Ravens in full backpedal as goals still sit in front of them

December 16, 2012 | Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It’s been the same message in each of the last three weeks as the Ravens licked their wounds in the locker room following a loss.

The words have become a broken record, however, for a team in the midst of its first three-game losing streak since Oct. 2009 after a humiliating 34-17 defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos. It was the Ravens’ worst loss at M&T Bank Stadium in over five years, and it leaves Baltimore in the same position it’s held since the beginning of December.

“Every goal that we have, starting with our first goal — which is to win the AFC North — is in front of us,” Harbaugh said. “It’s still there, and every dream that we have, which is the ultimate dream is still available to us. And that’s what you keep in mind. It’s a tough league for tough guys, and you have to find a way to put it behind you, improve, address the issues, own them and move on.”

Yes, their goals are still right in front of them – and a Pittsburgh loss to Dallas officially punched their fifth consecutive trip to the postseason Sunday evening — but it’s become painfully apparent the Ravens are backpedaling instead of moving forward. The dismissal of Cam Cameron and promotion of offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell were supposed to pump new life into the Ravens offense, but Joe Flacco and the unit responded by scoring just 17 points, their lowest output at home all season.

An overwhelmingly undermanned defense put forth a respectable first-half effort of only 10 points allowed before Denver’s Chris Harris returned a Joe Flacco interception 98 yards for a touchdown just seconds before halftime to make it a 17-0 deficit at intermission. The Baltimore defense wilted in the second half, allowing 14 points in the first half of the third quarter that put the game out of reach.

Most players echoed Harbaugh’s words about their goals still being within reach — even if their body language and tone didn’t exactly inspire confidence — but safety Ed Reed expressed the sentiment most fans felt as M&T Bank Stadium emptied early in the fourth quarter with the Ravens trailing 31-3 entering the final 15 minutes. The 34-year-old included his own performance in describing what was an unacceptable effort in front of the home fans.

“I am embarrassed as a player to come out and perform the way we have,” Reed said. “You have weeks like that. We’re not the only team that lost today, and we still have two more games. But, as a Ravens nation, as a player, I am embarrassed for our city.”

Sunday was supposed to be the first game in a new era of football for Flacco after his turbulent relationship with Cameron was finally laid to rest. Instead, the quarterback turned in one of the worst moments of his career with a second of hesitation before throwing an inexplicable out route intended for Anquan Boldin that was jumped by Harris. It turned what should have been a one-possession game into a 17-point deficit.

No one knows if the Ravens would have mustered a better fight had the defensive score never taken place, but it’s difficult to envision this one turning into the most lopsided home loss of the Harbaugh era with such ease.

Just like his team, Flacco is moving in reverse when he needs to be at his best after committing two turnovers that led to 10 points. It was the fifth-year quarterback’s third straight game with two giveaways, and he’s fumbled once in each of them.

“We’ve just got to keep moving forward, keep our eye on the prize,” Flacco said. “Everything in this league is ‘what have you done for me lately,’ and we’ve got to continue to move forward and stay confident because nobody’s going to be too high on us except ourselves. We’ve got to go out there and seize whatever opportunities we have ahead of us.”

Even with the Ravens now guaranteed a playoff spot and still holding a one-game advantage over Cincinnati in the AFC North, it’s nearly impossible to feel encouraged by their chances as it pertains to the postseason. Five of the Ravens’ seven inactives on Sunday were starters and that’s not counting linebacker Ray Lewis, who remains on the injured reserve-designated to return list with a right triceps injury.

More names were added to the infirmary report on Sunday as wide receiver Torrey Smith and running back Bernard Pierce sustained concussions, wide receiver Tandon Doss twisted his ankle, and linebacker Albert McClellan pushed his way through a hamstring injury. Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs played against the Broncos, but his impact was minimal as you continue to wonder what exactly he’ll bring to the table the rest of the way with a torn right biceps.

Just a few weeks ago, we labeled the Ravens resilient because of their ability to overcome their health woes, but you just wonder if they’ve finally hit the brick wall, especially with the loss of their best offensive lineman Marshal Yanda as the unit struggled immensely once again on Sunday.

