Limp performance

Poor play, injuries stagger Ravens

Giants 13 Ravens 12

August 20, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN REPORTER

The heavy rain that fell in the first quarter didn't wash away all of the Ravens' warm feelings that came from a near-perfect training camp.

The injuries, penalties and sloppy play did.

Uncharacteristic of their focused play this summer, the Ravens' starters put a damper on last night's 13-12 loss to the New York Giants with an undisciplined effort, marking their first major misstep of the preseason.

Those who showed up at M&T Bank Stadium - which was slightly more than half full - could only grumble at the poor execution by the offense, careless mistakes by the defense and ankle injuries suffered by cornerback Samari Rolle and wide receiver Mark Clayton.

"It wasn't there tonight," quarterback Steve McNair said. "We've just got to go back and continue to work and improve. It's something that's better to happen now than later."

X-rays on Rolle and Clayton, both injured in the first quarter, revealed no breaks. Team officials said they suffered sprains, and neither returned to the game.

Neither player was in the locker room after the game, but Ravens coach Brian Billick said he didn't think the injuries were serious.

"One of the good things about preseason is that we still have three weeks before the opener," Billick said. "So whatever the injuries are, hopefully they can bounce back from them."

The other painful memories - such as the nine first-half penalties - were not taken lightly by the Ravens, who fell to 1-1 in the preseason.

Billick warned his players Saturday about a letdown after ending one of the most productive training camps of his nine-year run.

"I thought we'd have better focus," said Billick, whose post-game message to the team was about eliminating penalties. "You don't have to go any further than penalties. I don't know what you're going to get much out of that film because there's not much to be gained from saying, `Yeah, you can't go offside.'"

After scoring a touchdown on its only drive in the preseason opener, the Ravens' starting offense seemed to be going in reverse in its one quarter of work last night.

McNair threw for 29 yards on 5-for-8 passing and left with a quarterback rating of 29.7. Unlike in the opener, McNair had little time in the pocket and had to constantly avoid the Giants' blitzes.

To compound matters, running back Willis McGahee struggled behind equally sloppy blocking, gaining only 3 yards on six carries. Overshadowed by backup Mike Anderson (37 yards on three runs), McGahee lost yardage on half of his carries.

"That's unacceptable," tight end Todd Heap said. "We've got to be able to eliminate the penalties and be able to move the ball downfield."

If the Ravens' offense was near perfect in the preseason opener, it was near disastrous last night.

On his first play with the first team, rookie first-round pick Ben Grubbs was flagged for a false start. On the second drive, McNair threw an errant deep pass that was intercepted.

On the third series, Anderson provided the only sign of life for the starting offense, breaking off runs of 11, 21 and 5 yards. But McNair couldn't convert a fourth-and-one, getting stopped short on a quarterback sneak.

The only points scored by the Ravens' first team came after Giants quarterback Eli Manning fumbled at the New York 12-yard line without being hit. After losing 3 yards on four plays, the Ravens settled for Matt Stover's 33-yard field goal to go ahead 3-0 in the first quarter.

"This offense can be as good as we want it to be," McNair said. "We want to be a top-five offense. But we can't make those mistakes."

Said McGahee: "We're still learning. We just have to get out and fix the mistakes."

Mistakes became contagious for the Ravens, who tripped themselves on defense, too.

After allowing just one first down on its first three series, the Ravens' starting defense showed a lack of discipline. Three offside penalties - by defensive tackles Haloti Ngata and Justin Bannan and linebacker Bart Scott - helped New York on its 80-yard drive.

Manning finished off the penalty-filled series with a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Steve Smith, throwing a pass between safety Ed Reed and cornerback Corey Ivy. The first touchdown allowed by the Ravens' defense this preseason put the Giants ahead 7-3 just 2:22 into the second quarter.

"We're supposed to get better every time we play," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We weren't in the first half. We had too many penalties, too many yards. ... That's not our standard."

Said defensive coordinator Rex Ryan: "That's unacceptable. We're playing fast and physical, but that wasn't our best. The first half didn't reflect the way the Ravens play defense."

Ravens backup quarterback Kyle Boller (6-for-9 for 73 yards) led a 62-yard drive late in the first half that stalled at the New York 29. Stover's 47-yard field goal closed the Ravens to within 7-6.

In the fourth quarter, the Giants extended their lead to 10-6 on a long field goal of their own, as Josh Huston hit a 50-yarder. Kicker Rhys Lloyd converted from 40 yards to inch the Ravens back within 10-9 with 9:57 left in the game.

Four minutes later, New York responded with a 30-yard field goal by Huston. Then, Lloyd came back with a 38-yarder to get the Ravens within 13-12 with 2:39 remaining.

The Ravens will find out how they respond to adversity Saturday night, when they play the Washington Redskins in Landover.

"You would think that you wouldn't need to learn a lesson like this," Billick said. "But if you don't keep your focus and your wits about you, then that's what you see out there."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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