CINCINNATI—The Ravens' season was played out in microcosm yesterday. There was more questionable officiating, another subpar effort by the secondary and some key injuries that hurt the team. Despite the setbacks, the 4-10 Ravens still had opportunities to win but blew another one.
What happened this time? Another fumble? Another blown big lead? An interception?
Try failing to gain 1 yard in three plays. One yard behind one of the biggest and best offensive lines in pro football that had just pushed the opposition all over the field. Stuffed.
Cincinnati (6-8) put up a goal-line stand in the last 44 seconds as the Bengals defeated the Ravens, 21-14, yesterday before 43,022 at Cinergy Field.
"It's pretty sad when you drive the ball downfield and don't get it in the end zone," said Tony Jones, the Ravens' starting left tackle. "Hey, there are no excuses. We went with the hosses on the offensive line and we didn't get it done."
"It's a case of two teams equally matched and the one that makes the bigger plays wins," said Ravens linebacker Eddie Sutter. "We're not getting the calls, so it's up to us to make our own breaks."
Trailing 21-14 with 3: 09 left in the game, quarterback Vinny Testaverde took the Ravens from their own 33 to the Bengals' 6.
On first down, Bam Morris ran up the middle for 5 yards to the 1. On second down, Morris ran up the middle where he was stopped initially, but a spin move eventually landed him in the end zone.
No touchdown. The Ravens were furious.
"The ruling is something you can't control, but after I made contact I spun off the pile and my shoulders landed in the end zone before my knees touched," said Morris, who finished with 117 yards rushing on 21 attempts. "There was no whistle. What does that mean? Touchdown."
Nope, third down, with 36 seconds remaining.
Morris ran up the middle for no gain. The game was stopped for several minutes as the Ravens attended to injured tackle Herman Arvie, and when play resumed, facing fourth-and-goal, the Ravens tried a play-action fake into the line as Testaverde looked for lineman Jonathan Ogden in the left corner of the end zone, a play similar to the one Ogden had scored on last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But Bengals defensive end John Copeland stuffed Ogden at the line of scrimmage and Testaverde had to throw to fullback Carwell Gardner in the left flat at the 3. Gardner was tackled by safety Sam Shade at the 1.
"We wanted to go to Jonathan," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. "Jonathan was the first guy we thought would be open. They covered it. It was a new play we put in this week."
But the Ravens have thrown to their linemen three other times this season, all for touchdowns. Ogden and Arvie caught passes on tackle-eligible plays and James Jones caught one after lining up in the backfield.
It's rare for a team to get away with a play like that three times in a season, especially when it runs it the week before.
"They came out in the red set, with the split-back look, so we knew they were going to pass it," said Bengals linebacker James Francis.
Ogden said: "They wouldn't let me go. They were sure it was going to be a pass. They weren't sold on the play-action, and actually I had two people hitting me making sure I wasn't going to get free like last week. But the way they were playing that defense, if he had run to the left side he would have walked into the end zone."
The play would have been nullified if the Ravens had scored because right guard Jeff Blackshear was called for holding.
But it was symbolic of the Ravens' season in which they seldom get a break. For instance, the play that put the Ravens on the Bengals' 6 was a 28-yard sliding reception by wide receiver Michael Jackson across the middle.
The replay showed the ball bouncing before Jackson caught it, but also that Greg Myers did not tackle or touch Jackson, who got up and ran into an end zone for what should have been a touchdown, being it was ruled a catch.
"They gave me the ball at the 5, so who am I to argue with an official?" said Jackson. "But unless he [Myers] jumped over me and touched me with his knee, it should have been a touchdown. I don't believe he ever touched me."
Then there was the interception by Ravens cornerback Donny Brady that officials ruled was no good with 1: 35 left in the half. Cincinnati went on to get a 23-yard field goal from Doug Pelfrey with 21 seconds left to take a 10-7 lead into halftime.
"It didn't hit the ground, I caught it. I thought I had my first interception," said Brady. "I couldn't believe they took it away from me."
Marchibroda said he would have to take a look at the film before commenting on several of the calls. But he also will see a team that hasn't worked out its problems in the secondary despite improvement of the other units on defense in recent weeks.
The Bengals had only 93 yards rushing, but Jeff Blake completed 26 of 42 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns.
During a 10-play, 71-yard drive in the second quarter, Blake completed four passes, including one of 14 yards to wide receiver Carl Pickens for a touchdown that tied the score at 7-7.
Then in the drive that resulted in Pelfrey's field goal before the half, Blake had completions of 12, 19, 8, 11, 8 and 12 yards.
Then in the final game-winning drive, Blake had completions of 27, 16, 5 and 6 before passing to tight end Tony McGee for a 1-yard touchdown off a play-action fake with 3: 09 remaining that -- with a two-point conversion run by Garrison Hearst -- put the Bengals ahead 21-14.
"We lost as a football team. I think the better team won today," said Marchibroda, coaching a team that has dropped 11 straight road games and has lost fourth-quarter leads in five of its last eight games. "We have no excuses. We had the opportunity to win the ballgame or tie it and we didn't."
The Ravens might have had a better chance if they had starting center Steve Everitt (partially torn pectoral muscle), receiver Floyd Turner (calf) and tight end Eric Green (knee), who were ruled out minutes before yesterday's game.
"Nope, we can't run away from it," said Jones. "There are no alibis. We didn't step up."