Game 16: Ravens pack up day early

FOXBORO, MASS. — Ravens coach Brian Billick tried to use tact and diplomacy in describing the loss, but his players were more direct. Some of the Ravens quit yesterday. End of story. End of season.

The Ravens (8-8), a team searching for an identity and its first winning season in four years, were buried by poor special teams play and a lifeless offense in a 20-3 loss to the New England Patriots before 50,263 at Foxboro Stadium.The Patriots (8-8) were supposed to be the team on the ropes amid speculation that coach Pete Carroll will be fired after the season, with one of their top receivers, Terry Glenn, suspended and without three of their top defensive backs because of injury.

But the Ravens gave up a 49-yard kickoff return to Troy Brown, which set up a 25-yard field goal, and Brown also returned a punt 52 yards before a 1-yard touchdown pass from Drew Bledsoe to Mike Bartrum in the second quarter.

The Ravens had 313 yards in total offense but were never in sync. They converted three of 12 third-down plays. The Ravens allowed seven sacks, one of which led to a 23-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by tackle Chad Eaton with 7: 59 left in the third quarter. That gave the Patriots a 20-3 lead, and the Ravens were preparing to say, "No mas."

"I thought there was a lot of fire in us, but a few guys had their bags packed," said Ravens quarterback Tony Banks, who endured several losing seasons with the St. Louis Rams before signing with the Ravens during the off-season. "That's nothing abnormal. I've been in that situation before. I'm sure some of the guys had their bags packed. Once they stepped on the field, they tried hard, but you've got to prepare during the week."

Defensive end Michael McCrary echoed the same sentiments. After two previous losing seasons with the organization, McCrary said he thought there was a different attitude after the team won four straight and five of six.

But the Ravens were eliminated from the playoffs a week ago, when the Buffalo Bills defeated New England, 13-10, and McCrary didn't like what he saw yesterday.

"I have no idea, I really don't," said McCrary when asked about the team's performance. "Today was just a matter of which players on which team had packed their bags already. When everybody doesn't show up, this is what happens. It's a shame that at the end of the season a lot of players do that. I actually thought we were past that."

The Ravens also thought they were past some of their special teams problems as well as Banks' turnovers, but they resurfaced yesterday. The momentum of the game turned early, on the Ravens' last drive of the first quarter, as they moved from their 21 to the New England 1, mostly on passes to or runs by running back Priest Holmes.

But before a second-and-goal, Holmes was replaced by Errict Rhett, who ran off left guard for no gain. On third down, Rhett ran off left guard again for no gain. The Ravens had to settle for a 19-yard field goal from Matt Stover for a 3-0 lead with 13: 33 left in the half.

Billick said he replaced Holmes, who had rushed three times for 24 yards during the series, for a number of reasons, including Rhett's being a tougher runner inside, and he indicated that Holmes may have been a little tired. But the bottom line was that the offensive line didn't open a hole and the Patriots climbed back into the game on Stover's kickoff after his field goal.

Brown took the kickoff and returned it 49 yards to the Ravens' 41. Eight plays later, Adam Vinatieri kicked a 25-yard field goal to tie the game with 10: 01 left in the half.

The Ravens wanted to score early and take the crowd out of the game. But the goal-line stand and Brown's return kept the fans pumped up.

"We moved the ball well to get down there. We wanted to shove it in," Billick said. "It had a major effect on the game. It changed the dynamics. If we had shoved it in, it would have made a difference, I promise you."

Brown had another big run, this time on a punt that he returned 52 yards to the Ravens' 23 with 8: 07 left in the second quarter. Five plays later, Bledsoe faked two handoffs and threw to tight end Bartrum, who was wide-open in the left flat for a 1-yard touchdown and a 10-3 lead.

Billick indicated he would take a serious look at the special teams again. He might also take a look at special teams coach Russ Purnell.

"Like everything we do, we'll review it," Billick said of the inconsistent special teams play this season. "Maybe it's just a matter of not putting people in the right place, or we need to find out schematically if you're asking players to do something they can't do."

Billick may also want to look over his game plan again. He abandoned the run after the goal-line sequence. Though Holmes had 42 yards on seven carries in the first quarter alone, he touched it once in the second quarter. The Ravens had to throw in the fourth quarter when they were behind, but Holmes finished with 95 yards on 16 carries.

"As a unit, we felt we could run the ball," said Ravens right guard Jeff Blackshear. "But when we got down there, we couldn't punch it in, and we got away from it. It went downhill after that. But we're still a young team, and this is the first year as far as learning the offense. We'll get better next season."

Billick said: "We pounded it pretty good, but we wanted to mix it up. If you throw on first and second downs, it can put you in a three-and-out mentality. You have to keep up the mix."

The situation was made worse because Banks wasn't having a great day. He completed 18 of 26 passes for 163 yards, but overthrew a wide-open tight end A. J. Ofodile in the end zone from the 11 with 2: 41 left in the third quarter, resulting in an interception by cornerback Kato Serwanga. About seven minutes earlier, Banks was sacked by Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson, and his fumble was recovered by Eaton, who ran 23 yards untouched into the end zone.

Stoney Case replaced Banks (knee sprain) with 10: 13 left in the game, but he was harassed and just as inept as Banks. Case completed eight of 14 passes for 88 yards, but also threw an interception that killed a drive late in the game.

"I'm not going to use my knee as an excuse. I told them I was ready to play, but me and the tight end weren't on the same page," Banks said. "We just didn't stick in any points. I made some errors, took the wind out of our sails."

The Ravens wasted another great effort by the defense, which held the Patriots to 50 offensive plays, compared with the Ravens' 70. New England had only 49 yards rushing and 102 passing. But, again, the Ravens lost because some of them seemed to quit.

That was the most disturbing thing, because the team made some real improvement under Billick this season. It also was another sign of growing pains.

"We didn't play well, but we played hard," Billick said. "That's a hard-working group in there. It's a group I'm proud of and proud to be a part of. I appreciate everything they did for me in my first year as a head coach. I'm very disappointed to finish it off this way. Hopefully, we can learn from this, because this is normally a playoff weekend and that would be about the only value this game would have.

"You have to win games this time of year. If we didn't learn from it, that would be a real waste."