Ravens left lament­ing mis­takes

Penal­ties, lack of big plays, de­pleted ‘O’ line con­trib­ute to first loss

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS INSIDER - By Childs Walker SNAP JUDG­MENTS childs.walker@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/Child­sWalker

The Ravens lined up on the 50-yard line Sun­day with more than a minute left on the clock and per­haps 10 yards to go to set up Justin Tucker for a game-win­ning field-goal at­tempt.

Nine­teen sec­onds and four plays later, they had not moved an inch, and their first loss of the 2016 sea­son — 28-27 to the vis­it­ing Oak­land Raiders — was as­sured.

The fu­til­ity of that fi­nal pos­ses­sion spoke to an un­cer­tainty lin­ger­ing over the Ravens, de­spite their 3-1 start to the sea­son.

Their of­fense has made too many mis­takes and not hit enough home­run plays early in games. As quar­ter­back Joe Flacco ac­knowl­edged af­ter the loss, it’s a group still grasp­ing for a con­sis­tent sense of self.

“I wish we weren’t,” he said. “I wish we were where we need to be and putting up 30 points a game, and if we weren’t, be­ing re­ally dis­ap­pointed in it. But we’re just not there.”

Wide re­ceiver Steve Smith Sr. spoke of the anger he felt af­ter run­ning an in­cor­rect route on the sec­ond pos­ses­sion of the game. The bit­ter taste from that mis­cue and count­less oth­ers — in­clud­ing 10 penal­ties — lin­gered, de­spite the fact that Smith caught eight passes for 111 yards.

“As a team, we can’t let each other down,” he said. “I think we’ve done that and we’ve made it very dif­fi­cult, which puts a ton of pres­sure on the de­fense.”

It was telling to hear the of­fen­sive vet­er­ans linger on the neg­a­tive de­spite the fact that they’d staged an­other stir­ring rally and nearly pulled out a wild vic­tory be­fore an an­nounced 71,152 at M&T Bank Sta­dium. The Ravens led 27-21 with 3:36 to go, but their de­fense — so good for most of the game — could not stop Raiders quar­ter­back Derek Carr on a de­ci­sive fi­nal drive.

The play­ers and coach John Har­baugh did not dwell on those topsy-turvy fi­nal mo­ments so much as they kicked them­selves for let­ting the cir­cum­stances be­come des­per­ate in the first place.

“We kept the pres­sure on our­selves too much,” Har­baugh said. “What we needed to do was put the pres­sure on our op­po­nents more than our­selves. Those are the things that hurt us.”

He could have been talk­ing about the penal­ties, the lack of down­field plays, or the in­con­sis­tent pass block­ing that reached a low point when Flacco was sacked and stripped on his own 30-yard line in the fourth quar­ter. That play, one of many for­get­table ones for a Ravens of­fen­sive line with a patch­work left side, set up the third of Oak­land’s four touch­downs.

Fans and an­a­lysts spent the past week won­der­ing how good the Ravens re­ally were af­ter three wins by a com­bined 13 points against seem­ingly three of the NFL’s worst teams.

Their matchup with the Raiders, a win­ning team that came in with the league’s sec­ond-most pro­duc­tive of­fense, promised at least a few an­swers.

The Ravens de­fense, ranked sec­ond in the league com­ing in, played well over­all, hold­ing the Raiders to 261 to­tal yards. Carr, who torched the Ravens for a ca­reer-high 351 yards in a 37-33 Raiders win last sea­son, cob­bled to­gether just two sub­stan­tial drives.

The Ravens none­the­less played from be­hind for most of the af­ter­noon be­cause of an of­fense that stum­bled to just six points in the first half. “To come out and only put up six points in the first half and get off to that start, dig your­self a hole like that, and then … you have to play a per­fect game,” Flacco said.

The Ravens did solve one sig­nif­i­cant of­fen­sive prob­lem against the Raiders, as run­ning back Terrance West, start­ing for the first time this sea­son, gained 113 yards on 21 car­ries.

Af­ter three weeks of sub­par run­ning num­bers, Har­baugh put vet­eran back Justin Forsett on the in­ac­tive list Sun­day. “Wewere look­ing for a spark,” Har­baugh said.

West, the for­mer Tow­son Uni­ver­sity and North­west­ern High star, de­liv­ered it. With 87 yards in the sec­ond half, he seemed to val­i­date his view­point that he needs sub­stan­tial car­ries to find his best form.

“I like to feel a de­fense out,” he said. “I get stronger as the game goes on.”

Where the Ravens did not get stronger was on the of­fen­sive line, which fea­tured James Hurst and Ryan Jensen fill­ing in on the left side for rookie starters Ron­nie Stan­ley and Alex Lewis.

A foot in­jury put left tackle Stan­ley, the team’s first-round draft pick, on the in­ac­tive list. Lewis was ac­tive but did not start at left guard af­ter miss­ing a week of prac­tice be­cause of a con­cus­sion.

It’s an open ques­tion as to whether Stan­ley and Lewis would have fared any bet­ter against Khalil Mack, Oak­land’s swift and pow­er­ful de­fen­sive end. But Hurst was over­matched.

The Raiders sacked Flacco twice and had him on the run for much of the af­ter­noon.

