O'Neal has played consistently well this season, collected 36 total tackles and 15 passes defensed to go along with the interceptions. He is on track to make his second Pro Bowl team (Denver, 2001).
GAME PLAN: Baltimore has the potential to do what Pittsburgh did a few games ago: Get the lead, run the ball against a soft Cincinnati run defense and make Carson Palmer throw too much by taking away his run game. The Ravens don't have the personnel that the Steelers do, but they could copy what Pittsburgh did, just the same. The Bengals would like to get the lead - the Bengals have scored first in 5 of 8 games - allow Palmer to use the run and pass to control the clock and force the other team to throw more often. There are concerns that this week is the one when Ravens running back Jamal Lewis goes back to his punishing ways. Lewis has rushed for 100 yards in all seven of his career games against the Bengals. And when Lewis was inactive last season in the game at Baltimore, Chester Taylor went for 139 rushing yards.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bengals run defense vs. Ravens run offense. Though the run-oriented Ravens are not doing as well on the ground statistically as they have in the past - they are ranked 23rd in the league at 93.3 yards a game - the Bengals will be forced to stop the one-two punch of running backs Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor. The Bengals are 22nd against the run at 125 yards a game. In two games last season, the Ravens rushed for 446 yards and three touchdowns.
Bengals RT Willie Anderson vs. Ravens LDE Jarret Johnson. Starting Ravens LDE Anthony Weaver is doubtful with a toe injury. He is an excellent run defender. The Bengals like to run behind Anderson and right guard Bobbie Williams. A consistent run game with Rudi Johnson would help the Bengals balance their offense.
INJURY IMPACT: The Bengals are much healthier than the Ravens heading into the game Sunday in Baltimore. Bengals strongside linebacker David Pollack (knee) remained questionable but is improving. Pollack did not practice Wednesday. The Bengals have depth at that position. Landon Johnson would start again for Pollack. ... Four players are probable: running back Chris Perry (ankle), wide receiver Tab Perry (back), defensive tackle John Thornton (shoulder) and defensive end Justin Smith (elbow). None of the four probable players were listed on the injury report as having practiced in 11-on-11 team drills Wednesday but all are expected to play against the Ravens.
Players are no longer staying neutral on the debate of who should start at quarterback for the Browns. Top draft pick Braylon Edwards says he is still in Trent Dilfer's corner, but he has come out strongly in support of fellow rookie Charlie Frye.
"I think Charlie would bring a little more life, because he's younger," Edwards said. "He has more spunk. He'd be excited and jacked out of his mind to play, so if he came in there it would be just a different attitude in terms of excitement and energy level, because he's a young guy who would be getting a shot. I think that would be the difference."
Frye's first pro start could come this season, but it won't be Sunday when the Browns host Tennessee in Cleveland Browns Stadium. Coach Romeo Crennel on Wednesday said he is sticking with Dilfer.
The Browns have lost four of five games. They have scored three offensive touchdowns in the last 20 quarters. They were 3 of 20 on third down conversions in the last two games and for the season they have scored two touchdowns in 13 opportunities inside the 20.
"It hasn't been as a rosy as I thought it was going to be," Dilfer said. "Nobody's more frustrated than me. I'm going to keep chopping wood. I've always prided myself in playing my best in third down and red zone and I feel like I haven't."
Crennel has to weigh whether switching quarterbacks at some point would reverse those trends. Frye, the third round pick from Akron, is more mobile than Dilfer, but Dilfer has 11-plus years of experience. That experience has not helped him much the past month, but it can't all be put on the quarterback's head when receivers drop critical passes, as Antonio Bryant did against the Lions and Dennis Northcutt did against the Texans in back-to-back losses. Both errors were late in the respective games.
Crennel said switching quarterbacks could provide a spark for the offense, but the question for him is whether the spark would be permanent or temporary. Crennel said the fact the Browns play the Steelers a week from Sunday did not factor into his decision to postpone Frye's debut.
