Blake revives Bengals, QB controversy Injured O'Donnell replaced by reserve, who spurs rally

September 28, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

This is a franchise that hasn't had a winning record or been to the playoffs since 1990. It lost its defensive leader on the game's ninth play, fell behind 21-0, then saw starting quarterback Neil O'Donnell depart with bruised ribs with nearly 18 minutes remaining.

So, how did the Cincinnati Bengals ever come so close to pushing the Ravens into overtime last night?

The Bengals' quarterback controversy of the summer, when O'Donnell was brought in to replace Jeff Blake, will be revived after the latter nearly completed a neat comeback in which Cincinnati climbed out of a three-touchdown hole before losing, 31-24, to the Ravens at Camden Yards last night.

Blake threw 74 touchdown passes during the previous four seasons, but he did not have an attempt this year when O'Donnell went out with an injury with 2: 52 left in the third quarter and the Ravens sitting on a 28-17 lead.

Blake's second pass went for a 67-yard touchdown to Carl Pickens. It was a franchise-record 54th career touchdown reception for the former Tennessee star.

The Bengals didn't stop coming until there was 1: 42 left, when Blake's short pass to Darnay Scott on fourth-and-one at the Ravens' 32 was covered by Rod Woodson.

"Woodson broke on the ball and made a good play," Blake said. "He knew we needed a couple of inches, and he wasn't going to give us squat."

Coach Bruce Coslet wondered how his team got that close after a first half in which it was outgained 250 yards to 69. "You can't spot any team in this league 21 points," said Coslet, when asked how his defense became a factor. "It wasn't so much making any adjustments, it was just executing better."

It was a tumultuous start for the Bengals, who lost inside linebacker Tom Tumulty, their top tackler, to a sprained left knee after just five minutes.

The Bengals came to town with a defense rated 27th in the NFL, but defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was encouraged by his unit's work in a 13-6 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Former Maryland coach Mark Duffner oversees a young group of linebackers that has almost as much promise as the Ravens', but that group in particular and the Cincinnati defense in general was in disarray early.

"I thought we made some strides last week [against Green Bay], but our base [defense] wasn't holding up today," Coslet said.

Tumulty's replacement in the Bengals' 3-4 scheme was Brian Simmons, a rookie out of North Carolina whose NFL experience consisted of one game and one tackle. He was little help as the Ravens combined big plays with the running of Priest Holmes to build the big early lead.

After Tumulty went out, the Ravens' next two plays consisted of runs of 12 and 11 yards by Holmes, who jazzed up an 80-yard touchdown drive on the game's first possession.

Pub Date: 9/28/98

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