SAN DIEGO—Where do we begin?With a scrub quarterback named Craig Whelihan, who won for the first time in eight tries as a starter? Or with Jermaine Lewis' 90-yard punt return that was nullified by a Chargers penalty, wiping out a touchdown? How about two seldom-called "leverage" penalties against the Ravens that led to the go-ahead touchdown? Or maybe the usual suspect offensive play-calling, including a failed fourth-down gamble in the second quarter and an atrocious halfback option pass in the fourth?
The bottom line is that coach Ted Marchibroda, 10 games into the final season of a three-year contract, hasn't found a miraculous cure for an ailing team that has lost five of its past six, including yesterday's 14-13 loss to the San Diego Chargers before 54,388 at Qualcomm Stadium.
As irritated as Marchibroda was that Lewis' touchdown was nullified, he was equally upset at the dumb penalties committed by the Ravens (3-7), who were flagged 14 times for 106 yards. The penalties continued to hurt the Ravens up to the final minutes, when reserve safety Donny Brady was called for unsportsmanlike conduct on a San Diego punt that pushed the Ravens back from their 34 to the 19 with 1: 44 left.
The Ravens never got into range for a potential game-winning field goal. Jim Harbaugh's pass to tight end Eric Green was knocked down around the Ravens' 40 yard-line on fourth down with 59 seconds left. But that was expected. The Ravens didn't have much of an offense in the first 58 minutes, so why would they have one in the last two?
"I think we lost a football game today that we didn't give ourselves a chance to win," Marchibroda said. "We didn't play smart enough to win the game today. We have some guys playing this game for themselves. They are not playing for the team. Certain guys have been told about it over and over again, and they keep making the same mistakes."
Names, please? "I won't comment on that," Marchibroda said.
The biggest penalty wasn't called against the Ravens, but against the Chargers (4-6). With about six minutes left in the game, Darren Bennett punted to Lewis at the Ravens' 10-yard line. Lewis broke through the wall around the 30 and had only Bennett to beat. Bennett slid at the 40 and tried to trip Lewis, who stumbled and fell at the 45. But Lewis quickly got up and ran to the end zone. One official signaled touchdown, which would have put the Ravens ahead 16-14.
But after a conference, the officials called Bennett for tripping and said Lewis was down by contact. Lewis said Bennett never touched him. The Ravens eventually settled for a 42-yard field goal from Matt Stover.
Bennett played diplomat after the game, at one time saying he never touched Lewis, then admitting he might have gotten a piece of him. Marchibroda argued for several minutes after the play.
"As the runner came up the field, the player extended his leg, which caused the runner to go down," said referee Gerry Austin. "Therefore, he is down on contact, which means from that spot, the ball is dead. From where I was, I saw the trip but I didn't see the player go down.
"After we discussed it, we put it together this way. We have three flags and we had two other officials say that he went to the ground. Therefore, if he went to the ground, we go to the spot, penalize the team 10 yards, and it's first-and-10."
Lewis said: "I saw him creeping back there, so I knew I had to make a move on him. He stuck his foot out, but he didn't touch me. I know for sure he didn't touch me. He surprised me when he stuck his foot out there, but my momentum in avoiding him made me roll over."
Bennett said: "Yes, I think I got him. I didn't think I had got him enough to slow him down. Then when I saw him lying on the ground behind me, I still didn't didn't know he was down by contact. Then I saw him get up and run for the touchdown, and I was obviously disappointed. Then I did realize he was down by contact. Then I'm like, that's good. Cool. OK."
Marchibroda was far from cool.
"Every one of our players involved in that play told us that no one touched Jermaine Lewis," Marchibroda said. "He didn't trip him. It should have been a touchdown. They called a touchdown at first and then they changed the call. Somebody overruled the original call. I don't know how."
But this game should have never come down to one play. The Ravens were playing against a fourth-year quarterback who had lost all seven NFL games he had started. The Chargers also lost their top rusher, Natrone Means, with a fractured left foot with 12: 53 left in the second quarter.
Combine that with 16 penalties for 146 yards, only 203 yards of total offense and two sacks and countless hurries, and that should have been enough for a Chargers loss.
Wrong. Here's how to beat the Ravens. Pass-protect enough on three or four players where you can challenge the cornerbacks with the long ball, especially rookie Duane Starks. Then let the Ravens' offense self-destruct.
Starks, who is becoming a weekly victim, got burned on a 47-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Jones with 3: 04 left in the second quarter on the old out-and-up move as San Diego took a 7-3 lead.
"They caught me gambling. It's my fault. I can't blame it on anyone else," Starks said.
That touchdown came after a crucial gamble by Marchibroda. The Ravens were winning the field-position game, but on fourth-and-six from the San Diego 38 with 8: 23 left in the half, Harbaugh under-threw Lewis on a crossing route, and his pass was intercepted by cornerback Terrance Shaw at the Chargers' 30.
"I thought we could make a first down," Marchibroda said. "If we score there, then we might have gone up by 10 points. I was trying to jump-start the offense. Up until that point, we hadn't made a big play."
Up until that point, the Ravens had only 31 yards of total offense. They finished with 161.
The Ravens' other strange call came early in the fourth quarter. On first-and-10 at the Chargers' 39, the Ravens tried an option pass from Priest Holmes, who threw short and way off the mark for Lewis, and the pass was intercepted by free safety Greg Jackson with 13: 03 remaining.
"We used that because we saw something in the films this week that led us to believe that it would work," said Marchibroda.
The Chargers only needed a couple of big plays or mistakes by the Ravens, and they got them late in the third and early in the fourth quarters. When Chargers kicker John Carney made a 44-yard field goal late in the third quarter, the Ravens' Jamie Sharper was called for "leverage" -- jumping on a player to gain elevation while trying to block a kick -- giving San Diego a first down at the Ravens' 13. The Ravens held, but Michael McCrary was called for leverage on Carney's 24-yard field goal, giving the Chargers first-and-goal at the Ravens' 3.
One play later, Terrell Fletcher ran around right end for what proved to be the winning touchdown with 14: 41 left.
"You cannot step or put your knee on or use your hand to get up on an opponent in an attempt to block a field goal," said Austin. "On one of them, he stepped onto an opponent and reached high into the air. On the second one, he put his knee on an opponent to get higher to attempt to block a field goal. That call isn't often made because it doesn't occur often."
Said Ravens center Wally Williams: "It doesn't look like we're ever going to come out of this, does it? I can't figure out what's going on. We can't figure out what's going on. Maybe the league has something against us. All I know is that we work hard and we work hard enough to win, but we don't."