The score didn't reflect the most haphazard showing in the Harbaugh three-year era. The preseason finale at an empty Edward Jones Dome was filled with head-shaking blunders and disgraceful acts.
There was Dannell Ellerbe taunting the Rams after the linebacker returned an interception for a touchdown. There was undrafted rookie Prince Miller dropping a punt inside his 10-yard line. And there was quarterback Troy Smith, who started and played the entire game, getting intercepted at the St. Louis 1-yard line to end a horrific first half.
"Anytime you don't win a football game, you're disappointed," said Harbaugh, who had collected himself before the post-game press conference. "I'm proud of the way the guys fought."
The Ravens (3-1) had an excuse for the effort because they didn't play any of their starters while the Rams (3-1) kept their first-team unit in for most of the first quarter. As Harbaugh pointed out, the Ravens used 41 players and the Rams went with 75 players.
The Ravens' defense, which had allowed only one touchdown all preseason, gave up three. The offense was inconsistent because the rag-tag offensive line struggled to block.
Smith, who completed 18 of 38 passes (47 percent) for 237 yards and two interceptions, spent more time staring down pass rushers than looking downfield at receivers. He ran for 56 yards and scored two touchdowns.
It'll be a tough decision for the Ravens, who have to choose between giving a roster spot to a third quarterback or a position hit by injury.
"There's definitely things, as a quarterback, I wish I could take back," Smith said. "I'm leaving my stadium with my head held high."
St. Louis bolted to a 14-0 lead by driving 75 and 79 yards on its first two drives.
On the opening possession, cornerback Cary Williams was beaten for a 36-yard pass to move St. Louis in the red zone and linebacker Jason Phillips was beaten to the corner of the end zone on a two-yard touchdown throw. Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, the first pick in the 2010 draft, was 6-for-6 for 68 yards.
Backup Keith Null replaced Bradford after one series and enjoyed equal success, completing all five passes for 45 yards. Ravens safety Ken Hamlin's missed tackle allowed a 16-yard run, which set up Brandon Gibson's impressive leaping three-yard catch for a touchdown.
At one point in the second quarter, the Ravens were getting outgained 236 yards to 20.
This performance could cause Phillips, Hamlin and Miller to sweat out the final major cutdown on Saturday.
The Ravens couldn't even be proud of their best play of the first half. Ellerbe pulled in a deflected pass around midfield and outran everyone to the end zone. But the second-year player stopped at the one-yard line and extended the ball across the goal line.
"It was my first one," Ellerbe said. "I had a lot of stuff going through my mind. I didn't know what to do. But I always wanted to do that."
This disrespectful celebration led to Harbaugh chasing down Ellerbe and screaming at him for an extended period.
"I love the play we made on the interception, but I didn't like the finish to that," Harbaugh said. "That's not who we are. To his credit, the guy who did that realized that right away and said, 'I can do better than that.'"
After the Ravens stopped the Rams on the ensuing series, Miller made two costly mistakes in fielding the punt. He first tried to catch it inside his own 10-yard line after backpedaling but the ball bounced off his fingertips.
The Rams should have scored a touchdown, but Kevin Dockery couldn't fall on the ball. The Ravens' K.J. Gerard eventually grabbed it in the pile for the touchback.
"When I was tracking it, I just lost it a little bit. I was trying to make a play," Miller said. "That's what you do. You try to make plays. I'm not making excuses. Nobody's perfect."
On the Ravens' final possession of the first half, Smith drove the team down to the St. Louis one-yard line. On fourth down, Smith took a short drop but hesitated. An unblocked defensive end batted the pass, which was intercepted by Chris Chamberlain.
Running back Jalen Parmele chased down Chamblerlain 13 yards short of the end zone to save a touchdown and keep the score at 17-7 at halftime.
"I could have done a better job of getting the ball out," Smith said.
Smith's one-yard touchdown in the third quarter cut the deficit to 17-14. But his interception – it was deflected over the middle – led to Josh Brown's 54-yard field goal to push the score to 20-14.
Part of Smith's problem was constant pressure. The Ravens' reserve offensive line (left tackle Ramon Harewood, left guard Joe Reitz, center Bryan Mattison, right guard Stefan Rodgers and right tackle Devin Tyler) never gave Smith too much time in the pocket.
Harbaugh said it was "tough circumstances" to evaluate Smith.
"Sometimes you have more time than you think because you don't consistently have time," Harbaugh said. "Troy knows he can make plays with his feet. Sometimes he relies on that."
The Ravens' seven-game preseason winning streak was over when the team couldn't put together a game-winning drive in the final two minutes of the game. After getting sacked on consecutive plays, Smith failed to complete a short pass to Marcus Smith to end the game.
Smith said there's "no doubt" that he's shown enough to remain with the Ravens. But there's a chance that he played his final game with the team.
"What we have here is tremendously special," he said. "I think it can't be matched anywhere because we've been through the tough times and we've been through some great times, too. This team is tremendously talented. We've got a chance to do some special things."
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