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Game 2: Thrown for Titanic loss

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. // Like another violent hit on quarterback Anthony Wright, the Ravens' season was rocked yesterday.

Undone by another wretched offensive performance, the Ravens were surprisingly clobbered in a 25-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans, landing in last place in the AFC North with a thud.

They couldn't run the ball. They couldn't protect their quarterback. They couldn't consistently make first downs against the NFL's youngest team, much less crack the goal line.

It seems the playoffs are as distant as the end zone these days for the Ravens. Since 1990, only 17 teams have started 0-2 and made the playoffs.

"A loss is always disappointing, but to play that way and do the things we did is hugely disappointing," said coach Brian Billick, visibly fighting his emotions. "All you can do is go back to work. There's no explaining it. We will find the answers within ourselves."

The Ravens were at a loss for words and yards. They finished with 182 yards of total offense and failed to produce a first down on 12 of 15 possessions.

No one could explain the struggles of a once-dominating running game. The Ravens managed a franchise-low 14 yards rushing, and running back Jamal Lewis averaged less than a yard per carry.

No one could explain the ongoing lapses in pass protection. Wright, who was replacing injured starter Kyle Boller, was flattened countless times -- at one point, he was sandwiched between four Titans -- and was sacked six times (one shy of the team record).

In the first two games, the new-look offense has appeared worse than the old one, which could always fall back on the running attack. The Ravens have scored two touchdowns in 28 drives, both of which have come in the fourth quarter in their hurry-up offense.

To make matters worse, this desultory effort came against a Titans defense that allowed the Pittsburgh Steelers to score on their first six possessions last week. Tennessee didn't force Pittsburgh to punt until the fourth quarter.

After their second straight double-digit loss, the Ravens' locker room was as silent as the offense has been.

"I don't know if it's a shock," tight end Todd Heap said. "But there's an attitude we've got to take as a team collectively. We can't sit back and wonder what's going on or whose fault it was. Our main focus is sticking together as a team. We've got to work through it together."

The Ravens' offense not only had trouble scoring itself -- it crossed midfield twice -- but it bailed out the Titans, too. Two turnovers led to 14 of Tennessee's 25 points.

A Lewis fumble at the Ravens' 25-yard line led to the Titans' only offensive touchdown. Three plays after the first-quarter turnover, the Ravens bit on a play-action fake and left fullback Troy Fleming wide open for a 2-yard touchdown pass.

By the time the Titans had built a 13-0 lead at halftime, the Ravens had endured their worst offensive half in history, failing to gain a first down in the first two quarters. They finished with 12 first downs, with 11 of them coming on their two scoring drives.

"Nobody knows why it happened," said Wright, who completed 25 of 40 passes for 212 yards along with tripping twice and bobbling a shotgun snap. "It seemed like whatever could happen [wrong] was happening. It was tough for us."

The Ravens opened the second half with their most succinct drive, as they moved 74 yards on 10 plays (all passes).

Wright completed seven straight throws before the series stalled with two incompletions at the Tennessee 12. The Ravens missed their opportunity for a touchdown when receiver Clarence Moore got inside position in the end zone only to watch Wright's pass sail high.

Then, after trading field goals to trail 16-3 in the third quarter, Wright was intercepted minutes later by middle linebacker Brad Kassell, who had jumped in front of receiver Mark Clayton on a slant route. Kassell's 21-yard return for a touchdown increased Tennessee's lead to 23-3 and essentially sealed the upset for the Titans (1-1).

"That was a tough one to take," Heap said of the interception.

The Ravens looked determined to establish the run from the start against a Titans defense that surrendered 206 yards rushing last week. But the Titans crammed the line with eight players, showing no fear that the Ravens could beat them with the pass.

There was no room for Lewis to run, with Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth pushing left guard Edwin Mulitalo into the backfield.

Lewis totaled 9 yards on 10 carries, with 13 yards coming on one run.

"I don't know what happened," Lewis said. "Watching them on film from last week, they looked like a totally different defense."

The Ravens' defense again held its own. On the field for 33 minutes, the Ravens dug in to limit the Titans to one offensive touchdown in the game and just three first downs in the second half.

But the Ravens' defenders were more focused on the big picture after one of the most deflating losses in team history.

"Expectations are high, and they're still high," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "Nobody is hitting the panic button just yet. There are 14 games left."

The Ravens' bye week gives them 14 days to sort out this troublesome defeat before playing the New York Jets on Oct. 2.

"This bye didn't look to be at a particularly good spot when it first came out," Billick said. "But right now, it's what we need. We've got a great deal of work to do the next two weeks, plain and simple."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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