Ravens lost game, and their nerve, too

In the locker room, wide receiver Derrick Mason remained silent, and quarterback Joe Flacco said as little as possible. Nobody wanted to indict anyone, but the evidence was clear.

A lot of the blame for the Ravens' loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday goes on the shoulders of the coaches, not the players, particularly the offensive staff. The play-calling was conservative and pathetic, especially in the final quarter and overtime.

Though their staff has prided itself on being aggressive and daring the past three years, the Ravens lost their nerve against New England. And in the NFL, teams that don't play to win lose, and that's what happened to the Ravens.

You can tell me how great Tom Brady was, how much of a genius Bill Belichick is, how dumb Le'Ron McClain was and that Deion Branch is a capable replacement for Randy Moss, but the Ravens should have won this game.

They lost it because offensive coordinator Cam Cameron went into a shell. After mixing up the plays in the first three quarters and constantly going downfield to his receivers, Cameron was content with handing the ball off to running back Ray Rice or throwing to him on short passes over the middle.

This was like a moment in time, back in the 1970s when Ted Marchibroda's Baltimore Colts had the "hey diddle diddle, it's Lydell up the middle." After Joe Flacco completed an 18-yard pass to Anquan Boldin with 11:02 left in the game, he threw only two more passes downfield in the final 24 minutes.

We all had to be scratching our heads. Wasn't this overtime and on the road? During the summer, didn't the Ravens invest millions of dollars in receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and where were they? What about Mason? He had worn out New England cornerbacks like an old pair of jeans.

And the best the Ravens could come up with was Rice up the middle, Rice on a stretch play left or right, or Rice as the check-down receiver. You've got to be kidding me.

These calls came against a secondary that couldn't cover a baby with a blanket.

"I'm not sure. I'm not really the guy to ask there," Flacco said of the conservative play-calling.

Well, maybe it was the wind. Maybe Flacco was hurt. Or maybe Mason and Houshmandzadeh actually stopped wanting the darn ball.

Harbaugh said he would have to talk with Cameron and look at the film. But we all know the truth. The Ravens lost their nerve. When the game was on the line, they blinked.

You want to make the Ravens panic? Play 2-deep coverage in the secondary. They'll start twitching and getting nervous.

They tried to beat it by pounding Rice, a good strategy. But when that didn't work, they kept doing it. Bad move. Instead, they should have run 18- to 22-yard pass patterns over the middle behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties. They should have kept running Mason on those comeback routes all game.

The problem here is that Cameron still doesn't have total trust in his quarterback or his receivers. Cameron doesn't have to turn into a gunslinger, but he has to let his receivers make plays, especially against a sorry bunch like the Patriots.

The Ravens didn't have a killer instinct. Facing fourth-and-1 at their 47 with 8:47 left and ahead by three points, Harbaugh punted instead of trying to get a first down.

It was a wimpy call. No guts. You can roll the dice only so many times against a quarterback like Brady, and eventually he will get you. The Ravens had similar moments on defense as well. On a third-and-5 from the Baltimore 5, the Ravens rushed only three players against Brady, who ate a doughnut, chatted with his wife on a cell phone and drank a cup of coffee before throwing a touchdown pass to Branch in the back of the end zone.

What happened to the pressure? What happened to being aggressive and nasty?

The Ravens were passive for the entire second half, from the lack of a pass rush to being conservative on offense to not subbing Rice with Willis McGahee, who disappeared from the lineup.

Was he really in the stadium?

Two weeks ago, the Ravens beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh because the Steelers, on their next to last offensive possession, tried to run time off the clock instead of trying to pass and get one more first down.

The Ravens came back with a short drive, and won the game. You'd figure the Ravens would have learned their lesson from that game about being aggressive.

But apparently they didn't. On Sunday, they choked from their own conservatism.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Listen to Mike Preston on "The Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday and Friday on 105.7 FM

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