ATLANTA — Maybe the Ravens learned an important lesson Thursday night.
The Ravens are an extremely talented team, as good as any in the NFL. But for whatever reason, they can't put it all together. There have been flashes but not the consistency needed to win a championship.
It was never more evident than Thursday night. In the first half of the loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Ravens were slow, lethargic and seemed as if they preferred to be anyplace other than at the Georgia Dome playing the Falcons.
You can understand why. The Ravens didn't get a full week of practice, and they traveled on the day that's usually the beginning of the practice week. But that can't be used as an excuse because the Ravens have played like this a lot of times this season.
In one half the offense shows up, and the next half the defense shows up. There are times when both units show up and the special teams take the day off. It's frustrating to watch because the Ravens have the substance to win a Super Bowl.
They showed character Thursday night and survived a gut check. They could have quit after the miserable first half or after Atlanta took a 20-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
But not this group. They have too many tough veterans like Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Todd Heap and Terrell Suggs, and a couple of quality young players like quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice. They are just too hardcore to quit and too balanced to surrender.
Every great season has a turning point, and maybe this one for the Ravens. There were some tough lessons to learn. This team has to learn how to play hard all the time and get out of a cruise-control mode. It has to learn to close the door on teams, especially the defense.
The Ravens were expected to be a good team this season but not stage comebacks against some of the best -- like the Falcons. Maybe they learned their lesson. Maybe, from this point on, they put it into overdrive heading down the stretch.
Reed needs to let it go
The Ravens keep safety Ed Reed in to return punts if they think the other team might fake one on fourth down. Somebody needs to remind Reed that if the ball is near the 5-yard line, it's OK to let it bounce because the ball might go into the end zone and the Ravens might get the ball at the 20 instead of deep in their own territory.
Rice on the back burner
Apparently, the Falcons did a good job of watching film. In the first quarter, Flacco looked for Rice on check-downs, but Atlanta frequently bracketed him with two linebackers.
Atlanta wasn't going to make the same mistake as the Dolphins the week before, when Miami allowed Rice to run free underneath coverage for several third-down receptions that kept drives going.
Webb gets exposed
We didn't have to wait long to see that Fabian Washington wasn't going to start at cornerback. And it didn't take the Falcons to long to start picking on second-year cornerback Lardarius Webb. Speedy Atlanta receiver Roddy White had Webb backpedaling all night, and Webb kept giving him a cushion because he feared White's speed.
A play to forget
One of the Ravens' ugliest defensive plays of the season was the 28-yard touchdown pass they allowed to running back Jason Snelling in the second quarter. Not only did the Ravens not have someone in the same state as Snelling, but safety Dawan Landry also missed on a chance to push him out of bounds inside the 10-yard line.
Instead of hitting Snelling high and knocking him out of bounds, Landry went for his legs, whiffed and the Falcons scored.
Sometimes you wonder whether these guys do tackling drills in practice.
A matter of time
The Ravens were trailing 10-0 at the half for two reasons. They couldn't get Atlanta off the field and couldn't stay on it themselves.
The Falcons converted eight of 12 third downs in the first two quarters, and the Ravens' offensive line got mauled by Atlanta. At times, the Falcons looked as if they were blocking the Ravens when the Ravens were on offense. Atlanta had a 21:14-8:46 advantage in time of possession in the first half.
Didn't bring his 'A' game
The Falcons have a lot of weapons on offense, and coordinator Mike Mularkey is pretty good, but he became predictable. He kept running the ball on first down regardless of whether the Ravens crowded the line of scrimmage. Mularkey is usually better than that.
Trouble with Abraham
Atlanta defensive end John Abraham was beating Ravens left tackle Michael Oher pretty regularly throughout the game, and Abraham disappeared late in the third quarter and early in the fourth.
Atlanta officials gave no reason, but we're thinking Abraham might have gotten tired from running past Oher all game.
The Ravens, though, did make nice adjustments on Abraham in the third quarter. They ran straight at him on running plays and at times used tight end Heap and fullback Le'Ron McClain to help Oher slow him down.