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Ravens-related thoughts on Super Bowl 50

Posted on 08 February 2016 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t help but notice parallels between Peyton Manning’s improbable run to a win in Super Bowl 50 and Ray Lewis finishing his “last ride” with a championship in New Orleans three years ago.

The future Hall of Famers both missed substantial time with injuries in the regular season before returning in time for the playoffs. Each made important contributions on the playoff path to the Super Bowl as Lewis averaged just under 15 tackles per game in the first three rounds of the 2012 postseason and Manning threw for 222 yards against Pittsburgh — overcoming a number of dropped passes — and had two touchdown passes against New England in the AFC championship game.

But as much as we might have enjoyed seeing two of the greatest players in NFL history go out on top, it was apparent that each needed to retire after watching them play in the Super Bowl. While we remember Joe Flacco earning Super Bowl XLVII MVP honors, we try to forget Lewis looking slow and hopeless covering San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis or chasing after 49ers running back Frank Gore in that game.

Like the great Ravens linebacker against the 49ers, Manning had little to do with Denver winning its third Super Bowl title as the Broncos defense suffocated Carolina on Sunday night. Perhaps the 39-year-old Manning was owed one by the football gods after playing with some less-than-stellar defenses over the years in the same way that Lewis had some of his best years wasted by ineptitude on the other side of the ball.

If you’re a Ravens fan struggling to be happy for the quarterback who twice broke Baltimore’s heart in the playoffs — including the 2006 postseason defeat that was the most devastating home loss in franchise history — don’t forget his touching gesture in the playoffs three years ago. More than an hour after the Ravens had defeated the Broncos in an epic double-overtime contest in the divisional round, Manning and his family waited in the Baltimore locker room to congratulate Lewis personally.

Despite dealing with one of the most disappointing losses of his storied career, Manning still wanted to offer his respect to Lewis after the last of their many entertaining chess matches over the years.

It doesn’t matter if Manning — or Lewis — was no longer the same player when tasting championship glory for a final time. Seeing one of the all-time greats exit that way is special and rare.

Let’s just hope Manning actually retires now as most people expect.

Miller time

Four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller already had a résumé impressive enough to land a lucrative contract this offseason, but the Super Bowl 50 MVP took his performance to another level in the postseason.

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, the 26-year-old had a combined five sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception in the AFC championship game and Super Bowl. That’s the kind of timing that Flacco can appreciate after the Ravens quarterback threw for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the 2012 postseason to fetch a six-year, $120.6 million contract a few weeks later.

ESPN has already reported that Denver will use the franchise tag if a long-term deal isn’t reached, meaning Ravens fans should stop dreaming about Miller reuniting with Elvis Dumervil in Baltimore.

Kubiak turns to dark side

Former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak did a masterful job of handling a difficult quarterback situation this season.

Leading 16-10 and facing a third-and-9 from his own 26 with less than six minutes remaining, the Broncos head coach didn’t allow Manning to even attempt a pass and ran the ball with C.J. Anderson before punting. It was both the right decision and a clear sign that Manning needs to retire.

Possessing a championship defense, the offensive-minded Kubiak turned to the “dark side” in a way reminiscent of how Brian Billick handled the 2000 Ravens by deferring to his defense and being conservative. The difference is that it was much easier to do such a thing with Trent Dilfer than with one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

Stewart shines

Darian Stewart was a nondescript performer in his lone year with the Ravens, but the Denver safety stood out in the Super Bowl.

He collected three tackles, a sack, two pass breakups, and a forced fumble when he put his helmet right on the ball to knock it away from Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert. It wasn’t just a one-game aberration, either, after Pro Football Focus graded Stewart 14th among NFL safeties during the 2015 season.

It really makes you wonder where that player was in Baltimore a year ago.

False start

After Panthers left tackle Michael Oher committed a false start late in the second quarter, you couldn’t help but be amused by the social-media reaction of Ravens fans who had seen that act often in Baltimore.

The 2009 first-round pick deserves much credit for working hard to get his career back on track in Carolina, but Super Bowl 50 was a forgettable performance for him and the rest of the Panthers offensive line.

