Early offensive woes put defense in bind

Failure to move ball keeps R. Lewis and company on field in first half

Analysis

Ravens Gameday

November 19, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN REPORTER

The normally talkative Terrell Suggs politely waved off reporters yesterday in the Ravens' locker room after his team's 33-30 overtime loss to the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium.

"Not today," said Suggs, looking dead tired.

The recently silent Ray Lewis sat with his back facing the room, not budging for the longest time before slipping on his clothes and leaving without saying a word, off to prepare his thoughts for tonight's radio show.

Players on the Ravens' defense let their post-game actions speak for their true feelings after the team's fourth straight loss.

Their own offense is running the defense ragged.

Who knows if the defense would have made a couple of more plays at the end of regulation and on the only series in overtime had it not been forced to play more than 21 1/2 minutes in the first half.

Who knows if a season - make that nearly a decade - of keeping the Ravens competitive and overcoming an inept offense finally has taken its toll, physically and mentally, on the likes of players such Lewis and fellow linebacker Bart Scott, cornerback Chris McAlister and safety Ed Reed.

"It didn't matter, it didn't matter," said McAlister, the only one of the four defensive leaders who talked with the media.

It does matter, because the Ravens should win a game in which the offense scores 30 points.

As well as Kyle Boller played in the fourth quarter - against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, mind you - the skittish quarterback put his own defense in the same kind of short-field predicaments that Steve McNair had all season.

If not for the defense, the Ravens would have been behind by a lot more than 3-0 after the first quarter and 13-7 at halftime. Lewis scored his team's first meaningful touchdown in more than a month with a 35-yard interception return.

It was not just Boller's fumble and the first of his two interceptions that kept the defense coming back on the field for nearly 10 minutes in the first quarter and more than 11 1/2 minutes in the second quarter.

The defense didn't need a 12-minute halftime break to catch its collective breath; it needed another bye week.

Rookie linebacker Antwan Barnes had Browns quarterback Derek Anderson in his grasp on what turned out to be the game's most critical play, a second-and-four from Cleveland's 49-yard line.

Instead of getting sacked, Anderson hit Braylon Edwards for an 18-yard gain in front of McAlister to set up Phil Dawson's game-tying, havoc-wreaking 51-yard field goal with no time remaining in regulation.

Asked if the cumulative effect of playing so much defense has caught up with the Ravens, Barnes said: "The defense is getting around 60 to 70 percent of the plays the last two games. We've adjusted to it a little bit, but at the same time, you can use that rest. It's also an opportunity to get back on the field to make another play."

Said defensive tackle Justin Bannan: "We play at a high level, and to go as hard as we do - this goes for anybody across the league - it can get tough. But there's no excuse. We've got to do our job."

The job is going to get decidedly more difficult the next three weeks, when the Ravens enter what was supposed to be the most crucial part of their schedule.

If the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and Browns can wear down what was once the best defense in the NFL, what will the San Diego Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots do?

Is there a mercy rule in the NFL?

It will be interesting to hear what players such as Suggs, Scott and Reed will have to say in the coming weeks, if the losses continue to mount, if inequity between their time on and off the field during games continues to grow.

It will be interesting to hear what Lewis, the leader of this defense since he arrived in Baltimore when the team came from Cleveland, has to say. But you won't have to wait until after the Ravens play the Chargers on Sunday.

Just tune into his radio show tonight.

He will be well rested by then.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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