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Ravens are left lamenting their mistakes in 28-27 loss to Raiders

The Ravens lined up on the 50-yard line with more than a minute left on the clock and perhaps 10 yards to go to set up Justin Tucker for a game-winning field goal.

Nineteen seconds and four plays later, they had not moved an inch, and their first loss of the 2016 season — 28-27 to the visiting Oakland Raiders — was assured.

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The futility of that final possession spoke to an uncertainty lingering over the Ravens, despite their 3-1 start to the season.

Their offense has made too many mistakes and not hit enough home-run plays early in games. As quarterback Joe Flacco acknowledged after the loss, it's a group still grasping for a consistent sense of self.

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"I wish we weren't," he said. "I wish we were where we need to be and putting up 30 points a game, and if we weren't, being really disappointed in it. But we're just not there."

Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. spoke of the anger he felt after running an incorrect route on the second possession of the game. The bitter taste from that miscue and countless others — including 10 penalties — lingered, despite the fact Smith caught eight passes for 111 yards.

"As a team, we can't let each other down," he said. "I think we've done that and we've made it very difficult, which puts a ton of pressure on the defense."

It was telling to hear the offensive veterans linger on the negative despite the fact they'd staged another stirring rally and nearly pulled out a wild victory in front of 71,152 fans at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens led 27-21 with 3:36 to go, but their defense — so good for most of the game — could not stop Raiders quarterback Derek Carr on a decisive final drive.

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The players and coach John Harbaugh did not dwell on those topsy-turvy final moments so much as they kicked themselves for letting the circumstances become desperate in the first place.

"We kept the pressure on ourselves too much," Harbaugh said. "What we needed to do was put the pressure on our opponents more than ourselves. Those are the things that hurt us."

He could have been talking about the penalties, the lack of downfield plays or the inconsistent pass blocking that reached a low point when Flacco was sacked and stripped on his own 30-yard line in the fourth quarter. That play, one of many forgettable ones for a Ravens offensive line with a patchwork left side, set up the third of Oakland's four touchdowns.

Fans and analysts spent the last week wondering how good the Ravens really were after three wins by a combined 13 points against seemingly three of the NFL's worst teams.

Mark Selig, Ravens editor: Where did that come from? Even after a third quarter in which the Ravens dominated the ball (but only scored seven points), it

Their matchup with the Raiders, a winning team that came in with the league's second-most productive offense, promised at least a few answers.

The Ravens defense, ranked second in the league coming in, played well overall, holding the Raiders to 261 total yards. Carr, who torched the Ravens for a career-high 351 yards in a 37-33 Raiders win last season, cobbled together just two substantial drives.

The Ravens nonetheless played from behind for most of the afternoon because of an offense that stumbled to just six points in the first half.

"To come out and only put up six points in the first half and get off to that start, dig yourself a hole like that, and then … you have to play a perfect game," Flacco said.

The Ravens did solve one significant offensive problem against the Raiders as running back Terrance West, starting for the first time this season, gained 113 yards on 21 carries.

After three weeks of subpar running numbers, Harbaugh put veteran back Justin Forsett on the inactive list Sunday. "We were looking for a spark," Harbaugh said.

West, the former Towson star, delivered it. With 87 yards in the second half, he seemed to validate his viewpoint that he needs substantial carries to find his best form.

Terrance West validated Ravens' decision to start him instead of Justin Forsett vs. Raiders

"I like to feel a defense out," he said. "I get stronger as the game goes on."

Where the Ravens did not get stronger was on the offensive line, which featured James Hurst and Ryan Jensen filling in on the left side for rookie starters Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis.

A foot injury put left tackle Stanley, the team's first-round draft pick, on the inactive list. Lewis was active but did not start at left guard after missing a week of practice because of a concussion.

It's an open question whether Stanley and Lewis would have fared any better against Oakland's swift and powerful defensive end, Khalil Mack. But Hurst was overmatched.

The Raiders sacked Flacco twice and had him on the run for much of the afternoon.

"Obviously, we want to keep Joe clean," right guard Marshal Yanda said. "He definitely got hit out there too much today."

Stanley, who was in a walking boot last Wednesday, was non-committal when asked if he'd be back next weekend when the Ravens host the Washington Redskins.

The big TV story of the Ravens’ season so far has been the consistently high quality of the CBS telecasts.

For all the soul searching on the offense, the team's defensive leaders also criticized themselves for allowing the Raiders to reach the end zone with 2:12 left on the clock.

Linebacker C.J. Mosley said they gave the game away, missing the same plays they'd covered earlier in the game.

"The stats say that we did well, but I know how we play, how we feel about our defense; we don't want to give up those kinds of plays," he said.

Despite the presence of linebacker Elvis Dumervil, playing for the first time this season after a foot injury, the Ravens did not hit Carr once all game. Flacco, by contrast, took six hits.

It all helped explain why the Ravens were scrambling in the fourth quarter, as they so often are.

They made a great show of it again. First, Flacco hit Smith for a 52-yard catch-and-run touchdown to cut the lead to 21-19 with 6:38 left.

On the next drive, Ravens defensive end Lawrence Guy stripped Raiders running back DeAndre Washington at Oakland's 17-yard line. West plowed into the end zone four plays later, and a successful two-point conversion made it 27-21 Ravens.

Fans and players both thought another thrilling victory was at hand.

But the Ravens know they can't flirt with disaster every week and expect to win consistently. They tried it last season and didn't like the results.

"Everything that we do right now is just probably a little tougher than it needs to be," Flacco said.

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