Ravens lack playmakers and it was the difference between winning, losing Sunday

Ravens columnist Mike Preston talks about the Ravens' loss to the Broncos and the lack of playmakers. He also discusses the loss of linebacker Terrell Suggs. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

The ticking sound coming out of Sports Authority Field Sunday wasn't the final seconds of the Ravens' loss to the Denver Broncos, but the clock running on the Ravens' young receivers.

They need to step up. They need to make some plays.


Because if they don't, the Ravens will probably lose more games like they did Sunday, a 19-13 defeat to Denver. These are the kind of games where a win builds confidence and momentum, and the Ravens did neither.

The lack of speed and impact players on this offense is something that needs to be watched all season because there will come a point when time runs out.

The importance of finding these types of players became even more of a priority not just because the Ravens lost a game, but because they also lost one of their top playmakers for the season in outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon.

To compensate, the Ravens are going to need more big plays on the other side of the ball, and they could have used a few more against Denver.

Instead, No. 2 receiver Kamar Aiken had one catch for minus-1 yards. No. 3 receiver Marlon Brown had two for 25 yards and one of those was for 22. Michael Campanaro had one for eight. Even the sorry Oakland Raiders, the Ravens' next opponent, will have no fear of this group.

On Sunday when the Ravens needed a clutch play down the stretch, they couldn't get one in the final seconds because star receiver Steve Smith Sr., who also returned two punts, might have been too tired. If he wasn't, he will be at the end of this season if he continues this pace.

Tight end Crockett Gillmore had quarterback Joe Flacco's nice, touch pass trickle down his face mask in the end zone as time expired in the fourth period, but he couldn't hold onto the ball and it rolled into the arms of safety Darian Stewart to preserve the win for Denver.

It was a great play all the way around and a tough catch for Gillmore to make, but impact players make that play. Great players pull down that reception.


If these young receivers don't develop, this could be the difference of going deep into the postseason or finishing 8-8. Head coaches are supposed to put their teams in position to make plays in the last four minutes of a game and then playmakers take over.

Where were they Sunday?

Everything needs to be kept in perspective because this was only the first game of the season. But this could have been a big victory for the Ravens. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning was horrible and looked much like a player who should have retired last season.

The Ravens were winning the field position game and their defense was dominating, but they didn't have enough firepower to take control of the game.

After Aqib Talib intercepted a Flacco pass and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown with 10 seconds left in the third quarter, the Ravens still had ample time to win with a strong-armed quarterback like Flacco. But the only player you even thought could make the big play was Steve Smith Sr.

That's it.


The only other options were a checkdown pass to running back Justin Forsett or one of those mid-range passes over the middle to a slow tight end.

You can't put all the blame on the receivers. Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman didn't help the Ravens slow the pressure on Flacco with any screens, draws or slant-ins. And the offensive line was horrendous, allowing Flacco to be hit nine times and sacked twice.

But when a team is playing a good team on the road, you have to win these games when the other team isn't playing well. If the Ravens had won this game, they would be riding high. Every team likes to win the season opener because it's a culmination of months of work during the offseason.

If you lose, it's like carrying around a black cloud for another week. Unfortunately for the Ravens, this will stay with them for seven days out on the West Coast as they prepare for the Raiders.

But again, it was only the first game. Flacco usually regroups after he plays poorly and Denver's defense is one of the better ones in the league at rushing the quarterback.

So, the offensive line will play better next time out, too

"We've got a lot to work on obviously," Flacco said. "We're a lot better team than that. A pretty poor showing, but you've got to keep your head up and you've got to move on quickly because in this league the next one comes up on top of you like that. So we've just got to make sure we stay confident and bounce back as soon as possible."

Those receivers remain a work in progress. They will get better, but how long will it take? And once they do, is that good enough?

We got the answer Sunday, but it wasn't what the Ravens needed. They weren't good enough.