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Denver’s path reminds Ravens of NFL’s slim margin for error

Posted on 07 February 2016 by Luke Jones

As Denver prepared for Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, it was difficult not to think back to the Ravens’ season-opening 19-13 loss to the Broncos last September and remember the high expectations entering 2015.

An interception returned for a touchdown by Denver cornerback Aqib Talib was the difference as the Ravens owned the lead late in the third quarter before a Joe Flacco pass intended for Steve Smith was returned 51 yards in the other direction. Perhaps the season plays out differently if John Harbaugh’s team holds on to steal a difficult road win to kick off 2015 on a high note.

Some have pointed to that narrow Week 1 defeat as reason why Baltimore isn’t far from again being a contender despite its worst season since 2007. And, yes, there was some symmetry in the Super Bowl champions having 12 of their 16 regular-season games decided by a single possession while the Ravens saw 14 of their 16 contests decided by eight or fewer points this season.

But that’s life in the NFL as only six teams — Carolina, New England, Arizona, and Cincinnati on the plus side and San Francisco and Cleveland on the negative side — owned a scoring margin of more than eight points points per game in either direction in 2015. Most games are decided in the fourth quarter and are close.

Excruciatingly close.

And that margin of victory — or defeat — is typically decided by the game-changing players on either side of the ball. For all the discussion about Peyton Manning’s decline, the Broncos still have a plethora of playmakers on both sides of the ball, ranging from outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and cornerbacks Chris Harris and Talib to receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Those are the types of players that separate the winning teams from the losing ones in an otherwise fairly even talent pool from team to team. Denver’s plus-59 point differential during the regular season ranked just sixth in the AFC and 10th in the NFL, but Gary Kubiak’s team figured out ways to win close games while the Ravens consistently fell short in crunch time in 2015.

For years, Baltimore had a number of dynamic players, but most have either departed or have aged too much since Super Bowl XLVII three years ago. The well-documented list of injuries in 2015 merely amplified what was already a flawed roster.

Great players were on display for Denver in Santa Clara on Sunday night.

It will be up to general manager Ozzie Newsome this offseason to find at least a couple game-changers to close that narrow but all-important gap between winning and losing teams.

Otherwise, the Ravens will probably find themselves watching playoff games from their couches again next January.

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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton greets Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, left, at midfield after a preseason NFL football game in Baltimore, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. The Panthers defeated the Ravens 34-27. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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Ravens-related thoughts on conference championship weekend

Posted on 25 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The lack of weapons surrounding Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been a major topic of discussion in two of the last three years.

That’s why Cam Newton’s season for the NFC champion Carolina Panthers is nothing short of exceptional. The fifth-year quarterback wasn’t exactly a popular pick to be the league MVP — especially after the Panthers lost No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending knee injury in August — but he’s done everything he can to silence critics about his play on the field.

To be clear, Newton hasn’t done it alone as he has a Pro Bowl tight end in Greg Olsen and the league’s No. 1 rushing attack — to go along with an excellent defense — but to watch him throw for 35 touchdown passes and a 99.4 passer rating with former first-round bust Ted Ginn Jr., journeyman Jerricho Cotchery, 2014 undrafted free agent Philly Brown, and second-round rookie Devin Funchess as his top four wide receivers?

That’s not exactly a group that instilled fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators.

We’re used to seeing the likes of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers put up impressive passing numbers despite not always having elite talent around them, but Newton deserves the praise he’s receiving as he prepares to play in his first Super Bowl. He’s always been dangerous with his legs — he’s rushed for 500 or more yards in each of his five NFL seasons — but to see his passing prowess take off this season with a less-than-stellar group of receivers is worthy of praise.

This isn’t meant as a knock on Flacco as plenty of good quarterbacks struggle to post big numbers without enough high-end talent around them, but Newton has had a special season.

Blind side surprise

Another reason that Newton has had such a successful year has been the play of Carolina’s offensive line, which includes former Raven Michael Oher playing left tackle.

Oher was mostly solid but still considered a disappointment in Baltimore as a first-round pick in the 2009 draft. The Ole Miss product was even worse with Tennessee in 2014 and was cut just one year after signing a four-year, $20 million contract with the Titans.

