for this game

Bengals nearly post another shutout, stop Ravens from clinching

Dec 1, 2006 - 4:25 AM CINCINNATI (Ticker) -- In a matchup between a team mired in inconsistency and a defensive powerhouse headed for the postseason, the Cincinnati Bengals made it tough to tell which was which.

The Bengals nearly posted their second shutout in five days and Carson Palmer hooked up with T.J. Houshmandzadeh on a flea-flicker touchdown en route to a 13-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

Despite its defense not recording a turnover or sack, Cincinnati (7-5) came within 61 seconds of becoming the first team since the 2000 Tennessee Titans to record consecutive blankings.

The Bengals had to settle for setting the franchise record with seven consecutive quarters without allowing a point. They had gone six straight periods three previous times, with the last coming in 1980.

"It's plain and simple," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, whose team has won three straight following a three-game skid. "In the three games we lost, we didn't play well enough to win. Unfortunately, the defense didn't get a second straight shutout. That would have been awesome."

The word "awesome" previously could have been used to describe Baltimore (9-3), which had won five straight games, including a 26-20 victory over Cincinnati earlier this month. The Ravens had a chance to become the first team to clinch a playoff spot, but their offense was nowhere to be found until it was too late.

"The Bengals played a great game. They deserved to get the victory tonight," Baltimore coach Brian Billick said. "It is a disappointment always when you miss an opportunity. We missed an opportunity to capture the division. ... When you put yourself in position and don't follow through, it is unacceptable."

The Bengals outplayed the Ravens for most of the first half but did not have much to show for it. They compiled consecutive drives totaling 26 plays for 137 yards but had to settle each time for a short field goal by Shayne Graham.

Baltimore had trouble producing offensively in the first half, managing just 124 total yards. Still, Matt Stover had a chance to get the team on the board in the final minute of the second quarter but may have been thrown off by a low snap as he hooked a 29-yard attempt wide left.

"We just couldn't get things started," said Ravens quarterback Steve McNair, whose team was just 5-of-16 on third downs and committed nine penalties. "We weren't frustrated. They did a good job of playing defense."

Palmer extended the cushion to 13-0 on Cincinnati's opening drive of the second half when he connected with a wide-open Houshmandzadeh on a 40-yard TD pass. Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, who criticized Houshmandzadeh's statement earlier this month that the Bengals were the better team, was caught out of position on the play.

"I was a little nervous on the flea-flicker," Palmer admitted. "I couldn't see that well. I knew that T.J. was open by the crowd reaction."

The Ravens did not scratch the scoresheet until McNair hooked up with Derrick Mason for a 36-yard score with 1:01 left. But Keiwan Ratliff calmly signaled for a fair catch on the ensuing onside kick to eliminate any further drama.

For the most part, Baltimore had nothing going offensively. Jamal Lewis managed only 61 yards on 17 carries and McNair completed 26-of-43 for 227 yards, much of which came late with the Ravens down by 13 points.

"We didn't do anything special. We just executed our game plan," Bengals safety Madieu Williams said. "It's something that we've been building towards and we can see the progress. We knew what we were capable of if we executed. It was a win either way. Granted you want to minimize the opposition, but the win is more important."

Palmer was 21-of-32 for 234 yards without a turnover. Houshmandzadeh caught 10 passes for 106 yards and Chad Johnson hauled in eight for 91 yards to cancel out an off-night from Rudi Johnson, who ran for just 47 yards on 16 attempts.

"We left some plays on the field," Palmer said. "We did some good things, but there were things we could have done better. When the defense plays the way they did, we could afford to be a little sloppy."

Adding injury to insult, the Ravens lost kick returner B.J. Sams to a broken right leg when he was tackled by Kenny Watson during the second quarter. The second-year speedster will miss the remainder of the season.

"How big is the loss of B.J. Sams for the season? Huge," Billick said. "He is one of the top return guys in the game right now. Like any team, the next guy has to step up and play. We will adapt."

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