Game 7: At a loss for explanation

In the Ravens' short tenure in Baltimore, this may have been the team's most lifeless and uninspired performance. Dropped passes. Fumbles. Missed tackles. Bad snaps. Not to mention a defense that couldn't stop the opposition on third down or halt the league's worst rushing offense even though it had two weeks to prepare. Or a second-round draft pick who still hasn't matured into a solid cornerback.

If this was indeed a pivotal game in the 1997 season, the Ravens took a major step backward in losing, 24-13, to the Miami Dolphins before a sellout crowd of 64,354 at Memorial Stadium yesterday.

It was the third consecutive loss for the Ravens (3-4), who dropped under .500 after starting the season 3-1. The Ravens now have three straight games on the road against the Washington Redskins, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers.

It may be time to push the panic button.

"We have to have some attitude adjustment around here," said veteran safety Stevon Moore. "Some people are saying there is no urgency, no sense of panic, but I'm willing to do whatever it takes to turn this around, if it means meeting late, extra running or watching more film. This was a big game, a key game.

"And no, I've never been around a team to play so flat after having the bye week off."

That's what was so disturbing to Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. This game wasn't close. Miami (5-2) had a 21-3 lead with 4: 47 left in the half, then cruised behind its running game. The Ravens' final scare ended with a failed drive at the Dolphins' 1 on fourth down with 12 seconds left in the game.

Miami entered the game averaging only 2.9 yards per carry and (( had 434 yards rushing in its previous six games. But the Dolphins pounded the Ravens for 148 yards rushing, and did it by taking apart the strength of the defense, going through defensive tackles Tony Siragusa, Larry Webster and James Jones and ends Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett.

There seems to be a trend here. The San Diego Chargers and Steelers found their passing games against the Ravens in the past two games, as well as the New York Giants in Week 3.

Marchibroda doesn't like where this is heading.

"Like I told the players in there, teams that can't throw, when they hit us, we get them well," the coach said. "Teams that can't run, when they hit us, we make them well. We can't give the ball up four times and expect to win. This is a real big disappointment because of the fact that you have the edge, the time to work on it and you come up flat like this.

"One thing I've learned in life and learned in football, you don't come out of anything until you hit bottom," he said. "I don't know whether we've hit bottom yet or not. I wish that I could tell you that we did and we'd come out of it. I don't know. Until we do, we're not going to come out of it."

The Ravens can't go anywhere until their defense picks up. Everyone knows that quarterback Dan Marino is the catalyst of the Dolphins' offense, but he turned in an average performance, completing 19 of 27 passes for 189 yards.

What made him so effective were the play-action passes across the middle and slot receiver O. J. McDuffie (seven receptions, 77 yards) repeatedly beating DeRon Jenkins for crucial first-down catches on third downs, as Miami converted nine of 13 third-down situations.

Ravens outside linebackers Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper and Cornell Brown also had problems stopping running plays outside.

Jenkins, a second-round draft pick in 1996, was subbing for starting right cornerback Eugene Daniel, who missed the last three quarters because of two pulled hamstrings.

"Never have I had anything like this happen," Daniel said. "Both hamstrings were pulled on the same play."

Marchibroda said, "DeRon has got some ability; we wanted to see what this kid could do."

This was supposed to be the breakout game for the Ravens' offensive line with two new starters in center Wally Williams and guard Ben Cavil. The Ravens looked impressive on their opening drive, going 32 yards in eight plays. Matt Stover kicked a 38-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 9: 35 left in the first quarter.

But the Dolphins answered with a 10-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 5-yard run over left guard by running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar with 4: 39 left in the quarter to put them ahead 7-3.

Running back Bam Morris fumbled on the Ravens' next possession at their 36 and it was recovered by defensive tackle Daryl Gardener at the 34. Three plays later, Abdul-Jabbar scored on a 5-yard run around left end.

The Ravens went from their 26 to the Miami 46 on the ensuring series, but wide receiver Derrick Alexander fumbled after a catch at the 41 to kill the drive with three seconds left in the quarter.

The Ravens had another drive right before the half, but on fourth-and-one at the Miami 25, quarterback Vinny Testaverde (32 of 47 for 331 yards) fumbled the snap, killing the drive at the line of scrimmage with 1: 25 left on the clock.

"You turn the ball over against teams like Miami and they kill you," Morris said. "And we gave them too many chances to beat up on us. The thing is, we can't get used to losing because once you do, you've already lost before the game starts."

Miami had one other drive in the half, and it was vintage Dolphins. Marino had passes of 3, 18, 10 and 18 yards, and Abdul-Jabbar had runs of 5, 6 and 2 yards before finishing the 11-play, 60-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run up the middle that put the Dolphins ahead 21-3 with 4: 47 remaining in the half.

"You got to give that Karim credit," Siragusa said. "A couple of times I thought I had him, then he would cut back. You come into the game knowing they can throw the ball, but when they can run on you, too, that's big trouble.

"I know I didn't get it done. The team brought me in here to stop the run and I didn't play as well as I should have. I'm going to work on that.

"The film of our last couple of games are going to be shown around the league. Every team is going to think they can run the ball now."

On offense, the Ravens tried to run but got taken out of their game plan when they fell behind.

Stover added a 23-yard field goal with 6: 13 left in the third quarter and Alexander caught a 34-yard touchdown pass to pull the Ravens within 24-13 with 10: 51 left in the game, but that was as close as they would get.

The last drive, which ended with Testaverde being pressured and throwing wildly to Alexander in the right corner of the end zone on fourth down, was typical of the Ravens' dreary day.

"We have to regroup tomorrow," Moore said. "We've got to find a way out of this thing."