Ravens stop QB, can't start offense

Ravens Gameday

Colts 20, Ravens 10

December 20, 2004|By DAVID STEELE

INDIANAPOLIS — David SteeleINDIANAPOLIS - It has to be absolutely exasperating and utterly draining for a defense to stand in against Peyton Manning and the offensive unit he directs so deftly. By the fourth quarter of last night's game at the RCA Dome, the toll of the effort showed on the Ravens' defense. Under pressure like that, who wouldn't start to crack, even a tiny bit?

Midway through that fourth quarter, Manning began to slip and slide away from the rush that came at him from angles he'd probably only imagined before. Worse for the Ravens, flags began to fly - defensive holding, twice, downfield, by Deion Sanders each time, helping move chains when Manning and Edgerrin James couldn't. The Colts took what little they were given. Then, the Ravens stiffened, again. Automatic Mike Vanderjagt came on for a short field-goal try, amid boos from the hometown fans. He missed, amid more boos, as Manning and Co. slouched to the sidelines.

The Ravens were winning the battle, the one the nation had tuned in to see, the one they had to win for the team to even have a chance in the middle of one of the weirder last months of a season you'll ever see.

But considering they were trailing 20-10 with time running out, the Ravens were not going to win the war. Not ever. Not with this offense. The Ravens will forever look back at this season with regret - and yes, it's reasonably safe to say that even as they remain alive in a newly watered-down AFC playoff race.

The Ravens have, and have had all season, a Super Bowl-worthy defense. Say what you will about injuries, suspensions and bad luck, but one way or another, that unit was denied a chance for glory by a slap-dash, mix-and-match offensive unit that made things harder for them every step of the way.

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 they had to be on the field at the end of the game, looking at Manning take a knee twice at the 4-yard line, 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.

What had Ray Lewis and his guys done to deserve that? Nothing. The defense was lined up there 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 Boller pass behind his receiver inside the 15 cost them 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. The defense got beaten down one time, and one time only, with one robust Colts drive. Everything else was a gift. Even the usually reliable Matt Stover picked a bad line to uncork his worst kick of the year, into the back of his own line, to be returned into Ravens territory and turned into another touchdown.

Even if he had been clicking the way he often has this season, nothing Manning could have done last night could have put as much pressure on the Ravens' defense as the Ravens' offense did.

If only the offense had done its job. If it could have gotten into the end zone when it meant something. If it hadn't made a Colts defense that's fairly decent at best look like the Steel Curtain.

It all could have made what the defense did last night count for something. Ray Lewis spent three quarters of the game waving and directing and orchestrating his defensive players all over the line of scrimmage - waving and directing with a sore wrist that had driven him from the field in the first quarter. He stayed in there, and so did the rest of the defense.

Manning didn't catch Dan Marino last night. He didn't bomb the Ravens into submission, not by a long shot.

It didn't matter.

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