So, why the turnaround with the Panthers?

Oher has been reunited with John Matsko, the Ravens’ offensive line coach in his first two NFL seasons. The two share a good relationship, and perhaps it’s no coincidence that Oher has gotten his career back on track working with his old offensive line coach.

According to Pro Football Focus, Oher has graded 32nd among all offensive tackles in the NFL — Eugene Monroe was 22nd and Rick Wagner was 53rd — so it’s not as though he’s suddenly blossomed into a Pro Bowl player in his seventh season. But there’s no doubt that he’s played a key part in transforming what was a poor offensive line in 2014 into one of the better ones in the league.

Orange crush pass rush

The Denver Broncos registered a remarkable 20 quarterback hits on Tom Brady — the most any quarterback had taken in a game all season — over the course of Sunday’s 20-18 win in the AFC championship game.

But even more impressive was the fact that Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips blitzed a season-low 17.2 percent of the time, according to PFF. It certainly helps when you have a special pair of edge rushers like Von Miller — who will be a free agent this offseason — and DeMarcus Ware, but the Broncos’ success was a reminder that you need to be able to disrupt quarterbacks without leaving your pass coverage compromised.

After losing Terrell Suggs in the opener and having already lost Pernell McPhee via free agency, Dean Pees was left with a front unable to generate consistent pressure with a four-man rush for most of the season. As a result, the Ravens defensive coordinator felt compelled to blitz more, which left an underwhelming secondary even more vulnerable in coverage if the pressure didn’t get there in time. It wasn’t until late in the year with the improvement of rookie Za’Darius Smith that Baltimore started to be more disruptive without blitzing.

It’s easier said than done, but the Ravens need to improve their pass rush for 2016 and can’t just hope that the healthy return of Suggs alone will do the trick.

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Former Ravens coordinator Kubiak going to Super Bowl 50

Posted on 24 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Gary Kubiak had every intention of staying with the Ravens until his dream job suddenly opened up.

A year later, the former offensive coordinator is now going to the Super Bowl. A strong effort by his defense led the Denver Broncos to a 20-18 win over New England, giving Kubiak a shot at his first NFL championship as a head coach.

In his only season in Baltimore, Kubiak not only fixed an abysmal running game, but the Ravens set franchise records by scoring 25.6 points per game and producing 364.9 yards per game. After the season-ending playoff loss to New England last January, the 54-year-old declined interview requests from other NFL teams and even issued a statement that he would be staying with the Ravens before the Broncos parted ways with head coach John Fox the next day.

The subsequent call from former teammate and longtime friend John Elway was the “game-changer” for Kubiak, who had previously spent a combined 20 years in Denver as a player and assistant coach. The Ravens hired current offensive coordinator Marc Trestman soon after Kubiak became the head coach in Denver.

Two other ex-Ravens had big days for Denver on Sunday as tight end Owen Daniels caught two touchdown passes from Peyton Manning in the first half and safety Darian Stewart intercepted a Tom Brady pass in Broncos territory in the second quarter. Stewart later left the game with a knee injury, but he told reporters after the AFC championship game that he expected to be ready for Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif. on Feb. 7.

Three other former Ravens will meet Denver in the Super Bowl as Michael Oher, Ed Dickson, and Dwan Edwards were part of Carolina’s dominating 49-15 win over Arizona. While Oher started at left tackle for the Panthers, Edwards had a tackle and a quarterback hit as part of the defensive line rotation and Dickson failed to rein in two passes from quarterback Cam Newton.

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John Eisenberg breaks down Ravens ugly loss in Denver

Posted on 18 September 2015 by WNST Staff

John Eisenberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chances should be there for Ravens to throw downfield in Oakland

Posted on 17 September 2015 by Luke Jones

The failures of the Ravens’ passing game were a collaborative effort in Week 1, but the peripheral numbers will still make you shudder as the attention has shifted toward Sunday’s meeting with the Oakland Raiders.

In the first half in Denver, Joe Flacco threw exactly one pass more than eight yards beyond the line of scrimmage through the air. It came on a pass he threw away on the final play of the second quarter.