“Ob­vi­ously, we want to keep Joe clean,” right guard Mar­shal Yanda said. “He Sun­day, 1 p.m. TV: Chs. 45, 5 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 5

Here’s what The Bal­ti­more Sun staff has to say af­ter the Ravens’ 28-27 loss to the Oak­land Raiders on Sun­day:

Mike Pre­ston, Ravens colum­nist: The Ravens lost their first game of the 2016 sea­son, but over­all I was im­pressed with the ef­fort. I think they are go­ing to be a good foot­ball team be­fore the sea­son is over — bar­ring in­juries. I saw a lot of things that I liked against a com­pet­i­tive Oak­land team, but the Ravens have some clean­ing up to do, es­pe­cially with the penal­ties. I feel bet­ter about this team now than in their pre­vi­ous three wins. But there re­ally is such a thing as a good loss.

Mark Selig, Ravens edi­tor: Even af­ter a third quar­ter in which the Ravens dom­i­nated (but only scored seven points), it ap­peared the team sim­ply didn’t have a po­tent enough of­fense to make up for penal­ties and turnovers. Then Steve Smith Sr.’s vin­tage stiff-arm en­er­gized the game. Though the Ravens lost, they played one of their best halves of the sea­son. The dif­fer­ence in the game was their of­fen­sive line, which on pass­ing plays was over­matched to the point that it’s a mi­nor mir­a­cle Joe Flacco made it out with all his limbs in­tact.

Ed­ward Lee, Ravens re­porter: The Ravens waited too long to get their of­fense in gear, go­ing deep into the third quar­ter be­fore get­ting their first touch­down of the game. Terrance West shined in his first start, but Joe Flacco took a beat­ing thanks to some poor pass pro­tec­tion.

Childs Walker, re­porter: This was a def­i­nitely got hit out there too much to­day.”

Stan­ley, who was in a walk­ing boot Wed­nes­day, was non­com­mit­tal when asked whether he’d be back this week­end when the Ravens host the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins.

For all the soul-search­ing by the of­fense, the team’s de­fen­sive lead­ers also crit­i­cized them­selves for al­low­ing the Raiders to reach the end zone with 2:12 left.

In­side line­backer C.J. Mosley said they gave the game away, miss­ing the same plays they’d covered ear­lier in the game.

“The stats say that we­did well, but I know how we play, how we feel about our de­fense; we don’t want to give up those kinds of plays,” he said.

De­spite the pres­ence of out­side line­backer Elvis Dumervil, play­ing for the first time this sea­son af­ter a foot in­jury, the Ravens did not hit Carr once all game. Flacco, by con­trast, took six hits.

It all helped ex­plain why the Ravens were scram­bling in the fourth quar­ter, as they so day for the Ravens to an­swer ques­tions about how good they are against a tal­ented, win­ning team. Their de­fense passed the test, largely con­tain­ing a Raiders at­tack that en­tered this week sec­ond in the league in to­tal yardage. Their of­fense, on the other hand, stum­bled for much of the day against one of the league’s worst de­fenses. On the plus side, West played well, gain­ing more than 100 yards in his first start at run­ning back. But an of­fen­sive line with two starters miss­ing strug­gled to pro­tect quar­ter­back Flacco and com­mit­ted far too many penal­ties. You can never ques­tion this team’s re­silience, how­ever. They find ways to make every game close.

Ron Fritz, sports edi­tor: The Ravens have been flirt­ing with a loss every game this sea­son, and they fi­nally faced a team good enough to beat them. It’s un­usual for the Ravens to lose at home, but the con­stant pres­sure put on Flacco was too much to over­come.

The Ravens need to fig­ure out their of­fen­sive line is­sues — and fast — or the sea­son can get lost quickly. The sec­ond half of their sched­ule is bru­tal.

Peter Schmuck, colum­nist: This was a game the Ravens should not have lost, and they know that. They com­mit­ted too many penal­ties, in­clud­ing a cou­ple of very stupid ones on the same play by Mike Wal­lace. They turned the ball over at a key mo­ment. And de­spite a de­cent de­fen­sive per­for­mance, they al­lowed the Raiders to walk down the field and win the game in the fourth quar­ter. of­ten are.

They made a great show of it again. First, Flacco hit Smith for a 52-yard catch-an­drun touch­down to cut the lead to 21-19 with 6:38 left.

On the next drive, Ravens de­fen­sive end Lawrence Guy stripped Raiders run­ning back De­An­dre Wash­ing­ton at Oak­land’s 17-yard line.

West plowed into the end zone four plays later, and a suc­cess­ful 2-point con­ver­sion made it 27-21, Ravens.

Fans and play­ers both thought an­other thrilling vic­tory was at hand.

But the Ravens know they can’t flirt with dis­as­ter every week and ex­pect to win con­sis­tently. They tried it last sea­son and didn’t like the re­sults.

“Ev­ery­thing that we do right now is just prob­a­bly a lit­tle tougher than it needs to be,” Flacco said.

KARL MERTON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Oak­land’s Sean Smith picks off a pass in­tended for Steve Smith Sr. on a 2-point con­ver­sion at­tempt in the third quar­ter af­ter the Ravens scored a touch­down to cut their deficit to 14-12.

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