The Ravens' biggest problem from Day One is just as glaring in Week 12.
A team with no major offensive players took a painful lesson from one that is loaded, as the Jacksonville Jaguars scored 23 fourth-quarter points yesterday to defeat the upset-minded Ravens, 30-23, before 68,428 at PSINet Stadium.Jaguars receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, who have had some of their biggest days against the Ravens, combined for 18 catches, 234 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and quarterback Mark Brunell was a sizzling 11-for-14 in the fourth quarter for 107 yards.
Jacksonville's game-winning 12-play, 78-yard drive against the Ravens' No. 2-ranked defense was a beauty. Brunell chopped up the Ravens with passes of 5, 17 and 13 yards to Smith over the middle, and then threw passes of 4 and 21 yards to McCardell, the short one leading to a first down on fourth-and-one at the Ravens' 34.
Jacksonville mixed in a few short runs by James Stewart, who scored the winning touchdown on a 4-yard run up the middle with 1: 39 left in the game. Brunell completed a two-point conversion pass to Smith in the left corner of the end zone to complete the comeback and finish the Ravens (4-7), who have yet to beat Jacksonville (10-1) in eight games.
The Ravens came into the game wanting respect from Jacksonville, and they may have earned it, but they also earned another loss.
"The talent is clearly there, the want is clearly there, the desire is clearly there -- it is clearly frustrating," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "The world in the NFL is black and white. You win or you lose. There's no value in losing. There is value in working hard and making improvements, but, at this level, I don't need to build any more character from losing.
"When you have as many playmakers as they have, yeah, it's a great advantage," Billick said. "You know at some point it will reach up and grab you. They've got a great mixture."
Jacksonville has the enormous talent, especially at quarterback, to overcome its mistakes, and the Ravens don't. The Jaguars also have playoff experience and a killer instinct. The Ravens have yet to record a winning season and can't finish off teams, as indicated by three previous three-point losses.
Brunell, a Pro Bowl player, threw two interceptions in the third quarter, but he still finished strong. He opened the fourth quarter with an eight-play, 61-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to McCardell that pulled the Jaguars to 16-14 with 11 minutes left in the game.
It was that kind of day for the Jacksonville offense. When the Jaguars needed a play, they got one from McCardell or Smith, who became the first receivers to gain more than 100 yards against the Ravens this season, or Brunell. Jacksonville had 388 yards of total offense and peppered the Ravens with long passes over the middle. Jacksonville also was nine of 18 in third-down efficiency.
That's what was particularly disturbing for the Ravens. The big-play defense didn't deliver any big plays in the fourth quarter, and the Ravens' cornerbacks seldom challenged Smith and McCardell, who drifted through their soft zones behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties.
"When Brunell is scrambling around and buying time, it's hard to cover those guys," said Ravens safety Rod Woodson. "But that's no excuse. We got killed on third down. One time one guy wouldn't do his job, and then one time we had a guy pass rush when he shouldn't have. There was always a breakdown. You want to get a team in third-and-long, and that's when your defense should make plays. That didn't happen for us."
Billick said of Jacksonville's third-down efficiency: "We weren't able to prevent that. Coming in, we knew what we had to do, and we didn't get the job done. Those type of passes are draining, and they take a lot of emotion out of a team."
Perhaps no player puts the Ravens on more of an emotional ride than quarterback Tony Banks. He completed 17 of 34 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns. But he also had three passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage, and his interception, which defensive end Tony Brackens returned for a 21-yard touchdown with 10: 44 left in the game to give the Jaguars a 22-16 lead, turned around the game's momentum.
The interception came off a simple play, a screen to the left that the Ravens had run several times yesterday. But this time, Brackens, who had been getting beat by left tackle Jonathan Ogden most of the afternoon, decided not to rush, and Banks couldn't lift the pass over his outstretched hands.
Brackens ran in for an easy touchdown, which came 16 seconds after McCardell's touchdown.
"I think he took a step forward today," Billick said of Banks, his third starting quarterback this season. "He did some things pretty well. I'll have to look at the equation in its totality. The emotion of the interception return, you could feel the letdown on the sidelines of semi-hopelessness. We fought back. We had a lot to fight through."
"I tried to get depth and drop it over his head," Banks said. "For some reason, he disengaged [Ogden] and got it. Offensively, we played better this time than last time [in Jacksonville, a 6-3 Ravens loss]. We even converted some defensive turnovers into points, but we're not consistent yet."
The Ravens could have taken total control early in the second quarter. Leading 10-0 with the ball on the Jacksonville 10, Banks rolled right but was tackled by Brackens and lost the ball, which Lonnie Marts recovered at the 15.
That turnover was converted into an 85-yard drive and an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brunell to Smith. Corey Harris returned the ensuing kickoff 66 yards, but the Ravens actually lost a yard in three plays, and Kyle Richardson had to punt from the Jacksonville 36 with 8: 37 left in the half.
"There's no greater pain than lost opportunities," Billick said. "We had lost opportunities."
That's because the Ravens don't have any high-impact offensive players. Blue-chippers make big plays inside the opposition's 20. Instead, the Ravens had to settle for field goals of 46, 31 and 33 yards by Matt Stover, who has now become the team's most consistent offensive weapon along with Richardson.
But the Ravens, who had only 280 yards of total offense, still had chances. Even after Brackens' touchdown, Banks took the Ravens on one more emotional ride. On third-and-10 from the Jacksonville 49, Banks passed 46 yards to receiver Jermaine Lewis down the left sideline. A play later, Banks tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to fullback Chuck Evans in the right flat to put the Ravens ahead 23-22 with 6: 26 left in the game.
But that just exposed another weakness and showed the difference between the Ravens and Jacksonville.
"No question, this was a gut-check game," Brunell said. "When things weren't very good and it looked as if they had our number today, we kept fighting and Tom [Coughlin, Jaguars coach] said at halftime, 'This is what championship teams are made of, and this is a game that really will help show your character,' and it did. It showed the character of this team."
Ogden said the Ravens are still on the other side of the spectrum.
"I don't know if, mentally, we're where we need to be in order to turn that corner," he said. "We have to toughen up everybody mentally and be able to finish a game off. When you're that close all of the time and you end up losing, it's not a physical thing. We've got to get that killer instinct. Until we have that, it doesn't matter. We're going to be close all of the time."