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Offense fails as Ravens lose third straight

Baltimore Ravens fullback Vonta Leach is tackled by Denver Broncos defenders Kevin Vickerson, Justin Bannan, Champ Bailey and Wesley Woodward during the first half of the Ravens' Sunday, Dec 16, 2012 loss to the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Baltimore Ravens fullback Vonta Leach is tackled by Denver Broncos defenders Kevin Vickerson, Justin Bannan, Champ Bailey and Wesley Woodward during the first half of the Ravens' Sunday, Dec 16, 2012 loss to the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

BALTIMORE - Elvis Dumervil eluded the block of Ravens left tackle Michael Oher, easily working his way into Baltimore's backfield to throw Joe Flacco for a sack and provide one final bit of frustration for the Ravens' offense.

The sack provided a fitting end for Baltimore's offense amid Sunday's 34-17 loss to the Broncos.

Cam Cameron may be gone, but many of the issues that plagued the offense prior to Cameron's dismissal remain.

The Ravens' first seven possessions Sunday consisted of five three-and-outs and two turnovers, and they didn't score their first touchdown until already trailing 31-3 early in the fourth quarter.

"I think it was a matter of us going out there and not doing some of the simple things right early on," Flacco said, "and it kind of took us awhile to get into that groove that we really needed to be successful."

But, as was the case even prior to Sunday, the offensive struggles were about more than just the offensive coordinator.

Flacco was erratic, the offensive line struggled at times - both in pass protection as well as in the run game - and the Ravens' receiving corps had problems getting open against a physical and athletic Broncos secondary.

"We just, as players, didn't execute as cleanly as we would have liked," Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta said. "There's a lot of plays out there we would like to have back."

None more so than Flacco's interception in the flnal minute of the second quarter.

With the Ravens trailing just 10-0 and facing a first-and-goal from Denver's 4-yard line, Flacco was intercepted by Broncos safety Chris Harris. Harris returned the interception 98 yards for a momentum-shifting touchdown.

"As much as we weren't playing very well in the first half, we still had that opportunity at the end of it to go down there, put points on the board and really put a touchdown on the board and then get the ball coming out of the half," Flacco said. "That could have changed the game. It's a 14-point swing, and that really hurt us."

Flacco threw two late touchdowns to Pitta, but was just 16-of-34 for 148 yards with a fumble and the interception during the first three quarters.

He finished Sunday with a Total Quarterback Rating of 0.4 out of 100, the second lowest of any quarterback this season using the rating system developed by ESPN. The only quarterback to finish with a lower rating? Flacco during the Ravens' 43-13 loss to the Texans in Week 7.

But Flacco wasn't the only problem Sunday.

Aside from Pitta's two late scoring catches, the trio of Pitta, Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin combined for just 47 yards on six catches.

Smith was limited to one catch for 14 yards prior to leaving with a concussion during the second half and Boldin was held without a catch for the first time since his third season with the Arizona Cardinals in 2005.

Meanwhile, running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce combined for just 58 yards on 17 carries as Baltimore's offensive line struggled to create running lanes against a stout Broncos front seven.

Boldin was asked if the struggles could be attributed at all to the transition from Cameron to new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.

"It's not really about the play calling. It's about the players on the field," Boldin said. "Whatever is called, you've got to go out and execute it."

Added Rice: "The plays were the same. The playbook was the same. Same play calls, we just didn't execute."

Yet, Baltimore trailed just 10-0 late in the second quarter as its patchwork defense forced punts on five of the Broncos' first seven possessions.

But Harris' interception return for a touchdown gave Denver a 17-0 lead heading into halftime and the Broncos stretched their advantage to 31-3 by the time Flacco found Pitta for a 31-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

"The defense played a heck of a game. It was our job to score," Rice said. "We'll take this one. We'll put it on our shoulders."

Denver outgained Baltimore 350-278, including 307-204 during the first three quarters.

The Ravens had just 34 yards and one first down on their first six possessions of the first half, averaging less than two yards per play to that point.

They finished 1-of-12 on third down.

Baltimore still managed to clinch a playoff spot Sunday - as a result of the Steelers' overtime loss to the Cowboys - but they now lead the AFC North by just one game with two weeks remaining in the season. It's their first three-game skid since 2008 and the first time they've lost successive games at home since 2007.

"We've just got to get back to fundamentals," Baltimore center Matt Birk said. "I know sometimes like this it can feel like you can't do anything right or you can't get a break, but it's not that bad. You always go back to fundamentals, and I think the thing about this team is with the type of guys we have and the mindset here is that we're a resilient bunch.

"Obviously we're disappointed with the performance that we had today, but guys know you use it to get better. Failure is a great teacher, so we'll watch the film, make corrections and keep working on the fundamentals."

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