“You have to do whatever you can to overcome it, and that’s what we’ve been doing,” Harbaugh said. “Getting healthy is going to be important for us. That’s something that I think we are getting closer to doing. If we can get healthy and get strong down the stretch here, that will help us.”

Maybe the return of Lewis will spark a Ravens team that appeared flat and even disinterested at times on Sunday. Perhaps Suggs — who employed an unconventional four-point stance to keep his body weight off his right arm — will see more explosion return from his surgically-repaired Achilles tendon, even if now playing with only one good arm.

And maybe the light comes on for the Ravens offense with another week of adjusting to Caldwell at the helm.

None of those possibilities feel very likely right now as the Ravens continue to see their goals staring them in the face. They keep moving in the wrong direction instead of seizing what they feel is rightfully theirs.

They’re running out of time to avoid any outcome other than backing into the playoffs as a once-promising season continues to look like it’s slipping away. And it appears they don’t have a clue how to make things right as they were embarrassed on their home turf by an impressive Broncos team.

The Ravens look stuck in reverse as they see a division title still staring right at them, but they’re unable to grab it.

“All we need to do is get one win,” running back Ray Rice said. “There is no sugarcoating. We’re banged up a bunch. It’s late in the year. It’s not getting any easier. We either put it on our shoulders, get it fixed, or we’ll weed ourselves out like the other teams in the league.”


5 Comments For This Post

  1. joe of bel air Says:

    I have seen enough of Flacco. He has regressed the last 2 years. How can you even think about signing him long term. He has played 5 good quaters in the last 5 games. Maybe John can call up Jim after this season and work out a trade for Alex Smith.

    (L.J. – I understand the frustration and I’m concerned about Flacco as much as anyone, but Alex Smith? No thanks. Even if you were to hypothetically think about moving in another direction — which the Ravens aren’t — he is not the kind of guy you’re looking for.)

  2. Towson Black & Gold Says:

    Mistake not calling a timeout with 30 seconds or less to go in the half and the ball on the five. Mistake keeping Bolden in the game after a bonehead personal foul (15 yds) for throwing a cheapshot. It sends the message that it’s acceptable. Mistake leaving Flacco in the game for the last two plays – and risk getting him injured. Mistake letting Suggs play – he’s still injured, he’s a non-factor and there’s the risk it could get worse and then he’s out of the playoffs. Mistake to fire your offensive coordinator – when you’re leading your division and about to make the playoffs for the 5th straight year (seriously…who does that?). Mistake to blame Flacco – he’s not elite and he’s pretty good. Not top 5 but probably top 8-12 range. Good enough to get you to the playoffs each year and from that point, it’s anyone’s game. Ravens MUST get the defense fixed – do that and they could make a run. Don’t and they will be one and done. Go Steelers – I still love the boys in black and gold – beat the Bungals next week and the hapless Browns at home and we’re in.

    (L.J. – Can’t say I disagree with anything you said up until the point about needing to fix the defense in order to make a run. I’m not entirely sure how to fix it playing with the personnel currently available to them. If they’re to make a run, it’s going to be on the shoulders of Flacco and the offense to be much better. The defensive effort was more than acceptable in the first half until the interception return completely sealed the fate of how the rest of the game would unfold.)

  3. joe of bel air Says:

    Luke, are you starting to have concerns about Harbaugh. It seems like every week he makes decisions that has me scratching my head. Another bonehead challenge this week that he had no chance at all of winning. After the Pitta TD with 4 minutes why didn’t he go for the 2 point conversion to make it a 2 score game. No excuse for that one. If I am Bischotti I am starting to wonder about his game management skills

  4. joe of bel air Says:

    Luke, don’t be so quick to blow off Alex Smith. Last year he had a 90.7 QB rating. Before he got hurt this year his rating was 104. Flacco has had one year where his rating was over 90

    (L.J. – If you’re going to be so bold to go in a different direction, you need to aim much higher than that. Can make the same arguments against Smith as people do against Flacco (e.g. has benefited from good defense, strong running game, just a game manager). He’s good, not great. Otherwise, he’d still be the starting quarterback in San Francisco.)

  5. troy Says:

    I can’t wait to see what happens in the offseason.

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