CINCINNATI -- The Ravens didn't lose to the Bengals yesterday just because they called a lame play on fourth-and-one late in the game. Let's make that clear.
They lost because they gave one of their flattest performances in the wake of their big win over the Steelers last week.
They lost because their offense scored on only two of 10 possessions, and their defense let the Bengals control the ball for 20 minutes of the second half.
They lost because they blew a fourth-quarter lead for the fifth time in eight weeks, again failing to make plays when it mattered.
"The better team won," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said after the Bengals' 21-14 win.
Still, they had a chance at the end and they blew it with low-percentage play-calling.
They needed to gain 1 yard to score a touchdown and force overtime.
They had the perfect man for the job.
They didn't use him.
You get what you deserve.
The Ravens deserved to lose for not giving the ball to Bam Morris on fourth-and-goal at the 1 with 30 seconds left.
Yes, the Bengals had stopped Morris for no gain on the two prior plays, but overall he had gained at least 1 yard on 17 of 21 carries. He was the obvious high-percentage call.
Instead, the Ravens ran a gadget pass play on which guard Jonathan Ogden was the primary receiver.
The Ravens wanted a 318-pound lineman to score with the game on the line.
This was smart?
There was little chance of the play working after the Ravens used one like it to score a touchdown just last week.
The chances were far smaller than the chances of scoring with Morris, who had already bammed the Bengals' defense for 117 yards rushing on 21 carries.
Did the call go against the percentages, Ted?
"This week," Marchibroda said wryly.
His mistake wasn't just giving up the straightest line to the end zone. He also called a trick play that wasn't very tricky.
The Ravens threw to Ogden on the goal line against the Steelers last week. They also threw to two other non-receivers on the goal line in earlier games.
"[The Bengals] were ready for it," Ogden said. "They weren't going to let me run free like last week."
The formation was different and Ogden's route was different, but Bengals defensive end John Copeland covered Ogden like a cornerback.
If the Ravens were so intent on using Morris as a decoy, they could have used an option play or a pass to a real receiver.
As it was, Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde was forced to look at his second option: Carwell Gardner, the blocking back. Not exactly another prime receiver.
Pressured by a blitzing cornerback, Testaverde had to unload the ball in the left flat to Gardner, who had failed to run his route into the end zone.
Gardner caught the low pass -- just his seventh reception of the season -- and was tackled for no gain, never a threat to score.
Even if he had scored, the play would have been nullified by a holding penalty on guard Jeff Blackshear.
That's not a play, that's a disaster movie!
"The play was just too slow," Morris said. "I think we should have pounded it in there. We'd been doing a good job running."
That was true. Morris made steady gains all day, averaging almost 6 yards a carry.
"We did a pretty good job [running the ball] until the end," offensive tackle Tony Jones said.
On first-and-goal from the 6, Morris banged up the middle for 5 yards. Overtime seemed imminent.
But when the Ravens went back to Morris on second and third downs, the Bengals held.
Morris thought he scored on second down, but the referee ruled him down.
"It was a bad call," Morris said.
No NFL game would be complete without one.
But the Ravens can't whine because another bad call moved them into scoring range in the first place. Replays indicated that Michael Jackson trapped a 28-yard catch that moved the ball to the 6, but the officials ruled it a catch.
The Ravens were in position to make something happen, but they didn't. And the ultimate blame lies with the players.
Even if the refs are bad and the calls are lame, the players have to make plays sometime.
The Ravens have failed miserably all season with games on the line.
The offensive line failed to open a hole on two plays from the 1 yesterday.
"We had three shots and didn't get it done," Jones said. "No excuse for that."
Did he want one more chance?
"A lineman always wants to hear a run play called," he said.
It was the right thing, the high-percentage call, a handoff to Morris.
But the right thing didn't happen. That's the story of the Ravens' entire season, not just yesterday's doomed final play.
The right thing didn't happen.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Carolina Panthers
Site: Ericsson Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Panthers by 7 1/2
Yesterday: Beat 49ers, 30-24
Pub Date: 12/09/96