Officials allow five-down possession

BALTIMORE -- It was a long day here Sunday for the Cincinnati Bengals, who lost for the fourth time in five outings.

The day might have been even longer, though, for referee Gerald Austin and his officiating crew, whose difficult moments included allowing the Bengals five downs on a first-quarter possession.

The series in question originated with 10:28 remaining in the quarter. On first-and-10 from his own 42-yard line, Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer threw to wide receiver Chad Johnson for 10 yards and a first down at the Baltimore 48-yard line. And that's where the officiating gaffe began.

Because there was some confusion as to whether Johnson had reached the first-down marker, the chain gain was late in moving the sticks and changing the down indicator. So when Rudi Johnson ran for seven yards on first-and-10 from the 48, setting up second-and-3, the sticks were only then moved, and the down marker was changed to first down.

On what should have been second-and-3, but was marked first down on the indicator, Palmer threw incomplete for wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Then on third down, marked only as second down on the sideline indicator, Palmer was flushed out of the pocket and, under heavy pressure, threw the ball away, well out of bounds. That set up what should have been fourth-and-3, but was marked third down. On the play, Palmer threw wide for Chad Johnson.

On what was essentially fifth down, Kyle Larson punted for the Bengals.

League observer Art McNally, sitting near several reporters in the press box, was alerted to the error and attempted to check with game officials. No explanation was forthcoming, and the extra down had no bearing on the outcome of the game. The official play-by-play indicated that the seven-yard run by Rudi Johnson on first-and-10 was credited as a first down.

Early in the fourth quarter, Austin and his crew had to administer a rare double challenge on a 71-yard catch by Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry.

At the end of the play, Henry appeared to fumble at the 4-yard line, with the ball recovered by Ravens' free safety Ed Reed. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis challenged the call on the field, arguing that Henry's knees were down before he fumbled. The officials sided with Lewis and reversed the call. Baltimore coach Brian Billick then challenged, suggesting that Henry had stepped out of bounds while running with the ball after the catch. The replay review showed, however, that Henry was inbounds until he was tackled.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer at ESPN.com.