- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

The Cincinnati Bengals, who erupted on offense in last week’s 58-48 victory over Cleveland, likely are in for a big letdown today against the Baltimore Ravens’ fourth-ranked defense at M&T; Bank Stadium.

“Where was the defense?” Ravens Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed asked of the Bengals-Browns shootout, the second highest-scoring game in NFL history. “There was no defense in the game. It was just throwing the ball around. We need to just go out there and execute our defense and not let them put up those kind of numbers.”

Yet the Bengals’ offensive effort last week indicates the Ravens’ stout defense will have to be at its best when these AFC North rivals meet for the second time this season.

The Ravens easily defeated the Bengals 23-9 in Cincinnati in Week 3 behind running back Jamal Lewis, who rushed for a season-high 186 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown burst that broke open the game in the fourth quarter.

This time the Ravens (7-4) will not have Lewis, who is sidelined for a second straight week with a sprained right ankle sustained on his second carry against the Dallas Cowboys two weeks ago.

With the Ravens in the heat of the AFC’s playoff race and with very little margin for error, his loss couldn’t have come at a worst time. Lewis has topped 100 yards in every one of his seven career games against the Bengals.

Dependable backup Chester Taylor will start today for the fourth time this season as the Ravens’ feature back.

“This is a game where they have to prove themselves,” Taylor said of the Bengals. “They are going to come out and play tough. I am not going to take their defense lightly, no matter what the stat sheet said last weekend.”

The loss of Lewis is softened somewhat by the return of two-time Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, who missed nine games with an ankle injury. Heap, who led the Ravens in receptions the past two seasons, will be limited, but his presence will be a welcome sight to the league’s 31st-ranked offense.

Meanwhile, the Bengals are riding a wave of momentum. After starting 1-4, Cincinnati has won four of its last six to reach 5-6. Last week against the Browns, Rudi Johnson rushed for a career-high 202 yards — the fourth-highest total in Bengals history and the second most in the NFL this season.

“I think he’s a very powerful man,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of Johnson, the AFC’s fourth-leading rusher with 1,049 yards. “He has the ability to make a guy miss in the hole. He kind of gets stronger as the games go on.”

Johnson’s ground production opens the Bengals passing game. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati’s highly touted second-year quarterback, is coming off a four-touchdown passing performance against the Browns. Palmer, the No.1 overall pick of last year’s NFL Draft out of USC, generated 504 yards of offense against Cleveland.

“As you’d expect, Palmer shows a little more confidence in the pocket, much more fluid with the pace of what they’re doing,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “It’s just what you’d expect from a guy who’s played 11 games. He’s come along very well. That was a spectacular game on Sunday.”

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