Ravens fail in red zone, lose to Bengals

BALTIMORE -- There is no alligator-infested moat, electrified fence or barbed wire reinforcing defenses' protection of the end zone. For the Baltimore Ravens' anemic offense, though, the lack of such elaborate obstacles doesn't make their job any easier or more productive. In another illustration of the last-place Ravens' mounting red zone struggles, they failed to score a touchdown in a 21-9 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

"I don't know if frustrating is the word," running back Jamal Lewis said. "I can't find a word to describe it. I have never lost like this in my life and I am tired of it.

"I think everybody is frustrated with it and are trying to find answers. Things are not swinging our way right now."

The failure to capitalize on four scoring opportunities inside the Bengals' 20 underscores the Ravens' diminished status. They have matched the worst start in franchise history with an identical mark to the 1998 squad.

Baltimore (2-6) trails first-place Cincinnati (7-2) by 4 ½ games in the AFC North and is all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention midway through the season barring an unlikely 8-0 run. The Ravens have lost 10 of their last 14 and have scored only seven touchdowns, fewest in the NFL. They entered the game ranked 26th in red-zone scoring.

Settling for three Matt Stover field goals and failing to score a touchdown against the Bengals for the first time in 19 games is the primary reason why the Ravens lost.

"I can do the math," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You can't trade sevens for three, plain and simple. You can't trade touchdowns for field goals. We'll see if we can change that equation because today was very clear-cut."

In a major contrast, the Bengals were machine-like in their execution. They scored touchdowns on all of their three red-zone trips.

In his second consecutive win in Baltimore after engineering a 27-26 comeback win last December, quarterback Carson Palmer completed 19 of 26 passes for 248 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 128.4 passer rating. Rudi Johnson rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown.

Lewis was held to 49 yards on 15 carries, breaking a string of 100-yard performances in all of his previous seven games against Cincinnati.

"We're 2-6, I guess we're just not doing enough," cornerback Samari Rolle said. "Until then, we'll continue to be in this funk that we're in."

Bengals rookie Chris Henry's 3-yard touchdown catch with 6:05 left capped a 91-yard drive that put it away. His score was set up by Chad Johnson's 48-yard catch behind cornerback Chris McAlister at the 4. McAlister complained that Johnson pushed off, but no flag was thrown.

"On defense if you touch them, you get a foul," McAlister said. "On offense if you push off and get your arm fully extended, the refs don't say anything about it. They should take away these guys' stripes. If you never played the game, you should never call it."

The displeasure with the referees preceded that complaint.

An inadvertent whistle cost the Ravens a touchdown with Cincinnati leading 14-6 in the third quarter. When linebacker Adalius Thomas forced tight end Matt Schobel to fumble, safety Will Demps' 58-yard dash was negated by a blown whistle.

"It was an error," referee Jeff Triplette said. "By rule, there is nothing else we can do."

That admission and apology did nothing to mitigate the Ravens' situation. Baltimore squandered the turnover, going three-and-out.

"It was an unfortunate mistake," Billick said. "He was very apologetic. He had to fess up to the fact that he blew it dead and felt bad about it."
Added McAlister: "It's hard to play against the refs, too. It has been the saga of our season."

It didn't take long for the Ravens to show their true offensive colors.

In the first quarter after driving to the Bengals' 22, quarterback Anthony Wright threw incomplete on third down to tight end Todd Heap. That set up Stover's first field goal.

"It's just frustrating not to score points," receiver Derrick Mason said. "As much as I love Stover, I'd rather he kick extra points than field goals. I don't expect anyone to throw in the towel. We have to persevere."

Cincinnati countered with a Johnson touchdown, adding a 8-yard shovel pass to rookie Tab Perry for a 14-3 lead following Heap's fumble at the Baltimore 31.

Wright, who finished 19 of 30 for 153 yards, would drive the Ravens two more times deep inside Bengals territory. Each time, it was a wasted trip. Not even Kordell Stewart's exciting scrambles that set up a field goal when Wright was out with a sprained ankle could solve the red-zone issue.

"They defended the goal line and didn't allow us any chances to get into the end zone," said Wright, who threw incomplete to Heap on fourth down with two minutes left. "That is something that has been causing us problems. They are dropping their corners back into coverage and then they are making tackles.

"This is one of the most frustrating years I have had in a long time. We have to be professional. We get paid to do this."

There's little to play for at this point except for pride. Despite the presence of 15 former Pro Bowl selections and high expectations this summer, the Ravens have one of the worst records in the NFL.

"I always heard adversity built character," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "We can't just go through the motions. It's an honor to be out there and we have to give it all we got regardless of our record."|

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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