A sinking feeling for Ravens

The Baltimore Sun

San Diego -- A week ago, Ravens coach Brian Billick said he wanted his players to hold on to their faint playoff hopes.

Now, the only goal should be fixing a flawed offense.

Held to 210 yards by the NFL's 25th-ranked defense, the Ravens (4-7) sputtered to a 32-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers yesterday at Qualcomm Stadium, virtually eliminating them from the postseason race and sending their disappointing season to further depths.

The Ravens' fifth straight loss marks the longest losing streak in the team's 12-year history.

The Ravens' fourth loss by a double-digit margin also moved them into last place in the AFC North.

"At some point, we're just going to find some way to break this cycle that we're in right now," Billick said. "It's not easy but we'll continue to try to find a way."

There are no easy solutions when it comes to correcting the Ravens' offense.

Quarterback Kyle Boller (21-for-33 for 191 yards) was erratic, and his receivers dropped passes they should have caught. Derrick Mason, who saw nine of the first 13 passes thrown his way, had two drops, and Devard Darling and Le'Ron McClain each dropped a pass.

Even with Marshal Yanda starting at right tackle in place of Adam Terry, the offensive line failed to get consistent push in the running game and give Boller solid pass protection. Willis McGahee was held to 59 yards rushing on 17 carries and Boller was sacked four times, taking several vicious hits.

And like his predecessor Steve McNair, Boller struggled with ball security. He fumbled twice -- losing one -- and threw two passes that should have been picked off.

Boller was unavailable to the media after the game. A team spokesman said several of Boller's family and friends were waiting for him.

That left it to his teammates to try to explain how the Ravens' offense managed its second-lowest yardage output of the season and scored just two touchdowns against a defense that hadn't held a team to fewer than 21 points this month.

"It just wasn't there," left tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "I say the same thing every week, so I don't know what to say right now."

The Ravens produced two significant series the entire game. They totaled 106 yards on their two touchdown drives and had 104 yards on their eight other possessions.

Their first quality series was jump-started by Yamon Figurs' 57-yard kickoff return in the second quarter. One play after a 23-yard pass to Mason, McGahee scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, putting the Ravens ahead 7-3.

But trying to angle the ball away from dangerous returner Darren Sproles, Matt Stover sent the ensuing kickoff out of bounds and set up San Diego (6-5) at its 40-yard line. That led to a 35-yard touchdown catch by Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, which put the Chargers ahead for good at 9-7.

"It was just a bad kick," Billick said. "That seems to be the thing that we do something well and then we do something to leave ourselves short. If we can get rid of the latter, we might have a chance."

Playing without cornerback Chris McAlister (knee) and defensive tackle Trevor Pryce (torn pectoral muscle), the defense held its own despite blown coverages that resulted in touchdowns.

The defense just didn't get help from the offense or special teams.

Stover's kickoff out of bounds, Boller's fumble while being sacked and Mike Anderson's fumble on a short kickoff all led to great field position for the Chargers. San Diego started at its 40 or better on all five series in the second quarter (including three straight possessions that began in Ravens territory) and scored every time.

That paved the way to a 22-7 halftime deficit for the Ravens.

Asked about constantly defending a short field, safety Ed Reed said: "It's something we've been talking about and we're tired of talking about it. It's only going to wear us down."

Said linebacker Ray Lewis: "That's the story of this season for us. As a defense, it's my job as a leader to keep our heads up and just keep running out there and play."

Still, it's difficult to play defense with such little margin for error. During the five-game skid, the Ravens have been held to 14 points or fewer four times.

"It's definitely one of the low ones," Ogden said. "Where do we go from here? I don't know. I just know we're not going to give up. It's just tough. It's just been really tough."

The road ahead only gets tougher for the Ravens, who play the New England Patriots (11-0) and Indianapolis Colts (9-2) the next two weeks.

"It's a great challenge," Billick said. "We're presented with a great opportunity to display to the world that we're better than we are."



A 10-minute meltdown cost the Ravens, who saw a 7-3 lead became a 22-7 halftime deficit.


Stover kickoff goes out of bounds

RESULT Starting at their 40-yard line, the Chargers score seven plays later on a 35-yard TD pass to a wide-open Gates in the middle of the field


Chargers, 9-7


Boller sacked and fumbles


Kaeding kicks 46-yard field goal


Chargers, 12-7


Ravens lose 9 yards on three plays


Working with a short field, the Chargers drive 49 yards, capped by a 5-yard TD pass to a wide-open Chambers in back of end zone


Chargers, 19-7


Anderson muffs kickoff


Kaeding kicks 41-yard field goal


Chargers, 22-7


As if a 4-7 record and five losses in a row aren't bad enough, the Ravens face four first-place teams in the final five games. Excluding the winless Dolphins, the other four teams have a combined record of 34-9.

Date ............... Opponent ..............W-L

Dec. 3 .......... New England ........11-0

Dec. 9 .......... Indianapolis ............9-2

Dec. 16 ......... @Miami .................0-10

Dec. 23 ...... @Seattle ...................7-4

Dec. 30 ....... Pittsburgh ...............7-3

Note: Steelers play host to the Dolphins tonight.

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