December 5, 2011
The Cincinnati Bengals had been through a long dry spell entering the 2004 NFL season, having not had a winning record or playoff appearance since 1990. In their first year under Head Coach Marvin Lewis in ‘03, the club had gone 8-8, a definite improvement over recent performance. They had gotten off to a disappointing 1-4 start in ’04, but coming into the game on December 5 at Baltimore, a week after a 58-48 scoring fest over the Browns, the Bengals were at 5-6. Rookie QB Carson Palmer (pictured above) had been a factor in the slow beginning, but was rapidly improving. He had outstanding wide receivers in Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the ground game was led by RB Rudi Johnson.
Their hosts, the Ravens, were 7-4 under Head Coach Brian Billick. Baltimore had been successful despite injuries and a less-talented young quarterback in Kyle Boller. RB Jamal Lewis, a 2000-yard rusher in 2003, was suspended for two games due to legal issues and was unavailable against Cincinnati with an ankle injury. However, the defense, led by LB Ray Lewis and an outstanding backfield, was still formidable. Moreover, they had easily beaten the Bengals in Cincinnati early in the year and, in fact, had not lost to them at home in their last seven meetings.
There were 69,695 fans present at M&T Bank Stadium. The Bengals received the opening kickoff and, between Palmer’s passes and the running of Rudi Johnson, drove to near midfield. However, a fumble by TE Matt Schobel was recovered by Baltimore SS Ed Reed and five plays later Matt Stover kicked a 20-yard field goal to put the Ravens on the board first.
The teams traded punts and, in the second quarter, Cincinnati drove to the Baltimore 35 yard line, but Shayne Graham’s 53-yard field goal attempt was unsuccessful. Neither offense was able to produce more points until the Bengals, getting the ball on their own 20 with just over four minutes remaining in the half, came up with a big play as Palmer passed to Chad Johnson for a 51-yard gain. Graham tied the game shortly thereafter with a 41-yard field goal.
The Ravens responded with a 15-play, 78-yard series in which Boller completed six passes, including one for 24 yards to WR Travis Taylor in a third-and-18 situation. Stover booted a 22-yard field goal and Baltimore held a 6-3 lead at the intermission.
The Ravens added to their lead on their first possession of the third quarter. Again Boller passed effectively and the drive went 72 yards in 12 plays. The last two were a 16-yard carry by RB Jamel White and RB Chester Taylor’s one-yard TD run to make the margin 13-3.
Following a punt by the Bengals on the next series, the teams traded interceptions, and after Reed picked off a Palmer pass, he returned it 21 yards, fumbled, and CB Chris McAlister recovered and ran 64 yards for a TD. It was 20-3 and Baltimore appeared to be firmly in control.
Late in the period, Ravens RB B.J. Sams muffed a punt at his own 20 and LB Marcus Wilkins recovered for Cincinnati. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Palmer connected with Chad Johnson for a 13-yard touchdown and the margin was narrowed to 20-10. Baltimore went three-and-out in its ensuing possession and, following the punt, Palmer threw to Houshmandzadeh for a 32-yard gain to the Baltimore 44. Four plays later, Palmer again found Chad Johnson for a 12-yard TD and it was suddenly a three-point game with over ten minutes remaining on the clock.
The Ravens weren’t ready to roll over, however, and on their next offensive play, Chester Taylor took off on a 47-yard run to the Cincinnati 26. Stover finished off the series with a 38-yard field goal and Baltimore held a 23-17 lead.
The Bengals responded with another scoring drive of their own featuring three passes from Palmer to Houshmandzadeh that covered 67 of the 68 yards gained along the way. The last completion was for nine yards and a touchdown, and Graham’s extra point put Cincinnati in front at 24-23.
Getting a 29-yard kickoff return by Sams that put them in good field position at their own 46, the Ravens moved 27 yards in a time-consuming ten plays that resulted in Stover putting them back in front at 26-24 with a 45-yard field goal. Cincinnati got the ball back with 1:42 to play. Palmer was sacked for nine yards but responded with a 32-yard completion to Houshmandzadeh. He also threw to Schobel for 11 yards and 22 to Chad Johnson down to the Baltimore five yard line. On the last play of the game, Graham finished off his team’s 24-point fourth quarter as he kicked a 24-yard field goal and the Bengals came away with a 27-26 win.
Not only was it was Cincinnati’s first win at Baltimore since 1996, but it was also the club’s first road win against a team with a winning record since 1990.
The Bengals outgained Baltimore (453 yards to 356) and had the edge in first downs (23 to 21). The Ravens significantly outrushed Cincinnati with 192 yards to 98, but the Bengals more than made up for it with 355 net passing yards to Baltimore’s 164. Both clubs turned the ball over twice.
In his best pro game to date, Carson Palmer completed 29 of 36 passes for 382 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. T. J. Houshmandzadeh (pictured below) and Chad Johnson each caught 10 passes, with Houshmandzadeh gaining 171 yards and scoring one TD and Johnson accumulating 161 yards and scoring twice. Rudi Johnson was held to 56 yards on 19 rushing attempts.
For the Ravens, Kyle Boller went to the air 33 times and had 19 completions for 172 yards with one intercepted. Chester Taylor ran the ball 23 times for 139 yards and a TD. Travis Taylor had the most receiving yards with 40 on his two catches, while four players caught three passes apiece. Chester Taylor was one of them, adding 25 more yards to his total, and Terry Jones was right behind Travis Taylor with 38 yards.
“T.J. (Houshmandzadeh) was making plays. Chad (Johnson) was making plays,” Palmer said. “And when you give your quarterback a chance to throw the ball like that, against probably the best front seven in this game, those guys are going to get open. The O-line played lights out, and we ended up winning.”
“Give credit to the Bengals,” summed up Brian Billick. “They fought back from every situation.”
Palmer was knocked out for the remainder of the season the next week with a knee injury in a loss at New England, and with Jon Kitna behind center the Bengals again finished up at 8-8 and third in the AFC North. The loss to Cincinnati damaged Baltimore’s playoff chances, not to mention the club’s confidence, and after splitting their remaining games, the Ravens ended up at 9-7 and in second place in the division and out of the postseason.
Carson Palmer only ranked among the league’s top 10 passers in interceptions thrown (18), but that was misleading. In his three starts prior to the injury- including, of course, the come-from-behind performance against the Ravens - he accounted for 9 of his 18 touchdown passes. Overall, he completed 60.9 of his throws for 2897 yards and set the stage for a big year in 2005.
Chad Johnson (pictured below, who changed his name to Chad Ochocinco in 2008) was selected to the Pro Bowl for the second straight year as he caught 95 passes for 1274 yards (13.4 avg.) and nine TDs. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Johnson’s teammate at Oregon State as well as with the Bengals, had a breakout year, pulling in 73 receptions for 978 yards (13.4 avg.) and four touchdowns.