"A negative would be the opponent bringing every blitz known to man," Crennel said. "Only time would tell if the quarterback would be able to survive it. If he can survive that, it would be a positive. If he can't, it would be a negative."
Dilfer and Frye are closer than some No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks are. They are closer friends than Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb were, for example. Frye and Dilfer have adjoining locker stalls, and often Frye can be overheard asking Dilfer a question that Dilfer answers sincerely.
"Until I'm told something, I'm the backup here," Frye said. "Like I said last week, I support Trent 100 percent. My role right now is to be the backup. Every week I'm one play away from playing. That's the way I prepare myself.
"You never know though. I could say I'm prepared, but then go in there and not do very well. I could tell you that I'm not prepared and go in there and light it up. That's just going to come with experience."
Crennel said he thought Dilfer played better against the Texans than he did against Baltimore or Detroit. Dilfer's passer rating was 86.2. It was 22.4 against the Lions and 53.1 against the Ravens.
SERIES HISTORY: 59th meeting. The Browns lead the series 32-26 dating back to 1970 when the Oilers/Titans franchise was in Houston. The Titans have a 6-2 edge since 1999, but the Browns won the last two games, both in Tennessee.
--The last time the Titans played in Cleveland was Dec. 2, 2001. Tennessee won 31-15 in Chris Palmer's last home game as Browns head coach.
--Tryouts were given to two punters Tuesday, but none was impressive enough replace Kyle Richardson. Richardson has had punts of 19, 19 and 10 the last two games.
--Scoring was not an issue in recent Browns-Titans games; the winner has scored at least 31 in each of the last three games.
--Turnover has been so drastic that only seven starters were on the roster when the Browns played the Titans in 2002.
--TE Billy Miller was waived Tuesday after being activated for only three of the first seven games. He did not catch a pass.
--WR Dennis Northcutt is growing extremely frustrated. He did not catch a pass in either of the last two games.
--RB Reuben Droughns was arrested on DUI charges after attending a Halloween party thrown by the players' wives. He blew .08 on the Breathalyzer, the minimum to be charged with DUI in Ohio.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 - The Browns have held opponents under 20 points in five straight games, yet they lost four of them.
QUOTE TO NOTE: - "The defense continues to hang in. They scratch and they bite. For the most part they hold opponents to field goal attempts. In the NFL, if you can hold your opponents to field goal attempts you give yourself a pretty good chance." - Coach Romeo Crennel on the Browns' defense.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
William Green is limping on a badly sprained left ankle, leaving the Browns desperately thin at running back. He is listed as doubtful and wore a walking boot Wednesday. Lee Suggs, who has yet to carry the ball this season, is out recovering from thumb surgery performed Oct. 10. He is wearing a brace on the thumb.
Coach Romeo Crennel is holding off disciplining Reuben Droughns for a DUI arrest until "the legal system runs its course." Droughns will start against the Titans Sunday.
"If my daughter had gone out and done the same thing Reuben did, I would not kick her out the door and tell her never to come back," Crennel said. "I would try to educate her about the result of her actions. That's what I'm doing with this team.
"This is the first time here. If it was the 15th time, it would be a different scenario - if it ever got to 15. Here, you're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty."
Fullback Corey McIntyre, who has never carried the ball in an NFL game, would be Droughns' backup. Running back Jason Wright is likely to be activated and fill the roster spot created when tight end Billy Miller was released.
--LG Joe Andruzzi has swelling in his left knee and is questionable for the game against the Titans. Not having him would be a major loss for run blocking and pass protection. Mike Pucillo will start if Andruzzi cannot.
--WR Braylon Edwards no longer is the third receiver, but he isn't a starter, either. He and Dennis Northcutt will rotate on the right side. Antonio Bryant will continue starting on the left side.
--RDE Alvin McKinley is experiencing swelling in his elbow. He was listed as questionable Wednesday and will probably have to wear a brace Sunday. He will probably have to wear a brace Sunday.
--SS Chris Crocker has a minor shoulder injury but he said it would not prevent him from starting against the Titans.
