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Ravens Fall Flat: Now What?

When the Baltimore Ravens dismantled the Denver Broncos last week, most people, including the oddsmakers, thought the Ravens' defense from last year had returned and that we would put a revenge beating on the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday after losing so embarassingly in the teams' first meeting, won by the Bengals 17-14 a month ago.

However, neither the Ravens, their fans or the oddsmakers realized that the Bengals weren't buying any of that, proving that their first victory was no fluke by doing almost the same thing in dominating the Ravens yesterday at home 17-7. While Cincinnati had to pull out the victory in the first game in the final seconds, this one was pretty much over in the first quarter, when the Bengals scored on their first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead that blossomed to 17-0 by halftime.

The Ravens scored their only points of the game in the fourth quarter and even had a chance to cut the Bengals lead to one score late in the game, but placekicker Steven Hauschka missed another critical field goal attempt that now has his job in serious jeopardy. At the same time, there should now be a bunch of positions that players' jobs should be in jeopardy as well, as the Bengals once again beat the Ravens in just about every phase of the game, starting with the trenches on both sides of the ball.

On offense, Cincinnati pushed Baltimore's front wall three and four yards backwards on every rushing attempt. Fans can complain all they want that we missed the injured Haloti Ngata, but the exact same thing happened in the first game when Ngata was healthy. The Bengals offensive line protected QB Carson Palmer perfectly whether we blitzed or not. When we didn't blitz, he sat back and waited until one of his receivers got open and hit him in the numbers, including a couple of circus catches by the big mouthed 85 guy who certainly backed up his words. In the few times we did blitz, the Bengals picked it up enough and there was always a wide open receiver to bail Palmer out. How many times did you notice our cornerbacks falling and slipping while the receivers made cuts and caught the ball for key first downs on their first two TD drives?

Defensively, we couldn't open holes for RB Ray Rice nor protect Joe Flacco. When Cincinnati blitzed, the pocket collapsed and Flacco couldn't find the open receiver anyway, as the Bengals secondary blanketed our receivers all day. Both Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph played their best games of their seasons in our two meetings, effectively taking Derrick Mason out of the game and frustrating Flacco into throwing interceptions to take away any momentum that we might be on the verge of.

So now what? Looking at the remaining schedule and the way we've played with our backs against the wall, it appears two things are becoming clear. First of all, the Denver Broncos must have either played a terrible game in losing to us or they are merely pretenders and will get their clocks cleaned by a better Pittsburgh Steelers team tonight. Secondly, if we continue to lose the key games we need to win against the better teams in the league, we will finish no better than 8-8 this year. At this point, the games against Indianapolis, Pittsburgh (twice) and at Green Bay on MNF in the bitter cold all look like probable losses and if so, then the remaining games against Clevelnad, Chicago, Detroit and Oaklnad better be wins or a sub-.500 season is a very real possibility.

Time to see what is truly inside the Ravens hearts and heads and how, much less if, they can recover and salvage what is turning out to be such a disappointing season when there was so much promise.