Mike Preston: Ravens can't afford another embarrassing loss like this

The Ravens’ loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on the international stage in Wembley Stadium was the type that get head coaches fired, but that would be a premature decision.

Now if it happens again ...

NFL teams are usually allowed one nightmarish game a season and the Ravens had one of those Sunday in a 44-7 loss, one of the worst defeats in team history.

After the game the Ravens critics were already writing off the season. They were declaring the Ravens as pretenders because they had beaten Cleveland and Cincinnati but couldn’t handle a perennial loser like the Jaguars.

The Ravens really aren’t as bad as they showed Sunday. There are a number of words to describe the loss to Jacksonville. Horrible. Pathetic. Embarrassing. Painful. These are just a few.

But New England plays a game like this every year. Only a few weeks ago, the Patriots were embarrassed by Kansas City, so the Ravens get a reprieve. But right now owner Steve Bisciotti has to have an eyebrow raised and if it happens again there could be trouble brewing.

The Ravens played this kind of a stinker in the 2016 season finale against Cincinnati. Since then they have beaten a Bengals team that didn’t score a touchdown in its first two games and a Browns team that started a rookie quarterback. The Ravens aren’t overrated; they just haven’t played a good team yet.

And after the loss to Jacksonville, there is still uncertainty about them having played a good team. The Ravens turned in a dud.

“Yeah, it happens,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said of the poor performance. “Jacksonville is a good team. We knew it. We didn’t overlook them by any means. We don’t overlook anybody in this league.

“You know, it’s just tough. Sometimes the ball gets rolling. They make a few plays. We don’t create field position, don’t get a stop and before you know it, it’s 20-0 before you blink and it’s out of hand.”

Two things were clearly noticeable in the loss. The Ravens played with no energy and they were outcoached. That’s the two things an owner has to keep an eye on, especially with a coach who is in his 10th season. Forget the contract extension. The Ravens haven’t been to the playoffs in three of the last four years. That’s the bottom line.

That’s what got Brian Billick fired after the 2007 season when they had several lackluster performances. Plus, owners have a lot of pride and they don’t like being embarrassed, especially in one of the NFL’s showcase games.

So if this lethargic effort was because of jet lag the Ravens shouldn’t play in London again, or Mexico or Moscow or Peru. As bad as the Ravens are on the road under Harbaugh they shouldn’t play any place outside of Cleveland.

On Sunday, the Ravens played as if they had a 53-man inactive roster instead of an active one. If this had been a Pop Warner game they would have stopped it after the third quarter.

The Ravens had -1 yard of total offense in the first quarter. Midway in the third they faced a first-and-30 situation at their own 23. Joe Flacco finished with a QB rating of 12.0 and completed just eight of 18 passes for 28 yards.

Was this the pass happy NFL or Woody Hayes at Ohio State?

Jacksonville took the Ravens’ defense to school. The Jaguars ran straight at them and then threw short over the middle and in the flats. Then they isolated the Ravens linebackers in one-on-one coverage and attacked their safeties with tight end Marcedes Lewis.

The Ravens had no answers, and that’s what concerns me. It’s one thing to get outplayed by Pittsburgh, Kansas City or New England, but these were the Jaguars. The Ravens even had more fans here even though the Jaguars had been coming to London for years.

This was like traveling thousands of miles to get punched in the stomach by the Buffalo Bills, or worse yet, the New York Jets.

“We have to correct our mistakes, make adjustments in certain spots because we can certainly play better defense,” Ravens Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “I never thought we were going to go undefeated in 16 games. It’s just one game and there are 13 more left. That’s a lot of football.”

That’s true, but this was a big game for the Ravens. If they had won they would have been 3-0 with two big games coming up against rival Pittsburgh and then off to Oakland. The Ravens could have had a bye after traveling to London but decided to stay with the normal rotation.

It was a gamble and we’ll see how that decision pans out. The Ravens will improve on defense, but there are still a lot of questions about the offense. What Sunday’s game showed is what will happen if the Ravens’ defense doesn’t bring its “A” game every week.

The Ravens can’t match another team’s high-powered offense. Once they get behind they can’t catch up because they lose the element of surprise by not being able to run the ball. Without Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda they have only one player on the line, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who could start for most NFL teams.

They don’t have a big-play performer at running back or receiver and the intermediate to long-range passing game has been absent all season.

But the Ravens were calm in the locker room after the game. They said there was no reason to panic or give up because it was just one loss, regardless if it was by one point or 37.

“Mentally, we have to put this game behind us,” right guard Matt Skura said. “It’s like plays. You can’t let one affect you and if you have a bad one you have to move on to the next one. You have to do that with games as well.”

There can be no pattern of bad games. In fact, there shouldn’t be another poor one like this one, period. As the final gun sounded Sunday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh walked over to shake the hand of Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone and then he went straight to the locker room without talking to anyone.

He was mad and disappointed.

And the team’s owner had to feel the same way. He just got embarrassed on an international stage. This can’t happen again, not even in the states.

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