The Cincinnati Bengals doled out $ 8.2 million to improve their secondary during the off-season, and it seems to have paid off.
The Bengals (2-6) have 16 interceptions this season, tops in the AFC. Last year the team gave up 4,245 passing yards, the fourth worst total in league history.
The Bengals are ranked 27th in the league in pass defense. But it's not entirely the fault of the secondary, which has caught the eye of Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda.
"Those guys are very alert when the ball is in the air, and they have recovered seven of 11 fumbles," said Marchibroda. "They are good athletes and they capitalize on turnovers."
The Bengals signed cornerback Ashley Ambrose to a 3-year, $5.1 million contract in the off-season, while right cornerback Jimmy Spencer agreed to a 2-year deal worth $1.4 million. Free safety Bo Orlando signed for $1.7 million over three years.
Ambrose has five interceptions while Spencer and Orlando each have two.
"They all work back there, and they always play well against us," said tight end Frank Hartley. "But we've been playing well offensively, too. They have gotten a lot of interceptions from tipped balls, so we've got to cut down on them."
Ravens offensive tackle Tony Jones was surprised when quarterback Vinny Testaverde called off the quarterback sneak last week, and then threw the winning touchdown pass with 10 seconds left in the overtime period.
Jones said there might have been a severe penalty for Testaverde if that had happened under former Cleveland Browns coach Bill Belichick.
"There is a strong possibility that Eric Zeier would be the starting quarterback next week," Jones said.
Even if they had won?
"There is a strong possibility that Eric Zeier would be the starting quarterback next week," Jones repeated.
Despite some poor ball-handling at times, Marchibroda says he has not lost confidence in rookie wide receiver Jermaine Lewis (University of Maryland) as a return specialist.
Lewis has an average of 7.5 yards while returning 17 punts, and has returned 27 kickoffs for an average of 21.7 yards. Lewis, however, returned two punts for touchdowns in the preseason.
"He has made some progress as a receiver, but not as much success as a punt returner," said Marchibroda. "But he has also had a lot of punts he couldn't return because they were inside the 10-yard line.
"I'm not going to make a change. I haven't thought about it," said Marchibroda. "I haven't lost any confidence in him."
Opportunity knocks again
Ravens rookie linebacker Dexter Daniels held no animosity toward the Ravens after they cut him for the second time a month ago.
So when the team called him this week about returning to the practice squad, Daniels jumped at the opportunity.
"I was just sitting around, hanging out," said Daniels. "I kept working out and hoping and praying I would get another opportunity. After the Ravens cut me a second time, I just said there goes that team.
L "I was really surprised they called me again," said Daniels.
"My only response was, 'What time is the flight?' "
Marchibroda said he has been impressed with rookie cornerback Dorian Brew, who was signed by the team two days ago.
Bruises and bubbly
Despite an unusually long injury list, only second-year linebacker Craig Powell (shoulder) is questionable for Sunday's game, Marchibroda said.
Starters Mike Croel (knee), an outside linebacker, and middle linebacker Ray Lewis (hip) did not practice yesterday. Tight end Eric Green (knee) did not participate in the second half of the workout, but Marchibroda said the problems were not severe.
"We're not practicing with the same 11 we played with last week, but we'll have the same 11 back on the field," said Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. "That will be the first time in quite a while."
Testaverde, the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week, bought each one of his offensive linemen a $200 bottle of champagne. Receiver Michael Jackson also took home a bottle.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals
Site: Memorial Stadium
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WLIF (101.9 FM), WJFK (1300 AM) Line: Ravens by 3 1/2
Pub Date: 11/01/96