Picking up the pieces

OWINGS MILLS -- Frustration, anger and a bit of shock typified the Baltimore Ravens' reaction following an inept launch to the season. It was a setback marked by a far too generous nature on offense, often sharing the football with the Cincinnati Bengals, along with multiple squandered opportunities.

Six turnovers, including three fumbles and an interception by quarterback Steve McNair, all but sealed the Ravens' 27-20 loss to the Bengals on Monday night. His giveaways led directly to 21 of the Bengals' 24 points off turnovers.

"I'll take it on the chin for this one," McNair said. "You got to take responsibility as a quarterback and the leader of this football team to get that corrected, and we will get that corrected.

"Overall, we have to bounce back. It's a long season. We can get better and we're going to get better. I guarantee it."

However, it took some shoddy work in the red zone to finally put away the defending AFC North champions. Although tight end Todd Heap's touchdown catch was nullified by a pass-interference penalty on fourth down, the general sentiment in the locker room was that the outcome should have never come down to needing an official's call.

"This was an extremely tough loss," Heap said. "You always want to get off on the right foot. When you look at the game, we played horribly for most of it.

"To battle through most of those things, it's just frustrating to not capitalize. The fact that we fought back says a lot about our team. I think we can build off of it, but it hurts right now."

Baltimore (0-1) went 1-for-4 in the red zone, including backup quarterback Kyle Boller going 2 for 6 overall for 19 yards, an interception and a 3.5 rating in relief of McNair after he left the game in the fourth quarter with a groin injury.

After defensive tackle Haloti Ngata forced Bengals runner Rudi Johnson to fumble with safety Ed Reed recovering at the Cincinnati 16-yard line, the Ravens had a prime opportunity to tie the game.

Boller got Baltimore into position with a clutch 14-yard completion to wide receiver Derrick Mason with three minutes remaining down to the Bengals' 3-yard line. Boller sailed a pass incomplete to Devard Darling along with running back Willis McGahee running for just two yards on two attempts.

Then, Heap's touchdown was disallowed.

"It's tough to make a call like that with that situation in the game," Heap said. "From my point of view, he's grabbing my jersey and I try to get his hands off and go make a play. But I'm not calling the game and they are, and you got to go with what their calls are."

Four plays later, Boller's errant pass caromed off Heap's shoulder and defensive tackle Michael Myers' diving interception put Baltimore away for good.

"I wish I could've pulled it off," Boller said. "Maybe I could have put that ball a little lower to Todd, just little things like that.

"It's tough to lose it when you're right there on the verge of it, but we've just got to keep our heads high and hopefully go out there next week and get ready for the Jets. We came up a little bit short, but we have to keep our heads high. There are 15 games left."

Ravens coach Brian Billick was complimentary of Boller's effort despite the bottom-line result as the offense stumbled at the end of the game with him at the controls.

"That's tough when you get thrown into that situation cold and have to do some things," Billick said. "It looked to me like he threw a couple of touchdown passes - three, by my count, that needed to be held onto or called correct."

Because of McNair's injury, Boller will likely receive extra snaps in practice this week in case he's called upon again Sunday in a home opener against the New York Jets at M&T Bank Stadium.

"I'll do everything to make sure that I'm ready," Boller said. "If he can't go, then I'm the guy, and I'll be ready to fill in there."

McNair left the game with nearly six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter after an incomplete pass intended for Demetrius Williams. It became clear at that point, according to Billick, that McNair was physically unable to deliver the football.

"On the last third-down throw, you could see that he could not push off his back leg," Billick said. "He did not want to come out. On that final throw, the ball got away from him. After the initial pull, I could tell he could not get the ball off like he should be able to."

Added McNair: "I fought through it until the last part of the fourth quarter. I wasn't helping the team at that point. I just couldn't perform the way I normally do."

McNair, who tied a franchise record with three fumbles in a single game as Baltimore fumbled five times and lost four, vowed that he won't repeat his mistakes.

Yet, this marks the second consecutive high-profile game where McNair has come up short. The three-time Pro Bowl passer melted down with two crucial interceptions last January in a bitter playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.

"We put ourselves in that position from the first quarter to the third quarter to be down by seven points," McNair said. "We could have beat this team if we would have kept the ball away from them.

"This will never happen again, putting my team in a position with six turnovers. This will never happen again."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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