CINCINNATI—Pandemonium ruled for a few unworldly moments.
Quarterback Trent Dilfer danced in front of the Ravens' bench, index fingers shooting flares into the sky.Split end Qadry Ismail and guard Edwin Mulitalo lifted the Ravens' unlikeliest hero, Brandon Stokley, above the gathering crowd in the end zone.
Coach Brian Billick, along the sideline, rammed both arms into the air to acknowledge the long-awaited touchdown.
When Stokley, a second-year wide receiver, turned a soft toss from Dilfer into an electric, 14-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, it ended the NFL's longest touchdown drought since the 1974 Chicago Bears went 22 quarters without one.
Better yet for the Ravens, it sent them cartwheeling to a 27-7 victory over the hapless Cincinnati Bengals yesterday at Paul Brown Stadium. A three-game losing streak, like the touchdown drought, was history.
"It was kind of funny," Dilfer said later, "because it was like we just won the Super Bowl. I had to sit back and say all we did was score a touchdown. I've scored a lot of touchdowns before.
"I was telling myself more than anything ... `Let's celebrate, let's move on.' "
Said right tackle Harry Swayne: "I never knew there could be so much excitement over scoring a touchdown. It's been so long that I guess it's to be expected."
The final tally on the drought that consumed October: 21 quarters, 60 possessions, 322 minutes and 32 seconds.
"I was just like, `Yes, the curse is over,' " Ismail said. "The Boston Red Sox are going to the World Series, and they're going to actually win it. That's how I felt."
On the Ravens' bench, the defense offered a silent "Amen."
"Everybody was like, `Whew, thank you,' " said safety Rod Woodson. "It was really good to see that one go through and our offense get off the skid."
It was actually touchdown times three.
When the Ravens finally found the end zone, they revisited it twice more in the next 12 minutes. Before halftime, Dilfer clicked with tight end Shannon Sharpe on scoring passes of 18 and 19 yards.
Combined with Jamal Lewis' second 100-yard rushing game of the season, two more Matt Stover field goals and another suffocating performance by the defense, the Ravens (6-4) climbed into second place in the AFC Central, ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Next up are the first-place Tennessee Titans in Nashville. The Titans beat the Steelers, 9-7, yesterday to go 8-1.
"We didn't want to be 5-5 going into Tennessee," said left tackle Jonathan Ogden. "This is a win we needed if we wanted to make the playoffs. I still think we can play better. [But] it's a step in the right direction."
It took the Ravens three possessions and an assist from the defense to find the promised land.
In the waning seconds of the first quarter, penetration by defen- sive tackle Sam Adams forced a fumbled handoff attempt by Bengals quarterback Akili Smith inside the Cincinnati 20.