Game 5: Ravens stumble again trying to take next step

As Ravens offensive linemen Wally Williams and Jonathan Ogden sat next to each other on stools in front of their lockers, they began to think about the team's three-year history in Baltimore. It has been an emotional ride with a familiar pattern. Win, loss, win, lossA few yards away, Ravens strong safety Stevon Moore was about to cry. Teammate Peter Boulware actually shed a tear.

Only minutes after the team's 12-8 loss to the Tennessee Oilers before 68,561 yesterday at Ravens stadium, the Ravens were still looking for the answer to the most puzzling question in the team's history:

Why can't the Ravens (2-3) put together a significant winning streak?

"This hurts, it really hurts because this is a team we're supposed to beat," Williams said. "We're supposed to win these games, play at a different level. But when was the last time we won two games in a row? I can't remember. At the beginning of last season when we went 3-1?

"I don't know why we can't do that. It's been the biggest problem since we moved to Baltimore. It has become part of our history since coming from Cleveland. Until we do that, we'll never move on to the next level."

The Ravens have become the city's newest Big Tease. As soon as fans begin to get excited about a team that has playoff aspirations, the Ravens turn in a dud like yesterday when the Oilers (2-3) scored their only touchdown on a busted play, a 40-yard run by quarterback Steve McNair.

The Ravens had an embarrassing 36 yards rushing and five bad snaps on punts, one resulting in a block and eventually a 26-yard field goal by Al Del Greco in the second quarter.

They lost to a team that was penalized 13 times for 141 yards and gave up four sacks. The most telling statistic was that the Ravens converted on only one of 15 third-down situations.

As usual, the Ravens made it close, but quarterback Eric Zeier's pass at the Oilers' 29 was underthrown to receiver Patrick Johnson and intercepted by Oilers safety Blaine Bishop at the 2-yard line on the last play of the game.

After a 31-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago, coach Ted Marchibroda had talked about that win being the beginning of Ravens Pride. Yesterday's loss may be the beginning of the Ravens slide, with Pittsburgh and Green Bay on the road followed by AFC Central leader Jacksonville here.

"We haven't taken that next step to get away from the pack," Marchibroda said. "I think if we had beaten these guys today, we'd have gotten away from the pack. We'd have been 3-2 and they would have been 1-4. The defense played well, they played their game. We made a few mistakes on special teams and offensively we never got into sync."

Defensive end Michael McCrary said: "We have dug a hole for ourselves. We'll find out a lot about this team in the next couple of weeks. We'll find out if we have the character to make a run in the National Football League."

But first of all, the Ravens have to get Harper Le Bel to snap better or sign one of the long snappers they work out every Tuesday. Punter Kyle Richardson looked like Cal Ripken on all those short hops he fielded yesterday. It was Le Bel who also missed a block on linebacker Terry Killens, who blocked Richardson's punt and gave Tennessee possession at the Ravens' 12-yard line with 14: 37 left in the second quarter.

"At least I was consistently hitting the same spot," said Le Bel.

Marchibroda wasn't so amused.

"I think we probably have to give that some consideration," he said of replacing Le Bel, who will still make his salary of $325,000 if the Ravens cut him before next Sunday.

The Ravens also had some defensive problems. With middle linebacker Ray Lewis out of his second straight game with a dislocated left elbow, the team allowed a running back to rush for more than 100 yards for the third straight week, as Eddie George finished with 121.

The Ravens' defense, though, played well in the second half, holding the Oilers to 126 yards of total offense after allowing 218 in the first. The defense did get some help from the erratic play of McNair and the questionable play-calling of coach Jeff Fisher, but the Ravens couldn't take advantage.

McNair completed 17 of 29 passes for 207 yards, and he was way off the mark in the second half. A pass interference call on Ravens cornerback DeRon Jenkins for a 26-yard gain was largely responsible for a 29-yard Del Greco field goal with 6: 10 remaining in the third quarter that gave the Oilers a 12-2 lead.

McNair also underthrew wide receiver Derrick Mason over the middle on a pass that cornerback Rod Woodson intercepted at the Ravens' 18-yard line with 4: 57 left in the game. But McNair made the big play with 1: 28 left in the first quarter. He was supposed to hand off to George going left, but missed the connection.

McNair rolled right and defensive end Rob Burnett missed the tackle. So did Moore as McNair ran down the middle of the field for the touchdown and a 6-2 Oilers lead.

"We always say on defense there are certain situations where you have to have big plays," McCrary said. "For us, this whole game was a big play. We had to give the offense as many opportunities to put some points on the board. Unfortunately, we were unable to do that. We're a team; we lost as a team."

The offense was pathetic. How bad? The Ravens were called for delay of game on the first play of the second quarter -- after a TV timeout. Quarterback Eric Zeier, making his second straight start, was errant on a number of passes despite completing 25 of 44 for 249 yards.

He overthrew running back Priest Holmes running down the right sideline for a possible touchdown on the second play of the third quarter and threw behind receiver Jermaine Lewis on a potential big gainer over the middle on a third-and-nine from the Oilers' 49 with 10: 47 left in the game.

Holmes, who had 173 yards rushing two weeks ago against Cincinnati, had only 29 yards on 14 carries as the offensive line was ineffective again. The most humiliating moment came with 9: 43 left in the game. On first-and-10 from the 50, Zeier threw a 9-yard completion over the middle to tight end Brian Kinchen.

On second-and-one, Holmes ran off right tackle for no gain. On third down, Holmes ran off right tackle for no gain. On fourth down, Holmes ran off left tackle for no gain. The biggest offensive line in pro football couldn't move the Oilers an inch.

"I don't know what happened on those plays," Williams said. "We'll have to take a look at the film, but ultimately the responsibility falls on us. We didn't get it done."

The Ravens were without Eric Green, one of the best blocking tight ends in the game, who was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center at halftime with a punctured lung. Green's condition was not serious, according to a team spokesman. The Ravens also were without starting wide receiver Michael Jackson, who missed the game because of a strained groin suffered Friday in practice.

But the Ravens had chances. They went to the no-huddle offense in the second half and could only manage 21- and 45-yard field goals by Matt Stover. For the entire afternoon, they had no running game and no consistent quarterback, plus the team's most explosive player, Lewis, had just one reception for 9 yards. Marchibroda said he never contemplated any changes.

According to several players, the Ravens' major problem is that the offense doesn't make the proper adjustments at halftime and the coaching staff panics when they lose key players likes Green and Jackson, especially on offense.

"It's time we took a look at our coaching staff and then the players," Ogden said. "We need to re-examine ourselves and see what we do well and build on it. Then and only then can we take that step to another level."