Ravens' secondary becoming primary concern

On the Ravens

Bengals 27, Ravens 26

December 06, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

SOME TIME THIS morning, Ravens secondary members should contribute their game checks to charity.

Give someone a merry Christmas, like the Salvation Army, the Little Sisters of the Poor, or the newly created Mike Preston Foundation.

Make somebody happy, because there wasn't a lot of good will flowing after the Ravens' 27-26 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday.

A disappointed and stunned crowd of 69,695 at M&T Bank Stadium watched as the Ravens blew a 20-3 lead going into the fourth quarter by surrendering 24 points.

Usually, when the Ravens have such a lead late in a game, you can bet the house on the Ravens. Ah, heck, throw in the car, too, and make it double or nothing.

Instead, second-year quarterback Carson Palmer, in his first season as a starter, torched the Ravens' secondary for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and 382 passing yards.

Several weeks ago, Bengals receiver Chad Johnson sent the Cleveland Browns' cornerbacks Pepto Bismol in advance of the teams' first meeting, but he should ship some overnight to the Ravens' new training facility in Owings Mills.

Or send them thank-you cards for the early gifts.

Johnson had 10 catches for 161 yards, including touchdown receptions of 13 and 12 yards in the fourth quarter. He also had a 22-yard reception late in the game to set up Shayne Graham's 24-yard field goal as time expired. Johnson also caught a 51-yard bomb in the second quarter.

"When you claim to be the best defense in the league, up 20-3, we're supposed to put the nail in the coffin," said cornerback Corey Fuller. "I told these guys they weren't the old Bengals. They beat us when it counts the most, down the stretch. We can't hide from what went on out there today. They went up over our heads and around the corner. When that happens, it's not because of the game plan. It's on us."

Said Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan: "The thing I'm disappointed in the most is we didn't respond to adversity, to their big plays. I don't really want to say what I'm thinking now and I'll keep it to myself."

Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis didn't want to get into specifics, either, so I will. What happened to cornerback Chris McAlister? He hasn't showed up since he got a new contract and a $10 million signing bonus on Oct. 10.

Johnson may be one of the best in the game, but he shouldn't have been able to abuse McAlister. There were times when he simply blew by him or faked him out of the country with double moves. He beat McAlister from the start of the game until the final whistle, catching a 22-yard pass off a fade route down to the Ravens' 9-yard line with 30 seconds remaining.

"They left him [McAlister] man to man, and that corner had been cheating all game, trying to make a play on the ball," Palmer said.

Safety Ed Reed also got caught cheating. Mr. Big Play had big problems. On Johnson's 51-yard reception, Reed took a step up instead of backward. Oops. Too late. Johnson was gone, and there was no support.

On Johnson's 12-yard touchdown reception in the left corner of the end zone with 10:39 left in the game, if McAlister had dropped back a step or two and if Reed had slid to the right a step or two, an easy touchdown pass from Palmer would have been more difficult, creating a tougher catch.

Instead, the Ravens got burned. That was the theme of the day. Toasted Ravens.

Cornerback Gary Baxter got toasted while napping on T.J. Houshmandzadeh's 9-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, and safety Will Demps gave up two long passes. The only one who didn't get burned was nickel back Deion Sanders because he is still on the bench nursing a hurt toe.

But if he had played, the old man might have torn a hamstring trying to run in this track meet.

These Ravens looked a lot like the old Ravens, when players like Antonio Langham, Donny Brady and DeRon "Third and Long" Jenkins were the cornerbacks.

Clearly, Lewis was irritated.

"I think it's a gut check for anybody who didn't put their heart in this game. Period," Lewis said. "If you walk on the football field, there's two things you're going to do: Either you're going to watch it or you're going to play it. When you're talking about a team concept, team only exists by simply every man doing their job."

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, the former Ravens defensive coordinator, has to be given some credit. The Ravens have been giving up intermediate and long passes over the middle on occasion, and the Bengals hit a couple, isolating on Demps and Reed.

Palmer made some great throws. Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh could pick up some pointers from his Bengals counterpart, Bob Bratkowski. He had the Ravens off balance in the second half with misdirections, play-action fakes and end-arounds to stifle the Ravens' aggressive pass rush.

The Ravens were lost.

"They went out there and executed. I've got to take my hat off to them," said Ravens defensive end Tony Weaver. "I really don't know what happened. Things fell apart, and they fell apart really fast."

The Ravens' season is starting to fall apart as well. They have four games remaining and still have a reasonable shot at a wild-card spot because the AFC is so competitive and so close after the separation from New England and Pittsburgh at the top.

"We've still got four games left; there is so much yet to be determined," Fuller said. "One thing [is] for sure: We can't lose any more games. This loss takes the gray out of that situation. Now we have to go get one where we aren't supposed to get one, like we did with the Jets."

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