The Ravens survived a strong second-half comeback and may have found their running back and quarterback of the future in a 31-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals last night in an AFC Central game at Ravens stadium. Running back Priest Holmes ran 10 yards for a first down with 1: 16 left in the game to seal the win for the Ravens (2-2).
The Bengals (1-3) had driven as far as the Ravens' 32-yard line, but cornerback Rod Woodson knocked down a short pass intended for receiver Darnay Scott on a fourth-and-one with 1: 46 left.
Holmes, a second-year player making his first NFL start, rushed for 173 yards on 27 carries. He was just as effective picking up the Bengals' blitz on pass protection as he was running the ball. Errict Rhett and Jay Graham, who shared the starting job in the preseason and first three games, may now be relegated to the bench.
"The effort tonight was definitely from God," said Holmes, whose two touchdowns were matched by Jermaine Lewis' scores on a 73-yard reception and 87-yard punt return. "I just wanted to come out and make a strong showing. Someone upstairs was definitely looking down on me."
Quarterback Eric Zeier, also starting for the first time, turned in a solid performance, completing 15 of 20 passes for 254 yards. It was the first time this season a Ravens quarterback had started and completed the game. Former starter Jim Harbaugh had to leave in the first half of each of the first three games because of a hyperextended ring finger and tendinitis in his right elbow.
Zeier had one of his biggest plays when he connected on a 40-yard pass to Michael Jackson down to the Bengals' 38, but the best the team could do was come away with a 46-yard field goal by Matt Stover to finish the scoring with 5: 15 left.
The Ravens got as far as the Bengals' 22, but on third-and-four they were called for delay of game. On the next play, Holmes carried but lost a yard as most of the crowd of 68,154 booed the play selection.
It was one of only a few Ravens plays that didn't work as Marchibroda finally shed the conservative tag on his offense, and allowed the team to push the ball downfield.
But the Ravens still need some defensive work because the Bengals exploited cornerback DeRon Jenkins, and linebacker Tyrus McCloud was not effective in the middle filling in for the injured Ray Lewis (dislocated elbow).
Fortunately for the Ravens, the team has a bye this weekend and Lewis should return for the Oilers' game in two weeks. That also may give the team some time to find a veteran cornerback or work No. 1 draft pick Duane Starks into Jenkins' spot.
The Ravens scored on their first possession of the game, going 80 yards in 13 plays. Holmes finished the drive with a 3-yard run around left end as fullback Roosevelt Potts delivered the key block, taking out three Bengals as the Ravens took a 7-0 lead with 7: 36 left in the first quarter.
Holmes had eight rushes for 48 yards during the possession. Zeier was 4-for-4 during the drive with 33 yards.
The Ravens made it 14-0 on their second possession, this time going 82 yards in nine plays. Holmes, following a block from left guard Wally Williams on linebacker Brian Simmons on a counter play to the right, scored from 15 yards out untouched with 1: 45 left in the first quarter.
Holmes had 49 yards rushing in the drive, but the big play was a pass interference call on rookie cornerback Artrell Hawkins against Jackson that netted the Ravens 29 yards to the Bengals' 26 on a third-and-four play.
The Ravens, breaking a trend and throwing on five first downs in the first 18 minutes, continued to attack the Bengals, mixing both the pass and run. On their next possession, Zeier, on first down, faked a handoff to Holmes and threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Lewis down the left sideline that put the Ravens ahead 21-0 with 12: 27 left in the half.
Lewis ran a stop-and-go that caused Bengals cornerback Ashley Ambrose to fall around the 50-yard line. Zeier lofted a perfect pass to Lewis, who ran the final 45 yards for the touchdown.
But the Ravens self-destructed in the remaining time. Cornerback John Williams was called for interfering with the punt returner, which gave the Bengals possession at the Ravens' 48 with 8: 45 left in the half. The Bengals went only 19 yards in nine plays, but Doug Pelfrey came in to kick a 48-yard field goal with 4: 45 left in the half.
Then with 2: 35 left in the half, Zeier was sacked and fumbled, and the Bengals took possession at the Ravens' 34. With 17 seconds left in the half, Bengals quarterback Neil O'Donnell passed to wide receiver Carl Pickens in the back of the end zone to pull Cincinnati within 21-10 at the half.
The Ravens had 250 yards of total offense in the first half compared to 69 for the Bengals, 21 yards passing. The Ravens also had three sacks. Holmes rushed for 92 yards on 15 carries in the first two quarters and Zeier was 9-for-11 for 157 yards.
The Bengals' Tremain Mack opened the second half by taking the kickoff and going 97 yards for a touchdown. He burst free at the 20 as John Williams missed a tackle.
But as the Ravens started seeing the game slip away, Lewis returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown, getting key blocks from Starks and Tyrell Peters, to put the Ravens ahead 28-17 with 8: 44 left in the third quarter.
The Bengals, picking on Jenkins, went from their 15 to the Ravens' 19-yard line, but two straight sacks by defensive end Michael McCrary, the first injuring O'Donnell, forced the Bengals to attempt a 51-yard field goal with 1: 54 left in the third quarter.
But holder/punter Lee Johnson couldn't handle the low snap, and pooch-punted the ball just into the end zone. Starting from the 20, Holmes took a handoff around right end for a 47-yard gain on the next play.
The Ravens, though, couldn't do anything with the field position.
Williams was called for illegal procedure and holding on successive plays, and linebacker Takeo Spikes sacked Zeier.
The Bengals capitalized on their next possession. On first-and-10 from the Bengals' 33, Pickens ran a straight fly pattern on Jenkins and hauled in a 67-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Jeff Blake.
Jenkins was in position to make the play, but seemed to lose the ball and then slipped down as the Bengals pulled within 28-24 with 11: 18 left in the game.
Ravens 31, Bengals 24