Bengals use defense, deception
Playing with a chance to win a title, the Baltimore Ravens crossed midfield once in the first three quarters. Their fearsome defense got caught flat-footed by a sandlot play.
Maybe T.J. Houshmandzadeh is right after all.
Houshmandzadeh caught a 40-yard touchdown pass on a flea-flicker Thursday night, sparking the Cincinnati Bengals to a 13-7 victory that kept the AFC North title up for grabs.
“It’s huge,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “We’re rolling now. Hopefully we’ll wind up getting a spot in the playoffs.”
A surprisingly stout Bengals defense is keeping them in contention.
Coming off a 30-0 shutout in Cleveland, one of the NFL’s lowest-ranked defenses held Baltimore (9-3) scoreless until Steve McNair threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason with 1:01 to play.
Even though it missed out on a second straight shutout, the defense did something that no other Cincinnati unit has done: go seven straight quarters without giving up a point.
“We’ve put a couple of complete games together,” Coach Marvin Lewis said.
The Ravens had won five in a row and were coming off their most complete game of the season, a 27-0 victory over Pittsburgh. With a chance to win the AFC North title outright, Baltimore’s offense came apart, crossing midfield only once in the first three quarters. Keiwan Ratliff clinched it by recovering the onside kick after Baltimore’s late score.
“It’s a lost opportunity,” tight end Todd Heap said. “We had a chance to come in here and win the division. Give them some credit. A lot of things went their way tonight.”
All of it supported Houshmandzadeh’s main point: Right now, Cincinnati (7-5) might be the better team.
“I still feel the same way,” he said.
After the Ravens won, 26-20, on Nov. 5, the receiver insisted that everyone knows the Bengals are better. He repeated it again this week, getting a rise out of some of the Ravens. Safety Ed Reed said Houshmandzadeh should just shut up.
The Ravens were in no position to argue after Houshmandzadeh caught 10 passes for a season-high 106 yards, including the trick-play touchdown that made it 13-0 early in the second half and allowed the defense to dig in on a rainy night.
On the trick play on the first drive of the second half, Palmer handed off to Rudi Johnson, who then flipped the ball back to him. Houshmandzadeh was well beyond the coverage when Palmer let fly with the pass.
So, did the win prove that Cincinnati is better?
“In a sense,” said Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, who had eight catches for 91 yards. “We’re 1-1. We’ll see who’s the better team if we have to face them again in the playoffs.”
The Ravens would love it.
“I’d play them every day of the week,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “We missed an opportunity, but our destiny is still in our hands. We might see them again. We might not.”
Baltimore played the second half without returner B.J. Sams, who broke his right leg while returning a kickoff.