The Ravens complained about the officiating yesterday, but it was an attempt to mask a serious problem, one that may not go away for the rest of the season.
While the team more than doubled its season total in penalties in one game, the bottom line to the Ravens' 46-38 loss to the New England Patriots yesterday was a horrendous defensive effort, especially in the secondary.
And barring a last-minute trade (the deadline is tomorrow), the signing of several free agents or some quick healing by starting defensive end Anthony Pleasant (ankle) and outside linebacker Mike Caldwell (knee), it doesn't appear this defense is going to get a lot better soon.
Remember, this isn't major-league baseball. The Ravens don't have anybody down on the farm.
"I think overall when you know that's the case, you have to get back to basics," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said about problems in the secondary after the highest-scoring game in the NFL this season. "Whether we make any changes or not, I don't know at this particular time. But it's not totally all the secondary's fault. We've got to get a pass rush. I don't know what we're going to do but something has to get done."
Despite allowing New England its most points since 1984, the Ravens (2-3) kept what was left of the Memorial Stadium crowd of 63,569 on its feet by recovering an onside kick and eventually scoring on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Vinny Testaverde to Michael Jackson with 1: 58 left in the game to pull within eight points. But the game ended with Testaverde's desperation pass to receiver Jermaine Lewis falling way short at the Patriots' 35.
But don't get the impression that this was really a close game. The Patriots (3-2) were blowing the Ravens off the field with a 24-point lead after Adam Vinatieri's 50-yard field goal five seconds into the fourth quarter.
Then Patriots coach Bill Parcells went conservative on offense. His assistant head coach, former Cleveland Browns head coach Bill Belichick, then ordered the Patriots into a prevent defense. Those moves got the Ravens back into the game, but clearly the better team won.
And now the Ravens find themselves in a big hole. Besides losing their first home game, the Ravens now have the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos on the road for the next two weeks.
"The NFL is based on pressure and our backs are against the wall," said Ravens strong safety Stevon Moore. "We haven't played well on the road and this time we have a night game [in Indianapolis] against a great football team. We're going to have to play our best game to beat them."
The Ravens were far from error-free yesterday. They entered the game as the league's least-penalized team with 11 for 101 yards, but had 13 for 146 yards.
The most devastating penalties came in the second quarter. Ravens cornerback Donny Brady was called for a questionable pass interference call on receiver Shawn Jefferson that resulted in a 31-yard gain down to the Ravens' 26. Four plays later, New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe threw a 7-yard pass to Jefferson in the back of the end zone to give the Patriots a 10-7 lead.
Then on the Patriots' next possession, after a 5-yard touchdown pass from Testaverde to Jackson that tied the score at 10, the Ravens were penalized twice on the kickoff after Troy Brown returned it 51 yards and the penalties put the ball on the Ravens' 41.
Four plays later, Bledsoe threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ben Coates with 3: 32 left in the half.
The Patriots scored on a 35-yard field goal from Vinatieri on the last play of the half. The eight-play, 58-yard drive was aided by another pass interference call on cornerback Antonio Langham, which resulted in a gain of 26 yards, and a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call on reserve safety Vashone Adams.
In a span of nearly 14 minutes, the Ravens had five penalties that heavily contributed to 17 Patriots points.
"In the old days, you could fight with a receiver all the way down the field," said Langham. "Now with this 5-yard rule, you can't be aggressive. Receivers can push and shove you off, but your only major weapon is to backpedal.
"But don't put all the blame on the defense," said Langham. "When Bledsoe is hot, it's hard to stop him no matter what you do. I can't say the officiating cost us the game, but it had a lot of impact."
Marchibroda was livid at some of the calls, even approaching several of the officials at halftime.
"I told him his job is to take care of his job. He's officiating somebody else's job," said Marchibroda. "You have to believe they were good calls. They made the calls and they kept saying that they wouldn't call it if they didn't see it."
Ravens safety Eric Turner was more direct: "I thought some calls were definitely questionable. The officiating affected the game, not the outcome. But when the officials affect the game, that's not good."
Turner also had a big effect on the game. The Ravens All-Pro free safety sprained his left ankle with about 13 minutes left in the first half, and he did not play for the rest of the game.
Bledsoe, who finished with 310 yards passing, picked the Ravens secondary apart to start the third period, completing his first four passes on the opening drive before tossing a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mike Bartrum with 11: 38 left in the quarter to put the Patriots ahead 28-14.
The Patriots scored again on their next possession, this time as Jefferson hauled in a 35-yard touchdowns pass from Bledsoe.
Then when Vinatieri kicked the 50-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, the game appeared to be over.
"A little bit concerned? Yeah, I thought we could get blown out. I ain't stupid," said Ravens center Steve Everitt.
The Ravens came back, but the attempt was halted when strong safety Larry Whigham blocked a punt and the Patriots' Tedy Bruschi scooped it up and ran 4 yards for a touchdown to put the Patriots ahead 46-22 with 7: 53 left in the game.
The Ravens came back to score two touchdowns in the remaining time, but that was not enough. Instead, they will spend today trying to find a cure for their ailing secondary and lack of a pass rush.
The Ravens have tried almost every move at cornerback except start rookie Deron Jenkins. The Ravens may get get Pleasant back this week, and Caldwell (knee) may return in about two weeks. They are two of the team's best pass rushers, but the tandem may not have enough impact to help the Ravens' pass rush.
"It's great to score a lot of points, but we didn't score enough," said Testaverde, who completed 29 of 45 passes for 353 yards. "You can get away with costly penalties in one phase of the game, but it's hard to get away with them in all three."
Patriots 46, Ravens 38
Game 5: D-less day irks Ravens
Bledsoe shreds secondary; Patriots withstand late charge; Most points in NFL in '96; Coach: 'Something has to get done'
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