CINCINNATI - A month ago, Ravens coach Brian Billick sent Marvin Lewis a bottle of wine in recognition of his first win as the Cincinnati Bengals' coach.
Yesterday, the Ravens clumsily hand-delivered another gift to their former defensive coordinator.
Paul Brown Stadium, the Ravens' 34-26 loss to Cincinnati was wrapped in fumbles, penalties and costly mistakes in the secondary.
The Ravens gave away 17 points on three turnovers by rookie quarterback Kyle Boller - two fumbles and one interception - and served up another touchdown when the ball ricocheted off safety Ed Reed's shoulder and into the waiting hands of receiver Chad Johnson.
The one thing the Ravens (3-3) held onto yesterday was first place in the AFC North, the only division without a winning record.
"That just shows when you hand the ball over, the other team is going to take it right to you and stick it right back in your face," tight end Todd Heap said. "No team can do that and be successful. We shot ourselves in the foot. We didn't take care of what we needed to."
Although the Ravens avoided a rout with two late touchdowns, the game was essentially lost in the first half. After an opening drive in which the Ravens authoritatively marched into the end zone, they tripped over themselves as the Bengals scored 27 straight points.
Boller fumbled the first time midway through the first quarter, when he lost the handle on the ball after hitting fullback Alan Ricard on a casual play fake. Three plays later, Cincinnati tight end Matt Schobel beat linebacker Adalius Thomas down the middle for a 45-yard touchdown catch to tie the game at 7.
On the Ravens' next drive, Boller coughed the ball up again, losing it after getting sacked from behind at his own 15-yard line. Four plays later, Bengals running back Corey Dillon gashed the middle of the defense for a 2-yard touchdown.
In a span of 3 1/2 minutes, two fumbles led to two touchdowns and a 14-7 deficit.
"I don't know if there was grease on the ball, a couple of times it just popped right out of my hand," Boller said. "I put my team in a bad situation there. When you have those kind of turnovers, especially where they were, you can't expect to win. We can't beat ourselves."
The Ravens' self-destruction quickly spread to the defense.
On the second play of the second quarter, Reed - one of three defenders around Bengals receiver Johnson - was in perfect position to intercept an underthrown pass. But the ball deflected off Reed's right shoulder pad and fell to Johnson, who caught it waist-high and raced for an 82-yard touchdown reception, the longest allowed by the Ravens this season.
"I thought I had it and it went through my hands,'' Reed said. "It was a lucky bounce. When it goes bad, it goes bad."
Bad turned into worse later in the second quarter when Boller threw behind receiver Frank Sanders and was picked off. This time, the Bengals only converted a mistake into a field goal and went into halftime with a 24-7 lead.
The Ravens went into halftime searching for their true identity.
Boller had previously been careful with the ball, losing one fumble in five starts. Reed had been the top playmaker of the defense. And the Ravens had been disciplined before committing a season-high 13 penalties (one off the franchise record) for 113 yards.
"We'll regroup and correct those things we can," Billick said. "Some of it is just - phew - I hope that doesn't happen again and move on to the next one."
The Bengals (2-4), who scored their most points in 27 games at Paul Brown Stadium, expanded their advantage to 34-10 on drives of 72 and 83 yards.
Bengals 34, Ravens 26
Game 6: Sloppy Ravens drop one
Boller fumbles, mistakes on 'D' dig early hole in loss to Bengas; 162 passing yards in fourth close gap of 27-0 Cincy run
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