The Baltimore Sun

Heading into a tough road stretch - three of their next four games are away from home - the Ravens should have confidence after winning two straight games.

But there's no sense of momentum.

In the past two games, the Ravens have looked shaky down the stretch, barely hanging on at the end after failing to maintain 17-point leads in the final quarter.

Are the Ravens concerned about fading the past two weeks?

"I'm always concerned about everything," coach Brian Billick said. "There's been a lot of critiquing [by coaches and players], and there's a lot of critiquing that needs to go on. But, at the end of the day, I'm not going to let this team forget that they won the two games and they are now 50-1 with a 14-point lead."

The Ravens needed Ray Lewis' interception in the end zone with 63 seconds left to beat the New York Jets, 20-13, on Sept. 16 in a game that they led 20-3 one play into the fourth quarter.

A week later, they needed Matt Stover's 46-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Arizona Cardinals, 26-23, in a game that they led 23-6 to start the fourth quarter.

This trend of near collapses is surprising considering the Ravens' history of closing out opponents.

Last season, the Ravens dominated opponents in the fourth quarter, outscoring them 105-55 in the final 15 minutes. This season, the Ravens have been backpedaling in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 35-16.

"Are we concerned? No," receiver Derrick Mason said, "because I know that we have the character, we have the talent and we have the personnel to press through something like that. Games are not easy in this league, whether you're up 21 or up three going into the fourth quarter. As a team, you have to buckle down."

Here are the four reasons the Ravens have sweated out the fourth quarter:

Suspect secondary

When teams are trailing the Ravens in the fourth quarter, they are forced to pass, which has exposed mismatches and missed communication in the secondary.

Jets and Cardinals receivers were running wide open, catching six passes of more than 20 yards against the Ravens in the fourth quarter.

"They're a prideful group," Billick said of the secondary. "I'm not going to have a tough time motivating them heading into this week's practices."

Against the Jets, the Ravens' defensive backs acknowledged a lack of focus. Against Arizona's no-huddle attack, the Ravens lacked poise.

As a result, two backup quarterbacks - the Jets' Kellen Clemens and the Cardinals' Kurt Warner - combined to throw for 327 yards in the fourth quarter and recorded a 114.0 rating.

If those two had so much success against the Ravens, what will Peyton Manning and Tom Brady do to them later in the season?

Second-half offense

Even though the Ravens have remained aggressive by throwing the ball, it hasn't shown up on the scoreboard.

In the past two games, the Ravens have managed three field goals in 11 second-half drives, a touchdown-less span of 69 plays. They haven't reached the red zone in the final quarter the past two weeks, getting as close as the opponents' 28-yard line.

If the Ravens had scored second-half touchdowns against the Jets and the Cardinals, the games wouldn't have come down to the end. It's not like the past, when the Ravens were guaranteed to win if they scored more than 20 points because their defense was so dominant.

Lack of pressure

One of the most pressurized situations for a quarterback is leading his team back in the fourth quarter.

But the Ravens certainly haven't added to that pressure.

In the past two games, the Ravens have not recorded a sack in the fourth quarter. They have pressured the Jets and the Cardinals only seven times (three quarterback hits and four hurries) on 33 fourth-quarter pass attempts, giving Clemens and Warner time to throw deep downfield.

The lack of a pass rush is a result of losing defensive lineman Trevor Pryce, the Ravens' sack leader from last season, who broke his wrist in the third quarter against the Jets.

The Ravens have tried to generate more of a pass rush, sending five or more players 24 percent of the time. They have played a passive style - rushing just three defenders - on 15 percent of pass plays in the fourth quarter.

Not grounded enough

In some ways, the Ravens' offense is the one throwing away leads.

In the past two fourth quarters, the Ravens have gone away from the run and left too much time for teams to come back.

When they had the lead against the Jets and the Cardinals, the Ravens rushed on 10 of 22 fourth-quarter plays (not counting punts). Of the 12 pass plays, five have been incomplete, which stopped the clock.

During the past two weeks, the Ravens have lost the time-of-possession battle (17:16 to 12:44) at a point of the game when they should be dominating it.

"I understand the critiques that will go on about our play and our play-calling," Billick said. "It doesn't really matter what led to it. If it worked, it was good. If it didn't, it was bad."

(all statistics from past two games)

327 -- Passing yards allowed in the fourth quarter

10 Number of times they've run the ball in 22 plays while leading in the fourth quarter

9 -- Points by the offense on 11 second-half drives

0 -- Sacks by the defense on 33 pass attempts in the fourth quarter

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