Ravens hit preseason low in loss to Vikings

The Baltimore Sun

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Ravens' road troubles apparently aren't limited to the regular season.

In their sloppiest effort of the preseason, the Ravens stumbled badly Friday night, losing to the Minnesota Vikings, 30-7, at the Metrodome in an all-too-familiar showing.

A team that has lost 11 straight regular-season games on the road, the Ravens (1-2) looked equally out of sync on offense and defense in their first preseason outing away from home.

Their pass defense left receivers open. Their running game faltered in Jamal Lewis' absence.

And even their highly efficient passing attack was off-target. Steve McNair's first interception of the preseason was returned 69 yards for a touchdown by Vikings cornerback Fred Smoot, a turnover that coach Brian Billick chalked up to a "blown route" by receiver Mark Clayton.

"It was a miserable performance," Billick said after the Ravens' worst preseason loss in franchise history. "It's unfortunate to play that way [because] it's going to require us to do some things that you'd like not to do in the last week of the preseason. The mental errors were perplexing. We're going to be busy over the next week trying to find out how we could perform like that."

A visibly angered Billick did not rule out playing his starters for an extended period in the preseason finale (they usually play less than a quarter) or putting on the pads again in practice for more physical and intense practices.

"We will determine exactly what we have to do to come back from a miserable performance like that," Billick said.

The biggest disappointment was a Ravens offense that had been making strides in the preseason.

Running backs Musa Smith and Mike Anderson failed to replace Lewis, who is missing the final two preseason games with a hip injury. They combined for 14 yards on nine carries (1.6-yard average) in the first half with the starters.

Smith, the NFL's leading rusher of the preseason, failed to break a run longer than 6 yards in the first half. According to Smith, it was more of a problem with the offensive line than the running backs.

"When you struggle up front, it's not a good game for the running backs," Smith said.

McNair, who finished 13-for-17 for 80 yards, didn't get much help from the running game or his offensive line. He took more hits last night than in his previous three quarters of work. McNair finished with two sacks but he had to consistently dodge pressure coming from the edges as well as up the middle.

By the time the Ravens' starters left at halftime, the two biggest gains when the offense was on the field were both penalties on the Vikings (a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty and a 19-yard pass interference one).

"It wasn't about them. It was more about us," McNair said. "I think we made too many mental mistakes for the third game of the season."

There were signs of a setback early, as the Ravens were out-gained 95-12 in the first quarter.

The Vikings quickly moved the ball down the field on their first two series, as quarterback Brad Johnson completed seven of his first 10 passes for 75 yards.

Ryan Longwell converted a 45-yard field goal to put Minnesota up, 3-0, but he then missed a 40-yarder.

"I think we played pretty well," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We gave up three points. To give up three points in any ballgame and get off the field the way we did, I have to tip my hat to our defense once again."

The Ravens' starting offense, which had been in its opponents' territory on its first six drives of the preseason, failed to do so on back-to-back possessions in the first half before making its worst mistake of the summer.

Marching the Ravens to the Vikings' 32-yard line, McNair threw to the sideline to Clayton, who wasn't expected to take such a wide angle outside after faking a move to the inside.

McNair's first interception of the preseason (it came on his 34th attempt) staked the Vikings to a 10-0 lead with 4:50 left in the second quarter. After the turnover, McNair stood on the sideline, shaking his head in frustration.

"[McNair] wasn't alone on that interception," offensive coordinator Jim Fassel said. "That was a play that had a couple of mistakes. We'll get that corrected."

Showing his resilience, McNair led the Ravens to the Minnesota 28-yard line with 30 seconds left in the first half.

Then , in continuing the Ravens' troublesome night, Matt Stover missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt wide right. It was the first miss of the preseason for Stover.

The mistakes didn't stop when the backups entered to start the second half.

A 25-yard pass interference penalty on Ravens safety Jamaine Winborne led to a 38-yard field goal by Longwell to increase Minnesota's lead to 13-0. After Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller ran in a 1-yard touchdown, the Vikings responded with a 77-yard pass, putting Minnesota ahead 20-7 early in the fourth quarter.

Two turnovers in the final 5:18 provided a fitting ending for the Ravens. An interception of third-string quarterback Brian St. Pierre resulted in a 23-yard field goal, and defensive end Khreem Smith ran back a St. Pierre fumble 29 yards for a touchdown.

The debacle became another question mark on the road for the Ravens, who haven't won away from home in the regular season since November 2004.

Asked if the effort had anything to do with playing on the road, Billick responded, "That performance would have got your [butt] kicked at home as well."


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