On the first play of the next Ravens series, Grbac found rookie tight end Heap in the right flat, where the ball was punched out by linebacker Steve Foley. Two minutes after that, Kitna ran a 2-yard quarterback draw out of the shotgun to increase the margin to 14-3 with 8:10 left in the third quarter.

Those back-to-back turnovers inside their 34-yard line completely stunned the Ravens.

"It's like a heavyweight fighter taking a punch in the face and trying to get back up and taking another punch," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "When you give them opportunities like that, a team just gets bigger and bigger."

The Ravens capitalized on Cincinnati's only turnover, a fumble caused by Alvin Porter's hit on Peter Warrick during a punt return. Grbac sensed the momentum beginning to swing when he found Johnson for a 2-yard touchdown catch that sliced the deficit to 14-10 early in the fourth quarter.

But the next two series ended in interceptions, one pass bouncing off Johnson's right shoulder and the other falling into the hands of Spikes for the game-clinching touchdown return.

"It has been for as long as this game has been played and as long as it's going to be played, turnovers are a major determinant in winning and losing," Billick said. "Our defense played very, very well, but you can't put any team on that short of field that many times and expect to hold up. You just can't turn the ball over."

The Ravens then rode the arm of Grbac heavily, but didn't give him much help.

Grbac completed 33 of a team-record 63 attempts while running ragged to avoid the Bengals' pressure and overcoming five drops by his receivers. (Vinny Testaverde had thrown 51 passes vs. the Rams in 1996 for the old team record.)

The Ravens' offensive line, which had to replace injured right tackle Sammy Williams and benched right guard Kipp Vickers in the second quarter, struggled against Cincinnati's blitzes, forcing Grbac to hurry half his throws.

"It's very disappointing," Sharpe said. "We couldn't run the ball. We threw the ball OK and then we come back and Elvis has to run for his life. We can't win like that."

The Ravens also couldn't win despite the Bengals missing three field-goal attempts or committing eight penalties. A Grbac fumble on the goal line on the last play capped the day's frustration. The road ahead only gets tougher with a trip to Denver and a meeting with division rival Tennessee over the next two weeks.

Yet the Ravens are far from panicking. In fact, the swagger may be returning.

"We're going to be back," defensive end Rob Burnett said. "This team is too good and we have too many battle-tested veterans. We just hit a bump in the road. I'm very confident we'll be OK. You can quote that."