If defense can't do it, nowhere to turn

Ravens Gameday

Bears 10, Ravens 6

October 24, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

CHICAGO — Chicago-- --The last line of defense, literally, was the defense.

When all else failed, the Ravens always had their defense. When there was no other reason for hope, the Ravens' faithful could always turn to the defense. When the predictions of division titles and Super Bowl berths surfaced, the defense was the reason.

It's almost unfair, even now, to place the blame on or anywhere near the defense when the Ravens lose a game like yesterday's 10-6 slopfest against the Bears. The Ravens fooled everybody with their shtick about ramping up the offense this season. Just like every other year, the defense can't afford to make a mistake.

Yet the Ravens' defense made enough of them yesterday at the wrong times that even while giving up just 10 points, they meant the game.

Which means the Ravens have nothing left.

The stoic, overburdened defense is as responsible for this grotesque defeat to a bad team with a rookie quarterback as everybody else is. It's as responsible for this 2-4 start as everybody else.

"Before every team achieves greatness, they have to go through a time of humility, and I think right now this is our time," said Terrell Suggs, whose untimely penalties recently are making him a feast-or-famine player. "We just have to play better in every phase of the game, all-around."

The Ravens' defensive players have said such things before, in the spirit of team unity, to not point too much of a finger at their inept offensive brethren. This time, though, it rings completely true. It really is all around, in every phase, including the one everyone takes for granted.

It may be the cumulative effect of carrying the team all these years. But since last season, they've gone from a team that breaks an opponent's will, to a team that bends but doesn't break, to a team that takes mental breaks at the wrong time.

Yesterday, the Ravens never forced the kind of mistake it routinely has, the kind it figured to force the Bears to make. Again, no turnovers, freezing them at a lowly six this season. And two sacks, both on one second-quarter series, one that happened only because Kyle Orton - who should have been fresh meat for a defense like the Ravens' - lost his grip on the ball while throwing it.

Worse, the Bears were escorted downfield on both of their scores by Ravens penalties, misplays and other blunders. Suggs was one of the culprits on each drive, guessing wrong on the touchdown pass to Marc Edwards in the first quarter and extending a drive with a late hit on Orton on the field-goal drive in the third.

He wasn't alone. Adalius Thomas and Dale Carter kept the touchdown drive alive with penalties. On the third-quarter drive to a field goal, the Ravens had to burn a timeout because they couldn't get the right players on the field on a critical third down at the 5.

In the fourth quarter, they got pushed around for nearly 11 minutes, unable to get off the field when they needed to, unable to keep Thomas Jones from hammering in the final nails (he gained 83 of his 139 yards, 39 on one game-sealing burst on the final possession).

It wasn't a meltdown of Lions-like proportions, but matched with that debacle, this letdown paints an ugly picture. The defense is the Ravens' identity, but now opponents have to wonder if that defense is going to open the door for them.

This was the team's eighth loss in the past 12 games dating to last season, including six straight on the road. That's usually where this defense stands up and shuts up the opposing crowd. There wasn't much of a crowd at Soldier Field, but nothing shut it up. As for the previous losses, the defense has hardly been an innocent bystander - not against the Bengals and Steelers last year, not in Tennessee or Chicago this year.

The standard is almost unrealistically high, but that's the standard the Ravens set. They have no choice but to live up to it. If they couldn't live up to it against a lame group like the Bears, then against the next month's worth of contenders they have no chance.

This thing is rolling downhill, and the people usually counted on to stop it, can't. Ray Lewis, limping to the locker room midway through the final quarter, can't. Ed Reed, reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year but injured and inactive yesterday, can't. Suggs, showing up disastrously late at the quarterback for the second time in three games, can't.

All the playmakers who used to consistently get to the ball, get into the end zone, give the offense a short field, turn blockers into tacklers and vice versa - they can't, either.

This isn't meant to be as much a criticism as a eulogy; it makes you less angry than it does sad.

The Ravens we've known for so long are gone, and we probably shouldn't hold our breath waiting for them to come back.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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