Game 7: Ravens can't run from errors

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — If the penalties, misplayed returns and overall lack of focus didn't get the players' attention, Ravens coach Brian Billick certainly did after the game, yelling more loudly than most can ever remember in the locker room.

The message, as a few players recounted: It's easy to point fingers at times like these, but be men and take accountability.

The translation: The Ravens' season is teetering on the brink of disaster.

Whether it was overlooking the downtrodden Buffalo Bills or looking ahead to the bye, the Ravens watched their playoff hopes take a major hit in a 19-14 loss before an announced 70,727 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Playing a Bills team that had the NFL's 31st-ranked offense and last-ranked defense, the Ravens committed 11 penalties (tying a season high), turned over the ball deep in their own territory, misplayed three returns and made another questionable play call with the game on the line.

"To a man, you got to look at yourself in the eye and say: 'Do you really want to play this game? Do you really want to go out there and give it your all?'" receiver Derrick Mason said. "You can talk it all you want. But if you want to act tough, play tough. That's my attitude, and that's everybody, including me.

"If you want to talk the talk, prove it. We have to do [that]. We're in a corner right now. And nobody can sugarcoat it. Either we're going to come out fighting like a lion or we're going to stay balled up like a cub."

On the surface, there seems to be no reason to panic. The Ravens' third road loss dropped them to 4-3. They remained a half game behind the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North. The Steelers lost to the Denver Broncos last night, 31-28.

But in the big picture, the Ravens should be worried about their playoff chances. Five of the Ravens' nine remaining regular-season games are against division leaders. In addition to facing the Steelers twice, the Ravens will play the New England Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts and the Seattle Seahawks.

"I'm not concerned at all, because this is going to show us what we got," running back Willis McGahee said. "It's going to make us or break us. I'm looking forward to the challenge."

After starting six backups against the Bills, the Ravens anticipate being close to full strength after the bye. But no one used injuries as an excuse for their flat play against the Bills (2-4).

The Ravens' defense jumped offside five times in the first half. Their offensive line had two false starts in the second.

Cornerback Corey Ivy, who was filling in for injured Chris McAlister, was beat on a 54-yard pass and was called for pass interference in the end zone on the Bills' only touchdown drive, which gave Buffalo a 19-7 lead late in the third quarter.

And rookie Yamon Figurs mishandled three returns, including one that fittingly ended the game.

"We didn't bring our 'A' game," said quarterback Kyle Boller, who started in place of the injured Steve McNair and lost his eighth straight road start.

Asked to describe the Ravens' locker room, Boller said: "It's emotional. It's a tough loss. Losing [stinks]. We got to stick together as a team and fight through this."

Despite their poor play, the Ravens had chances to win in the fourth quarter.

After an interception by Samari Rolle at the Bills' 14-yard line, Boller fired a 15-yard touchdown pass to Mason on fourth down, cutting the deficit to 19-14 with 6:34 left.

Then, with 1:59 remaining, the Ravens faced second-and-one at the Buffalo 49. Instead of calling for a running play to pick up the first down, Billick decided to throw three times - all incompletions.

"It's hugely frustrating," Billick said. "They worked hard during the week, but you knew focus was going to be the key, and we didn't have enough of it today."

The only Ravens player who seemed to show up was McGahee. In his first game back since his tumultuous departure from Buffalo, he ran 19 times for a season-best 114 yards despite being booed every time he touched the ball.

McGahee's best run was a 46-yard touchdown, which ended with him celebrating in front of the end zone crowd.

Asked whether he took satisfaction from silencing the crowd, McGahee said: "I thought it would. But, man, I really didn't care about it, to tell you the truth."

Now, the Ravens will have time to reflect on their missed opportunity. After meetings today, Billick has given his players the rest of the week off.

"Look at every game. You're a step away here, a play away there, a penalty away from being that team we know we can be. Those things add up," Mason said. "We've got to come back with an attitude, and that attitude is: We got to win every game here on out, and I don't care who we play."