The eighth-year quarterback had just two throws of that variety through the first three quarters. Of Flacco’s 32 pass attempts in the 19-13 loss to the Broncos, just eight traveled more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage through the air. Seven other passes were either at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Even with lousy pass protection and receivers lacking speed, the Ravens needed to pose some semblance of a threat to throw the ball down the field to keep the opposition honest. And that responsibility largely falls on the shoulders of new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, a sentiment that Flacco gently alluded to when addressing reporters in California on Wednesday.

“We didn’t ever really attempt to do it and we’ve talked about that. We need to take our shots,” Flacco said. “If nothing else, at least let teams know that we’re going to do that and have the confidence in ourselves in doing that. As far as confidence goes, I think that also translates to us. If we’re going to call those things and get them going, I think it’ll give us the confidence to go out there and execute plays and have some explosiveness to us.

“It’s tough to maintain 15-play drives consistently and score points, so we’re going to have to have that as part of our game. To start off, I would say that and then we just have to make sure that we protect and I find the soft zone in the pocket and put the ball where it needs to be.”

In fairness, Trestman lacks the luxury of having ex-Raven Torrey Smith or even speedy rookie Breshad Perriman on the outside, but the Ravens must find a way to push the ball downfield in Week 2. It will begin with improved pass protection against an Oakland front seven that isn’t as imposing as Denver’s, but the Raiders’ pash-rushing trio of Justin Tuck, Khalil Mack, and Aldon Smith will try to tee off on Flacco in a similar fashion.

If the offensive line can bounce back in Week 2, opportunities should be there to take a few shots against an Oakland secondary that is likely to be without either of its starting safeties from Week 1. Nate Allen suffered a season-ending knee injury and Charles Woodson suffered a shoulder injury in the lost to Cincinnati.

Larry Asante and Taylor Mays could be their respective replacements with the latter having just been re-signed this week. They would join starting cornerbacks T.J. Carrie — a 2014 seventh-round pick — and 2013 first-round selection D.J. Hayden, who hasn’t shown much at the NFL level.

Those realities should spell trouble for a pass defense that finished 16th in the NFL a year ago and allowed Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton to throw for 269 yards last week.

Of course, speed will remain a weakness for the Ravens as Perriman isn’t expected to play in Week 2, but Flacco said that’s no excuse for a passing game that produced fewer yards than any in the league last week. Trestman must incorporate his young tight ends against suspect safeties while seizing a few opportunities to test them deep, even if it only leads to more breathing room underneath.

“It’s about exploiting weaknesses in defenses and just a combination of things and hitting them at the right time,” Flacco said. “It’s not about coming over there and running a 4.2 [40-yard dash] running by guys; you seldom see that. I don’t think we’re going to have that guy right now that’s going to run by guys five times a game, but we definitely have guys that can run crossing routes and be hit 30 yards downfield and can run double moves downfield — things like that.

“That’s what we’re going to have to do.”

If the Ravens offense is unable to do those things against a banged-up Oakland secondary, it could be time to panic.

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Five numbers behind Ravens’ 19-13 loss in Denver

Posted on 15 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll ponder five numbers stemming from the Ravens’ latest game, this one being the ugly 19-13 loss to Denver to begin the 2015 season …

3.66 — Joe Flacco’s yards per attempt
Skinny: The pass protection was awful and his pass-catching targets were unable to create separation, making it no surprise that the eighth-year quarterback couldn’t throw the ball down the field. This was Flacco’s worst yards per attempt average since a loss in Houston on Oct. 21, 2012 (3.42) and the third-worst mark of his NFL regular-season career. His worst overall came in the 2009 playoff win over New England when a banged-up Flacco went 4-for-10 for 34 yards, a 3.40 average.

9 — Total catches made by Ravens receivers and tight ends
Skinny: Many expressed concerns over Flacco’s group of young receivers and tight ends, and Sunday proved to be a nightmare as even Steve Smith managed just two catches for 13 yards and couldn’t bring in the potential game-winning touchdown on the Ravens’ penultimate play of the game. Fellow starter Kamar Aiken was even worse as he lost a yard on his only reception. With or without rookie Breshad Perriman, this group needs to be markedly better for Baltimore to make any real noise this year.

