Ravens' offense grinds to a halt in Denver storm

October 10, 2006|By JOHN EISENBERG

Denver — Denver-- --At the end of a night when the Ravens' offense was almost as miserable as the weather, receiver Derrick Mason picked a particularly appropriate comparison.

"It's like a storm is coming, a storm is coming, and you're not getting ready for it," he said. "We weren't ready tonight. It was evident. Because when you're winning, it's all fine."

In other words, the glow of the first 4-0 start in franchise history so satisfied the Ravens that they forgot to keep working to better their many offensive shortcomings, which were obvious to all despite the team's high place in the standings.

Pretty damning criticism. Let's hope someone listens.

The Ravens knew the storm was coming in the form of another tough challenge for the offense, and according to Mason, they didn't prepare. The result was a 13-3 loss to the Denver Broncos.

It was a night of two storms - the real one that soaked and chilled Invesco Field at Mile High, and also Mason's metaphorical one.

"Funny," said a security guy checking bags at a stadium gate before the game, "it was 80 degrees and sunny on Saturday, It'll probably be 70 again Friday."

But it was 39 degrees and raining nonstop last night, with snow in the forecast. Funny? This was weather better suited for a cattle drive. The cheerleaders wore winter coats. Even in a town as mad for pro football as any, more than 3,000 fans stayed home and watched on their couches.

But more than 72,000 showed up and roared themselves hoarse, proving, if anything, that the investment of thousands of dollars in season tickets can make you a little crazy.

The fans got what they wanted in the end - a Broncos victory in a low-scoring, slug-it-out game that was without a touchdown for the first 58 minutes.

The result not only gave the Ravens their first loss of the season but also underlined the simple football truth that a team can only go so far without generating at least a modicum of offense.

After winning four straight games with a strong defense and just enough well-timed offense, the Ravens' recipe for success failed them.

They continually misfired on third downs and gave away points on a key mistake near the end of the first half, and for the first time, quarterback Steve McNair couldn't produce the late drama that made everything better.

This time, McNair generated just 165 passing yards on 34 attempts and was intercepted three times. The rushing game was no better, producing just 103 yards.

Tight end Todd Heap conceded that harsh criticism of the offense was warranted.

"I don't know what's too harsh right now," Heap said.

The Broncos weren't much better, understand. The Ravens had more first downs and more total yards. The Broncos' passing game was ineffectual for most of the night; quarterback Jake Plummer had completed just nine passes for 58 yards entering the fourth quarter, which began with the teams tied at 3.

But instead of finding a way to win in the fourth quarter, as they had the previous two weeks, the Ravens lost control in the fourth quarter. McNair threw two interceptions and Plummer directed two scoring drives.

"Our defense played well to a degree," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We gave up some points that we really shouldn't have."

They also gave back three critical points near the end of the first half. After the Ravens drove from their 25 to the Denver 10 with McNair hitting Mason for completions of 12 and 26 yards, the Ravens called timeout on third down to make sure they ran the right play. But McNair floated an ill-advised lob into the end zone toward receiver Clarence Moore. The Broncos' Champ Bailey intercepted.

The crowd roared as the rain fell harder. The Ravens' Matt Stover almost surely would have kicked a field goal on the next play - he has made 30 in a row. As the teams left the field, one had the feeling the Broncos could make the most of the key turnover, and they eventually did.

"That really hurt, not to come away with points there in a game like this," Heap said.

It took a while. As both teams stumbled through the third quarter, it seemed the game would likely turn on a single play, either a critical mistake or a rare burst of offense. As it turned out, it wasn't a single play that made the difference - it was a sequence.

The Broncos squeezed just enough out of a 10-play drive to set up a 44-yard Jason Elam field goal that gave them the lead with 8:03 left. Plummer scrambled for one first down and hit a short pass for another.

Then Denver's Darrent Williams intercepted McNair, the Broncos drove to the game's only touchdown, and that was that. The fans could head home to dry out and warm up.

They had weathered the storm, unlike the Ravens.john.eisenberg@baltsun.com

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