Their Sunday match-up with the Oakland Raiders promised at least a few answers.
In yet another topsy-turvy game, the Ravens lost for the first time this season, 28-27, in front of a crowd of 71,152 at M&T Bank Stadium. They rallied for two fourth-quarter touchdowns to take a fleeting 27-21 lead, then squandered it when they couldn’t stop Oakland’s final drive.
In the answer department, their defense proved capable of containing a legitimately threatening NFL offense. And their offense stumbled for much of the day despite a promising performance from new starting running back Terrance West.
A patchwork offensive line allowed quarterback Joe Flacco to be sacked and stripped on a vital fourth-quarter play that set up Oakland to go ahead 21-12.
But the Ravens (3-1) responded with a 52-yard Flacco touchdown pass to Steve Smith and a 3-yard touchdown run by West, set up when defensive end Lawrence Guy forced a fumble at Oakland’s 17-yard line.
The Raiders (3-1) then fired back with a decisive six-play, 66-yard scoring drive, capped by Derek Carr’s third touchdown pass of the day to Michael Crabtree.
Last season, the Raiders stunned the Ravens by hanging 37 points on them in a Week 2 defeat. Carr threw for a career-high 351 yards and three touchdowns and moved his offense relentlessly all afternoon.
That same attack, ranked second in the league in total yards coming in to Sunday's game, promised the toughest test of the season for a revamped Ravens secondary that had shined over the first three weeks.
The defense jumped to a promising start, sending Carr off the field after three plays on each of Oakland’s first two drives.
But the Ravens struggled mightily to move the ball and gradually backed themselves into a corner as field position tilted against them.
Sam Koch had to punt from the end zone with 1:47 left in the first quarter, and Oakland’s Jalen Richard ran the kick back 47 yards to the Ravens 6-yard-line. Carr hit wide receiver Seth Roberts in the corner of the end zone on the next play to put the Raiders in front.
Devin Hester answered with a 60-yard kickoff return to set up a 24-yard field goal by Justin Tucker that cut the lead to 7-3.
But Carr finally got the better of the Ravens defense on a 9-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree. That score put the Raiders up 14-3 with 4 minutes, 9 seconds left in the first half.
The Ravens offense, with a new starting running back and a new left side of the line, continued to flail against the worst statistical defense in the league. Five of the team’s seven first-half drives ended in punts before another Tucker field goal cut the Oakland lead to 14-6 at halftime.
After three weeks of watching his team fail to run for even four yards a carry, Ravens coach John Harbaugh benched running back Justin Forsett, the team’s MVP in 2014. West, the former Towson star, started and managed a season-best 21-yard run in the second quarter. But he was not a consistent threat in the first half, in part because the Ravens only handed him the ball five times.
West started to come on in the third quarter, running six times for 42 yards on a 13-play, 72-yard drive that ended with the Ravens’ first touchdown of the day on a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Joe Flacco.
The Ravens, down 14-12, seemed to control the game at that point. But Raiders linebacker Bruce Irvin turned the tide again with a sack and forced fumble on Flacco that put Oakland in position to extend its lead to 21-12 on another Carr touchdown pass to Crabtree.
Irvin’s sack on Flacco was part of a difficult day for the Ravens offensive line.
A foot injury put rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley on the inactive list, and fellow rookie Alex Lewis did not start at left guard after missing most of the previous week because of a concussion.
James Hurst, filling in for Stanley, committed several penalties as he tried in vain to prevent swift and powerful defensive end Khalil Mack from swooping in on Flacco.