Zeier, Holmes Lead Ravens to Win Over Bengals
By Ken Denlinger
BALTIMORE, Sept. 27 Quarterback Eric Zeier and tailback Priest Holmes, elevated to starters earlier in the week, led the Baltimore Ravens to a 31-24 AFC Central Division victory over the Cincinnati Bengals tonight before 68,154 at Ravens Stadium at Camden Yards. The result of the moves prompted the question: Why did it take Coach Ted Marchibroda so long to make the changes?
Holmes gained 173 yards on 27 carries and scored touchdowns on three- and 15-yard runs after Marchibroda moved him past the ineffective Jay Graham and Errict Rhett on the depth chart. Zeier, who had replaced Jim Harbaugh in the first half of each of the first three games, was 15 for 20 for 254 yards and hit wideout Jermaine Lewis with a 73-yard touchdown pass.
Lewis also returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown, which countered a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Cincinnati's Tremain Mack.
Patience with the previous starters is mostly why Marchibroda had not promoted Zeier and Holmes earlier. Harbaugh still is somewhat hampered by injuries to the elbow and ring finger of his throwing hand, although Zeier won the job on merit. Holmes's quickness and work ethic won him the chance in somewhat of a gamble by Marchibroda.
"I think we've found our [tailback]," Marchibroda said. "Priest made things happen, although I haven't seen holes like that [from the offensive line] all year long."
This was a game of giant momentum swings, with the Ravens jumping to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter and the Bengals (1-3) counterpunching with the next 17 points. Jeff Blake entered the game at quarterback when starter Neil O'Donnell bruised his ribs late in the third quarter and brought the Bengals to 28-24 with a 67-yard scoring pass to Carl Pickens early in the fourth quarter.
Baltimore's Matt Stover hit a 46-yard field goal for the Ravens' final points midway through the final period-and left cornerback Rod Woodson broke up a fourth-down Blake pass with 1 minute 42 seconds left to assure the victory. The Ravens upped their record to 2-2 and stayed within striking distance of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers in the division.
Zeier and Holmes led a 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Holmes darting around left end from the three for the touchdown that soon lifted Baltimore to a 7-0 lead.
They helped produce another touchdown the next time the Ravens got the ball. This time, the drive was 82 yards, took nine plays and ended with Holmes slipping inside a large hole and going 15 yards almost untouched. Right tackle Orlando Brown and right guard Jeff Blackshear pushed inside on the play and left guard Wally Williams pulled and led the downfield blocking.
With about two minutes left in the first quarter, Holmes gained his 73rd yard of the game. That was more than either Graham or Rhett had in any of the first three games.
Zeier needed just one play to lift the Ravens to a 21-0 lead after defensive end Rob Burnett forced a Bengal punt with a sack of O'Donnell. From his 27, Zeier lofted a long pass down the left sideline toward Lewis. Cincinnati cornerback Ashley Ambrose fell down as Lewis darted by him and was helpless to offer any help when Lewis caught the ball in stride just beyond midfield and later skipped into the end zone.
The Bengals used a few Baltimore penalties and a fumble by Zeier to whittle the deficit to 21-10 by halftime. A 15-yard penalty on John Williams for not giving a Bengal a chance to catch a punt and a pass interference call on cornerback DeRon Jenkins later on fourth down led to a 48-yard field goal by Doug Pelfrey with 4:45 left in the second quarter.
Zeier lost the ball when he was smacked by defensive end Clyde Simmons and Michael Bankston recovered at the Baltimore 34. On fourth and one from the 5, Jenkins again was called for interference-and O'Donnell then hit wideout Carl Pickens on play-action from the one for the touchdown 17 seconds before halftime.
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