Game 7: Ravens run into a pack of trouble

There are certain buzzwords that come out of NFL locker rooms signaling that a team is desperate or about to collapse. Like "gut check" or "character."Those words don't come off the lips of the Denver Broncos or Pittsburgh Steelers. And they certainly didn't come out of the Green Bay locker room after the Packers had beaten the Ravens, 28-10, yesterday before 59,860 at Lambeau Field.

Try the Ravens (2-5), losers of their last three games. The Ravens, who had only 233 yards of total offense yesterday and haven't won a game in October. And the Ravens, who converted on only two of 15 third-down plays and dropped as many passes as were completed (17) by quarterbacks Jim Harbaugh and Eric Zeier.

The bottom line is that the offense isn't getting better, it's getting worse. Calling it inept would be a compliment.

"Now we find out who has character and who doesn't, who is going to lay down and who is going to play," said Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary.

"We didn't get any better today," said Zeier (8-for-19, 34 yards), who was replaced by Harbaugh in the second half. "I know we're in a tough situation. We're going to have to buckle down and get after it. We've got to start winning some football games."

Before the Ravens win, they have to get their offense in sync as well as cut down on the big plays given up by the special teams and defense.

Oh yes, the defense was a factor, too. If Green Bay's receivers hadn't dropped as many passes as the Ravens, this game would have been a bigger blowout for the Packers (5-2).

But let's start with the special teams, those units that keep committing major errors every week. On the fifth play of the game, the Packers' Roell Preston took a punt at the Green Bay 29 and started to his right. After going untouched along the right sideline, he cut back left at the 50 and went untouched the rest of the way for a 71-yard touchdown.

Only 1: 47 into the game, Green Bay had a 7-0 lead at home, where they had won 25 of their last 26 games. Advantage, Packers. It was huge.

"You are in a tough spot when you are down seven points early in the game," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda.

It got tougher about 13 minutes later. After the Packers had driven from their 31 to the Ravens' 4 in 10 plays, receiver Antonio Freeman taught rookie cornerback Duane Starks a lesson about double fakes.

On second-and-goal, the former Poly standout gave Starks a stutter step, then a little shoulder-and-head bob as if he might run a fade pattern, then ran a slant-in route. The move left Starks flatfooted and Freeman caught a 4-yard pass from Brett Favre to put the Packers ahead 14-0 with 45 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Packers made it 21-0 when Favre connected with receiver Robert Brooks on a 28-yard touchdown pass on their first possession of the third quarter. Brooks was wide open as the result of a busted play. But after that touchdown, it was just a matter of how many points the Packers were going to win by.

"It was a miscommunication," said safety Corey Harris, who was the only Raven within 10 yards of Brooks. "You can't do that against that quarterback. When you make a mistake, he makes you pay for it."

Favre wasn't great, but simply good enough to beat the Ravens. The Packers had only 76 yards rushing and the Ravens pounded on him physically, but when they didn't get pressure, Favre repeatedly hit short slant-in and hitch routes to his receivers. He made plays happen by moving and scrambling in the pocket.

By the time the game was over, Favre had made Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis look bad on a 4-yard touchdown run in the third period and completed 22 of 41 passes for 260 yards.

"That's why he is a three-time MVP," Lewis said. "He just made the play. A lot of people can't do what Brett Favre does."

A lot of teams haven't been able to score 21 points against the Ravens' defense, either.

"I can't believe we gave up 21 points," McCrary said. "I look at the Miami-New England game, and they [ Dolphins] gave up something like nine points. I've never been in a situation like this before except for Sega [video game]. Then I just turn it off."

Maybe the Ravens can learn some lessons from the Packers on how to run an offense. The Ravens have no picks in their pass patterns. They don't seem to run clear-out routes. They seldom TTC run patterns across the middle unless they're short routes. There are no sprint-out and roll-out passes to escape pressure.

A lot of opposing teams have gone deep against the Green Bay cornerbacks, but the Ravens didn't try until the second half. But even when they attacked the cornerbacks, the Ravens didn't have time to throw, surrendering four sacks and allowing countless hurries.

And then there were the dropped passes. One by Jermaine Lewis over the middle. Two by tight end Brian Kinchen over the middle. One by Floyd Turner.

The biggest of all came when wide receiver Michael Jackson dropped a Harbaugh pass in the left corner of the end zone with 10: 12 left in the third quarter that would have cut the Packers' lead to 21-7. Instead, Matt Stover had to kick a 38-yard field goal.

"I don't think our timing was the way it was supposed to be. I had my mind more on staying in bounds and I missed the ball. That's a drop," Jackson said.

"We have to do better, we had plays, then didn't make them," Marchibroda said. "We need better execution. They were more physical than we were. We dropped some passes, but it was not all their [receivers'] fault. Some of the passes were a little too hard. Initially, we tried to go deep, but then we have a breakdown on protection. We have to regroup."

But under whom?

Zeier still has trouble feeling pressure in the pocket and was high on a number of passes before being yanked, possibly the result of the injury he suffered on the thumb of his right (throwing) hand last week.

Harbaugh was 9-for-20 for 174 yards and had two big plays, including a 53-yard Jackson reception and a 46-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Lewis with 6: 34 left in the game.

Marchibroda said he will make a decision on his starting quarterback Wednesday, but at this point, does it make a difference?

The Ravens have scored only one offensive touchdown in the past 14 quarters. They had only 56 yards rushing yesterday and had 12 penalties for 98 yards.

It's "character time," but Marchibroda said morale isn't slipping.

"The morale of the team is good, we have hung together, we're fighting," he said. "You haven't seen them complain, holler or point fingers."

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