Secondary forgot it's 60-minute game

The Baltimore Sun

It was 16 hours after the Ravens had held on for a 20-13 victory over the New York Jets, and Ravens secondary coach Dennis Thurman still had his game face on. He seemed irritated, disgruntled and was downright nasty at times.

That happens when a game that should have been a rout turns into a nail-biter because a secondary loaded with Pro Bowl players calls it a day a quarter before the game ends.

The Ravens had trouble keeping their focus. Of New York's 235 passing yards, 176 came in the fourth quarter when the Jets had scoring drives of 68 and 81 yards. The Jets also had receptions of 44, 23, 50 and 24 yards.

Worse yet, the Ravens weren't in a prevent defense. They stayed with four- and five-man fronts throughout the quarter. A year ago, the Ravens had the No. 1 defense in the league, and this group was supposed to lead the team to the Super Bowl title.

As of yesterday, the Ravens couldn't lead Thurman out of his misery. "We just lost our way, and you can't lose your way," Thurman said. "There was a lack of focus, a lack of discipline and a lack of communication, all the things you can't afford to do if you want to win a championship."

The Ravens need to cut down on the championship talk. Just win another game. On Sunday, they couldn't finish off second-year quarterback Kellen Clemens, who was making his first career start. The Ravens needed an interception from linebacker Ray Lewis on a carom off a pass that should have been caught for a touchdown by Justin McCareins.

And while the team seemed comfortable with the bottom line of just winning, Thurman wasn't. At times, the Ravens were comical, bumping into each other. They double-covered receivers, not by design, but because they didn't know where another receiver went.

Pardon me, Ed Reed, but he just went that way for 50 yards.

"When communication errors happen, big plays are the result," Thurman said. "When you combine that with a missed tackle here and a missed tackle there, all of a sudden you no longer have a comfortable lead, but you're fighting for your life."

Instead of wrapping up on tackles, Reed tried to make the big hit and missed twice in the fourth quarter, once turning a 10-yard pass over the middle to Jerricho Cotchery into a 44-yard gain. Cotchery dragged nickel cornerback Corey Ivy down the field by the arm for about 20 of those yards.

When the Ravens weren't getting beat, they were being called for interference, as both cornerback Samari Rolle and safety Gerome Sapp were penalized for knocking down receivers before the ball arrived.

The Ravens forgot fundamentals. They played a lot of cover-2 in the fourth quarter to prevent long passes. In that coverage, cornerbacks are required to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage to knock them off routes and not to allow any separation between the corners and safeties.

But Cotchery and Laveranues Coles kept coming off the line of scrimmage clean as if the Ravens didn't want to get their hands dirty.

"We're supposed to be getting our hands on receivers, throwing the timing off," Thurman said. "A breakdown somewhere else on defense can be overcome by other players. A breakdown in the secondary results in points. The last two drives they had, the last series, they realistically had a chance to tie up the game, and we got a little lucky."

Lucky? That's putting it mildly. The Jets dropped three potential game-tying touchdown passes on their last drive. If I were the Jets' coach, McCareins (who dropped two) would have been locked in the restroom on the flight back to New Jersey and unemployed yesterday morning.

McCareins, though, has never been a Pro Bowl player. Rolle has, and so have Chris McAlister and Reed. With the exception of McAlister, the entire group seemed to put it in cruise control for the fourth quarter.

"It's surprising sometimes," Thurman said. "I know when you're out there between the lines, it's much more difficult than the naked eye will understand, but at the same time, we do have three players back there who at one time were at the highest of their professions. So our expectations are high, and will continue to be high."

Uh oh, sounds like some tough talk to me. Thurman better get his players' attention because Sunday's opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, have two quality receivers in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.

If the Ravens want to take part of the day off again, they might regret it.

"We'll have our hands full," Thurman said. "The only time you can relax in this league is at the final whistle or the final gun. We can't let this happen again."

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