Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington's status as starter unclear

A day after he benched Fabian Washington, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wouldn't say whether the veteran cornerback would get his starting job back.

Washington was replaced by Josh Wilson late in the fourth quarter Sunday after he surrendered his personal-worst third touchdown. Heading into this week's bye (where the players will receive five days off), Harbaugh wants to keep his options open at the cornerback position.

"Fabian is going to play a lot of football," Harbaugh said Monday, a day after the Ravens squeezed out a 37-34 overtime win over the winless Buffalo Bills. "We don't get quite as caught up in starter or non-starter label as some people do. We always play the best guys the most."

Harbaugh added, "That having been said, I have confidence in Fabian. He's a good football player. It's a very competitive sport. You line up against really good players, and sometimes it's not your day."

It was only two weeks ago when Harbaugh said Washington has the ability to be an elite cornerback after Washington broke up four passes against the Denver Broncos.

On Sunday, Washington was a targeted cornerback, giving up three touchdowns to Bills wide receiver Lee Evans. He got beat deep along the sideline on a 33-yarder in the first quarter. He allowed Evans to cut in front of him for a 20-yarder in the second quarter. And he dove unsuccessfully at Evans' feet which turned a short pass into a 17-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

According to Washington, he was in one-on-one coverage on every touchdown and didn't expect any safety help.

"You have to have a short memory or you won't last long in this league, especially playing corner," Washington said. "I'm going to put it past me and move forward. We have a bunch of weeks left that I can redeem myself."

This marks the second time that Washington has been benched in his three-year Ravens career. He was pulled last October at Minnesota after getting beat several times, but he started the next game (which coincidentally followed a bye, too).

Asked if he still believed he was a starter, Washington said, "I had one bad game. It happens. They get paid, too. Lee Evans is a pretty good receiver. There are technical things I can work out on this week off watching film, and I can come back against Miami ready to play ball."

The Bills surprisingly provided the Ravens with plenty of concerns going into their bye week. A 13-point favorite, the Ravens weren't expected to need overtime to beat the only winless team in the NFL.

Harbaugh is nonetheless savoring the win.

"We're not going to be ashamed in any way of a victory, especially against that football team," he said. "We found a way to win and that's the important thing."

Here are four areas that the defense has to improve upon after returning from the bye:

Poor tackling: Harbaugh said there were eight plays Sunday that went for big yards that could have been reduced if the Ravens wrapped up the wide receivers. Strong safety Dawan Landry seemed to have the most, but Washington and cornerback Lardarius Webb also failed to bring down the Bills in the open field.

"That was disappointing and surprising," Harbaugh said.

Most teams limit their hitting when the regular season begins. So, how can the Ravens improve their tackling?

"The best way you do it is in practice," Harbaugh said. "You emphasize team tackling and pursuit. You emphasize proper angles to the football. We try to practice really fast. If we get them in position to make those tackles – emphasize tackling high as opposed to tackling low – we'll be in good shape. We have a good tackling defense, so I feel confident that we'll be a good tackling defense the rest of the way."

Deep passes: Since Harbaugh became coach in 2008, the Ravens have ranked among the best in limiting big plays. But the Ravens gave up six passes of 20 yards or more against Buffalo, increasing their season total to 23 (which is tied for fifth-most in the NFL).

Some of the blame can be put on the Ravens' pass rush, which has allowed quarterbacks too much time to throw downfield. The defensive backs, though, know how to stop the big plays.

"We don't let nobody behind us. That ain't something we do," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "As long as we keep people in front of us, they can't beat us. We've got to learn from it."

Adjustment to Ed Reed: There's no doubt that the Ravens are a stronger defense with the six-time Pro Bowl safety. But even Reed acknowledged it will take some time for him to mesh with the secondary again.

In the midst of Reed delivering two interceptions in his first game off the physically-unable-to-perform list, the Ravens gave up a season-worst 374 yards passing.

"We were not playing differently because we had Ed out there," cornerback Chris Carr said. "I don't think it had anything to do with that because it wasn't like communication-wise it was difficult out there. He played things a little differently than Zibby [Tom Zbikowski] did. It was just a matter of people not making plays like they're supposed to do."

Fourth-quarter lapses: The Ravens have failed to hold a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter for the past two weeks.

Most of the problems have come from the Ravens' inability to slow down the passing attacks of New England and Buffalo. In the fourth quarter against the Ravens, Tom Brady and Ryan Fitzgerald combined to complete 23 of 32 passes for 270 yards. They threw two touchdowns and one interception (which came off a Hail Mary) for a 104.9 quarterback rating.

"Certainly we're concerned about that," Harbaugh said about losing leads in the fourth quarter. "We're not happy about that."

It doesn't get any easier for the Ravens' secondary after the bye. Five of the Ravens' final nine regular-season opponents rank in the top half of the NFL in passing, including three in the top 10 (New Orleans, Cincinnati and Houston).

So, the Ravens will get away from team headquarters until Monday but it could still be a working vacation for some on defense.

"It's going to be nice to get some rest and sit back and watch your opponents," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "But in the back of everybody's minds, it's going to be what you need to improve on individually. Hopefully, we'll come back after this bye fresh and ready to whoop some [butt]."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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Baltimore Sun reporter Ken Murray contributed to this article.

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