--P Kyle Richardson has been granted a reprieve, but "I think that he is on notice," Crennel said. Richardson punted 19 yards against the Lions and then the next week punted 19 and 10 yards against the Texans.
GAME PLAN: The Browns' best chance of winning would be if Trent Dilfer did not have to save the game at the end. He threw an incompletion, was sacked, and threw an incompletion on the final three offensive plays last week. He ranks 20th in the NFL in the fourth quarter (73.1 rating) and 26th on third down (57.3).
Putting the game on Reuben Droughns offers no guarantees either. Although he is on pace for 1,200 yards, the Browns have yet to score a rushing touchdown. The Titans rank 12th against the run. Still, pounding the line with Droughns gives the Browns their best chance for success.
Romeo Crennel has placed an emphasis on kick coverage after Jerome Mathis burned the Browns last with 177 yards on five kick returns. His 63-yard return set up the game-winning field goal. The Titans have two dangerous returners in Courtney Roby and Pacman Jones.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Browns MLB Andra Davis, who leads the Browns with 102 tackles, vs. Titans RB Chris Brown, who averages 4.3 yards a carry. Davis could help the Browns snap a three-game losing streak by making more tackles closer to the line of scrimmage. Opponents have converted 42.2 percent of third down plays against the Browns. One reason the Browns aren't scoring more points is they have the ball only 26:04 a game, and that's because the defense does not play well on third down.
Browns P Kyle Richardson vs. Titans PR unit: Richardson has to punt better than he has the last two weeks. The Browns will not win if he shanks punts like he did last week and the Titans start drives at midfield, as the Texans did when Richardson punted 19 yards and 10 yards last week.
INJURY IMPACT: Reuben Droughns will not have an experienced backup behind him if RB William Green cannot play because of his sprained ankle. ... Coach Romeo Crennel calls LG Joe Andruzzi "a warrior," but whether he plays against the Titans on a swollen knee could be a game-time decision.
John Elway did it 47 times over the course of his 16-season Hall of Fame career. Ben Roethlisberger's already done it seven times in 1 1/2 seasons.
Elway was known for bringing his team from behind in the fourth quarter to win and Roethlisberger has fast earned that reputation himself after doing it again Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens.
Seven times Roethlisberger has taken his team from behind in the fourth quarter to a victory, twice this season. That's a large percentage of his 19 total victories (against two losses) including playoffs.
"You know, we've done that pretty often with Ben as quarterback," center Jeff Hartings said.
Coach Bill Cowher said there's something special about Roethlisberger when he gets the ball late in the game with his team trailing. Monday night, after the Ravens took a 19-17 lead, Cowher turned to his quarterback and said, "Hey, this is what it's all about."
"He's a very poised quarterback, that's the only way I can put it," Cowher said. "He has a feel for the game, an understanding of what the scenario is in terms of the time. He's a very competitive, confident individual in those situations. You never sense the guy overreacting. You can relate it to a lot of things, but he's like that guy in basketball who wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line. I would equate that to our quarterback at the end of a game."
Roethlisberger took his team to a victory even though his right knee pained him after it was injured on the game's first series.
"He gutted it out, he was hurt," Cowher said. "I've got a lot of respect for Ben. He's a competitive guy, he's a tough guy."
There is some doubt whether Roethlisberger will play on Sunday because of his injury. He did not practice on Wednesday. Charlie Batch could get his first start in four years Sunday in Green Bay.
Roethlisberger came back from the knee injury and ultimately brought his team back from has made the comeback famous in his short term as the Steelers' quarterback, both personally from injuries and from behind, the second time in three games he has done so. He twice drove for scores in San Diego after the Steelers fell behind.
He also helped bring them back after they trailed New England 20-13 on a 51-yard drive in to tie the game with 1:58 on his 4-yard pass to Hines Ward. But the Patriots drove to the winning field goal with one second left.
"You look back and not just at the games we've won, but some of the games we've lost," Cowher said. "Against New England, we drove back down and tied that football game up. Unfortunately we weren't the last ones with the ball in our hands.
