Ravens seem near breaking point

This is when players question coaches and coaches question players. It's the breaking point for the Ravens.

There are various stages for a team during an NFL season, and the Ravens are at their breaking point.

If they had beaten the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday to win a second consecutive game, maybe that could have served as a turning point. But they are past that stage now.

In the 22-20 loss, there were signs of a team falling apart, including numerous penalties, a lack of discipline and poor coaching, all of which led to a very quiet and frustrated locker room after the game.

The Ravens have lost a lot of games this season, but this one was devastating because it came in the final seconds against one of the NFL's perennial losers.

"It's a tough loss, man. I've never lost one like this before," said Ravens running back Justin Forsett, a former Jaguar.

"It's heartbreaking," Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil said.

To a man, the Ravens said they would bounce back and play hard like they've done every game this season, but these types of losses don't just hurt. They eat at your soul and fester for a while. Some teams recover, but a lot don't, especially when they fall out of playoff contention.

Will the Ravens become the 2015 version of the Cleveland Browns, a team that folds early every season? Or have they hit the proverbial rock bottom, which means the only way to go is up?

"That's one thing I'm not worried about. Throughout this whole year, the adversity we've faced, we've always come to work and practiced harder than any other team I've played with," Forsett said. "The guys are involved in trying to grow each week. We're going to stay together; we're going to fight. We're Ravens. We're going to be relentless, and we're going to go out every game and prepare to win."

That sounds good in theory, but the Ravens are struggling for answers and not finding any. With every loss there is more doubt about the schemes and the players, as well as the coaches. You can sense there is frustration about the offense.

When some players are asked about the offense now, you are getting answers like: "I don't call plays, I just do my job," or "those types of decisions are above my pay grade."

Really. That's a bad sign.

So was the Ravens' decision to throw a 4-yard pass into the right flat to running back Buck Allen with two minutes left in the game instead of trying to get nine yards for a first down that would have sealed the victory.

That is a loser's mentality. It was so unlike Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who always stays in attack mode. It was a sign of panic, of a team in desperation.

Against Arizona a couple of weeks ago, we saw an offense that lacked direction in the final two minutes against the Cardinals. And Sunday, we saw a defense that started to celebrate one play too early.

You have to question some coaching at this point. Why does offensive coordinator Marc Trestman continue to run pass plays where the receiver consistently comes up four-to-five yards short of the first down marker?

Are the Ravens so desperate on defense now that they need to play untested linebacker Arthur Brown and try cornerback Lardarius Webb at safety? Or are they making plans for the future?

Some of these things are puzzling, but not as baffling as the Ravens having nine men on the field to return a punt with about four minutes left in the game Sunday.

These things shouldn't be happening in game No. 9. So, this is a time when coaches question players and players question coaches. It always happens with losing teams, especially after close losses.

The Ravens have some leaders on this team, but not enough to fill the void left by injured players Steve Smith Sr. and Terrell Suggs. Maybe Smith would have told fullback Kyle Juszczyk to stay in bounds after his catch late in the game, or maybe Suggs would have told his teammates to keep hustling until the final whistle.

The NFL acknowledged Monday that officials blew the call on the play before the field goal because the Jaguars weren't set. They should have been penalized, which would have resulted in a 10-second runoff and ended the game.

But those things happen to losing teams. Good teams make plays and don't allow themselves to be put in that position at the end of games against bad teams like Jacksonville. Harbaugh has done a good job of getting his team mentally ready to play every week, but that was to be expected as long as the Ravens could possibly make the playoffs.

But those dreams faded a lot Sunday. When that goal is gone, sometimes veteran players stop playing hard and assistant coaches don't put as much into the game plan.

This team has always had a strong work ethic, going back to the days of coach Ted Marchibroda from 1996 to 1998, but those teams had a breaking point, too.

This is uncharted territory for Harbaugh, who is in his eighth season as Ravens coach. He better get them redirected soon, because a lot of teams don't survive their breaking point.

They just break.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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