How low can Ravens go? 34-0 plumbs new depths

Ravens Gameday

Bengals 42 Ravens 29

November 28, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

Cincinnati -- The Ravens' players were not deluded about what happened at Paul Brown Stadium yesterday, and that's all that mattered. Coach Brian Billick could have kept his attempts at a pre-emptive strike to himself, could've saved his reverse-spin strategy for another time.

"We lost the game. Does everybody understand that?" he said. "I'm not trying to make any excuses or trying to dismiss it. Are we clear on that?"

Give me a second and let me check the final score again. Yup, it's still Bengals 42, Ravens 29. OK. Over the final 21 minutes, it absolutely was Ravens 29, Bengals 8. Got it.

Now, do the Ravens' players get the message: Don't play down the actual loss, but don't play off the way they didn't completely roll over when the game got out of hand?

Nope. They know that they took a natural butt-whupping yesterday. They know that of all the low points this season, this makes a great case for the lowest. They know that nothing will truly soothe the pain of being behind the Bengals 34-0 after 2 1/2 quarters.

They know that when the fight was really on, in a hostile stadium against a team battling for a division title in Week 12, they were nearly five touchdowns worse than their opponent. Last but not least, they know that when the Bengals decided to stop coasting, they punched the Ravens in the mouth and drove to one more statement-making touchdown.

The time for sugar-coating passed long ago, but this took all reality checks to a new level. These Ravens are out of everything except the Reggie Bush Sweepstakes, and they're out of things to play for except the old standbys, pride and self-respect.

So when they mimicked Billick's thoughts about how well they fought back at the end, their hearts weren't into it. Their minds kept straying back to that blinking, blinding neon light: 34-0, 34-0, 34-0 ...

"It can happen. It's the NFL," said Adalius Thomas, pressed into service once again at safety when the Ravens started running out of defensive backs. "But you don't expect this to happen."

This season, which began with dreams of at least being in the Super Bowl conversation, has been an endless string of "don't expect this to happen." You don't expect 21 penalties and two ejections in a single game. You don't expect to score one touchdown in a four-game span. You don't expect to give up 30 points to a Jaguars team that hadn't reached that total in four years.

And no matter how hot the Bengals can be, you don't expect to fall behind them 34-0.

You don't even expect Kyle Boller to be as horrendous as he was in the first half plus eight minutes. Boller wasn't swallowing any line about growing and improving in the final 1 1/2 quarters.

"The way I gauge it is, I've got to play a lot better," he said. "In the first half, I can't play like that and expect my team to win."

You also can't let Carson Palmer and his pals carve you up like that and expect to win. It was sadly ironic that Will Demps blew out his knee and ended his season saving a touchdown after a fellow defensive back got smoked for the umpteenth time in the first half. Even sadder was the patchwork secondary that finished the game, the sight of decorated veterans Dale Carter and Deion Sanders taking a beating.

Even with all the key missing players over the past six weeks or so, the defense never got worked like this. The first time it was on the field, it let the Bengals storm from their 2 almost to the other end zone, before settling for a chip-shot field goal. Wrong tone, right off the bat.

Boller's latest rash of turnovers did the defense no favors, but still, the Bengals' offense finished them off with a cold ferocity, over and over. Rudi Johnson - pow! T.J Houshmandzadeh - whap! Chad Johnson - thwack! (That's the sound of club against golf ball, in honor of the touchdown celebration Johnson unveiled yesterday.)

"There's no excuses," said Carter, who all but had a target on his back after he came in for the gimpy, shell-shocked Chris McAlister. "Shifting this guy in, losing that guy - it happens. We've got to overcome it."

Those were the most points the Ravens have given up since the Ted Marchibroda days, in November 1998. Anytime that period of team history is invoked, rock bottom is in sight, if you haven't already arrived.

Now their goals are as basic as it gets: to not embarrass themselves anymore. "If you come out and dog it, 31 other teams see it," Tommy Polley said.

"Yeah, it's hard to go to work every day. It's hard not to be distracted," Thomas said. "But hey, it's the thing to do. If you're a man, you deal with it."

What they'll deal with is 34-0. Not much else about yesterday matters.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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