PHILADELPHIA -- What could have become the Ravens' coming-out party ended with -- of all people -- Terrell Owens celebrating.
The Ravens' excruciating 15-10 loss to the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles yesterday was one they inevitably let slip through their grasp, from Chester Taylor's fumble to the missed tackles on Owens.
The Ravens' turnover in Eagles territory led to Owens' 11-yard touchdown in a four-minute swing in the fourth quarter, transforming a potential season-defining upset to an embarrassing image that could haunt them for the rest of the year.
When Owens reached the end zone, he punctuated the game-deciding score by taunting the Ravens and linebacker Ray Lewis. Seven months after spurning his trade to the Ravens, the Eagles receiver continued his in-your-face feud with a celebration that mocked Lewis' pre-game dance.
The misery didn't end at Lincoln Financial Field as, across the state, the Pittsburgh Steelers accomplished what the Ravens could not. The Steelers upended the previously undefeated New England Patriots, moving two games ahead of the Ravens (4-3) in the AFC North with nine weeks remaining.
"This feels like a playoff loss," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "We're trying to reach that elite level. To do that, you've got to beat the elite teams. This is one of those opportunities. Unfortunately, we didn't take advantage of that."
With the Ravens missing their three Pro Bowl offensive players (left tackle Jonathan Ogden, running back Jamal Lewis and tight end Todd Heap), there is little room for error these days.
Trailing 9-3 early in the fourth quarter, the Ravens put together one of the best drives of the game, marching to Philadelphia's 39-yard line. But Taylor, who was filling in for Lewis, serving the final game of his NFL suspension, fumbled after a 3-yard gain when safety Brian Dawkins' elbow dislodged the ball.
Giving the Ravens a glimpse of what could have been, Owens was the catalyst on the ensuing drive, making three catches and accounting for 40 of the Eagles' 65 yards on the series.
His touchdown, which came with 9:12 left in the game, was the first against the Ravens' defense in 10 quarters, ending a streak of 28 drives. The Ravens, who lead the NFL in scoring defense, held Philadelphia 13 points under its season average.
While Taylor declined to talk after the game, his offensive teammates put the loss on them.
"Coach always says every week, 'Hold onto the ball, play great defense and we'll win,'" left guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "When we do those things to help ourselves, then we're having a different train ride home. It's going to be quieter now."
The unspoken moment that likely lingered on that ride was Owens' latest innovative touchdown escapade.
Known for waving pom-poms and signing a ball after a score, Owens ridiculed Lewis with a detailed rendition of his dance from picking up a piece of grass to mimicking his trademark arm-flailing, hip-thrusting gyrations.
For Lewis, who made a point to stay away from any controversy with Owens last week, this struck a personal chord.
"Don't be a coward and wait until you make one play to do something," Lewis said.
"What's flattering is that he has me on his mind when he's at home," Lewis added with a wink. "I thought women would do that. But if you have a man on [your] mind at home, something is wrong with that."
Owens, who finished with eight catches for 101 yards, said, "I had a little fun out there. I can't do it like he does, but I tried my best. If you don't like what I do, stop me from getting in the end zone."
The Ravens failed to do so as Owens caught the short slant, shook cornerback Gary Baxter off his back and broke through Ed Reed's arm tackle for his ninth touchdown of the season, the same number scored by the entire Ravens offense.
"What's frustrating is the tackle was there to make," Lewis said. "You make the tackle, we're off the field and you give them another field goal."
The Ravens responded with just their second touchdown in three games, which was set up by a 52-yard pass to rookie receiver Clarence Moore. Tight end Daniel Wilcox's 7-yard touchdown catch (the first of his career) closed the Ravens within 15-10 with 5:52 remaining in the game.
The Ravens' defense held the Eagles without a first down on the next two drives, but their offense couldn't move past the Philadelphia 48 on its last two possessions.
Their last-gasp, fourth-down attempt came with a minute left, when Travis Taylor dived to get a hand on a pass and nearly pulled it in to extend the drive.
"I should have come up with it," said Taylor, who had six receptions for 80 yards. "That's what this game was all about: It was so close."
The Ravens got the game they wanted -- a low-scoring one -- as they mixed their running attack (Chester Taylor's 78 yards) with a short passing scheme. Boller finished 24-for-38 passing for a season-best 223 yards.
"We had a chance; that's the best part about it," Boller said. "We had a chance to go out there and win the game. We came up short. I really did feel like we could come down there and put the last score in."
Said coach Brian Billick: "We lost the game and you can't ever feel good about a loss. With the circumstances, on the road, against a championship-caliber club, with the adversity we faced, I'm not going to go home and slit my wrists."
With tough road games looming against the New York Jets, New England, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, the Ravens acknowledged the importance of Sunday's prime-time game at home against the Cleveland Browns.
"At 4-3, we now have some urgency," Mulitalo said. "But the only way we can go forward is to let this game go."