So close and yet so far: Ravens left ‘frus­trated’

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jeff Zre­biec jeff.zre­biec@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/jef­fzre­biec­sun

ARLINGTON, TEXAS — The frus­tra­tion ra­di­ated from ev­ery cor­ner of the Ravens’ locker room. Tight end Den­nis Pitta shut down a ques­tion about whether the Ravens had made any of­fen­sive strides. His voice nearly gone, wide re­ceiver Steve Smith Sr. said his 1,000th catch didn’t mean a lot given the end re­sult. Mo­ments ear­lier, quar­ter­back Joe Flacco said the Ravens should have beaten the Dal­las Cow­boys and made sure re­porters knew he wasn’t kid­ding.

It was safety Eric Wed­dle who stood up and spoke to his team­mates af­ter the game to try to im­part some per­spec­tive.

“The mes­sage was clear. We’re on the road against one of the best teams in the league and we’re right there with them. We just didn’t make the plays that you need to, to win the game,” Wed­dle said. “Hope­fully, we’re a con­fi­dent bunch com­ing out of here. If ev­ery­one gets a lit­tle bet­ter — look at your­self first, look why we lost, a cou­ple of bad penal­ties [and] third-down sit­u­a­tions where we can clean up on de­fense. Of­fen­sively, just play a lit­tle bit bet­ter and we’ll win those games. It’s a16-game sea­son. We’re first in our di­vi­sion. I be­lieve this game will be a defin­ing mo­ment in our sea­son.”

All week, the Ravens car­ried them­selves with a quiet con­fi­dence, be­liev­ing they were just the team to slow down the Cow­boys’ of­fen­sive jug­ger­naut. For the bet­ter part of the first half, they did. How­ever, the Ravens and the NFL’s top-ranked de­fense couldn’t keep pace and they were run over in the sec­ond half in a 27-17 loss to the Cow­boys in front of an an­nounced 93,056 at AT&T Sta­dium.

Trail­ing 10-7 late in the sec­ond quar­ter, the Cow­boys (9-1) bul­lied their way to a fran­chise-record ninth straight vic­tory by scor­ing on their fi­nal five drives against a Ravens de­fense that had forced a punt on the first four. Dal­las rookie quar­ter­back Dak Prescott threw three touch­down passes and con­nected with Dez Bryant twice for scores in an 11-minute span of the sec­ond half.

“Yeah, we’re frus­trated,” said Smith, whose 5-yard touch­down re­cep­tion with just over eight min­utes to play had cut the Cow­boys’ lead to a touch­down. “That was a good team and we felt like we­had them on the ropes and we let them off the hook. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to col­lec­tively, and [we’re] just a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed in our­selves.”

With the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers hav­ing beaten the Cleveland Browns on Sun­day, the Ravens (5-5) are tied for first place in the AFC North with six games to go, start­ing Sun­day at home against the Cincinnati Ben­gals.

For much of the game against the Cow­boys, the Ravens looked far more like a team that could win the di­vi­sion than they did in the sea­son’s first half. The Ravens didn’t turn the ball over on of­fense and they gained 368 to­tal yards de­spite pos­sess­ing the ball for less than10 min­utes in the sec­ond half. Flacco fin­ished 23-of-35 for 269 yards, one touch­down and no in­ter­cep­tions.

Be­fore wear­ing down late, the de­fense did a serviceable job on rookie phe­nom Ezekiel El­liott and held the Cow­boys to 118 rush­ing yards, 43 be­low their av­er­age.

But largely be­cause of penal­ties — cen­ter Jeremy Zut­tah was called for three, in­clud­ing a piv­otal un­nec­es­sary-rough­ness call in the third quar­ter — the Ravens weren’t able to sus­tain enough drives, and the de­fense was pow­er­less to get off the field.

With the Ravens go­ing all-out to stop El­liott and with­out their top cor­ner­back, Jimmy Smith, to match up with Bryant, Prescott dinked and dunked his way down the field through­out the sec­ond half. Prescott com­pleted 14 of 15 passes in that half for 146 yards and two scores, and was barely touched in the fi­nal 21⁄2 quar­ters as the Ravens de­fense wore down and had no an­swers for the NFL’s hottest of­fense.

With the game tied at 10 in the third quar­ter, the Cow­boys marched 92 yards on10 plays and scored on Prescott’s 4-yard pass to Bryant. The drive ate nearly six min­utes. When Dal­las got the ball back, they drove 88 yards on 13 plays and scored on Prescott’s 13-yard pass to Bryant, who dragged rookie cor­ner­back Tavon Young into the end zone. That drive lasted just less than eight min­utes.

The Ravens cut the deficit to seven when Flacco hit Smith for a touch­down, but the de­fense couldn’t stop Dal­las. The Cow­boys fi­nal­ized a13-play, 72-yard drive that took 6:26 and ended on Dan Bai­ley’s 26-yard field goal. That made it 27-17.

“I think the thing to take from it is, if we play good, solid foot­ball and play win­ning foot­ball, elim­i­nate the mis­takes, we would have won the game, in my mind,” Ravens coach John Har­baugh said. “We’re def­i­nitely good enough to win any game we play in the Na­tional Foot­ball League. Our eyes go to next week against Cincinnati at home. Six-game sea­son and we need to take care of our busi­ness, and part of that’s im­prov­ing. We’ve got to im­prove. I think we’ve come a long way in a lot of ways. We’re not there yet to beat this team in this sit­u­a­tion be­cause we made too many mis­takes. That’s on us. No moral vic­to­ries, no. We ex­pected to come in here and win the game.”

Flacco, too, was un­in­ter­ested in hear­ing any talk that the Ravens made progress. He be­lieves the of­fense left points on the field and didn’t do enough with the pos­ses­sions it did get. He lamented a five-drive stretch span­ning both halves where the Ravens man­aged just a 46-yard field goal that gave them a 10-7 lead late in the sec­ond quar­ter. The run­ning game had 86 yards in the first half, and Ter­rance West (Tow­son Univer­sity, North­west­ern High) scored on an 18-yard touch­down run. But forced to play catch-up, the Ravens ran the ball only three times in the sec­ond half.

“We should beat this team. I am not kid­ding,” Flacco said. “I felt very con­fi­dent com­ing into this game, and I re­ally feel we should beat this team. We should beat pretty much ev­ery team we play. In the cou­ple that you lose, you hurt your­self and you lose them, and that’s not what we’re do­ing right now. We’re ob­vi­ously not as good as we would like to be. I came into this game, I think we all did, very con­fi­dent, and that we were go­ing to do some­thing nice and come in here and not shock our­selves, but shock ev­ery­body else. It didn’t hap­pen.” Wed­dle, though, sees bet­ter things ahead. “Ev­ery­one needs to un­der­stand that we’re still go­ing to come to work Mon­day, and you bet­ter have a great at­ti­tude that you want to get bet­ter and you want to work and not get down in the dumps just be­cause we lost a game against one of the best teams in the league,” he said. “That should never af­fect your per­for­mance for the week. We­havea big di­vi­sion game com­ing up.”

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHO­TOS

Cow­boys wide re­ceiver Cole Beasley beats Ravens cor­ner­back Jer­raud Pow­ers for a touch­down catch in the sec­ond quar­ter.

Ravens line­backer Zachary Orr turns his back as the Cow­boys cel­e­brate a fourth-quar­ter touch­down by wide re­ceiver Dez Bryant. Dal­las scored on its last five drives.

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