Thanks to costly penalties and a collapsing offense, the Ravens were dealt another dose of disaster in a 10-6 loss to the Chicago Bears yesterday, crumbling in all-too-familiar fashion.
"We're not playing together as a team," Ravens quarterback Anthony Wright said. "That's the bottom line. The talent doesn't matter if you're not playing together as a team. We have to figure it out."
The Ravens' sixth straight road loss - the longest current streak in the NFL - dropped them to 2-4 for the first time since 1999 and kept them in a last-place tie with the Cleveland Browns in the AFC North.
"The only thing I know to do when you're a 2-4 football team is you go back to work and you work your way through it," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That's what is left of this team right now. What the rest of the year holds for us, we'll find out. But this team will stay together and it will work."
In a battle of two of the top three defenses in the NFL, the Ravens bailed out the Bears (3-3) time after time. On Chicago's two scoring drives, Ravens penalties accounted for nearly one-third of the yards (35 of 118).
But seeing flags is becoming as much tradition these days as the Ravens' offense stopping short of the end zone. In four of their six games, the Ravens have double-digit penalty totals.
"We've got to figure out how to stop getting penalties and stop killing ourselves," Wright said. "We've been killing ourselves for the last four losses. Until we stop doing that, it's going to continue to be tough for us."
Three Ravens errors - one mental and two penalty-related - played a major role in the game's only touchdown drive.
A roughing-the-passer penalty on linebacker Adalius Thomas moved the Bears into Ravens territory for the first time late in the first quarter. Three plays later, defensive back Dale Carter was called for holding on third down, which meant Chicago received a first down instead of having to punt.
The Bears ran the ball on three of the next four plays to set up the score from the 9-yard line. Expecting another run, defensive end Terrell Suggs rushed forward and let fullback Marc Edwards go right past him.
Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton hit an uncovered Edwards in the left flat and Chicago went up 7-0 with 19 seconds left in the first quarter.
"They ran the ball the whole drive, so I was pretty sure they were going to give it to [running back] Thomas Jones again to punch it in," Suggs said of the botched assignment. "They didn't do that. He got outside of me and he got the touchdown. It happens to the best of us."
As it has been all season, the Ravens lose when the defense allows just one touchdown because of a faltering offense. The Ravens crossed into Bears territory only three times in 11 drives, equaling their number of possessions without a first down (three).
Their two most productive series came in the second quarter, but the Ravens never got closer than the Chicago 10-yard line. After halftime, they never ventured past the Chicago 44.
"Maybe we need to take a couple more shots in the end zone," said Wright, who fumbled on second down at the Bears' 11. "We have to get the ball in the end zone and win some games around here."
The Ravens settled for two field goals to close within 7-6 at halftime before penalties jump-started the Bears midway through the third quarter.
An unnecessary roughness penalty on Patrick Johnson on punt coverage allowed Chicago to start at the Ravens' 45. The Ravens looked like they had escaped after an incompletion on third down, but Suggs' roughing-the-passer penalty kept the drive alive.
Chicago capitalized with a 23-yard field goal by Robbie Gould, increasing the lead to 10-6.
The Ravens' offense got the ball three more times and never threatened. A holding penalty on third down stalled one drive, and sacks ended two others. Six games into the season, the Ravens are averaging 11.5 points.
"We need to get over that hump where we're executing on a consistent basis," receiver Derrick Mason said. "One drive we're executing and then we don't do anything for three or four drives. In order for us to be a very good offense, we have to be consistent if we want to put more than six points on the board.
"We're averaging 10 points, and in this league that's not going to get you any wins. We have to find a way to score some points; that's our main agenda. Forget everything else. How are we on offense going to score some points? Six points isn't the norm in this league."
The nagging problem has been the regression of the Ravens' once-formidable running attack.
Jamal Lewis, who was limited to 3 yards or fewer on 14 of his 15 attempts, has yet to crack 100 yards in six games, the longest drought of his career. The Bears didn't even have to stack the line of scrimmage, holding Lewis in check with both safeties playing deep.
Without a running game or the opportunity to throw over the top, Wright finished 18-for-32 for 164 yards. He was sacked four times.
"We have to be able to run the ball to be good, there's no two ways about that," Billick said. "The most disappointing thing was our inability to sustain anything running the ball."
The Ravens have to correct these fatal flaws before the toughest stretch of their schedule. Four of their next five games are against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals, along with a road game against the Jacksonville Jaguars sandwiched in between.
There is a possibility they might have to play in Pittsburgh next Monday night without their top two defensive players, safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis. Reed missed his first career game with a high ankle sprain, and Lewis left the field with 8:21 remaining in the fourth quarter with a thigh injury.
"[The Steelers] are probably not taking us seriously; a lot of teams aren't going to take us seriously, especially at this point of the season," Suggs said. "The opportunity is still there. We'd better show up or it's going to be another long night."
A rough road
The Ravens' road woes continued with yesterday's 10-6 loss in Chicago. A look at the statistics from the team's first three road games, all losses that have contributed to the Ravens' 2-4 start:
Opp., Points, Rush yds., Pass yds., Total yds., 3rd-down eff., Pen.-yds.
TITANS, 10, 14, 168, 182, 4-16-25%, 10-73
LIONS, 17, 159, 228, 387, 3-11-27%, 21-147
BEARS, 6, 66, 133, 199, 6-17-35%, 11-100
Avg. 11.0, 79.7, 176.3, 256.0, 29.5%, 14-80.3