In drive toward playoffs, offense still in neutral


INDIANAPOLIS -- The outrage that once made games with the Colts as important as any on the Ravens' schedule was missing last night.

The Ravens' players and coaches never cared, anyway; it wasn't their war. And most Baltimore fans seemingly have moved on, which is fortunate. Otherwise, the sight of the Colts' ring of honor at the RCA Dome, with Robert Irsay prominent among the honorees, would cause mass indigestion.

But the Ravens and their fans have other concerns now. Other stomach-turning issues.

There is the team's ever-shrinking shot at the playoffs, for instance. The Colts' 20-10 victory last night didn't make things any easier.

More importantly, what can be done about an offense that continues to produce too little, putting too much pressure on the team's other units?

Some might want to add the defense to the list of worries after last night. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and his high-powered offense certainly delivered enough strikes to win, especially in the second half.

But the defense didn't lose this game. It limited the Colts' offense to a field goal through the first 29 minutes, and allowed just a single length-of-the-field touchdown drive over four quarters. That's an accomplishment.

It made things difficult enough for Manning that the Ravens actually gained more yards, although that's just a statistical freak.

Yes, the Colts' offense did eventually break through, with Colts receiver Marvin Harrison embarrassing Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister on a 29-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. McAlister might still be looking for Harrison.

"It took us awhile to figure some things out, but we finally moved the ball," Colts coach Tony Dungy said.

But overall, the Ravens' defense fared as well as anyone has against the Colts' offense, which, let's face it, is just too good for the rest of the league right now, especially at home in a dome.

To borrow language from tennis, the Ravens' defense held serve against the Colts' offense, succeeding in making it a game. A lot of defenses don't.

But the Ravens' offense didn't do nearly enough to take advantage of the opportunity.

Heard that before?

Don't be misled by that yardage advantage. Quarterback Kyle Boller and the Ravens' offense produced only one field goal in the first three quarters. That's just not enough in a game with the Colts.

Yes, there was a late offensive flurry with Boller leading one drive for a touchdown and another deep into Colts territory, but it all came after the Colts were up 17. And the long-shot comeback ended in a hail of mistakes.

Down 10 with 10 minutes to play, Boller hit tight end Todd Heap at the Colts' 15, but the play was called back because Ravens center Casey Rabach was ineligibly downfield. The small penalty was huge, pushing the Ravens back 23 yards to the Colts' 38.

On fourth down in that series, Ravens receiver Clarence Moore dropped a pass that would have given the Ravens a first down inside the Colts' 15. Boller's pass was behind Moore, who was open, but the receiver should have caught it.

It was that kind of night. Heap also dropped a ball in the end zone. Boller threw two interceptions. Matt Stover's field-goal attempt in the third quarter hit one of his linemen in the head, setting up a short Colts touchdown drive.

"We turned the ball over in some unique ways," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You've got to play a complete game."

The Ravens were anything but complete or consistent.

In the first half, Boller threw a long downfield strike to Travis Taylor to put the Ravens in scoring position. On the next play, the Colts seemed to forget about Ravens tight end Darnell Dinkins, leaving him wide open in the middle of the field. But Boller didn't see him at first, then threw incomplete behind Dinkins. A sack pushed the Ravens out of field-goal range.

Same old story. The Ravens' offense, last in the league in passing, has managed just two touchdowns combined in the team's games at Philadelphia, New England and Indianapolis. Those are tough opponents, but the Ravens expected to compete with such teams in 2004.

Their offensive shortfall is the reason they haven't, leaving their playoff hopes in jeopardy.

They're now one of four teams with an 8-6 record in the hunt for the last AFC wild-card berth. With that many teams in the running, it's almost certain at least one will sweep its last two games.

The Ravens have to win at Pittsburgh on Sunday, period.

The defense can keep them in it, if last night was any indication. Its chess match with Manning and the Colts' offense was fun to watch.

"They did some really good things," Dungy said. "We don't like it when we're under 28 points."

But they weren't far under. And against the Ravens, that was enough.

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