- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 10, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. By their standards, the Cincinnati Bengals are on a roll. They routed the expansion Houston Texans 38-3 last week for their first win of the season.
For that reason and an embarrassing loss to the Bengals last year the Baltimore Ravens understand they can't take Cincinnati lightly today at Ravens Stadium. After all, another loss to the Bengals (1-7) this season instantly would make them the punch line of some bad football jokes around the league.
"People have overlooked them, but we're definitely not going to overlook that team," Ravens wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. "They beat us last year, and they have a lot of capable players on that team. They've got the talent there. I don't know what it is. It's tough to put your hand on why they struggle."
If the Ravens (3-5) have any hopes, no matter how faint, of making a playoff run, it needs to start today against the team with the league's worst record.
History and location seems to favor the Ravens. The Bengals were shut out the last three times the teams have played at Ravens Stadium, getting outscored 75-0.
Bengals coach Dick LeBeau feels good about his team's chances, especially coming off the win. Perhaps that optimism starts from knowing that Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis will not play and that defensive end Michael McCrary (knee) and cornerback Chris McAlister (ankle) will be game-time decisions.
"We're encouraged with the opportunity to show improvement," LeBeau said. "It wouldn't matter who the opponent would be this week, we'd be excited. Baltimore has played everybody well. They either win by some or lose by very little."
If McAlister, who has never missed a game in his four-year career, can't play, then second-year cornerback Alvin Porter will make just his third career start. The 5-foot-11 Porter expects to be tested by Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna and playmaking wide receivers Peter Warrick (28 receptions for 302 yards and two touchdowns) and Chad Johnson (27 receptions for 348 yards and two TDs).
"They're probably thinking, 'OK, this is a young guy, he's unproven, we're going to test him and see how he holds up,'" Porter said. "That's the thing about being in this league. It's not like they can look at a lot of film and say this is how we're going to attack him."
Of course, even if that happens the Ravens can't forget about running back Corey Dillon (162 carries for 694 yards and four TDs).
Dillon, the AFC's fifth-best rusher, snapped the Ravens' 50-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher last season when he rumbled for 127 yards on 24 carries in a 16-0 loss.
There have been some published reports that Dillon is getting frustrated with losing in Cincinnati and wants out.
"Corey's been a very positive force in everything we've done in all three of my years," LeBeau said. "He's our best player."
Meanwhile, Ravens quarterback Jeff Blake will make his third consecutive start. Blake played six seasons (1994-99) for the Bengals and posted huge passing numbers (15,134 yards and 93 TDs), even earning a Pro Bowl nod in 1995. He's the Bengals' third all-time leading passer behind Ken Anderson (32,838 yards) and former Maryland star Boomer Esiason (27,149). In fact, the last time the Bengals scored in Baltimore was Sept. 27, 1998, when Blake threw at 67-yard TD pass to Carl Pickens.
"I haven't been back to the city since the day I left," Blake said. "I don't think about the Bengals or the team I'm playing."
Ravens coach Brian Billick said historically the Bengals play better in the second half of the season. That might be because they've opened a season 1-7 or worse six times in the past 12 seasons.
"Their history says, with the kind of start they've had, they usually come out in the second half of the season and get a pretty good run and beat some people," Billick said.

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