In yesterday's 21-9 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens suffered through everything that has gone so horribly wrong this season in freeze-frame clarity, crashing at the midway point with an exasperating thud.
If the Ravens needed any more embarrassment, their third straight loss dropped them to 2-6, matching their worst record ever halfway into a season. A team that trumpeted itself as a Super Bowl contender just two months ago, the Ravens now must worry about their division, and it has nothing to do with having sole possession of last place in the AFC North.
"When you're stopping them, you've got to come back and score points," cornerback Samari Rolle said. "At some point, [the Bengals are] going to score, regardless of how you play. It just gets frustrating; every week we lose the same way."
Rolle's finger was pointing squarely at the Ravens' woeful offense, which heard an increasing amount of boos after each drive from the M&T Bank Stadium crowd.
The Ravens reached the red zone on half of their eight drives and came away with three field goals. They ran 16 plays inside the 20-yard line and never got past the Bengals' 4.
This ineptness has been status quo. The Ravens have scored one touchdown in their past 15 quarters and none in their past seven.
"I can do the math. You can't trade sevens for three, plain and simple," Ravens coach Brian Billick said, referring to the fact that the Bengals scored three touchdowns while the Ravens settled for three field goals. "If you get an opportunity to score or stop them, you can't trade touchdowns for field goals, and that's what we did today."
The defense almost bailed out the Ravens early in the third quarter, when Cincinnati led 14-6.
After Adalius Thomas' hit forced Bengals tight end Matt Schobel to fumble, safety Will Demps picked up the ball and ran 58 yards to the end zone. But an inadvertent referee's whistle blew the play dead upon Demps' recovery, which took away the apparent touchdown.
"It was an error," referee Jeff Triplette said of the quick whistle. "By rule, there is nothing we can do."
Demps simply said he didn't hear the whistle, but cornerback Chris McAlister didn't take the same diplomatic tone.
"It's hard playing against the refs, too," McAlister said. "That's what it boils down to. Blowing the whistle early, them not seeing the ball come out. ... I don't know how they didn't see the ball come out early. It's been the saga of our season. It happens every time we step on the field."
The Ravens believe they have received questionable calls since their 21-penalty debacle a month ago in Detroit, where two of their players were ejected for bumping into officials.
"Just take away these guys' stripes," McAlister said. "They never played the game; you shouldn't let them call it."
Instead of scoring a touchdown off a turnover, the Ravens went three-and-out and punted, another shortcoming that came back to haunt them against the first-place Bengals (7-2).
"This game could have changed the season around for us," quarterback Anthony Wright said. "We had high hopes about this game. That one play could have changed the whole complexion of the game."
Wright injured his left ankle late in the third quarter, and Kordell Stewart came in to spark the offense for one series. He ran three times for 30 of the drive's 50 yards and nearly caught a potential touchdown pass on a trick play.
The throw to Stewart, from wide receiver Randy Hymes, nicked off the quarterback's outstretched hands. As usual, the Ravens had to settle for Stover's 31-yard field goal to close within 14-9 with 12:46 left in the game.
The Bengals then sealed their second straight win in Baltimore with a 12-play, 91-yard drive that included a 48-yard throw to Chad Johnson and a 3-yard touchdown pass to Chris Henry. Cincinnati converted three third downs that drive and finished 7-for-11 on third downs for the game.
The Bengals' first touchdown drive went for 80 yards on 12 plays, which was capped by Rudi Johnson's 1-yard run. Their second was helped by tight end Todd Heap's fumble at the Ravens' 31, which led to Tab Perry's 8-yard touchdown catch.
"Getting teams off the field on third down is something we pride ourselves on; we've got to get better at it," said linebacker Bart Scott, whose two penalties aided Cincinnati's first touchdown drive. "They made the plays and we didn't."
The defense can't even rely on the one former constant on offense. Running back Jamal Lewis, who had gained 100 yards in each of his seven games against Cincinnati, finished with 49 on 15 carries, a 3.3-yard average.
With Lewis stuck in his season-long rut, the Ravens had to turn frequently to Wright. He was 19-for-30 passing for 153 yards but was 2-for-8 for 8 yards (not including one spike) in the red zone.
Wright said defenses are dropping off all of their defensive backs and middle linebackers into the end zone, forcing him to throw underneath, where receivers have been getting stopped short of the goal line.
As a result, the Ravens have been held to one or no touchdowns in seven of eight games this season. Now, with Kyle Boller suiting up yesterday, Wright could soon be returning to the bench.
"I am very frustrated," Wright said. "This is one of the most frustrating years I have had in a long time."
With the playoffs a pipe dream, the Ravens must find a way to end their longest losing streak since 2000. It also marks their worst record since 1998, the season the Ravens fired coach Ted Marchibroda.
"At 2-6, history says we might as well pack our bags and go home. But that's not what we're going to do," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "We just have to come back, work hard and stick together. If we start turning on each other, it's just going to be a longer season."
Once again, the Ravens' trips into the red zone failed to produce touchdowns. On four trips inside the Bengals' 20-yard line, the Ravens came away with only nine points.
Quarter, Yard line, Plays, Yards, Result
First, Bengals' 17, 2, 1, Stover 34 FG
Second, Bengals' 14, 3, 0, Stover 32 FG
Fourth, Bengals' 15, 3, 3, Stover 31 FG
Fourth, Bengals' 14, 8, 1, Lost on downs