Watching the Ravens' 43-13 loss
to the Houston Texans felt like going to a Globetrotters game in a Washington Generals jersey. It was like pulling for Ivan Drago in the 15th round of
. Rooting for the Ravens was like betting on Wile E. Coyote in a Road Runner cartoon. You know how Coyote runs off a cliff and it takes him a second to realize it and then it hits him that he's made a terrible mistake and he gazes sadly at the camera before plummeting to what should be his merciful death, but it's only 45 seconds into a seven-minute cartoon, and there's still a lot of pain left for that poor fuzzy bastard to endure? Well, if you slow down the play at 4:48 left in the first quarter, a seeming split-second before Houston linebacker Connor Barwin sacks him for a game-changing safety, Joe Flacco has that exact look on his face and is holding up a sign that reads, "Help!"
But there was no help. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron abandoned the running game while he was still on the flight to Texas. By the end of the first quarter, with the Ravens down a very surmountable six points, he was calling plays as if the score was 8 billion to -42. Ray Rice, the best player in a Ravens uniform and one of the most dangerous weapons in football, got only nine carries in the game. Only twice did the Ravens run on back-to-back plays, and Rice was inexplicably relegated to the role of decoy by the second quarter; the Texans learned quickly not to bite. The wide receivers couldn't get open, and when they did manage to make a grab, yards after the catch were practically nonexistent.
The offensive-line play was solid on the Ravens first-quarter scoring drive but faded quickly and was downright nightmarish after right tackle Kelechi Osemele was carted off the field in the second quarter with a frightening leg injury. He bravely returned in the second half but was not the same. Center Matt Birk looked like a 73-year-old man, and left tackle Michael Oher looked like he was auditioning for a career change to matador as he allowed longhorn-helmeted Texan after longhorn-helmeted Texan to zip past him on their way to Flacco. The Texans sacked Flacco four times, hit him another eight, and batted more balls than a dominatrix on call for the Republican National Convention.
And make no mistake, while this was a full-team loss, Flacco played his worst game in years. He completed only 48.8 percent of his passes, averaged less than 3.5 yards per pass, fumbled once, and threw a pair of pics against one late and lonely touchdown. His pitiful 45.4 quarterback rating was his worst in 40 games, including the playoffs, going all the way back to a week two loss to the Bengals in 2010, when he threw four interceptions. Those are some terrible numbers, but they don't begin to tell the tale of just how bad Flacco looked. He threw low, he threw high, and at one point he overthrew Torrey Smith by close to 20 yards. I'll give it to Flacco: He is as tough as they come and stayed in there despite taking a ferocious beating at the hands of an extremely talented Texans' front seven. By the end of the first half, I was convinced he was playing hurt, as Joe just doesn't miss that badly that often, but if he's in there, he's got to perform.
While I've been laying it on the offense, I should take a moment to praise the defense. They did manage to completely shut down the Texans' cheerleaders. The Texans, on the other hand, beat them like a mule their rented mule rented. Running back Arian Foster had an amazing game, rushing for 98 yards and a pair of touchdowns on only 19 carries. He showed great patience following his blocks and then exploded on first contact, and the Ravens didn't have an answer for him. Matt Schaub was as cool as the other side of a pillow made of cucumbers, throwing for 256 yards, landing two touchdowns, and leading three scoring drives of over 50 yards.
Ravens cornerbacks Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith looked lost without the injured Lardarius Webb, and safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed were so far from being on the same page I think they were in different books. The defensive line was manhandled and even all-pro tackle Haloti Ngata, who was noticeably limping between plays, faded late in the third quarter. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who took over for the injured Ray Lewis, finished with a dozen tackles, but most came well downfield and he was not stuffing the gaps.
There were three bright spots. First was the play of reigning defensive player of the year Terrell Suggs, who returned to play just six months after tearing his Achilles tendon, an injury that usually takes a year to heal. On Saturday night, Suggs posted "Beast. Mode." on his Facebook page and he lived up to it. Suggs recorded a stunning sack and two quarterback hits. He blocked a pass, pursued well from the back side, and consistently set the edge on running plays, which his understudies failed to do for most of the season.
The second bright spot was that they only lost by 30-it could have been a lot worse. The third is that they've now got the bye week to recover from what has been a punishing season so far and to try to figure out how to right the ship. The Ravens are 5-2 and own one of only three winning records in the AFC. They've played well at home, now they just have to play like that all the time and get rid of the playbook they've been using on the road. It's the one that says ACME on the cover.