The Baltimore Ravens' elation over their 22-0 win against the Cincinnati Bengals today did not last long.
As soon as Baltimore reached its locker room, the Ravens realized their playoff hopes had been dashed. Buffalo, on an overtime field goal by Steve Christie, had beaten New England, 13-10, eliminating Baltimore from contention for an AFC playoff berth.
"It kind of let a little air out of me," defensive end Rob Burnett said. "I came in [the locker room] kind of boisterous and happy. When [Coach Brian Billick announced the Buffalo score], I just kind of [sagged]. But what are you going to do? It wasn't up to us."
Still, the 68,036 fans at PSINet Stadium had something to cheer about this afternoon. The Ravens (8-7) recorded their first shutout in franchise history to remain unbeaten in December and secured their first nonlosing season in their four-year history. Baltimore's four-game winning streak also is a team record.
On a day when the offense never developed a flow, running back Errict Rhett scored the Ravens' only touchdown of the game when he caught a two-yard pass from Tony Banks in the first quarter to put Baltimore ahead 7-0. As the game wore on, Matt Stover's leg proved to be the most productive part of the offense. Stover tied a career-high by making five field goals of 24, 48, 19, 30 and 19 yards to build on Baltimore's lead.
However, the Ravens didn't need much offense today, because they had a steadfast defense. Every time Cincinnati (4-11) threatened to score, Baltimore held firm.
"One thing about our defense, we don't worry about the scoreboard," said middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who was one of five Ravens voted to the Pro Bowl this week. "That's one thing we don't worry about. We come out and do what we're supposed to do and everything falls in place for us."
The Ravens' most impressive defensive stand came early in the fourth quarter. Cincinnati put together a 20-play drive that went 94 yards and ate up 9 minutes 44 seconds on the clock. Seven times the Bengals were inside the 6-yard line--four times they were inside the 2-yard line--and failed to score. On the final play of that drive, on fourth and goal from the 2, Doug Pelfrey's 20-yard field goal attempt sailed underneath the crossbar after Keith Washington partially blocked it.
Nearly as damaging as going scoreless on that drive, Cincinnati lost running back Corey Dillon during that series. With just more than seven minutes left in the third quarter, Dillon caught a short pass from Jeff Blake and was tackled by defensive tackle Larry Webster. Dillon left the game with a knee strain and did not return.
Baltimore, one of three teams in the NFL that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in a game this season, was intent on stopping Dillon and keeping that record intact. Dillon had gained the most yards on the Ravens this season: 74 yards on 15 carries in Baltimore's 34-31 win Nov. 21. Today, he rushed for 27 yards on 10 carries before leaving the game. Cincinnati gained just 93 yards rushing against Baltimore.
The Ravens, who have the NFL's fourth-best defense, did more than just stop the run--they sacked Blake a season-high seven times, two shy of a team record. Defensive end Michael McCrary, who also was voted to the Pro Bowl earlier this week, had three sacks, his second three-sack game of the season. McCrary leads the team with 11 1/2 sacks.
Baltimore also intercepted Blake twice. Safety Rod Woodson, another Pro Bowl selection, made his seventh interception of the season, the 54th of his career to tie him with Willie Brown for 16th on the NFL's all-time interception list.
The Ravens travel to New England for their final game of the season and the chance to record their first winning season in franchise history. But the playoffs have eluded them for another year. The players know they have no one but themselves to blame for those early season losses that cost them a postseason.
"The playoffs weren't taken away from us," Lewis said. "We gave the playoffs away. . . . We put ourselves in that position."