The unsettling combination of injuries and turnovers was too much to overcome for the Ravens last night in a 27-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a troubling first impression in front of a sold-out Paul Brown Stadium and a national television audience.
Just as in the Ravens' playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts last season, quarterback Steve McNair shouldered the blame for the Ravens' fourth straight loss in prime time.
Limping from the first quarter on with a groin injury, McNair turned over the ball four times (three fumbles and one interception), which led to 21 of the Bengals' 24 points off turnovers.
"As an offense, you can't turn the ball over six times and expect to win the football game," McNair said. "Even though we were in the ballgame the last few minutes, it's uncalled for and unacceptable of this offense and it all starts with me. I got to protect the ball and give my team a chance.
"I'll take it on the chin for this one. When you are involved in [four] of the six turnovers, you got to take responsibility as a quarterback and the leader of this football team to get that corrected. And we will get that corrected."
The long-term status of three star players -- McNair (groin), linebacker Ray Lewis (triceps) and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (toe) -- are unknown, according to coach Brian Billick.
Lewis told reporters he tore his triceps muscle, but a team spokesman described the injury as a strain and said the Ravens would not have sent Lewis back into the game with a torn muscle.
Instead of talking about injuries, the Ravens were more focused on the sting coming from the final two minutes of the game, when backup Kyle Boller had to replace McNair.
On fourth-and-goal from the Cincinnati 1-yard line and the Ravens trailing 27-20, Boller floated a pass to Todd Heap in the back of the end zone for an apparent touchdown, but Heap was called for pass interference for pushing off.
"It's tough to make a call like that with that situation in the game," Heap said. "From my point of view, he's grabbing my jersey and I try to get his hands off and go make a play. But I'm not calling the game and they are. And you got to go with what their calls are."
After a defensive holding penalty on the Bengals gave the Ravens four more downs, they were unable to capitalize.
The game essentially ended when a hard throw by Boller on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line ricocheted off Heap and was intercepted by Michael Myers in the end zone, the Ravens' sixth turnover of the game.
McNair said the Ravens can't feel jilted by the disputed call by the officials.
"We put ourselves in that position from the first quarter to the third quarter to be down by seven points," he said. "We could have beat this team if we would have kept the ball away from them.
"This will never happen again, putting my team in a position with six turnovers. This will never happen again."
The Ravens' first quarter ranked among the worst in team history.
McNair's second fumble in as many plays -- it came when he was being sacked -- led to a Chad Johnson 39-yard touchdown catch from Carson Palmer on the next play.
The flamboyant Bengals receiver celebrated on the sideline by putting on a mock Hall of Fame blazer that read on the back: Future H.O.F. 20??.