Don't look now, but the lofty ranking the Ravens' pass defense enjoyed two weeks ago might be a distant memory.
For the second consecutive week, the unit showed cracks in its coverage, allowing an opposing quarterback to march his offense to yards and points.
And unlike Oct. 10, the rest of the defense could not lift the team to victory as the Ravens absorbed a 23-20 loss in overtime to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
With quarterbacks Kyle Orton of the Denver Broncos and Tom Brady of the Patriots throwing for a combined 606 yards and three touchdowns, the unit is likely to fall from its No.2 ranking in the NFL after this weekend.
But what pained the players more was that a proud defense surrendered 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and overtime period.
"That, to me, is really disappointing," cornerback Fabian Washington said. "I think we should hold a 10-point lead going into the fourth quarter. We've got to go back tomorrow and practice and correct our mistakes because I know Buffalo [next Sunday's opponent] is going to watch the film and see what we were doing wrong and try to attack our weaknesses."
With a running game that was hit-or-miss for much of the contest, New England took to the air, gaining 126 of its 149yards in the fourth quarter on the strength of Brady's arm. On the Patriots' game-winning drive in overtime, the offense threw the ball four consecutive times, moving from its 38-yard line to the Ravens' 21 to set up Stephen Gostkowski's 35-yard field goal with 1:56 left in the extra period.
A revamped offense without downfield threat Randy Moss resorted to short and intermediate passes against the Ravens. And while that meant that the defense didn't have to worry about the fly patterns that Moss usually ran, the unit at times had trouble keeping up with shifty receivers Wes Welker (seven catches for 53 yards) and Deion Branch (nine for 98) and diminutive running back Danny Woodhead (five for 52).
And just to make things really interesting, Brady, who completed 27 of 44 passes for 292 yards, found athletic tight ends Aaron Hernandez (four for 61) and Rob Gronkowski (one for 24).
"They did have a lot of underneath routes, and that's more because of the personnel that they had in there," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "You had those tight ends, those itty-bitty receivers that ran all over the place. That's what they do."
Added Washington: "We left too many holes, and you can't do that against a good team."
Although Brady was sacked three times, he also had moments where he enjoyed plenty of time to wait for his receivers to run their routes and throw the football.
His 5-yard touchdown pass to Branch early in the fourth quarter was the result of the Ravens' failing to get pressure on Brady with a three-man front until Ray Lewis stepped into the pocket. But before Lewis could get to him, Brady found Branch alone in the back right corner of the end zone.
"We still got after him -- even in a three-man rush," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs insisted. "But sometimes they keep a lot of guys in to protect him and give him time. You can't expect your secondary to cover that long, and sometimes he found some spots and made some plays."
Coach John Harbaugh said the defense tried to disrupt Brady's rhythm by disguising its schemes.
"We tried to put pressure on him with mixing coverages," Harbaugh said. "We were running every kind of coverage we have. We got him a few times; he got us a few times."
Pressure on a quarterback can help the secondary, but free safety Tom Zbikowski said the defensive backs can't concern themselves with that. "We're worried about coverages. If we're messing up, we're worried about that. We're not worried about what the D-line is doing. They've got to correct what they've got to correct, and we've got to correct what we've got to correct. You can never put the blame on anyone."
The unit could welcome back six-time Pro Bowl free safety Ed Reed, who is expected to be removed this week from the physically-unable-to-perform list after undergoing hip surgery in the offseason.
Still, several Ravens said improvements would have to be made before Sunday's home game against the Buffalo Bills, and Suggs remained confident about the team's chances if the Ravens were to meet the Patriots in the postseason.
"Hats off to them," he said. "They won the football game, but they better hope they don't see us again."
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