The Ravens' locker room was extremely quiet yesterday, because the subject had become so sensitive. But then the comments started to filter out slowly after the Ravens blew an 18-point halftime lead and lost, 24-21, to the Cincinnati Bengals on Doug Pelfrey's 34-yard field goal as time expired.
The loss, before a Memorial Stadium crowd of 60,743, washed away almost any playoff aspirations for the Ravens (3-6) and left a lot of the players second-guessing the continued use of the no-huddle and passing offense in the second half.
"I feel we should have been running, but I'm not second-guessing anything that was called," said Ravens rookie guard Jonathan Ogden.
Running back Bam Morris said: "I was just trying to make plays. The offensive line was coming off the ball great. We were running, but they wanted to pass. That was a coaches' decision. Sure, it's frustrating, but what can you do about it? It doesn't matter now."
A lot of the Ravens expressed similar thoughts. After gaining 263 yards of total offense in the first half, the Ravens stayed with the no-huddle in the second half and controlled the ball for only eight minutes.
The Bengals (3-6) used the rest of the time to score on a 1-yard run by Ki-Jana Carter in the third quarter, a 4-yard run by quarterback Jeff Blake in the fourth and two field goals from Pelfrey in the last 1: 49.
What went wrong in the second half?
Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda was willing to spread the blame. He pointed out that the Ravens had a rookie, DeRon Jenkins, playing cornerback for the injured Antonio Langham. He noticed that quarterback Vinny Testaverde had four interceptions, two that stopped drives inside the 20. He also talked about dropped passes.
And what about Marchibroda's part? He could have called off the no-huddle. Instead, the Ravens had only 108 yards of total offense in the second half.
"Even the coaches are involved in this thing," said Marchibroda, when asked directly by a reporter. "Total blame all the way through -- players, offense, defense, special teams, coaches, everybody."
Let's start with the coaching. Nearly six weeks ago, the Ravens signed Morris and tight end Eric Green and carefully rehabilitated the knee injury of tight end Frank Hartley so they could make a November stretch run by playing power football.
But when the Ravens opened the second half yesterday with the lead and the ball on their own 44, Testaverde came out throwing in the no-huddle instead of running behind one of the largest and best offensive lines in pro football that included tight ends weighing 280 and 267 pounds, respectively.
On their first two possessions, the Ravens' first eight plays were passes. Then, after running Morris on three plays for 19 yards, Testaverde underthrew receiver Michael Jackson down the left sideline on a second-and-one play and cornerback Corey Sawyer intercepted at the Bengals' 23.
Morris had a tirade on the sideline, pacing and talking with running backs coach Al Lavan.
"I just thought we should have kept running," said Morris, who finished with 48 yards on 11 carries despite limited playing time.
"We saw him, we understood," said Ogden.
Marchibroda, whose team only rushed six times in the second half, said, "I'm frustrated because they showed what they could do in the first half and when they don't want to play football, for whatever reason, they didn't give it their best shot in the second half and this is what happens.
"They [Bengals] moved the ball too easily. You're not going to win games when you don't stop them. When they make easy yards, you're not going to stop them."
The Bengals moved at will in the second half, gaining 268 yards of offense and 24 first downs. In the first half, Cincinnati had only 165 yards and nine first downs.
The Ravens couldn't control running back Garrison Hearst. And when Langham went out with a hamstring injury 1: 20 into the third quarter, the Bengals went at Jenkins, who has mostly been used on special teams and in nickel coverage.
Langham had bottled up wide receiver Carl Pickens in the first half. Pickens taught Jenkins a lesson in the second, finishing with six catches for 65 yards.
"This is an offensive league and receivers get away with a lot of pushing. That's what he [Pickens] does well," said Jenkins.
Hearst finished with 80 yards on 23 carries, but had 32 yards on the Bengals' first drive of the second half, which ended with a 1-yard run by Carter that pulled the Bengals within 21-10 with 7: 55 left in the third quarter.
"When the score was 21-10, I warned the entire football team: This is going to go down to 60 minutes because things were happening too easily against us," said Marchibroda.
After Sawyer's interception, the Bengals moved again on their next possession, going from their own 23 to score on Blake's 4-yard quarterback draw up the middle to make it 21-18 with 14: 17 left.
The Ravens had an opportunity to score on their next possession, but Testaverde's pass intended for Green from the Bengals' 15 was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Ashley Ambrose four minutes later.
It was the second drive killed by Testaverde, who played his worst game since his "guarantee" that he'd never again play as poorly as he did in his three-interception, 29-13 loss to Houston Sept. 15.
Testaverde also was intercepted by Jimmy Spencer in the end zone from the Bengals' 7 with 14: 54 left in the first half.
"My performance speaks for itself. I threw four interceptions," said Testaverde, who failed to lead his team to a first down on the Ravens' last possession, which started at their 29 with 1: 45 left and ended three incompletions later with 1: 32 on the clock.
"Obviously, I didn't have one of my better days. All the interceptions were my fault, there is nobody to blame but me."
The Ravens' defense played its part, letting the Bengals drive from their own 28 to the Ravens' 16 in 82 seconds. Running back Eric Bieniemy caught a pass for 14 yards. Wide receiver Darnay Scott caught another for 14. Blake scrambled up the middle for 14, then Carter went around left end for 3 more. Bieniemy caught another pass for 8. Out came Pelfrey, and the game was over, but not the thoughts about the no-huddle.
"I don't think we knew how to handle it [having the lead] as an offense going into the second half," said Testaverde. "We hadn't been in that situation all year."
Said Ravens offensive tackle Tony Jones: "We had a hot quarterback and the coaches were confident in the offense. We have some running backs who run hard, and you can keep running until they put eight in the box."
It was a tough and costly lesson learned yesterday.
"We were in the thick of things, but this knocks us back," Marchibroda said. "We're not totally out of it yet."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun