Anemic loss proves Ravens not ready for prime time

October 10, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

Denver — Denver-- --What happened to the Ravens last night on national TV was supposed to happen. Two of the early powers in the AFC and, perhaps, the entire NFL, were facing off, and a pecking order would be established.

It has been. Ravens, look up and say hello to the Denver Broncos.

Just as the Chargers had to come face-to-face with reality a week earlier at M&T Bank Stadium, finding themselves losing a winnable game on the road to a tough, physical opponent, the Ravens learned a lesson at Invesco Field at Mile High. They pushed the Broncos around on their home field most of the night, but not for enough of the night. In the end, they were the ones that got pushed around.

What they were taught is what everyone had to know they'd be taught sooner or later: that the defense couldn't be expected to hold up both their end and the offense's at the same time all year. And that until the scales were balanced - not just in the last two minutes, but from start to finish - they shouldn't, couldn't, be considered in the elite of the conference or the league.

Thus, they're not.

Hey, after that showing, after going into a pit like Invesco Field, against a quarterback begging to be beaten, and scoring all of three points, the Ravens aren't even impressed with themselves. So why should anybody else be impressed?

"Three points?" Derrick Mason said afterward with a grimace. "You can't win games with three points."

Or with three turnovers, although Jake Plummer and the Broncos won with two turnovers, both in the first quarter. That was when it looked as if the Ravens' formula could work, even under the miserable conditions they faced. Except that Steve McNair picked the worst time to have his worst game as a Raven.

The last of his three interceptions was just something that can happen in desperation in the final minutes. The first - from the Broncos' 10, in the final minute of the first half, woefully underthrown and leaving the score tied at 3 - wounded the Ravens badly enough that they never really recovered.

The crazy thing is, it's hard to say that the Ravens were any worse on offense last night than they were in their four wins to start the season. To say that they went backward last night because they only scored three points diminishes the stumbles of the first four weeks.

"You know what? I don't know what's too harsh [to say about the offense]," tight end Todd Heap said. "Now you've really got to look at yourselves and see what you can do better. I've been saying that for the last four weeks. We didn't play our best ball the last four weeks, and we've won. The only difference this week is that we didn't play our best ball and we lost."

The Ravens had a chance to create separation, and they couldn't do it. It was the Broncos' game in the second half - their game, in fact, from the final minute of the first half, after Champ Bailey intercepted McNair in the end zone.

Until then, the Broncos didn't look as if they belonged. From then on, they did - and the Ravens suddenly looked as if they belonged in a different category.

If nothing else, the Ravens made it easier to put this early portion of the season in perspective. It was easy for anybody to yell "Scoreboard!" to answer any criticism about the inefficiency of the offense and the lack of top-notch competition - even the week before, when Marty Schottenheimer sucked the life out of his Chargers and contributed to their loss.

No one can do that anymore. Not with a team that flailed as futilely as the Ravens did last night, with a team that looked as if it would be handed a win by a soft Broncos team that spent most of the first half sabotaging itself.

Still, finding where the Ravens fit in now that they're no longer unbeaten is no easy chore. The Broncos still didn't scare anybody with this win. They beat the Patriots in their previous game, but can you say the Patriots aren't as good as the Broncos? As for the Chargers - they got back on track this week, and their lone heartbreaking loss on the road looks better than the Ravens' lone tough loss on the road.

"The difference was, they made the plays at the end," linebacker Bart Scott said, comparing this loss to the win last week. "Last week, [we were] the ones that made the plays."

That's all the difference there is.

"That's why we have to pay attention to the little things. It's the teams that pay attention to the little things and fix them that can come out on top," Scott added. "It takes a whole group effort."

Meaning, in his diplomatic way, that both sides of the ball had better join the party. Now. Before the Ravens slip back further and become just another team.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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