BY GEOFF HOBSON
BALTIMORE _ The Ravens knocked down quarterback Akili Smith on his sixth snap of the game and then knocked out his Bengals in a dominating first half here Sunday at PSINet Stadium in hammering to a 24-0 halftime lead.
Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett burst up the middle and drilled Smith under the chin on a three-step drop pass in the pocket early in the second quarter, giving him a mild concussion that sidelined him for the rest of the game. It was one of three sacks that punctuated the hurting Baltimore put on the Bengals in the game's first 27 minutes in which Baltimore posted 229 yards to the Bengals' six.
The half-time stats were as ugly as any in recent memory as the Bengals tried to avoid their first back-to-back shutouts in club history. Bengals had the ball for just 8:40 and finished with 31 yards on 17 plays with their longest play a nine-yard screen pass to running back Corey Dillon.
The Ravens made it 27-0 with 3:03 left in the third quarter on Matt Stover's 37-yard field goal.
With 9:12 left in the first half and former Raven Scott Mitchell in the game for Smith, the Bengals' only first down at that point had come by penalty behind an offensive line that has now allowed 16 sacks in 11 quarters.
The game's defining moment came with 9:39 left in the third quarter when, facing a third-and-one from his own 47, Mitchell couldn't hook up with rookie receiver Peter Warrick on a play-action rollout pass. Then fullback Clif Groce's run up the middle was stuffed for no gain.
Burnett was at it again early in the third quarter, when he beat right tackle Willie Anderson for a blind-side sack of Mitchell that turned into a fumble recovery by tackle Tony Siragusa at the Bengal 46. Dillon could get no yards on his first five carries and had just three yards on his first seven. With the first half complete, the Bengals were working on a streak of eight straight scoreless quarters.
Even the only bright point was marred after Bengals free safety Darryl Williams forced rookie running back Jamal Lewis to fumble and it was picked up by linebacker Steve Foley early in the second quarter. Three plays later, Mitchell was intercepted by Baltimore free safety Rod Woodson.
The Bengals dug themselves another hole in the first quarter as the Ravens hogged the ball for all about two minutes of the first quarter to build a 10-0 lead and then forced a crushing turnover when Cincinnati kick returner Tremain Mack fumbled the ball on his own 27.
The Bengals have now been outscored, 27-0, in the first quarter, and the second quarter hasn't been too sweet, either. Two plays after Mack's fumble, Lewis ran over Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins for an 11-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter.
It's the second time this season that Mack, a Pro Bowl kick returner, has fumbled a kick inside his own 30-yard-line. He got benched Sunday in favor of wide receiver Damon Griffin.
Hawkins had a tough start as Ravens quarterback Tony Banks converted eight of his first nine third-down tries, two on third-and-long plays during Baltimore's first touchdown drive.
On a third-and-10, Ravens receivers Qadry Ismail and Jermaine Lewis crossed up the Bengals' secondary on Lewis' 26-yard gain. Then rookie receiver Travis Taylor got inside Hawkins on a post route for an eight-yard touchdown pass on third-and-7.
The Ravens exploited the matchup Cincinnati feared most right away on the game's first drive, which consumed 6:22, 11 plays, 50 yards and ended in Stover's 30-yard field goal. Perennial Pro Bowl tight end Shannon Sharpe, working against rookie middle linebacker Armegis Spearman, caught a 12-yarder over the middle. Then, the 230-pound Sharpe shook 210-pound free safety Corey Hall on a third-and-five to catch a 15-yard pass that put the Ravens on the Bengal 15 and set up Stover's field goal.
Sharpe outdueled Williams for Baltimore's last touchdown of the half, a one-yard flip from Banks.
The Bengals tried to shake things up even before the game. For the first time, they dressed rookies Danny Farmer and Mark Roman in place of wide receiver Craig Yeast and cornerback Robert Bean.
Yeast, who was fighting a mild calf strain during the week, has been of the most productive Bengals as a third receiver working mainly in the slot. In the first two games he had five catches for 69 yards, including a 25-yard catch.
Roman, the club's second-round draft pick, missed the first 20 days of training camp with a holdout and fell behind Bean, a fifth-round pick.