Ravens left lamenting mistakes
Penalties, lack of big plays, depleted ‘O’ line contribute to first loss
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.
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.