OAKLAND, Calif. - A week after distinguishing themselves as contenders, the Ravens looked more like pretenders.

A week after seizing control of their playoff destiny, they gave it away as easily as another fumble.

Playing against the self-proclaimed "dumbest team in America," the Ravens left dumbfounded in a 20-12 loss to the once-crumbling Oakland Raiders yesterday.

Like most of the Raiders' fan base at Network Associates Coliseum, the Ravens failed to show up, turning the ball over three times while turning over control of the division to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Although they both own 8-6 records, the Bengals can win the AFC North by winning their next two games. Even if the Ravens win at Cleveland and against Pittsburgh, they would still lose the division title based on the league's fifth tiebreaker (beaten opponents' winning percentage).

"In my opinion, losing this game was probably the worst thing that could have happened to us this season," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "I hate to lose to anybody. And to lose to a 3-10 team is ridiculous to tell you the truth.

"Now, there's nothing we can do but win out. And that's not going to guarantee that anything is going to happen. We have to hope Cincinnati loses."

On a day when they were supposed to move one step closer to January and a postseason they have not visited since 2001, the Ravens watched their playoff bandwagon get sideswiped by the unlikeliest of suspects.

These are the same Raiders who had more conflicts within the team - their coach Bill Callahan recently said, "We've got to be the dumbest team in America in terms of playing the game" - than victories this season.

The same Raiders who, up until yesterday, had lost eight of their past nine games.

The same Raiders who entered yesterday with the NFL's 24th-ranked offense and 29th-ranked defense.

Into the book of shameful defeats in Ravens franchise history goes a game that wipes out a season's worth of momentum. A three-game winning streak - which peaked with last week's victory over the Bengals - came crashing down into San Francisco Bay yesterday.

"As much of a high we felt last week, we feel this low," guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "We have to respect each team as an NFL team. That's what I took from today. We didn't come prepared to finish off an opponent the way we should have, and they did."

Two turnovers - a first-quarter interception and a fourth-quarter fumble by quarterback Anthony Wright - were converted into 10 points by the Raiders.

"You don't like to ever lose," offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "But when you have control of what's going on and give it away, it kind of frustrates you. That team played good today, but we're better than them. That's the frustrating part about it."

The Ravens may be better, but yesterday, they were sloppier, too.

Trailing 17-12 early in the fourth quarter, the Ravens moved to Oakland's 27-yard line, where a missed assignment continued a day of blindsiding hits.

Wright was popped by linebacker Napoleon Harris just as he was trying to hand off to Jamal Lewis. Harris, who came off the right edge unblocked, forced the ball loose from Wright's extended arm.

The Raiders marched 63 yards on 10 plays on a drive capped by Sebastian Janikowski's 23-yard field goal, putting Oakland ahead 20-12 with 5:58 left. After that, the Ravens never crossed midfield in their final two series, which were ended by a Travis Taylor drop and a desperation throw.