27 — Consecutive games in which the Ravens defense hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher
Skinny: It was an impressive effort on the other side of the ball as the Ravens continued the longest active streak in the NFL of not allowing an opposing player to eclipse the century mark on the ground. With Brandon Williams dominating the line of scrimmage and C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith at the inside linebacker spots, the Ravens have to like their chances to keep this streak going. Meanwhile, the Broncos will need to average much better than 2.8 yards per carry to help Peyton Manning’s deteriorating arm.

56 — Yards of offense from Justin Forsett
Skinny: The 2014 Pro Bowl running back didn’t have much of a chance behind a less-than-stellar performance from the offensive line, but his output was lower than all but two of his regular-season games a year ago. Forsett’s numbers would have been even worse if not for his 20-yard run on the final drive of the game. With Buck Allen showing some promise in limited opportunities and Lorenzo Taliaferro possibly returning this Sunday, it will be interesting to see how the carries are distributed.

291 — Consecutive games (counting the postseason) in which Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, or Terrell Suggs has been on the field for Baltimore
Skinny: The 2015 opener brought the unfortunate end of a remarkable run in franchise history with Suggs suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in the fourth quarter. This Sunday will mark the first time that the Ravens will play a game without any of the three best defensive players in their history since Oct. 11, 1998 when Eric Zeier was the quarterback and they lost 12-8 to the Tennessee Oilers as Lewis sat out with a dislocated elbow. Nothing lasts forever, but it’s strange thinking about the old guard of Baltimore defense that also included Haloti Ngata being no more — at least until next year.

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Nestor recaps tough day for Ravens in Denver

Posted on 14 September 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

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Ravens opener – the one that got away

Posted on 14 September 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

After the Ravens’ bitter 19-13 loss to the Broncos, it was clear that this was a game that they could have won, but it just got away from them.  It got away because of Joe Flacco’s back breaking interception.  It got away because the defense couldn’t get the Denver offense off of the field for nearly 11 minutes – in the 4th quarter to boot.  It got away when WR Steve Smith Sr.  let one slip through his fingers – in the endzone. It got away when second year tight end Crockett Gillmore had his hands on the ball – in the endzone again – and couldn’t haul it in while tightly covered by two Broncos defenders, including former Raven safety Darren Stewart, who ultimately came down with the ball.

There were other factors that led to the outcome, but those were the ones that stood out.  We saw Joe Flacco under duress by a fierce Denver pass rush the entire game.  Flacco never looked comfortable in the pocket, hardly ever set his feet, and frequently threw off of his back foot.  This is what happens when teams can’t run the ball in the NFL. When defenses like the Broncos’ and the Ravens’ completely take away the run, they limit the offenses, make them one dimensional and by and large predictable.  Credit Dean Pees and Wade Phillips here, as clearly they got the best of their counterparts, Rick Dennison and Marc Trestman.

Then there was the season ending injury to Terrell Suggs, the Ravens’ 6 time Pro-Bowler and arguably the team’s defensive leader.  For a defensive minded team that the Ravens are, this is a huge loss.  The Ravens have obvious limitations on the offensive side of the ball, and if they are going to sniff the playoffs this year, it’s going to have to be on the strength of their defense. Suggs was not only a fierce pass rusher off of the edge, but also stout against the run. Plus he’s a much more cerebral player than given credit for.  His teammates said that numerous times during yesterday’s game, he would tell them where the ball was going and/or what play was coming. Replacing his production is something that the Ravens are going to really have to take a long hard look at.

Courtney Upshaw  and Za’Darius Smith (who was inactive for yesterday’s game) are the obvious choices to fill Suggs’ spot.  The team may also pull up Brennen Beyer from the practice squad.  The 6’4″ 260 pound former Michigan Wolverine was transitioning from DE to OLB, and he will get a long look this week.  Plus Brent Urban will be coming off of the injured reserve list mid-season, and will give the Ravens a boost.  They may be able to overcome the injury to Suggs, but they simply cannot afford any more season ending injuries to the rest of the starters.

