Stop sweeping it under the rug and start the spring cleaning now

Ravens Gameday

Bengals 42 Ravens 29

November 28, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

Cincinnati -- Ravens coach Brian Billick should make a phone call and thank Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis for not running up the score. What else are friends for? If they didn't have a relationship, if Lewis had not won a Super Bowl with Billick in the 2000 season, the Bengals could have scored 50 or 60 points yesterday.

Instead, 40-something was enough.

On a day when Lewis could have embarrassed an old friend, the Cincinnati Bengals shut down for more than a quarter but still had enough to beat the Ravens, 42-29, yesterday.

The Bengals toyed with the Ravens but gave Billick enough room to talk about character and growing as a team.

"He [Kyle Boller] grew individually, and we grew as a team," said Billick, whose team was down 34-0 with 6:18 left in the third quarter. "I could not ask any more than the way our guys responded to the circumstances, individually and collectively."

Growing as a team? Character?

Please, give me a break. It's getting old.

This isn't kiddie land anymore. Some of the veterans on this team are collecting Social Security benefits. We're 11 games into the season, and the coach is talking about growing pains.

What is this, Leave It to Beaver? It's time to pull out the broom. After yesterday's debacle, it's official. The Ravens need to clean house. Swoosh. Get it done.

We're not talking about Billick here. No, sir. He'll either bury or resurrect himself in the next five weeks. We're talking strictly about players. Some are obvious.

Deion Sanders? Got to go.

Kyle Boller? Got to go.

Mike Flynn? It's been nice, pal, great Super Bowl ring you got there, but, well ...

Got to go.

Two recent losses, one to Jacksonville and yesterday to Cincinnati, showed the widening gap between the Ravens and serious playoff contenders. Diehard Ravens supporters will point out that the team played Pittsburgh tough twice this season, splitting the two-game series.

Yawn.

The Ravens would play the Steelers tough anywhere, but where was that fight against Tennessee, Detroit and Jacksonville? OK, there was too much fighting in Detroit. But Cincinnati made it look ridiculously easy yesterday. Once the Bengals got the 31-point lead, Lewis started pulling starters such as running back Rudi Johnson and linebacker Odell Thurman.

When the Ravens pulled within 34-21 with 11:58 remaining in the game, Lewis re-inserted Johnson. The Bengals then went on a nine-play, 61-yard touchdown drive to finish off the Ravens.

It was like a big, old dog playing with her puppy, and then when she had enough, she just knocked him in the head with a big, old paw.

"We let the ball and our poise get away from us a little bit in the third quarter, and that's something we can work on to understand," said Lewis, whose team turned the ball over twice in the final 16 minutes, leading to two Ravens touchdowns.

The Bengals went into shutdown mode late in the third quarter. Defensively, they let Boller throw short passes, but not much deep. Boller's three touchdown passes were of the alley-oop, chuck-'em-up variety. One was a great catch by Derrick Mason, and Todd Heap made two sensational catches for two more touchdowns.

But it was nothing to get excited about. The Ravens need an overhaul. Based on yesterday, you could start in the secondary. Last week, defensive coordinator Rex Ryan told me he wasn't concerned about the number of blown coverages this season.

I bet he is now.

Sanders and Dale Carter are past their primes. Chad Williams, filling in at safety for injured Ed Reed, has become a liability, and so has fellow safety Will Demps when it comes to pass defense. Either the players don't understand the coverages, or the team needs to start drafting smarter players in the secondary.

Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer had 302 passing yards, but he could have easily hit 400.

The Ravens have a decent defensive line, but they don't have that stud in the middle, a player whom other teams plan for and who can constantly keep offensive linemen off middle linebackers Ray Lewis and Tommy Polley.

On offense, the Ravens need to blow up just about everything, especially the scheme. They're obligated contractually to right guard Keydrick Vincent, but they need a new center and right tackle. Left guard Edwin Mulitalo has a year, maybe two good years left, but he needs to improve his offseason conditioning. If he doesn't report to the various offseason minicamps at a good weight, then say goodbye.

As for Jonathan Ogden, let him decide. It's fine if he wants to go through a rebuilding process and play another season at left tackle, but he might be headed for the right side in 2007. If he doesn't like those plans, well, it's been nice, pal, love you, but you got to go, too.

Soon after the season is over, the Ravens need to put an end to the Jamal Lewis saga. Either sign him to a new deal, tell him he is going to be the franchise player or that he can hit the free-agent market. But no more mind games. Either he's in or he's out.

Boller has got to go. He can take backup Anthony Wright with him. We're three games into the final audition for Boller, and it's clear he is not the answer. Sure, he looked better in the second half yesterday, but he couldn't have looked worse after the first half.

Boller threw two interceptions. Three other passes were knocked down. He tripped over his feet several times - again. He fumbled several times - again. He was 18-for-32, but there were no big league passes completed.

How many big league passes has he made in three years? Yet Billick had the audacity to say that Boller - and his team - grew yesterday.

When you play like the Ravens have this season, maybe moral victories are the only thing that count. But moral victories aren't the answer for a veteran team. Sometimes, a good, old-fashioned housecleaning is the best solution.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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