Falling faster than another penalty flag, the Ravens melted down in a 35-17 loss to the Detroit Lions yesterday, leaving them with the worst start in franchise history at 1-3 and a disturbing portrait of a team that lacks discipline.
The Ravens' fifth straight road loss delivered such forgettable images as Terrell Suggs arguing face-to-face with an official, Chris McAlister throwing the ball at a receiver after an interception and Maake Kemoeatu flashing an obscene gesture to the Ford Field crowd.
The Ravens are no longer the most talented team in the Brian Billick era, a claim made by the coach at the start of training camp. But they might be his most ill-tempered group, one that seems to be unraveling by the week.
"Clearly, what happened out there was giving in to the emotion of the situation," Billick said. "Passion, emotion and intensity are good, but you've always got to be under control. And we clearly didn't have that today."
Some of the Ravens players said they were not the only ones who had trouble separating their emotions, questioning how they were penalized 14 more times than the Lions. The Ravens finished with four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
"I think the refs just let their feelings get into it a lot," Ravens receiver Derrick Mason said coming off the field. "They crossed the line."
The one time the Ravens did have control of their emotions and the game was early in the third quarter.
Coming back from two touchdowns down, the Ravens closed within 14-10 and drove to Detroit's 31-yard line. But after two plays resulted in negative yards and an incompletion, Billick decided to punt rather than go for a 51-yard field goal.
Detroit (2-2) responded with an 18-play, 73-yard drive that ate up 9 1/2 minutes, courtesy of the Ravens. Four penalties gave critical first downs to the Lions, helped them crack a gritty goal-line stand by the Ravens and staked them to a 21-10 lead.
"I thought we were very focused in terms of what we addressed in the locker room," Billick said. "We came out and moved the ball very well. We kind of lost control of it at that point."
On that drive's 13th play - a second-and-goal from the Ravens' 6 - Suggs was flagged for roughing the passer after a Joey Harringon incompletion.
He quickly ran on top of referee Mike Carey to argue the call and was immediately ejected. It wasn't clear from television replays whether Suggs made any contact.
Suggs left the locker room before reporters entered after the game.
"He bumped me with malice in his heart and he was gone," Carey said. "He said a number of things to me."
Nevertheless, the Ravens had appeared to stop the Lions after three tries from the 1-yard line. But Kemoeatu was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving Detroit another first down at the goal line.
Carey said Kemoeatu made an obscene gesture to the crowd.
"I was celebrating the defense having a good stop," Kemoeatu said. "Obviously, I did something that the ref picked up. I didn't say anything to anybody. They said I was taunting the crowd. I don't know what to say on that one."
Three attempts later - capping six plays at the 1 - Artose Pinner finally broke into the end zone, a touchdown that was signaled late by the line judge.
The Ravens challenged, but the pile of players made it impossible to determine whether Pinner was stopped short of the goal line.
"I still don't think he scored," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "God himself is going to have to come down and tell me he got in the end zone, no one else."
After the extra point put the Lions ahead by 11 points, backup safety B.J. Ward was ejected for making contact with an official, even though it appeared safety Ed Reed was the one who bumped him.
Reed was apparently upset about a cut block and pointed his finger in Lions tight end Casey FitzSimmons' face. Ward and the official got caught in the middle of the argument.
So, in less than three minutes, two Ravens players were escorted off the field. It is believed no Raven had ever previously been ejected from a game.
"The last time I've seen that many ejections, I was watching WWF," Mason said.
The fourth quarter only added to the embarrassment.
The Ravens closed to 28-17 midway through that quarter on a 6-yard touchdown catch by Todd Heap. But that was preceded by Mason throwing the ball against the wall after an official turned his back on him.
Three plays after the Ravens' touchdown, Shawn Bryson ran 77 yards untouched to increase the Lions' lead to 35-17. The Ravens, the NFL's second-ranked run defense, gave up 169 yards rushing as Detroit's Kevin Jones plowed through Ravens defenders.
"Our defense did some great things today once again," Lewis said. "They made less mistakes in the officials' eyes than we did. Take it for what you want to take it."
The Ravens' first bad break came on a controversial, 27-yard fumble recovery by Jones with 5 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter. The Ravens contend Harrington had thrown the ball and the play was an incompletion.
With the Ravens standing and watching, Jones picked up a loose ball at the 29-yard line and ran it to the 2 before getting tackled. That set up the Lions' second touchdown, a 1-yard run by Jones.
After a Ravens replay challenge, officials said their ruling stood and Harrington had lost his grip before making the pass.
"You can't quit," Billick said. "You've got to go to the whistle. Everybody believed what they saw and kind of stopped. They had to convince themselves that you could pick this up and go because evidently the officials aren't going to call it."
The scoring-challenged Ravens couldn't overcome the calls, the penalties or the turnovers. There were two fumbles and two interceptions, the most costly coming when Anthony Wright's pass was picked off in the end zone in the second quarter.
In the end, the Ravens had more penalties than points.
"The most frustrating thing is we're not scoring points, plain and simple," Mason said. "Turnovers are going to happen. It's how do you react after those turnovers? We just haven't been able to put up enough points to go out there and win."
Billick's frustration stems from the fact that his players didn't listen to him in the second half.
"The last thing I told them as we left the locker room was that I did not want anyone talking to the officials," he said.
Asked if he has lost control of the team, Billick quickly said, "No. Not at all."
At the quarter point of their season, the Ravens are in last place in the AFC North and trail the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals by 2 1/2 games.
Despite their frustration and disappointment, the players publicly said they have not turned their backs on their coach.
"Of course people are going to ask that," Heap said. "No, we're a team and we're going to stick together as a team. I don't see any signs of that in this locker room."