Ravens stop QB, can't start offense

Ravens Gameday

Colts 20, Ravens 10

December 20, 2004|By David Steele

INDIANAPOLIS - The Colts got booed off their home field last night. The Ravens made the fans in the RCA Dome do that, stunning a national TV audience and the Indianapolis players themselves.

Peyton Manning and Co. slouched off the field, heads hanging, the door slammed on them at the 15-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Mike Vanderjagt, as automatic as they come, missed a chip-shot field goal to incite more booing. Nothing was easy for anyone entrusted and expected to score for the Colts.

And later, they got booed again.

The Ravens were holding up their end of the load in a game they had to win for the team to even have a realistic chance at the AFC playoffs in the middle of one of the weirder last months of a season you'll ever see.

But the Ravens were not going to win the game because when that telling sequence was over, they were still trailing by the eventual final score of 20-10 with four minutes left.

They were never going to win this game, not with this offense. The chase isn't over yet, not with Denver doing everything it can to blow a playoff berth and get a coach and quarterback fired. Someone's going to back into the playoffs, and it might as well be the Ravens.

Yet the franchise and its fans will forever look back at this season with regret. The Ravens have, and have had all season, a Super Bowl-worthy defense, and never was it more worthy than it was last night against the Colts. Not only did Manning not catch Dan Marino last night, but he also was a mere mistake here or there away from having to sweat out the final minutes and tune out even more boos.

Say what you will about injuries, suspensions and bad luck, but one way or another, the Ravens' defense was denied a chance for glory by a slapdash, mix-and-match offensive unit that made things harder for them every step of the way. It's tough deciding whether to feel sorry for Brian Billick and the other decision-makers who cobbled this together, or to get angry at them.

Billick wasn't looking for sympathy afterward, but he did have his regrets. "You've got to play a complete game," he said, repeating it later. It went without saying that it's easier to play a complete game with a complete team.

It's hard to call the Colts complete, but their defense, which no one confuses with the Steel Curtain, did its job often enough. Or, the Ravens' offense did their job for them. The numbers will look respectable this morning, especially Jamal Lewis running as if it were 2003 again. But, to borrow Billick's phrase, the result was painfully incomplete.

Of all the sad circumstances the offense put the defense into last night, the saddest was that final Colts possession. It wasn't even close to fair that the defense had to be on the field at the end of the game, looking at Manning take a knee twice inside the 10, having the cameras run past them to encircle the quarterback who endured a workout like he hadn't undergone all year, yet ran off victorious. Amid more boos, but what difference did it make then?

What had Ray Lewis and his guys done to deserve that - after a night of moving and counter-moving, directing and redirecting, matching Manning and his changing calls and formations play for play? Nothing. The defense was lined up there near the 5 because of Kyle Boller's second interception of the night, because Cato June hadn't made it to the end zone untouched after picking the ball off deep in Colts' territory in the final minute, in the final futile Ravens' attempt at a score.

The defense didn't deserve to be trying to stop Manning from the Ravens' 46 at the end of the first half, after Boller's first interception in Colts territory, when the game was stunningly tied at 3-all. That mishap, and Manning's subsequent completion to the 15, handed the Colts three easy points. On the possession before that, a bad pass by Boller behind his receiver inside the 15 cost the Ravens a chance at points. So did a sack by an untouched Dwight Freeney on the first play after the two-minute warning, which took them out of field-goal range.

During one stretch of the second quarter, the Ravens held the Colts to 17 yards on nine plays over three series, with Manning completing only one of five passes, for 4 yards, backing them up near their goal line, getting an assist from some fine punting by Dave Zastudil and setting up their own offense in good field position.

The result was that they went to the locker room down 6-3. Hold this offense to six points at home in the first half in a big game for both sides, and you can't still be playing from behind.

The second half? A nightmare of missed opportunities.

Nothing Manning could have done last night, even at his absolute best, could have put as much pressure on the Ravens' defense as the Ravens' offense did.

That's the story of their season, no matter when it ends.

Low road

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