Notebook: Shorthanded secondary holds its own

BALTIMORE -- Six days after the Baltimore Ravens' injury-riddled secondary was shredded by the Pittsburgh Steelers, an even more shorthanded group held together against an explosive Cincinnati Bengals offense.

With starting cornerbacks Samari Rolle (undisclosed illness) and Chris McAlister (knee) sidelined again and the team's third cornerback, Corey Ivy, knocked out of the game in the first quarter with a concussion, the Ravens managed to contain the Bengals' passing game in a 21-7 defeat.

After allowing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to toss five touchdown passes during last week's 38-7 defeat, the Ravens limited Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer's wide-open attack to seven field goals.

"It was an incredible performance by the defense, given all the circumstances," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Incredible, the fortitude they showed, what they had to do against an outstanding opponent.

"With the guys we didn't have available to us, the plan that the defensive coaches implemented and the way that those guys went out there on a short field and did what they did was incredible."

Despite being down to Derrick Martin, who was making his second NFL start at cornerback, with Willie Gaston playing in his first NFL game after being promoted from the practice squad Saturday and reserve Ronnie Prude outside, it wasn't a complete disaster.

"Anybody can carry it down the field, but you've got to cross that goal line," Martin said. "We bent, but we didn't break. Seven field goals, that's not bad."

Added Prude: "I think we played pretty well without having a lot of key guys. My mentality is you've got to come in and play like a starter when you're called upon."

Gaston was picked on occasionally, but that was to be expected when he lined up across from Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson. Johnson caught four passes for 73 yards as T.J. Houshmandzadeh was limited to six catches for 45 yards.

In his first game back from an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL personal-conduct policy, Chris Henry caught four passes for 99 yards.

"I came in prepared," said Gaston, an undrafted free agent from the University of Houston. "I feel like I did pretty well. There were a couple of things I can clean up technique-wise. I'm happy the coaches had faith in me to put in there and that they believed in me."

The Ravens employed a lot of Cover 2 techniques to try to keep the Bengals from striking deep regularly.

"We tried to mix it up," Martin said. "W ran a lot of schemes this week to try to confuse them." Still, Palmer completed 23 of 34 passes for 271 yards, but no touchdowns.

"The young guys played really well," Ivy said. "If you hold the Bengals to seven field goals with the explosive weapons they have, you're supposed to come out with a victory. We've got to go back to the drawing board."

INJURY UPDATE: Ivy left the game with a concussion and didn't return after tackling 370-pound offensive lineman Bobbie Williams in the first quarter on a fumble recovery.

The side of Ivy's head and neck collided with Williams' massive right leg. He was helped off the field, but insisted he will return to practice Wednesday and play next week against the Cleveland Browns.

"I went to tackle him and it was all she wrote," Ivy said. "I stopped him, but he's definitely a heavyweight. He's 370 and I'm 185. Something had to give.

"I'm good. I could have gone back in the game, but they said it's a league rule that you can't go back in after a concussion. I'll be back out there practicing and trying to help us win the next game."

Wide receiver Demetrius Williams left the game with a sprained ankle and didn't return. He was on crutches afterward.

Linebacker Prescott Burgess left the game with a hip injury and didn't return.

McAlister was deactivated despite initial forecasts that he would at least play on a limited basis.

"I didn't feel like he could," Billick said. "You'd have to visit with him about that."

FRUSTRATION FACTOR: Billick is definitely aware that emotions are bubbling over in the locker room.

What to do about those feelings is another matter altogether.

"A huge amount of frustration, but you have to deal with it and go forward and work your way through it," Billick said. "It's the only answer I have for it."

Center Mike Flynn emphasized that counterproductive finger-pointing can't be part of the equation.

He said dealing with second-guessing is part of the learning process.

"The feeling we have now is only going to stay if we lose more games, so let's really get back to square one," Flynn said. "We've got a lot of young guys here. They've got to have short memories."

FUMBLING: Starting in place of injured rookie return specialist Yamon Figurs, running back Cory Ross muffed a bouncing second-half kickoff in an awkward turnover that led to another field goal.

"Yeah, I tried to get on top of it," Ross said. "You get up there fast as you can and try to jump on it. I tried to get there and so did Justin Green.

"It gave us a wrong bounce. I tried to jump on it. Just one of those bad plays on an all-around bad day for us."

BOOED: The Ravens' offense was booed several times as the fans remaining in the stands vented about the substandard outing.

"The fans are entitled to demonstrate their affection toward the team anyway they choose to," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "It's tough out there, it really is. I don't think it makes it any better by booing the offense each and every time they come out on the playing field.

"It's not like we're intentionally doing bad. All I can say is hang with us. Because if y'all feel bad, believe me, everybody in here feels worse."

ROSTER MOVES: The Ravens cut kicker Rhys Lloyd and outside linebacker Edgar Jones, promoting Gaston and tight end Lee Vickers from the practice squad.

PANTHERS REPRESENTED: North Carroll quarterback Stefan Mitchell heaved a bunch of passes during the Ravens' halftime quarterback challenge for local high school quarterbacks. He was joined on the field by Panthers coach Jeff Oeming, wide receiver Philip Sheppard and running back Zach Westfall.

QUICK HITS: The Ravens deactivated quarterback Troy Smith, Figurs (knee), McAlister, Rolle, cornerback David Pittman (concussion), safety Gerome Sapp (hamstring), offensive tackle Jared Gaither and tight end Daniel Wilcox (sprained toe). ... The Bengals played without starting linebacker Caleb Miller, offensive tackle Willie Anderson, tight end Reggie Kelly and defensive tackle John Thornton.

5 REASONS FOR THE OUTCOME

By Aaron Wilson

1. In the Baltimore Ravens' latest debacle, they melted down again for their third consecutive loss in a 21-7 butt-whipping at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium as they swept the annual season series. The chief culprit was besieged quarterback Steve McNair, whose three turnovers on two fumbles and an interception ultimately doomed the Ravens' cause as they dropped to 4-5 overall and 0-4 in the AFC North. McNair has committed 11 turnovers this season. The former NFL Co-Most Valuable Player was booed by fans, who cheered backup Kyle Boller when he entered the game in the fourth quarter. Offensively, Baltimore finished with six turnovers, 206 net passing yards and a 3-of-10 conversion rate on third down.

2. A shorthanded secondary hit the wall, but somehow held up despite missing starting cornerbacks Chris McAlister (knee) and Samari Rolle (illness) and losing third cornerback Corey Ivy to a concussion in the first half. Despite having youngsters like Derrick Martin, Ronnie Prude and Willie Gaston in the lineup, the Ravens managed to keep the Bengals out of the end zone. Carson Palmer passed for 271 yards on 23 of 34 accuracy, but kicker Shayne Graham booted seven field goals to put Baltimore away.

3. The Bengals exploited their advantage on the perimeter well enough as Chris Henry caught four passes for 99 yards, Chad Johnson caught four passes for 73 yards and T.J. Houshmandzadeh finished with six catches for 45 yards.

4. Baltimore squandered its top chance to make this competitive at the end of the first half when McNair threw an interception on a goal-line pass intended for tight end Todd Heap. Trailing 6-0 with 18 seconds remaining, McNair's pass was tipped into the hands of rookie cornerback Leon Hall to halt the Ravens' best scoring opportunity. The Ravens remain one of the league's worst red-zone scoring offenses.

5. McNair wasn't the only guilty party as far as committing costly turnovers. Running back Cory Ross fumbled away a kickoff and running back Willis McGahee fumbled, too.

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

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