The Ravens had nearly two weeks to prepare an offensive game plan for the Indianapolis Colts, and after watching yesterday's 15-6 loss in the AFC divisional playoffs, was this the best they could come up with?
They couldn't score a touchdown at home against a team that had the 21st-ranked defense. They couldn't run against a team that had the worst rush defense in the league. They couldn't gain a rhythm in a West Coast offense that is predicated on short passes. For all the talk about a rejuvenated offense, the new offense looked a lot like the old, unsuccessful one.
"They [the Colts] did a lot of things that were successful," Ravens tight end Todd Heap said. "Obviously, their two outside guys rushed very well on passing downs. They stuck to their schemes."
The Ravens didn't stick to theirs, or maybe they didn't have one. The Colts played a super game against the run last week against Kansas City, but no one thought they could do it again. They didn't have to. The Ravens, a team that couldn't run all season, shut their own running game down.
Running back Jamal Lewis had 42 yards on nine carries in the first half, and the Ravens only trailed 9-3 at the half. But he touched the ball only four times for 11 yards in the second half. It appeared as though every time quarterback Steve McNair saw a Colts safety come near the line of scrimmage, the Ravens went to a pass.
They were predictable. The only weapon working was Lewis, especially with McNair playing so poorly and Indianapolis trying not to give up a big pass play. Instead of giving up, the Ravens should have continued to pound at the Colts, hoping to wear them down. At least that would have made the play-action game more effective, and that has been the Ravens' forte this season.
Instead, we again saw receivers running routes 2 and 3 yards short of the first down. We saw the Colts tackle cleanly after short receptions, much like the Cincinnati Bengals earlier this season. There were no new wrinkles to surprise the Colts, just a Ravens team that converted just two of 11 third-down situations. And they couldn't slow the Colts' pass rush.
"If you can't win a playoff game, all that you've done during the regular season means nothing. That's what people will remember," Ravens receiver Derrick Mason said. "What did you do in the playoffs? Anytime you can hold that offense to 15 points, you should be able to win a football game, and we didn't."
For years, the defense has been the heart of this team, but the group couldn't bail out the Ravens in the final quarter yesterday.
Up 12-6 with 7:39 left in the game, the Colts went on a 13-play, 47-yard drive. It included running the ball on third-and-two and third-and-four for first downs. Adam Vinatieri finished the drive with a 35-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining.
For all the trash talking done by the Ravens last week, this was the time to turn it up. Maybe the Colts weren't as soft as the Ravens thought.
Now that the season is over, it will be interesting to see what happens with this team. This would be the ideal time to bring in a young quarterback who could learn from McNair. With backup Kyle Boller having one year remaining on his contract, the Ravens wouldn't have to thrust the youngster into the No. 2 role, either.
As for the veterans, the Ravens will have to make a decision on cornerback Samari Rolle and Lewis. Rolle could play as a nickel back and cover the No. 3 receiver. He still has great technique, works hard and teaches the younger players. Lewis was still effective this season, but he will have to take a pay cut to remain with the team.
Even at this point in his career, there still aren't 10 running backs in the league better than Lewis.
Working the pocket
Though they hurried him numerous times, the Ravens sacked Colts quarterback Peyton Manning just once. Manning doesn't have great scrambling ability, but he is like McNair and New England's Tom Brady. All three have the ability to sidestep or step up in the pocket.
McNair had problems stepping up in the pocket yesterday because the inside rush shut down his passing lane. He made the offensive line look a lot better than it was this season, which offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden alluded to last week.
Here's the but
The Ravens played better than anyone expected this season. If anyone had told me at the beginning of the season that the Ravens would go 13-3 and get a first-round playoff bye, I would have thought they were crazy.
But when you win 13 games, have a bye, have 12 Pro Bowl players among the 22 offensive and defensive starters and are playing at home in the second round, it's extremely disappointing to watch a loss like yesterday's.
The Colts appear to be back to playing "Dungy" ball, in which they rely on field goals instead of trying to score touchdowns. The term was coined when Indianapolis' Tony Dungy was the head coach at Tampa Bay. It was never more evident than in the first quarter. On a second-and-three from the Ravens' 5-yard line, the Colts ran halfback Joseph Addai twice for no gain before settling for a 23-yard field goal from Vinatieri.
The Ravens might have the No. 1 defense in the league, but the Colts have two great receivers in Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Manning is also one of the league's top quarterbacks.
Sometimes there is such a thing as too much respect.