If this indeed was a statement game, the Ravens made a clear one yesterday. They aren't ready for prime time. Good teams don't allow two touchdowns in the final four minutes. Playoff-caliber teams don't rush for 52 yards. Quality teams don't lose three of four fumbles and throw two interceptions.
And teams trying to make names for themselves don't blow 21-point, first-half leads, which is what the Ravens did in losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday, 42-34.
The Ravens (3-3) gave a Memorial Stadium record crowd of 64,421 a lot to cheer about before allowing 35 second-half points in an important AFC Central game. The Ravens were trying to use this game as a springboard into national prominence, but found themselves coming up short in trying to defeat the defending division champions, who have won four of the past five AFC Central titles.
"We can play with the big boys and run with the big boys, but we haven't quite learned how to beat the big boys. That's our job for the rest of the year," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. "We have to learn how to beat them, not to play with them."
Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who suffered through a 28-of-47 passing day for 290 yards with two interceptions, said he is tired of going to school every Sunday.
"After the game, I heard a lot of people saying we should learn from this. I thought we learned from this last year," said Testaverde, who fumbled twice. "If we don't give the extra effort, we're always going to be a .500 team. We had a chance to go up in the division, and we didn't get it done."
Maybe the Ravens should take a lesson from Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart. He was horrendous in the first half, completing only seven of 14 passes for 65 yards and throwing three interceptions, two of which the Ravens eventually converted into touchdowns. But when the Steelers needed to make a play after that, Stewart was usually involved.
His finest came with two minutes left in the game and the Steelers ahead 35-32. On third-and-four from the Steelers' 26, Stewart faked a handoff on a dive to Jerome Bettis, then faked a handoff on an end-around to wide receiver Yancey Thigpen, who was going right. Stewart kept the ball on a bootleg around left end.
Stewart broke a tackle by Ravens cornerback Eugene Daniel at the line of scrimmage, then outran safety Stevon Moore the rest of the way for a touchdown. Only Thigpen and Stewart knew it was a fake reverse.
"Yancey and I don't have a secret anymore," Stewart said. "I just call a certain play between myself and Yancey. I said, 'Let's fake the reverse.' All I could think about when I was running for the touchdown was that once you break in front of everybody, you just can't get caught from behind. I started thinking about all the fines that I may have to pay if I had gotten caught."
Daniel said: "I was running with my receiver, and it just opened up and I saw him slashing through. I was out of position, tried to stop and make the tackle. But I couldn't make the play."
The Ravens had two more chances after Stewart scored, but tight end Eric Green lost a fumble at the Steelers' 8 with 1: 09 left in the game, and cornerback Donnell Woolford picked off Testaverde's pass at the Steelers' 6 to end the game.
Sometimes, the Ravens were in position, but they still didn't make the play. Take the third-and-eight play from the Steelers' 13 with 5: 27 left in the game and the Steelers ahead 28-24. Stewart got pressured, then scrambled to his right and lofted a high pass to Thigpen down the right sideline.
Ravens safety Rondell Jones was in perfect position to make the play, but he never turned around. Thigpen made the catch for a 63-yard reception. Five plays later, Stewart passed to receiver Charles Johnson in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
"I think he certainly played a big part in this game," Marchibroda said of Stewart. "He had three touchdown passes, ran for two others, so I would certainly say that's a big part."
The other big play came on the opening kickoff of the second half. The Steelers' Will Blackwell took the kickoff at the 3, faked a reverse to Thigpen at the 10 and then went untouched along the right sideline for a touchdown that put Pittsburgh on the board quickly and surprised the Ravens.
lTC "I think we were a little in shock," Testaverde said.
"Scottie O [special teams coach Scott O'Brien] told us that anytime 82 [Thigpen] is in the game, there is always the possibility of them running the reverse," said fullback Tony Vinson, one of the Ravens' best special-teams players, who was not in at the time because of a mild concussion. "We were certainly aware of it."
The Steelers used a lot of deception to keep the Ravens off-balance, but they also went with their bread and butter of Bettis, who rushed 28 times for 137 yards and got stronger as the game went on.
The Ravens started out strong, taking possession after Daniel returned an interception to their own 33 early in the first quarter. Seven plays later, Testaverde completed a short pass to Green in the left flat, which Green turned into a 22-yard touchdown reception down the right sideline for a 7-0 lead with 8: 52 left in the first quarter.
Ravens safety Stevon Moore then picked off an underthrown Stewart pass, which he returned 38 yards to the Steelers' 5. On third-and-goal, running back Bam Morris bounced off right tackle for a 1-yard touchdown that pushed the Ravens ahead 14-0 with 4: 55 left in the quarter.
After Daniel intercepted another Stewart pass and Testaverde threw to tight end Brian Kinchen for a 24-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead 2: 07 into the second quarter, the Ravens seemed on the verge of a blowout.
And some of them started acting that way. The Ravens may have gotten a little cocky.
"We just didn't play in the second half, plain and simple," said offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. "We didn't match their intensity."
It wasn't close.
The Ravens had 332 net yards -- compared with 431 for the Steelers -- and 20 first downs, but only seven in the second half. A fumble by Testaverde led to a 4-yard touchdown pass from Stewart to tight end Mark Bruener with 9: 31 left in the game, and the Ravens didn't get into Pittsburgh territory in the second half until there was less than three minutes left in the game.
The Steelers made only minor changes to their defense. The Ravens simply didn't execute. It has been a problem all season. The offense runs hot and cold.
"We're either rocking the house or bringing it down," said offensive guard Leo Goeas. "Well, we've got a week to figure it out."
The Ravens have a bye on Sunday, so it gives them time to get a running game, maybe find another cornerback and somehow learn how to put games away.
"We'll find out what a lot of people are made of, huh?" said running back Earnest Byner.
Yesterday's game had all the warning signs of a possible collapse. The Ravens blew a big lead at home in front of a crowd heavily populated with Steelers fans against one of their most hated rivals.
"The first half was indicative of how we can play," Moore said. "If we keep stinking it up in the second half like we did today, we're in for a long season."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun