By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
1:03 AM EDT, October 25, 2011
What was an opportunity to show a national television audience that they are one of the league's elite teams, and to match their best start since their 2000 Super Bowl season, turned into a nightmare for the Ravens on Monday.
Instead of a statement performance, they were haunted by untimely penalties and a failure to protect the football in one of the worst offensive performances in team history.
In a 12-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in front of an announced 62,976 at EverBank Field, the Ravens gained a franchise-worst 16 net yards in the first half and didn't get a first down until nearly 40 minutes had elapsed.
“It's about as bad as you can play on offense,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I don't know if we could play any worse than that until that [late] drive.
“If we don't get the consistency on offense, we're not going anywhere. You can't play like we played tonight on offense and expect to win. We all know it. We got our butts handed to us from that sense, and we'll go back to work just like we always do.”
The Jaguars (2-5) had lost five straight games and seven of their past eight to the Ravens (4-2), who avoided their first shutout since Week 2 of the 2002 season — they were blanked, 25-0, by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — when Joe Flacco threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin with 2:02 left.
The Ravens then recovered an onside kick, but Billy Cundiff's try didn't go the required 10 yards before Haruki Nakamura recovered it. The Jaguars turned the good field position into Josh Scobee's 51-yard field goal, his fourth of the night and his third beyond 50 yards.
Down five points, the Ravens had the ball on their own 20 with 1:43 left, but Joe Flacco was intercepted by Drew Coleman on the second play.
Just as he was in an earlier prime-time game against the New York Jets, Flacco looked confused and overwhelmed for the majority of 31/2 quarters. He went just 21-for-38 for 137 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He didn't direct an extended drive until about midway through the third quarter.
“You got to play well, you got to do things right and execute,” Flacco said. “We don't need a wake-up call. We're really not a team that needs that. That's tough to explain, but we have a great group of guys in there. We just didn't play well tonight.”
While much of the attention will inevitably be on his poor performance, Flacco had plenty of company. Running back Ray Rice rushed eight times for just 28 yards and fumbled once, ending his streak of 522 regular-season touches without a fumble.
Boldin was blanketed all night by Rashean Mathis and didn't catch his first pass until there was 5:58 left in the third quarter. One play later, Rice rushed 12 yards to give the Ravens their first down of the night.
The offensive line was overpowered repeatedly, allowing three sacks and numerous other hits on Flacco, and failing to open up any holes in the running game.
“Bad football for much of the game except for that three-minute span where I thought we played all right,” Flacco said. “But that's not a good percentage when you play a 60-minute football game.”
The defense was mostly solid, harassing rookie Blaine Gabbert for much of the night. But forced to be on the field for such long stretches without much of an interruption, the Ravens allowed Maurice Jones-Drew to rush for 105 yards on 30 carries.
A running into the kicker penalty on Paul Kruger led to the second of Josh Scobee's two 54-yard field goals in the first half, and an unnecessary roughness penalty on safety Bernard Pollard — on what appeared to be a questionable call — prolonged the Jaguars' opening drive of the second half that ended with a 22-yard field goal by Scobee and a 9-0 Jacksonville lead.
Also on that drive, linebacker and special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo was ejected for striking Jaguars offensive tackle Guy Whimper in the helmet. But the Ravens problems were almost exclusively on the offensive end.
There may not have been one play or one sequence that encapsulated an offensive effort this poor, but the one series that did it the most justice came early in the second quarter with the Ravens trailing 3-0. The Ravens had a first-and-10 from the Jaguars' 45. When Sam Koch, his team's best offensive weapon all night, dropped back to punt, it was fourth-and-43 from the Ravens' 22.
The drive featured a 5-yard loss on Flacco's pass to tight end Dennis Pitta, an incompletion to Rice sandwiched around two Michael Oher holding penalties, and a Flacco completion to himself that resulted in an 8-yard loss. The ball was batted by Jeremy Mincey and Flacco caught it before sliding down for the big loss.
He didn't have much luck completing the ball to anybody else in the first half. Over the first 30 minutes, the Ravens went 0-for-8 on third downs — as did the Jaguars in the first half — and had just 15 yards rushing and 1 yard passing. They also had fumbled the ball twice, losing one of them.
The Ravens talked all week about what a great opportunity it was to play on Monday night, and then their offense went out and played about as bad of a first half as a team could play.
At the end of the first quarter, the Ravens had no first downs and just 14 total yards of offense on 13 plays. Flacco was just 2-for-7 for five yards. Rice had 5 total rushing yards on three carries and one fumble.
That they trailed only 3-0 after the quarter was due to the Jaguars' own offensive ineptitude and the Ravens' ability to get to Gabbert, the 10th overall pick in April's draft. Jones-Drew's inability to hold on to the ball also helped.
After Rice's fumble — his first in 522 regular-season touches, the longest such streak in the NFL — gave Jacksonville the ball on the Ravens' 34, Jones-Drew achieved the game's initial first down with an 11-yard run at the 8:52 mark.
Embattled Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio then opted to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Ravens' 15, and Jones-Drew took the direct snap and rumbled 12 yards.
However, on the very next play, Jones-Drew dived toward the goal line and fumbled the ball after he was hit by safety Ed Reed; linebacker Jameel McClain recovered. The officials ruled that Jones-Drew was down by contact, but Harbaugh challenged the call, and it was reversed. The first quarter came to a merciful end after Koch's fourth punt, but the Ravens' offensive struggles didn't. In fact, a case could be made that they were even worse in the second quarter.
Four more drives in the second half ended the same way, with Koch back to punt. On their first drive of the second quarter, Flacco fumbled on the first play, and then Rice fumbled on the third, and Jacksonville recovered. The play was reviewed and the Ravens kept the ball, only to punt again.
Another miscue, this one a call on linebacker Paul Kruger for running into the punter, set the Jaguars up for another long field goal to give the Jaguars a 6-0 lead.
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