By JOE KAY, AP Sports Writer
December 2, 2002
CINCINNATI (AP) -- These young Ravens are getting their feathers.
Touchdown returns by rookies Chad Williams and Ron Johnson rallied Baltimore to a 27-23 victory Sunday that kept the Ravens in playoff contention -- a surprising place for a team so young.
``These guys don't know enough to panic,'' coach Brian Billick said. ``They're just too young, I guess. They just do what they're told, execute under conditions you can't imagine. We grew up a little bit today.''
The Ravens (6-6) showed their age early, allowing the Bengals to pull ahead 13-0. When they were on the verge of falling too far behind, the kids bailed them out.
Williams and Johnson were two of 19 first-year players who opened the season on the roster, the fallout from salary cap problems that gutted a Super Bowl team. The only expectation for a team so young was last place.
Instead, the Bengals (1-11) are at the bottom and the Ravens are looking up. Baltimore is tied for second place with Cleveland in the AFC North, a game and a half behind Pittsburgh.
The Ravens have one game left against the Browns and Steelers, so there's still a chance.
``You never want to give up on the playoffs,'' Johnson said. ``You never want to lose that hope.''
The Bengals are hopeless, and getting more so with every loss. They sold only 44,878 tickets for Sunday's game, the fewest for any in their three seasons at Paul Brown Stadium.
Then, the NFL's worst team lost another game that it had plenty of chances to win.
The Bengals led 13-7 and were on the Baltimore 8-yard line late in the first half when Jon Kitna threw a pass to Williams, a safety who was a sixth-round draft pick. Williams slipped out of Kitna's attempt at a tackle and went 98 yards for a touchdown that gave the Ravens a temporary reprieve.
The Ravens trailed 23-14 when Williams blocked Nick Harris' punt on the first play of the fourth quarter. Johnson, a fourth-round pick, got the ball on one bounce and ran 22 yards for a momentum-turning touchdown.
``They really went for it on that one, and they got it,'' Harris said. ``They scored a touchdown, and it really hurt.''
The pain was only beginning for the Bengals, who find the most creative ways to lose.
A few plays later, running back Corey Dillon bumped into Kitna as he dropped back to pass, causing a fumble. Jeff Blake, a Pro Bowl quarterback in Cincinnati in the 1990s, made the Bengals pay for the slapstick.
Blake's 22-yard touchdown pass to Todd Heap gave Baltimore its lead with 5:22 left. Blake was 10-of-19 for 115 yards and two touchdowns in his first game in Cincinnati since he left as a free agent after the 1999 season.
``It's a lot easier to go out and play a team like Pittsburgh than it is a team like the Bengals because you try not to play at their level,'' Blake said. ``You want to play at a higher level.''
The Bengals can't get much lower. For the third straight home game, they had a chance for a go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes, but failed. This time, they got to the 10-yard line, but Kitna's fourth-down pass was batted down with 28 seconds left.
``I thought for sure we had this game,'' receiver Chad Johnson said. ``Andonce again, it's the same story.''
Williams' interception return matched the team record. Chris McAlister also returned one 98 yards against the Jets in 2000. ... Ravens RB Jamal Lewis ran for 121 yards. He has topped 100 yards in each of his four games against the Bengals. ... Dillon became the fourth player to top 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons. Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson and Curtis Martin also didit. ... Bengals S Lamont Thompson sprained his neck in the second half.
Updated on Monday, Dec 2, 2002 1:24 am, EST
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