All week, John Harbaugh and the Ravens confidently dismissed the notion of an emotional letdown as they prepared to travel to Nashville to take on the rebuilding Tennessee Titans.
They had an air of confidence — and even borderline amusement — when posed the question of falling flat after their dominating 35-7 win over the Steelers in the opener.
Fans and media bought into it to as well, with many labeled the Ravens everything but a sure thing for the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. However, as the old saying goes, you’re never as good as you are in your best game and never as bad as you look in your worst one.
Call it a letdown or blame the Sports Illustrated cover jinx if you must; it doesn’t matter. The Ravens were whipped up and down the field in a 26-13 loss at LP Field on Sunday afternoon.
Everything that went right against their hated nemesis last week went in the opposite direction against Mike Munchak and the Titans. The Ravens failed to pressure Matt Hasselbeck, couldn’t stop Kenny Britt and Nate Washington, and never got anything going offensively as they fell to 1-1 and missed the opportunity to start 2-0 for the fifth time in franchise history.
In fact, the only thing the Ravens could do was stop all-world running back Chris Johnson, who was held to a paltry 53 yards on 24 carries. However, Hasselbeck’s 358 passing yards kept the Ravens defense on the field as defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano tried everything to pressure the Titans quarterback but failed to register a sack. A depleted secondary without Jimmy Smith and Chris Carr had no answers in curtailing Britt’s big-play ability as the Tennessee receiver caught nine passes for 135 yards and a touchdown.
Offensively, the stout line play of a week ago disintegrated without left guard Ben Grubbs, who missed Sunday’s game with a toe injury and was replaced by veteran Mark LeVoir. The line failed to open running lanes for Ray Rice ( and struggled to give Joe Flacco enough time to throw on a number of occasions.
When Flacco did receive proper protection, he held onto the ball too long and forced throws as the Ravens again saw a lackluster effort from their wide receivers. Anquan Boldin caught three passes for 46 yards while Lee Evans grabbed two throws for 45 yards, but the speedy receiver — dealing with a left ankle injury — again appeared to lack the same burst he showed in the preseason. David Reed and rookie Torrey Smith were nonexistent when given opportunities and weren’t even targeted by Flacco in the passing game.
Even the coaching came into question with Harbaugh electing to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal at the 11-yard line with the Ravens trailing 23-10 in the fourth quarter. A delay of game penalty didn’t help the decision, but envisioning the defense making two stops and the offense marching down the field twice in the final seven minutes appeared ambitious at best and ludicrous at worst, considering the tenor of the game to that point.
Yes, the Ravens were beaten in every way imaginable in Nashville, with the same questions popping up that many asked long before the season began.
Where was the pass rush as Hasselbeck looked far more like a quarterback playing with the same receivers for years than a veteran in the November of his career still getting acclimated with his new team? Whether rushing six or sending only three while dropping eight into coverage, it didn’t matter.
Can receivers not named Boldin emerge to provide more diversity in the passing game? Though Evans’ limitations are health-related, opposing defenses aren’t going to take pity in the meantime.
And does this coaching staff have the right in-game instincts to make decisions at crucial times to put the Ravens over the top? In addition to the decision to kick the field goal in the fourth quarter, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron elected to call a throwback pass to Ed Dickson on third-and-2 instead of lining up Rice behind fullback Vonta Leach late in the third quarter. It was the same type of call that frustrated fans throughout last season.
Regardless of the success of last week, none of these questions really went away even though the Ravens had just come off their most impressive win over the Steelers in quite some time. They were merely put on hold for a week.
Sunday was definitely a reality check for anyone assuming the Ravens could punch their ticket to Indianapolis simply by showing up every week. The Titans were ready to play and beat the Ravens in every facet of the game.
As was the case last week, it’s only one game. There are 14 more of these to go before anyone breaks a leg while jumping off the bandwagon.
But this was uncharted territory for Harbaugh, as the Ravens entered Sunday with an 18-1 record against teams with losing records in the coach’s first three years in Baltimore.
Emotional letdowns, jinxes, and big-game hangovers are concoctions of fans and media more than anything. The Ravens were — very simply — beaten soundly by another NFL team on Sunday, one they probably had no business falling to when it’s all said and done in 2011.
And they’ll have plenty of soul-searching to do this week to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Injury Notes: Wide receiver David Reed injured his left shoulder and had his arm in a sling following Sunday’s loss. He will have an MRI to determine the extent of the damage. Defensive tackle Terrence Cody sustained a concussion.