Game 15: New QB, same woes for Ravens

Sun reporter

A week ago, the Ravens sat stunned in their locker room after losing to the winless Miami Dolphins.

At the end of yesterday's 27-6 rout by the Seattle Seahawks, there was a strange sense of understanding surrounding the Ravens at a rain-soaked Qwest Field.

Playing with essentially their junior varsity team, including third-string quarterback Troy Smith, the overmatched Ravens didn't seem surprised by their most recent drubbing.

Another quarterback fumbled. Another starter went down with an injury. And another lapse in a banged-up secondary led to a touchdown.

In a season in which the Ravens (4-11) have seemed to bottom out each week, their ninth consecutive loss secured last place in the division - the first time that has happened since 1997.

"Obviously, we didn't have enough to compete with them today," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Already missing 10 significant players (including six former Pro Bowl players), the Ravens lost running back Willis McGahee to two fractured ribs at the end of the first quarter.

That put more pressure on Smith in his first NFL start.

Playing at one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL and facing a defense that has four Pro Bowl starters, Smith never lost his poise, but he failed to generate much offense, either. Scrambling to avoid pressure all game, the Heisman Trophy winner was 16-for-33 for 199 yards (with 79 yards coming on a touchdown heave to Derrick Mason in the fourth quarter).

The Ravens' offense didn't cross midfield until the final minute of the first half. By then, the Seahawks (10-5) were already up 21-0. The Ravens were out-gained 246-91 in the first half by the NFC West champions.

"We have a lot of work to do," Smith said. "[But] I had fun today, I really did."

The game was close only early - it was scoreless for the first 18 minutes, 26 seconds - because Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was erratic.

Hasselbeck settled down in the second quarter, hitting Nate Burleson for a 21-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline. Burleson blew past undrafted rookie Willie Gaston, who was benched after the play.

On the Ravens' second series without McGahee, little-used running back Mike Anderson fumbled while falling on his back in a pile. The ball squirted out to Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill, who returned the turnover 20 yards for a touchdown that made it 14-0.

Anderson said he was "shocked" that the fumble, which the Ravens challenged, wasn't overruled by replay.

"To me, that wasn't a fumble," Anderson said. "When you look at the replay, my whole body is on the ground and then you see the ball come out. I'm on the ground when the ball comes out."

After a three-and-out by the Ravens, Hasselbeck drove Seattle down the field again with a 23-yard pass to Bobby Engram, an 8-yard run (which had 15 yards tacked on after a late hit by Antwan Barnes) and a 14-yard touchdown pass to Shaun Alexander.

Taking the screen pass, Alexander, who has been criticized all season, bounced off three defenders for the score, which increased the Seahawks' lead to 21-0 with 1:53 left in the second quarter.

It's the eighth straight game in which the Ravens have allowed more than 20 points. But this is a defense that was playing without linebacker Ray Lewis, defensive lineman Trevor Pryce and both starting cornerbacks.

"It's hard going through a season like this with all the injuries," safety Ed Reed said. "It's something you have to battle through. But it puts things in perspective."

Smith's best drive came in the final minute of the first half, when he marched the Ravens to the Seattle 35. But the ball was stripped from him with seven seconds left, and Seattle recovered. The Ravens have a league-high 25 lost fumbles this season, including three yesterday.

"I was trying to press and to do too much," Smith said. "Ball security is incredibly important. At that point, me being the young and inexperienced guy, I didn't have that kind of notion. I was just trying to free-for-all and trying to make a play. Obviously, you can't do that in the National Football League. These are too good of athletes."

The only way the Ravens avoided their first shutout since 2002 was a long touchdown pass from Smith to Mason. It came with 4:41 remaining and made it 27-6.

Mason celebrated with a dance.

"You don't want to go through the course of a game and not be able to score any points," Mason said. "It was good just not for me and the rest of the team. It was good for Troy. In this game, if you continue to fight, some good will come out. Some good came out of it that I think we can take back to Baltimore."

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