DENVER -- Desperate teams grasp for anything to build on, not just for the present, but for the future as well. Ravens coach Brian Billick needed a spark, but he wanted a cornerstone as well. But in the end, all he came away with was another loss.
In a season of failed expectations, the Ravens played one of their best games of the year, but still came up short in losing, 12-10, to the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field. There wasn't any finger-pointing in the Ravens' locker room afterward, but there wasn't a need for any. You can put this loss basically on the back of quarterback Kyle Boller, who played himself out of Baltimore with one of the worst performances in Ravens history.
But Billick made a major gaffe, too. Trailing 12-3 with 9:54 left in the game, Billick decided to try to convert a fourth-and-one at the Denver 1 instead of sending out Matt Stover, one of the most accurate field-goal kickers in recent history.
Ravens running back Chester Taylor was stuffed for a 4-yard loss, and the Ravens came away with nothing. Billick may have escaped the game without any second-guessing, but once Boller completed a 39-yard touchdown pass to Mark Clayton with 1:52 remaining, it left Billick open for criticism.
And rightfully so.
"The way the game had gone, we wanted to make it a three-point game, where a field goal would have won it," Billick said. "Being down on the 1-yard line, given our circumstances, it was too much to pass up our chances."
You can sympathize with Billick.
He was looking for some momentum and something that could put his team over the proverbial hump as far as overcoming red-zone failures all season (only 11 touchdowns in 28 possessions inside the opponents' 20-yard line). On two other occasions against Denver, the Ravens were at least in field-goal range, but Boller threw two interceptions to halt drives. When he wasn't throwing interceptions, he was tripping over his feet, fumbling the ball without being hit or throwing some terribly misguided passes.
The Ravens have no confidence in Boller. It was evident on the first series, when they lined Mark Clayton up at quarterback on a third-and-11 at the Denver 11, and Clayton threw an incomplete shuffle pass to Taylor.
The Ravens were desperate. Billick had to be frustrated from watching Boller self-destruct. Emotion had to play a part in Billick's decision. But it was a dumb one. When a team can pull within six points with more than nine minutes left in the game, especially on the road against a quality team, take the points.
There were other factors that should have been considered as well. The Ravens were playing with a starting offensive line that consisted of three seldom-used players who were in the lineup only because of injuries, including Jason Brown, making his first start at left guard. Taylor hadn't exactly been running through gaping holes. He had only 59 yards rushing on 20 carries. It was highly unlikely that this group was going to get that big push.
And then there is Jake Plummer.
He's the X-factor in every game. Actually, he's Boller grown up. Plummer was off. If the Ravens had converted the field goal, they would have been only a Plummer mistake away from winning this game. Plummer has been known to give games away. Safety Ed Reed or cornerbacks Deion Sanders and Samari Rolle could have been easily dancing in the end zone after returning a Plummer pass for a touchdown.
Until that point, the Ravens' defense had been playing well, and it had contained Denver's running game, and all three of the Broncos' running backs. This was a bad quarterback game, where either Plummer or Boller was going to kill his respective team.
"We struggled through a lot, made some plays at the end, but it's like we're cursed in the red zone," said Ravens tight end Todd Heap. "We haven't gotten in the end zone as much as we would have liked."
When asked if he would have attempted the field goal, Heap stuttered for a second.
"Uh-huh, I guess at some point, you've got to make a stand," Heap said. "If we would have settled for a field goal, that would have been good. It's a tough decision, a coach's decision."
Ravens receiver Derrick Mason said: "I'm not going to second-guess the coaches. They made the call, and we're going to live with it as a team. You need to ask Coach Billick if he made the right call or not. He'll probably give you a straight answer. He'll probably give you one of those intelligent answers. Go ask him. You ought to get a mouthful."
You get the point. The players knew it was a mistake, and this was a game the Ravens could have easily won. Guard Edwin Mulitalo and running back Jamal Lewis, two starters, were last-minute scratches because of injuries. The Ravens entered the game without injured starters Ray Lewis, guard Keydrick Vincent, defensive end Tony Weaver and safety Will Demps. Two other players, cornerback Chris McAlister and left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, played in obvious pain.
The Ravens should have stolen this game. They came up with a huge effort against a team that was supposed to blow them out. The Broncos didn't seem to take the Ravens seriously, and neither did the crowd. The only time fans seemed to get into the game was either from a Ravens turnover, or in the fourth quarter, when the game was on the line.
But the Ravens couldn't take it.
They couldn't overcome a poor performance by a quarterback who seems destined to play somewhere else next season and an equally poor decision by the coach who was desperately grasping for something to build on.