This loss didn't look like past four

Ravens Gameday

November 01, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

Pittsburgh -- The previous four losses were varying degrees of ugly. This one was a heartbreaker, the first of the year.

The Ravens didn't deserve to win any of those other four. You could make a case, of course, that they didn't deserve to beat the Steelers; in the NFL, after all, you tend to get exactly what you deserve, and the final score is all that matters.

But if you're short two recent NFL Defensive Players of the Year, if your offense can't be trusted to even get a play in from the sidelines in time, if your lead back has spent the week in public-relations hell, if you're staring a ticket to the Reggie Bush Sweepstakes in the face - if you face all that and still take a lead into the final three minutes at a hostile joint like Heinz Field against a rival favored by nearly a dozen points, you deserve better than what the Ravens are living with this morning.

Yes, 2-5 is bad, crushing to their playoff hopes, especially with what the next month holds. But this fifth loss was too close to being Win No. 3 to go down easily.

Don't bother grasping for silver linings. They don't matter today. They're worth mentioning and praising, but they went for naught. That was, for the most part, an honest-to-goodness, legit NFL offense run by the team in white last night. Problem was, this was the kind of game in which one glitch at the wrong time was devastating.

Everything Anthony Wright did well last night was all but negated by the one big thing he did wrong: throw an ill-advised pass down the middle into double coverage off a flea flicker in the third quarter when the score was tied at 10. The Steelers turned that interception into the go-ahead touchdown. The Ravens couldn't match it - not really. They never scored another touchdown. They took the lead, but that touchdown opened the gap wide enough for the Steelers to slip through at the end.

Just the fact that the Ravens managed five scores (including four Matt Stover field goals) was a testament to the step up the offense made when it was expected to the least. They showed the Steelers looks that no one knew the Ravens could show, formations and sets that Ravens followers didn't know their coaches were aware of.

Jamal Lewis somehow got fresher legs and a clearer conscience, maybe because he unburdened himself so well a few days earlier. Todd Heap rejoined the offense. Derrick Mason found a seam in the secondary for a 31-yard gain, and kept finding that seam again all night. Chester Taylor got acrobatic for the first touchdown by the Ravens in eight quarters.

The only time the Steelers weren't dominated in this game were the first nine minutes and those two minutes in the fourth quarter. Those first nine minutes, seemingly so devastating as they marched over and through the depleted Ravens' defense, was all but negated when the Ravens got the ball back.

The Ravens took that first punch in the mouth, that 15-play, 79-yard, nine-minute drive to open the game, shook their heads, bared their teeth and struck back. Last December, when the Steelers ran a similar drive on them at Heinz Field at the start of the second half, the Ravens never recovered. This time, they recovered in a big way. This time, the offense flipped the script and bailed the defense out.

This time, though, it was that last Steelers possession that did them in. Until then, they had rattled Ben Roethlisberger, made him look like the tentative, overburdened rookie of last year's playoffs against the Jets and Patriots. Again, did it without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Roethlisberger looked like nothing special, outside of the ways Hines Ward bailed him out with spectacular catches.

On that final drive, though, the Steelers went back to what seems to always work for them. They ran and ran and ran some more, ran Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis, got Roethlisberger in a comfort zone - just where the Ravens didn't want him to be - and before they knew it, they were watching Jeff Reed's field goal split the uprights with 1:36 to go, and drive a stake through their hearts.

All that improvement, all for naught.

How they can manage to match this performance again, next week or any time between now and December, is anyone's guess. The offense can't be expected to do as well as this against a team like this. It looked like they'd caught lightning in a bottle, then let it get out again. Catch it, and you'd better make it work for you. The Ravens didn't.

Any attempt to portray this as a step toward the contention they'd been expected to achieve would be premature at best, foolhardy at worst. Any attempt to convince anybody that the first six dreadful games this season were an aberration is just plain delusional.

This, unfortunately, was the aberration. And it wasn't even enough of one to get the Ravens a win.

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