Patchwork secondary gets frayed

Loss of Demps, McAlister makes Ravens a bigger target for Palmer

Ravens Gameday

Bengals 42 Ravens 29

November 28, 2005|By BRENT JONES | BRENT JONES,SUN REPORTER

CINCINNATI -- At one point in the third quarter, the Ravens tried to stop Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer with a secondary manned in part by Chad Williams, B.J. Ward and Zach Norton.

If their teammates' words are to be taken at face value, those names might as well have been Ed Reed, Will Demps and Chris McAlister.

"We just have to man up and do what we've been taught," cornerback Dale Carter said. "We're in the NFL. There is no excuse. We can't even say there was a problem. We lost this guy, we lost that guy; it happens. We have to deal with it the best way we can."

The best the Ravens' patchwork secondary could do yesterday was muster up about as much resistance to Palmer and his receivers as he gets in a 7-on-7 drill. Through three quarters, Palmer had completed 19 of 26 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns in his team's eventual 42-29 win.

Palmer had time to throw (he was not sacked). Palmer had receivers to throw to (seven made at least one catch). And Palmer had gaping holes to fit his throws in (Chad Johnson spun around several defenders and found himself wide open).

The Ravens having three-quarters of their starting secondary on the sideline could not have come against a worst team.

"Them or the Colts," cornerback Samari Rolle said. "This isn't the week you wanted that to happen."

Still, Rolle was not willing to admit the defense was simply outmanned, especially after Demps tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the second quarter. Demps will be out the rest of the year. Reed missed his sixth straight game with a high ankle sprain.

"It's rough, hard to bounce back from it," Rolle said. "But I take my hat off to my teammates. All of them came in and did a good job.

"We know they've got a good offense. But at the same time, we're professionals. I don't think anybody quit or anything like that."

If the will was there, the execution was not. Palmer led scoring drives on five of six possessions from midway through the second quarter until six minutes were left in the third, completing nine of 15 passes and touchdown throws of 54, 30 and 27 yards.

The Ravens lost McAlister, Demps and essentially the game during that stretch, as well. McAlister aggravated a hamstring injury that bothered him last week.

"Obviously, it got a little dicey out there defensively, giving who was up and who was down and what we had to do to manufacture what we did," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That was interesting, to say the least."

Whatever defensive plan the Ravens had coming into the game disintegrated after the injuries. The Ravens had success playing four linebackers, four linemen and one safety a week earlier against the Pittsburgh Steelers and attempted to duplicate that strategy against the more potent Bengals attack.

It threw off Palmer early as the Bengals settled for a field goal, went three-and-out and turned the ball over on their first three possessions.

"They were doing some crazy stuff defensively," Palmer said. "They were playing [Adalius Thomas] at safety. They were trying to make something happen and doing a bunch of different things -- really confusing stuff that you don't see."

Then the Ravens were forced to go to a lineup nobody had ever seen. Williams replaced Demps at safety, Ward was inserted in the lineup at the other safety and Carter and Deion Sanders split time at cornerback. Norton was the de facto dime (sixth) back.

The Bengals had a field day. Carter and Sanders were both trailing receivers on touchdowns.

"They played good and they won," Carter said. "You can't take anything from them. They're a good team this year. Some of the stuff, we just weren't playing like the Baltimore Ravens today."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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