Joe Flacco vowed to stand tall in the face of criticism, and he did just that in his postgame news conference Sunday. He took accountability for the Ravens passing game's struggles, acknowledged his embarrassment and made no attempt to sugarcoat another brutal performance by the offense he leads.
What the quarterback didn't do, nor did any of his teammates or head coach, is provide any answers on how to fix an offense that continues to regress and now has cost the team back-to-back games, with help from the punt coverage unit.
"I'm not getting into all that," Flacco said when asked whether changes need to be made after a tough-to-digest 16-10 loss to the Washington Redskins before an announced 71,318 at windy M&T Bank Stadium. "We're not playing well enough. We're not making plays. We're only giving ourselves a couple of plays to be made, but when they're there, we're just not making them. We are running off the field way too much. Definitely not fun to be out there today after the first series."
For the second straight week, the Ravens' fate was sealed when Flacco fired incomplete on fourth down in opposing territory. Three plays after Breshad Perriman's go-ahead touchdown was reversed by replay after he was shown to have gotten just one foot inbounds, fellow wide receiver Mike Wallace dropped a contested pass on fourth-and-8.
The focus, though, should be on what preceded the final incompletion: a pattern of poor and mistake-prone offensive play — including curious play-calling by offensive coordinator Marc Trestman — that forced the Ravens (3-2) to come from behind in the fourth quarter despite a defense that continued to give the team chances.
"I'm trying to be as patient as I can and do all the right things, and when things aren't working out, it is not pretty," Flacco said. "It does not feel good to continue to not score points. Right now, we're playing to win on the last drive or have our defense hold on that last drive, and it's not a good formula."
The Ravens' season is suddenly heading in the wrong direction, their 3-0 start a distant memory after back-to-back home losses in which the team did more to beat itself than the opponent. In falling to the Redskins (3-2), the Ravens had nine penalties, gave up their second-longest punt return touchdown in franchise history, botched a fake-field-goal attempt and were shut out by one of the league's worst defenses for the game's final 44 minutes, 56 seconds.
"Just very disappointed," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who watched kicker Justin Tucker throw an incomplete pass rather than attempt a relatively short field-goal attempt in the second quarter. "It starts with me. We're not playing the type of football we need to play to win a football game like that. Way too many self-inflicted mistakes. It's a long season. We're 3-2; we have plenty of time to get it fixed. We have the players, we have the scheme, we have everything we need. But we can't play like that and make the mistakes we made and win the football game."
The Ravens have so many things to address before Sunday's road game against the New York Giants. Injuries Sunday to wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. (sprained ankle), right tackle Rick Wagner (thigh), inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh) and cornerback Sheldon Price, who started in place of the struggling and inactive Shareece Wright (back spasms) before hurting his thigh, will thrust other players into bigger roles.
Their normally reliable punt coverage team has been a mess in recent weeks, the latest indiscretion being Jamison Crowder's momentum-shifting 85-yard return late in the first quarter. The Redskins wouldn't score again until quarterback Kirk Cousins hit wide receiver Pierre Garcon for a 21-yard touchdown pass to give the visitors a 13-10 lead in the third quarter.
"We let them back in the game with a punt return for a touchdown," Harbaugh said. "It's not what we do. That's not winning football."
Linebacker C.J. Mosley also made a costly mistake after intercepting a pass from Cousins in the third quarter. Reaching for the goal line with the ball, he instead fumbled it through the side of the end zone. Rather than a Ravens touchdown, or even a Ravens possession at the 1-yard line, the Redskins had the ball after a touchback.
Above all, though, the Ravens' biggest questions are on offense. The team finally appeared to be on the verge of a quality performance when it took the game's opening possession 75 yards, scoring on Flacco's 7-yard pass to tight end Crockett Gillmore. The team's smoothest drive all season featured five runs for 49 yards, including a 35-yard carry by running back Terrance West on third-and-1, and four passes.
Yet after an 11-carry, 74-yard first quarter, the Ravens had just seven designed runs over the final three quarters against the NFL's 30th-ranked rushing defense.
"That's not my decision," said West, who had 95 yards on 11 carries. "I don't call the plays."
West said earlier that the Ravens "beat ourselves," a popular opinion in the home locker room.
Harbaugh defended the play-calling and said he didn't feel the team abandoned the running game. He cited the offense's overall lack of execution: The Ravens had eight consecutive drives of four plays or fewer.
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But they also ran the ball on just two of 13 plays in the second quarter after their ground game had gotten off to such a strong start. Overall, Flacco dropped back to pass 50 times in the game, and the Ravens averaged 3.9 yards on those plays. On their 18 handoffs, they averaged 6.2 yards. Seemingly incapable of picking up big chunks in the passing game, especially with Smith back in the locker room, why not rely more on the rushing attack?
"I think we have to find our offense," Harbaugh said. "We've had that all year, basically. That's been the story of the season. We can't find continuity on offense. We didn't protect the quarterback particularly well. He got hit way too much again. That has to stop. The run game was pretty good, for the most part, but you just can't run the ball. You have to make some plays in the passing game."
When the Ravens last lost a regular-season game to the Redskins, late in the 2012 season, Harbaugh fired much-maligned offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell. The move helped jump-start a Super Bowl run. The Ravens have another former offensive coordinator in Marty Mornhinweg currently serving as quarterbacks coach. There was no indication after the game that Harbaugh was prepared to make a change, but frustration was palpable from all corners of the locker room.
Flacco seemed uncomfortable answering questions, which is rare. Right guard Marshal Yanda declined to speak to reporters because he didn't want to say something he'd regret. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs wasn't feeling too good about himself, either.
"Losing sucks," he said. "The way we are losing is very unfortunate, and it's very disappointing. We have to dig ourselves out of the hole we just put ourselves in, and we have to play better all around."