Back to Joe Flacco.  The awful, telegraphed pick-6 that he threw to Aquib Talib was about as demoralizing a play as one can be.  I know that Peyton Manning threw a pick-6 as well, but it wan’t as horrible of a throw as Jimmy Smith had to really work for it.  Smith made one heck of a play as he broke on the ball, tipped it into the air and took it to the house.  What made Flacco’s interception so bad, is that we have seen him – pre snap – lock onto his primary receiver, while seemingly giving no thought to what the defense is doing in regard to alignment. Talib said from his film study, he knew exactly where Flacco was going with the ball, as he undercut Steve Smith’s route and brought the ball back 51 yards for a TD.  Elite QBs don’t determine where the ball is going pre-snap. They line up, scan the defense, drop back and go through their progressions.  I know that Flacco didn’t have a lot of time to get his passes off yesterday, but on that particular play the line held; he had ample time to make the correct read prior to releasing the ball.  That’s the book on Joe – if you pressure him he will make mistakes, and he made a critical one yesterday.

The offensive line got overwhelmed by Denver’s defensive line, plain and simple. James Hurst was serviceable, as he replaced Eugene Monroe, who left the game in the first quarter due to a concussion.  They just couldn’t get any push, and the combo of Justin Forsett and Buck Allen had difficulty picking up yards.  The receivers and tight ends were unremarkable, as they got little to no separation from the Broncos’ secondary.

The Ravens defense played well as a whole.  They made Manning look ordinary and pedestrian.  He missed a couple of deep balls as he overthrew open receivers, and just didn’t look like the Manning of old.  “Old Manning” may be a better characterization of him at this point of his career.  The defense did have a let down at the worst possible time, as they let up that 11 minute 4th quarter drive.  Manning found success with some intermediate passes, as did RB Ronnie Hillman with some trap draws between the tackles.  The Ravens defense was obviously gassed on that drive, and were aided by a Broncos’ time out at about the 3 minute mark.  Had time out not been called, the Broncos would have probably scoreed a touchdown instead of a field goal.

It is the first week of the season and we are all very aware of that. It is not a time for a team – or a fanbase – to get too high or too low based on the results/performance of game one.  Defense wins championships and if these two teams can improve on offense, they will both be in the running for a spot in the playoffs 15 weeks from now. The only certain thing is that the Ravens will finish somewhere between 0-16 and 15-1.  The road trip continues with a stop next week at Oakland.  QB Derek Carr injured his hand in the Raiders’ loss to the Bengals, but should be cleared to play.  It will interesting to see if the Ravens can bounce back and avoid starting their season 0-2.  It is very much a must win game.

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From bad to worse: Ravens experience dark day in Denver

Posted on 14 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Sunday was a nightmare for the Ravens as they lost a winnable game in Denver before then learning they’d lost their defensive leader to a season-ending injury.

The embarrassment may have paled in comparison to their 49-27 loss in the 2013 opener against the Broncos, but the lingering effects could be worse for the Ravens this time around.

To be clear, it was only Week 1 and the Baltimore offense was facing one of the best defenses in the NFL from a season ago. There’s no diminishing the loss of six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs on the field and in the locker room, but only a long-term injury to quarterback Joe Flacco would completely sink the Ravens’ championship hopes in a given season.

Still, those realities won’t make head coach John Harbaugh feel much better about what he saw Sunday as the Ravens failed to capitalize on a poor performance by future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning and the Broncos not scoring an offensive touchdown. In fact, the Baltimore offense was even worse in managing just 173 yards — 64 coming on the group’s final drive of the game — and six points in an inauspicious debut for new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.

Reinforcing concerns about a lack of weapons in the passing game, no wide receiver or tight end registered more than two catches as running backs Justin Forsett and Kyle Juszczyk each made a team-high four receptions against a Broncos defense that applied relentless pressure in the pocket and tight coverage in the secondary. Ravens pass-catchers simply couldn’t get open with any level of consistency.

“We’ve got a lot to work on, obviously. We’re a lot better than that,” Flacco said. “That was a pretty poor showing, but you’ve got to keep your head on and move on quick. In this league, the next one comes up on top of you like that, so we’ve got to make sure we stay confident and bounce back as quick as possible.”

