In drive toward playoffs, offense still in neutral

Ravens Gameday

Colts 20, Ravens 10

December 20, 2004|By JOHN EISENBERG

INDIANAPOLIS - The outrage that once made games with the Colts as important as any on the Ravens' schedule was missing last night.

The Ravens' players never cared, anyway; it wasn't their war. And most Baltimore fans seemingly have moved on, which is fortunate, as the sight of the Colts' ring of honor at the RCA Dome last night, with Robert Irsay prominent among the honorees, would otherwise cause mass indigestion.

But the Ravens and their fans have other concerns now; other stomach-turning issues. The team's ever-shrinking window into the 2004 AFC playoffs, for instance. The Colts' 20-10 victory last night didn't make things any easier.

More importantly, what can be done about an offense whose ineffectiveness continues to put too much pressure on the team's other units?

Some might want to add the defense to the list of worries after last night. The Colts' high-powered offense certainly delivered enough strikes against it to win.

But don't pin this loss on the defense. It limited Peyton Manning and the Colts to a single field goal over the first 29 minutes and had the Ravens in position for a halftime lead until quarterback Kyle Boller threw an interception.

Yes, the Colts' offense finally did break through in the second half, with Colts receiver Marvin Harrison embarrassing Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister on a 29-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. McAlister might still be looking for Harrison.

"It took a little while for us to sort it out, but we finally moved the ball," Colts coach Tony Dungy said.

But overall, the Ravens' defense fared about as well as anyone has against the Colts' dangerous offense, which, let's face it, is just too good for the rest of the league right now, especially at home in their dome.

To borrow language from tennis, the Ravens' defense held serve against the Colts' offense, succeeding in making it a game. Manning led the Colts on only one length-of-the-field touchdown drive. A lot of teams don't do that.

But the Ravens' offense didn't do nearly enough to take advantage of the opportunity.

Heard that before?

The offense produced only one field goal in the first three quarters. That's just not enough in a game with the high-scoring Colts.

Boller did produce a minor, late offensive flurry once the Ravens were 17 points down, leading one drive for a touchdown and another deep into Colts territory.

But the long-shot comeback ended in a hail of mistakes.

A long completion from Boller to tight end Todd Heap moved the ball to the Colts' 15, but it was called back because Ravens center Casey Rabach was ineligibly downfield - a small penalty that was huge for the Ravens, pushing them back 23 yards to the Colts' 38.

Then, on fourth down in that series, Ravens receiver Clarence Moore dropped another long pass that would have put the Ravens inside the Colts' 15. Boller's pass was behind Moore, who was open, but the receiver had both hands on the ball and should have caught it.

It was that kind of a night. Heap also dropped a ball in the end zone. Boller threw two interceptions. Matt Stover's field-goal attempt hit one of his own lineman in the back, setting up a short Colts touchdown drive.

In the first half, Boller threw one of his best balls of the year, a long downfield strike to Travis Taylor to put the Ravens in scoring position. On the next play, the Colts seemed to forget about Ravens tight end Darnell Dinkins, leaving him wide open in the middle of the field. But Boller didn't see him at first, then threw behind Dinkins. A sack eventually pushed the Ravens out of field-goal range.

Same old story. The Ravens' offense, ranked last in the league in passing by a wide margin, totaled just two touchdowns in the team's three toughest road games of 2004 so far, at Philadelphia, New England and Indianapolis.

That shortfall has the team's playoff hopes in serious jeopardy. With last night's defeat, the Ravens are now one of four teams with an 8-6 record in the hunt for the last AFC wild-card berth.

With that many teams in the running, it's almost certain at least one will sweep its last two games. For the Ravens to do so, they have to win at Pittsburgh on Sunday.

The defense can keep them in it, if last night was any indication. Its chess match with Manning and the Colts' offense was fun to watch.

Before each play, Manning stood at the line gesturing and shouting as the Colts operated without a huddle and changed alignments on the fly. Across the line, the Ravens' defenders also moved in and out of formations, changing right up until the snap.

"They did some really good things against us," Dungy said. "We don't like it when we're under 28 points."

But they weren't far under. And against the Ravens, that was more than enough.

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