"I think there's no question that you gain confidence, not just with your offense but with your whole football team, because you have a chance to come back and win a game at the end. Obviously the more you're able to do that, when those situations arise, the more confidence it gives the team."
SERIES HISTORY: 34th meeting. Green Bay leads series that began in 1933, 21-12, including 13-6 at home. The Steelers won their last meeting, 27-20 in Pittsburgh in 1998. Green Bay won the first 12 games of the series, through 1946.
--The Steelers were 4-0 against NFC teams last season and will play their first NFC game this season against the Packers.
--The Steelers are fourth-worst in the league at preventing third-down conversions and Bill Cowher is not happy about that. The Ravens converted 9 of 18, raising the rate of success on third downs to 43.4 percent by Pittsburgh's foes this season.
"Third down was probably the biggest disappointment," Cowher said. "Three times we had them in third and 10 or more and they converted them."
--WR Hines Ward can break John Stallworth's team record of 534 career receptions with four catches in Lambeau Field Sunday. Ward, the first Steelers receiver to make four Pro Bowls, leads the team with 29 receptions, five for touchdowns.
"To be the all-time Steelers receptions leader, I would never have dreamed it or imagined it," said Ward, 29 and in his eighth pro season.
--Heath Miller, the Steelers' starting tight end, has been named the NFL rookie of the month for October. He caught 17 passes for 184 yards and five touchdowns during four October games. His six touchdowns are tied for the NFL lead among tight ends and he is the top scorer among rookies, including kickers.
--Darryl Sims, the Steelers' first-round draft choice in 1985, is the new coach of the Cologne Centurions of NFL Europe. Sims, a defensive end from Wisconsin, played three seasons with the Steelers and finished his career with the Cleveland Browns in 1991.
BY THE NUMBERS: 159 - Passes thrown by Steelers quarterbacks this season, the fewest in the league.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Jeff is very clutch, very cool, very confident. He's developed that over time and we have a lot of confidence in him." - Coach Bill Cowher on Jeff Reed, after he made his fifth game-winning kick over the past two seasons.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--TE Jerame Tuman, the starting tight end the past two seasons, officially fell behind rookie Heath Miller as No. 2 on the depth chart. Tuman has two catches.
--WR Cedrick Wilson has not caught a pass in the past two games and has only two in his past four.
--CB Ike Taylor leads the Steelers with eight passes defensed, twice as much as anyone else, and is tied for the team lead with 43 solo tackles.
--LB Joey Porter leads the Steelers with four sacks and two forced fumbles. He also has a fumble recovery, two tackles for losses and two passes defensed.
--CB Bryant McFadden, although inactive the first four games, is tied for the team lead with eight special teams tackles.
GAME PLAN: The Steelers hope to keep their mistakes to a minimum and force the Packers into turnovers Sunday. With Ben Roethlisberger's possibly out with a right knee injury, they will try to run in Green Bay even though the Packers have a good run defense. The Steelers hope to put some pressure on Brett Favre and force him to make some of the mistakes he made in Cincinnati last Sunday.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Packers RDE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila vs. Steelers LT Marvel Smith - Gbaja-Biamila needs 2.5 sacks to become second on Packers list. He has 53, Reggie White has 68.5.
Packers WR Donald Driver vs. Steelers CB Ike Taylor - Taylor covered Chad Johnson well two weeks ago, but did not have such a good game on Sunday.
Packers SS Mark Roman vs. Steelers TE Heath Miller - Miller has become a go-to target in the red zone, particularly on play-action. He's caught four five TD passes in the past four games.
INJURY IMPACT: QB Ben Roethlisberger could miss his second game of the season with a knee injury. He did not practice on Wednesday and is listed as questionable. Charlie Batch would make his first NFL start in four years if Roethlisberger does not play. ... RB Jerome Bettis is listed as questionable with a knee injury and did not practice on Wednesday. Duce Staley would dress for only his second game of the season if Bettis does not go.
AFCN News - Thursday