JACKSONVILLE, FLA.—Maybe of all the losses, this one hurt the most because it's the kind that can rip the heart out of a team. For the second straight week, the Ravens blew a halftime lead and lost, this time 30-27 to the Jacksonville Jaguars before 64,628 at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.
The Ravens (3-7), who have found almost every possible way to lose, used a familiar one yesterday. Seven days after blowing an 18-point halftime lead in a 24-21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens lost a 14-point lead at the half, 17-3, to the Jaguars (4-6).
Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell (24-for-37, 354 yards) finished off the Ravens with a 1-yard touchdown run on a bootleg around left end with 41 seconds left in the game.
The Ravens, who got 182 yards of offense from running back Bam Morris -- including a 52-yard touchdown reception -- seemingly had an insurmountable lead after quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Alexander across the middle for a 27-16 lead with 6: 23 left in the game.
But these are the Ravens. No lead is insurmountable, and every game goes down to the wire. Unlike last week, the Ravens believed they played an entire game instead of 30 minutes. But the reality is that the Ravens are out of playoff contention and the losses are starting to become harder to accept. The Ravens' last three games have been decided in the last minute, with two of them losses.
"I have nothing to say," said wide receiver Michael Jackson, who had two receptions for 13 yards.
"I'm not in the mood to talk," added safety Stevon Moore.
"I don't know how to describe this loss, I don't have the words to describe anything," said Ravens tackle and offensive captain Tony Jones. "In football, if you go out and work hard, and do the things you need to do, then you should win.
"We did the extra film work, even did some extra conditioning and we still lose. I don't have an answer for it," he said.
No one seems to for the Ravens, who are 0-5 on the road, 0-4 in the division and 1-7 in the conference. Even the usually optimistic Ted Marchibroda conceded the team had nothing to play for during the remainder of the season but pride.
"I think probably so," said Marchibroda, when asked if his team was out of the playoff race. "I think maybe 9-7 could still get you in. We will keep on fighting and we will keep on going for that.
"I thought our guys gave a great effort tonight. We couldn't make the play that was needed to win the ballgame on either side of the ball."
The Ravens were absolutely horrendous in the fourth quarter. After Jaguars running back James Stewart scored on an 8-yard screen pass with 3: 50 left in the game to cut the Ravens' lead to 27-22, all the Ravens had to do was get one first down because Jacksonville -- which had lost five games in the final three minutes -- had only one timeout.
But Morris ran off right guard for 1 yard, and Testaverde then threw two incompletions. Total time consumed: 1 minute, 6 seconds.
"If we get the first down, it looks brighter," said Testaverde, who completed 17 of 27 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns. "I threw the second ball in the dirt because I didn't want an interception, and that stopped the clock, which you don't want in that situation. That hurt."
But not as much as the Ravens' so-called prevent defense. The team had played well in the first three quarters, holding NFL passing yardage leader Brunell to 251 yards and nine first downs.
But in their nickel and dime coverages, the Ravens allowed drives of 89, 90 and 66 yards in the fourth quarter. The Ravens bent and then they broke.
Marvin Lewis, the team's defensive coordinator, said the Ravens lacked their core group of starters such as end Rob Burnett (knee), tackle Dan Footman (forearm), linebacker Jerrol Williams (knee) and cornerback Antonio Langham (hamstring), who all missed yesterday's game. Lewis also said some of the veteran players needed to step up.
"We've got older experienced players who've got to make plays," said Lewis, whose regular starters gave up 46 points to the New England Patriots earlier this season. "Good players got to win games for you. That's why some of them are paid more than others and they've got to get it done."
The Ravens were ahead 17-3 at the half, but could easily have been ahead by seven to 10 points more.
The Ravens went ahead 7-0 with 6: 15 left in the first quarter as Testaverde threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jackson in the left corner of the end zone to culminate a nine-play, 45-yard drive.
The touchdown was set up by Ravens safety Eric Turner, who caught a deflected pass from Brunell to wide receiver Andre Rison.
The Jaguars had a chance to tie the score with 49 seconds left in the quarter, but Ravens linebackers Mike Caldwell and Mike Croel sandwiched Stewart at the 18, forcing a fumble that Croel recovered at the Ravens' 17.
The Ravens advanced to the Jaguars' 21, but some strange play-calling by Marchibroda on first down caused a turnover.
The Ravens had used Morris during the drive on runs of 11, 9 and 9 yards.
But on this particular play, the Ravens came out in a passing formation, and Testaverde was sacked by right tackle John Jurkovic, forcing one of his three fumbles. Jurkovic recovered at the Ravens' 27 with 12: 12 left in the half.
"We had a miscommunication between the linemen and receivers on a blocking assignment, and I just got busted in the chops," said Testaverde, who also fumbled during a sack that led to a 33-yard field goal by Jacksonville in the third period and on a sack in the last minute that ended any hopes of a last-ditch Ravens' comeback.
After the first fumble, though, the Ravens made it 14-3 when Morris caught a 12-yard pass over the middle, broke two tackles at the 28 and then ran the rest of the way for the 52-yard touchdown.
It was great play by the Ravens, who caught the Jaguars in a blitz. It was also a good starting debut for Morris, who finished with 109 yards rushing on 26 carries.
"It's a good feeling, and I thought I did OK," said Morris. "We're still going to win some games."
Morris' absence after the long catch and run may have hurt the Ravens. During the last drive of 57 yards minutes before the half, Marchibroda replaced Morris with Earnest Byner and even stuck with Byner on a first-down carry inside the Jaguars' 5 with 32 seconds left in the half.
The Ravens settled for a 21-yard field goal by Matt Stover and a 17-3 lead going into the intermission.
"Coach said he wanted Earnest in for a series, he wanted a different runner," said Morris. "I was ready to go on the sidelines."
It was somewhat of a strange move, but it just fits into a lot of other problems the Ravens have had this season.
"We just have to make some plays down the stretch now," said defensive tackle Rick Lyle. "We're closer to getting a win. This hurts, but we've got to keep believing."