Bengals 21, Ravens 9

-- Sometimes the outcome of a game can be boiled down to the simplest mathematics. Seven is greater than three. A touchdown is worth more points than a field goal.

The Cincinnati Bengals turned three trips inside the 20-yard line into three touchdowns, the Baltimore Ravens converted four trips into the red zone into three field goals, and as a result, the Bengals won, 21-9, in front of frustrated crowd of 70,196 at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

"Not much you can say, other than math," Baltimore Coach Brian Billick said. "You can't trade sevens for three, plain and simple."

Baltimore fell to 2-6, which ties for the worst start in franchise history. At the midway point of the season, the Ravens would have to win all of their remaining games -- which include trips to Denver and Cincinnati and a home date with Pittsburgh -- to finish 10-6, which would put them in contention for a wild-card berth.

Nothing went right for the Ravens, the lowest-scoring team in the NFL. The offense failed to reach the end zone for the second time this season and committed one turnover (a second-quarter fumble by tight end Todd Heap) that set up the Bengals' second touchdown. Running back Jamal Lewis, who ran for over 100 yards in each of his seven previous games against Cincinnati, was held to just 49 yards on 15 carries.

The normally stout defense -- which was missing linebacker Ray Lewis (thigh) and safety Ed Reed (ankle) -- had difficulties stopping the Bengals on third down; Cincinnati converted 7 of 11 opportunities (64 percent).

Even when the Ravens thought they had made a game-changing play against the AFC North Division leading Bengals (7-2), it turned out they didn't. Early in the third quarter, with Cincinnati holding a 14-6 lead, linebacker Adalius Thomas forced a fumble that safety Will Demps picked up and returned 58 yards for an apparent touchdown.

But a sideline official blew his whistle just moments after Demps picked up the ball and began racing down the sideline. Referee Jeff Triplette ultimately ruled that even though the whistle was blown in error, the play was ruled dead, the touchdown was negated, and Baltimore was given the ball on its 42.

It was a devastating blow, especially for a team that struggles mightily to score touchdowns. The Ravens picked up three yards on three plays before punting.

"Even when the ball bounces our way, it doesn't. It's just not happening for us," said quarterback Anthony Wright, who completed 19 of 30 passes for 153 yards and was sacked three times. "It's a difficult thing. It's one of those things that this game could've changed the season around for us. We had high hopes about this game. That one play could've changed the entire complex of the game."

Triplette told a pool reporter after the game that by rule, there was nothing the officials could do to rectify the error. And although the official admitted that there was a mistake, that did not mollify the Ravens, who have felt slighted by officiating throughout the season.

"It's hard playing against the refs too. That's what it boils down to," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "Blowing the whistle early, them not seeing the ball come out, I don't understand how they could not see the ball come out early. It's been the saga of our season. It's happened every time we've stepped out on the field."

The Ravens did benefit from one call: Chris Henry's 34-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter was wiped out after Billick's challenge. The replay showed that Henry didn't get both feet inbounds while maintaining possession of the ball. But McAlister was angry about a non-call in the fourth quarter, when wide receiver Chad Johnson made an acrobatic leaping catch for 48 yards. McAlister argued that Johnson pushed off of him.

"Just take away these guys' stripes," McAlister said. "They never played the game. They shouldn't let them call it."

Johnson's catch, his fifth of the game, moved the Bengals to the Baltimore 4-yard line and set up their final score of the game, a three-yard pass from quarterback Carson Palmer (19 of 26 for 248 yards) to Henry. Palmer's second touchdown pass capped a 91-yard drive -- in which he converted two third-and-9 situations with passes -- and gave the Bengals a 12-point lead, 21-9, with 6:05 remaining in the game.

Baltimore tried to put together one final scoring drive. The Ravens moved to the Cincinnati 4-yard line, but Wright was sacked, and then on fourth and goal from the 13, his pass intended for Heap fell incomplete. The home crowd booed and headed for the exits.

The only time the offense was cheered during the game was when backup quarterback Kordell Stewart took over late in the third quarter for Wright, who missed one series with a sprained left ankle. Stewart, who had not played on offense since the 2003 season, did not attempt a pass, but ran three times for 30 yards and nearly made a diving catch of a Randy Hymes pass.

But Stewart couldn't lead the Ravens to a touchdown either; the drive ended with a 31-yard field goal from Matt Stover, his third of the game.

"That's what's frustrating," Heap said. "To win in this league, you can't settle for field goals. The Super Bowl season, we won some games like that, but we're not built like that [now]. We have to put points on the board. We've got to get better at that."

Ravens Notes: Cornerback Dale Carter (hamstring) and safety B.J. Ward (groin) left the game and did not return. . . . Quarterback Kyle Boller dressed for first time since hyperextending his right big toe in the season opener but was on the inactive list, designated as the third quarterback. . . . Heap caught four passes to raise his career total to 205, the most in franchise history. Wide receiver Travis Taylor, who joined Minnesota in the offseason, had held the mark of 204.

Chad Johnson hauls in a fourth-quarter 48-yard pass behind Baltimore's Chris McAlister, who argued Johnson pushed off on the play. "Take away these guys' stripes," McAlister said of the officials.Ravens quarterback Kordell Stewart, in for injured starter Anthony Wright, dives but can't catch a pass from Randy Hymes.