Bengals say they're better than Ravens info
CINCINNATI - T.J. Houshmandzadeh sure sounded silly.
A few minutes after the Baltimore Ravens beat his Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 5, the prideful receiver insisted that the better team had lost.
"Deep down, we know we're better than Baltimore and they know it," Houshmandzadeh said. "We've got better players than they do."
Three weeks later, he's not backing down from a boast that sounds even sillier in light of what's happened since then.
The Ravens (9-2) have won five in a row, leaving themselves one victory away from snatching the AFC North title from the Bengals (6-5). They can become the first team to clinch a playoff spot by winning in Cincinnati on Thursday night.
Given what's happened in the last three games, no one can dispute that the Ravens are the class of the division. Right, T.J.?
"I still feel that way, but it doesn't matter what I say, we still have to play," Houshmandzadeh said. "I think we're better than them. We'll find out."
The Ravens know their three-game lead on the Bengals - and the chance to clinch a title on their field - speak for themselves. Safety Ed Reed chortled when Houshmandzadeh's comments were brought up.
"Keep your mouth shut, man," Reed said. "Play football. I heard it. It is what it is. The game speaks for itself. If you think you're a better team, then come out and let's play football, man."
First, Cincinnati had a little more talking to do.
The Bengals were still trying to get their act together on offense when they lost 26-20 in Baltimore. They went 1-for-10 on third-down conversions against one of the league's toughest defenses.
That turned out to be a turning point. In the last three games, quarterback Carson Palmer has thrown nine touchdown passes and put up three consecutive passer ratings of at least 120 for the first time in his career.
When he watched film of the first Ravens game in preparation for the rematch, Palmer cringed and felt embarrassed.
"When I say it hurts, I mean it literally hurts watching what we did against them the last time," said Palmer, who was only 12-of-26 with two interceptions in the loss. "We didn't play well at all. I feel we've come a long way and made a lot of progress offensively. They'll be seeing a different unit, a unit they've seen in years past but not in this past game."
The Bengals seem to have embraced Houshmandzadeh's defiant tone.
"Just watching that film, you could see we beat ourselves," center Eric Ghiaciuc said. "There's a lot of things that we didn't do that we should have done that would have made the outcome of that game a lot different. We're a better team than that, and we need to play that way."
Of course, the Ravens have become a better team, too.
That victory over the Bengals was the second of what has grown into a five-game winning streak. Baltimore played by far its best game of the season last Sunday, beating Pittsburgh 27-0 in a performance so dominating that even coach Brian Billick was taken aback.
"It sounds a little braggadocios - which I know I'm not prone to do - but you look at the first half of that game ..." he said. "I came out at halftime and looked up at the board and saw we had 220 yards of offense and 17 points and they had 36 yards of total offense, and I really did look at it and say, 'Oh, boy, somebody's having a rough day, what game is that? Wait a minute, that's us.'"
Yes, it was them. And, it wasn't a fluke.
The Ravens' defense leads the league in interceptions, ranks second in sacks and is third in points allowed. The offense has settled into a comfort zone behind quarterback Steve McNair, who is 10-3 career against the Bengals as a starter.
The teams' recent upswings and all of that boastful talk out of Cincinnati have created the aura of a showdown for the division title - which, essentially, it is.
"There is no other team in the league that I would much rather be playing than the Cincinnati Bengals," Reed said. "I'm sure they feel the same way."
"We realize what's at stake," Palmer said. "We don't need to talk about it."