Ravens Give One Away to Bengals

Steve McNair
Steve McNair throws for only 128 yards, loses two fumbles and throws an interception before being replaced by Kyle Boller. (Joe Giza - Reuters)
By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 12, 2007

BALTIMORE, Nov. 11 -- The first boos from the crowd of 71,130 inside M&T Bank Stadium came in response to the events that were taking place on the field in the Baltimore Ravens' 21-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals: an interception here, an inept offensive possession there.

But by the fourth quarter of the Ravens' third straight loss, the booing started as soon as quarterback Steve McNair, the erstwhile savior of Baltimore's offense, and his teammates trotted onto the field. McNair -- a four-time Pro Bowl pick and onetime league co-MVP -- committed three turnovers and failed to lead the Ravens to a single score, as Baltimore fell to 4-5.

The fans cheered when he was replaced by Kyle Boller midway through the final period. Even McNair wasn't sure if he would start next week against Cleveland.

"That's up to the coaches. Right now, the last two games, my turnovers have been killing this team," said McNair, who fumbled four times and was intercepted twice in the past two games. "I don't know what the coaches are going to decide. If they decide to go with Kyle, that's fine, and I'm backing him up. I probably would agree with them."

When asked after the game if McNair was still "his guy," Coach Brian Billick responded: "As of right now, yes. Obviously, we'll make all our adjustments going forward."

Baltimore's offense had essentially reached its zero hour, after a string of unimpressive performances that culminated in a disastrous showing at Pittsburgh last Monday: four turnovers and franchise records for fewest first downs (five) and fewest net yards (104). This game was supposed to be the Ravens' chance to prove they had a capable offense with McNair at quarterback; they were facing one of the league's most porous defenses, and for the first time since the season opener, they had their full complement of offensive starters.

But again the Ravens self-destructed. Five of their first nine possessions ended with turnovers. They struggled to move the ball against a defense that was giving up the second-most yards per game in the league, and they managed seven points against a team that hadn't held any opponent to fewer than 20 points all season.

McNair was at the root of Baltimore's problems. In the final two minutes of the first half, he led the Ravens to the Bengals 2-yard line, but on third and one, his throw to tight end Todd Heap in the back of the end zone was tipped and intercepted by Leon Hall, costing Baltimore a chance to cut into Cincinnati's 6-0 lead.

On the Ravens' first possession of the second half, McNair was hit from behind as he attempted to scramble and was stripped of the ball, drawing the first sustained boos from the crowd. Midway through the fourth quarter, McNair just lost the ball as he dropped back.

"This is probably the lowest point in my career that I've ever had, these last two games," said McNair, who is 30 of 48 for 191 yards in the past two games. "What do I need to do about it? What is the answer? I don't know. I'm trying to play hard and do all I can to help this team, but it's just not there. I don't know what it is. . . . We're just having too many turnovers, and they start with me."

On the season, McNair has lost seven fumbles and thrown four interceptions. The Ravens are 2-4 in his starts.

Only a heroic performance by a short-handed defense saved the Ravens from a full-blown embarrassment. Baltimore's secondary again was without its two starting cornerbacks, Chris McAlister (120 career starts, three Pro Bowls, sidelined with a knee injury) and Samari Rolle (121 career starts, one Pro Bowl, out with an undisclosed illness), and it had the daunting task of checking one of the best trios of wide receivers in the league.

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