Sams hesitates, but isn't lost


Ravens 23, Bengals 9


CINCINNATI - B.J. Sams may have waited a second too long.

Rather than speed around a flailing defender - who was the only obstacle between Sams and the end zone - the Ravens' return specialist chose to be patient and allow Chris McAlister to finish the block on his first-quarter punt return.

"When I cut around the end and saw one person that McAlister was blocking, I just knew I was going to make it," Sams said.

"But I had to break down and make a couple of moves, then the pursuit angle of the defense came and got me. It's going to happen eventually, so I'll just wait my time."

The slight hesitation cost Sams a chance to score his first touchdown, but he did set the Ravens up for their first six points three plays later in their 23-9 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

The 63-yard return also advanced the feel-good story of an unheralded player getting a chance to make the team, of actually making the team and then making plays for the team.

"That was huge," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We talked about it before, how that's the big play that we didn't have last year on special teams to add to whatever we do offensively. That total equation is huge."

With Deion Sanders sidelined because of a hamstring injury, Sams was forced to return all the kicks. The way he was used on offense, too, he might as well have been Sanders.

Sams was involved in a handful of plays as a receiver and running back. He gained eight yards on an end-around on the Ravens' first possession.

The team has become enamored of his elusiveness and seems determined to get the ball in his hands.

"They can put me wherever they want to put me, and I'll try and make something happen," Sams said.

Even Sams did not envision his meteoric rise to the offense's secret weapon.

"Not at all," he said. "But I knew if I ever got to the opportunity to show them something, they would eventually put me in different special packages. I feel real good, especially if they have confidence in me to put the ball in my hands and let me make a play."

The afternoon, though, was not perfect for Sams, who fumbled twice. He recovered one of them and watched teammate Ray Walls fall on the other.


The Ravens' Kyle Boller finished the game with a 100.7 quarterback rating, a touchdown run, a touchdown pass and his second straight win, yet he also left questions.

Boller lost two fumbles, and both could have been costly. The first came as he was headed toward the end zone after scrambling 19 yards to the Bengals' 2. Cincinnati linebacker Nate Webster popped the ball loose while Boller was in full stride, and cornerback Tory James recovered it.

If Boller had scored, the Ravens would have gone up 17-0 early in the second quarter.

"Right as I was extending it, he came and hit me," Boller said. "I was just begging that I was across the line, but I don't think I was."

The second fumble, on a scramble in the fourth quarter, came without Boller even getting hit. "As I was pulling it in to tuck it, my right leg came up and it just bounced right off my thigh and knocked it out," he said.

Were they cause for concern? "It's unfortunate that I got them," Boller said. "The main thing is we got the win. The defense covered for me, but I've got to continue to cover the ball up in those situations," he added.


Linebacker Ray Lewis drew a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty for launching himself into Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, extending a drive at the end of third quarter that eventually ended in an Ed Reed interception.

Lewis, who was hit with an unnecessary-roughness penalty last week, also drew a penalty for illegal contact on the same drive. He defended his actions.

"On the hit on Carson, they give the quarterbacks the flexibility to slide," Lewis said. "If you don't [slide], then you're free game. I never hit him in the head; I used my shoulder.


"On the other one, the guy just came and pushed off me. It's just football, and you're going to get something called on you. Why not keep playing the game?"

Kevin Johnson's streak of 81 consecutive games with a catch ended as he was shut out for the first time in his six-year career. Johnson took it in stride: "This is the motto for winning here," he said. "If this can get us to the Super Bowl, I'm all for it. It's just one of those things."


Though Matt Cavanaugh's play-calling elicits varying degrees of reaction from fans and others, the Ravens' oft-maligned offensive coordinator received a thumbs up yesterday from Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.

Lewis and Cavanaugh coached together for three seasons with the Ravens. Lewis was defensive coordinator for the team from 1996 to 2001.

"I think they did a nice job of mixing up their plays," Lewis said. "They stayed on their script. They had some plays that kept you moving and thinking. I don't know if it really had an effect because we seemed to settle down and play.

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