More frustrating — and unexpected — than the struggles of the young receivers and tight ends were the failures of the established commodities in the Baltimore offense.

The offensive line lost starting left tackle Eugene Monroe early and struggled to protect Flacco throughout the afternoon as tackles James Hurst and Rick Wagner couldn’t keep up with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware coming off the edges. The Ravens also averaged just 3.2 yards per carry as running room was scarce for large stretches of Sunday’s game.

Leading 13-9 late in the third quarter, Flacco threw an awful interception returned for a touchdown by Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib. As badly as the offense was struggling to move the ball through three quarters, you were beginning to think the Ravens defense still have been able to hold on if the offense simply didn’t give the lead away. That’s exactly what Flacco did as he stared down Steve Smith and Talib undercut an inside route before returning it 51 yards for the go-ahead score.

For most of the day, Flacco was under duress and lacked open targets, but there was no excusing that ill-fated throw and he made poor throws at a few other points when he anticipated pressure in a relatively clean pocket.

Even after all those shortcomings and the otherwise-strong defense allowing a 11-minute drive that culminated with a Brandon McManus field goal with 2:55 remaining in the final quarter, the Ravens still had a chance as they scraped together their longest drive of the day to move to the Denver 16. It was the perfect time for Flacco to find Smith, his only proven playmaker.

And the five-time Pro Bowl receiver dropped the go-ahead touchdown, the football bouncing off his facemask with 42 seconds to go.

“We didn’t execute, in particular me on that last play in the corner,” said Smith, who added that second-year cornerback Bradley Roby did not tip the pass as some thought. “I’ve just got to make that play, and that really falls on me. If you’re a No. 1 receiver, you’ve got to make No. 1 plays and I didn’t.”

On the next play, Flacco threw a pass intended for Crockett Gillmore that was picked off by ex-Ravens safety Darian Stewart to end the comeback attempt. The throw probably could have been a touch higher and it would have been a superb catch by the second-year tight end, but it was one Todd Heap or Dennis Pitta probably would have made in the past.

To his credit, Gillmore said exactly what you’d like to hear from a young player and didn’t offer any excuses.

“They made a nice play on the ball. I’ve got to come down with that,” Gillmore said. “I was given the opportunity; I’ve just got to come up with the play. I’ve got to win the one-on-one part of it. The ball’s in the air, it’s got to be mine. There’s no other option.”

The Ravens may not play defensive units as good as Denver’s every week and you certainly expect the offensive line, Flacco, and Smith to bounce back from poor performances, but the loss illustrated how small the margin for error might be with an offense lacking any other playmakers in the passing game. The absence of first-round pick Breshad Perriman does hurt, but an offense so dependent on an unproven rookie has concerning issues.

Sunday’s loss was very reminiscent of the 2013 season when the Ravens failed to adequately replace veteran receiver Anquan Boldin, leaving Flacco with only Torrey Smith to trust. Two years later, the quarterback has a 36-year-old Steve Smith and a number of options behind him lacking speed and experience.

You could understand if the defense was frustrated after the game as Jimmy Smith provided the Ravens their only touchdown with an interception return at the start of the second half. Asked after the game what more the team could have done to win on Sunday, the fifth-year cornerback answered, “Score more points.”

Even if the remark was a spontaneous slip of the tongue and not meant as a sharp dig at the offense, times like these are when you lean on your veteran leadership to keep players united, making the loss of a seasoned veteran like Suggs sting more as the Ravens travel to California to prepare for a Week 2 game at Oakland. Perspective is needed after only one loss, but urgency is needed for Baltimore to avoid an 0-2 start before coming home next week.

The Ravens are a better offense and team than what they showed in the opener, but how much better is the question as they still face four of their next six games on the road.

“You win as a team, you lose as a team,” Harbaugh said. “We all know we can play better — to whatever degree it takes to win a football game. That’s what you strive to do, and that’s what we’ll keep fighting to do.”

No, the sky isn’t falling after a Week 1 loss and the injury to Suggs, but the early-season skies are darker than the Ravens would have preferred after months of hard work and anticipation.

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