OAKLAND, CALIF. — One stop and it all wouldn't have mattered. The coverage breakdowns, the missed tackles, the lack of anything resembling a pass rush, they all would have been afterthoughts for the Ravens defense.
One stop and the conversation would have been about a gritty comeback, a victory that the Ravens absolutely had to have and a long, yet celebratory flight across the country.
That one stop never came. Instead, the Ravens defense, which struggled all day, allowed the Oakland Raiders to drive 80 yards in less than two minutes and score the game-winning touchdown on Derek Carr's 12-yard pass to Seth Roberts. A 37-33 defeat to the Raiders before an announced 53,500 at the O.Co Coliseum leaves the Ravens 0-2 for the first time in the John Harbaugh era and spurs all sorts of questions about a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
"Every loss is big, but this loss has heaviness to it," said Ravens safety Will Hill, who was called for defensive holding on the Raiders' final drive, negating a game-securing interception. On the very next play, Carr found Roberts alone in the middle of the end zone. "We didn't expect to be 0-2."
Nor did the Ravens' defense, which kept the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos offense out of the end zone in Week 1, expect to allow 448 yards to the Raiders, and three touchdown passes to Carr, who did what he wanted all day. Not having Terrell Suggs, whose season ended last week with a torn Achilles, obviously factored, but Dean Pees' defense had a myriad of issues.
A week earlier, the Raiders didn't cross midfield until the first play of the fourth quarter in a 33-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. On Sunday, the Ravens allowed them points on seven of their 10 possessions. It was the most points that the Raiders (1-1) have scored since Week 15 of the 2010 season.
"We got out-played and we got out-coached, there's no doubt about it," Harbaugh said. "We have to find a way to win the game at the end. I thought we had it won, but we didn't."
As a result, the Ravens are 0-2 for the first time since 2005, a reality that tight end Crockett Gillmore, who caught two first-half touchdown passes, described at "gut-wrenching." The Ravens had been 0-2 just three times in team history and none of those teams finished with a winning record. Since 1990, 12 percent of NFL teams that were winless in their first two games qualified for the postseason.
That history, along with upcoming games against division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in a five-day span, is what confronted the Ravens as they dressed in near silence and packed for a long flight home. The Ravens had hoped that staying on the West Coast following the Broncos game would provide good preparation for the Raiders.
However, the Ravens fell behind, 10-0, within the first four minutes of the game. They then trailed 30-20 heading into the fourth quarter. But despite reeling off 13 consecutive points to take a 33-30 lead on 37 and 31-yard field goals by Justin Tucker and a seven-yard touchdown run by Lorenzo Taliaferro, the Ravens couldn't close the deal.
"Despite our record, our opponents and our dates are set," said Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., who had 10 receptions for 150 yards, and was a one-man show on offense at times. "We have to show up and we can't pack it in, we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We've got to go out there and make plays, we've got to play better, and be grown men."
For a second straight week, it appeared that Smith might catch the game-winning touchdown pass late in the game. He was wide open in the corner of the end zone on the Ravens' final drive, but quarterback Joe Flacco's pass sailed a little. Smith was unable to catch it and the Ravens settled for a field goal by Tucker and a three-point lead.
The Raiders got the ball at their 20-yard line with 2:10 to play. They needed just four plays to move into Ravens territory, aided by an egregious roughing the passer penalty by defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. A 17-yard completion from Carr to Michael Crabtree put Oakland on the Ravens' 17. And two plays later, they had the go-ahead touchdown as Roberts found an opening between three Ravens defenders.
"They caught us in the zone," Ravens cornerback Kyle Arrington said. "Obviously, we had to have tighter coverage down there."
The drive was a microcosm of the way the Ravens defense performed all day. Playing without Ray Lewis, Ed Reed or Suggs for the first time since 1998, the Ravens never were able to apply much pressure to Carr. The tackling, especially on the outside, was atrocious. And the Ravens secondary seemed confused and overwhelmed throughout.
The Ravens' top cornerback, Jimmy Smith, was beat on a 68-yard touchdown by rookie Amari Cooper on the game's sixth play from scrimmage. On the other side, Lardarius Webb slipped and fell down on Michael Crabtree's 29-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter that gave the Raiders a 30-20 lead.
Cooper (seven catches, 109 yards) and Crabtree (nine catches, 111 yards) were the first pair of Raiders receivers to post 100-yard receiving games since the 2011 season.
"We had some miscommunications and gave up too many big plays," Webb said. "When we didn't give them a big play, we gave them a penalty. We can't do both. You can't do one. If we're going to make the mistake, we can't give them a penalty to keep the drive alive. We've got to go back to the drawing board and as a secondary, I feel like we've just got to keep working together."
After the loss to the Broncos, the Ravens secondary was widely praised, but there were questions about the Ravens offense. Flacco responded, completing 32 of 45 passes for 384 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. It was the third-most passing yards in Flacco's career and the fourth-most in Ravens' history.
Now, as the Ravens return home, they're facing questions on just about everything. And the biggest one is whether Harbaugh's team rebound after an 0-2 start and make something of their season.
"We're not playing good enough as a team to win football games," Flacco said. "That's what happens — you lose games."