Ravens' offense dooms defensive effort in loss

ST. LOUIS - Underneath the magnifying glass of a national audience, the Baltimore Ravens experienced virtually every imaginable calamity. Ravens coach Brian Billick forecasted great theater for this clash between his smash-mouth football team and the futuristic St. Louis Rams. Billick obviously didn't envision a gridiron version of a Stephen King film that degenerated into a 33-22 loss Sunday night before 66,085 at Edward Jones Dome.

The catalogue of problems included rookie quarterback Kyle Boller leaving the game with a knee injury. Although the Ravens (5-4) managed to derail the Rams' top-ranked offense by constantly harassing quarterback Marc Bulger with a relentless pass rush, a series of miscues ruined their chance for a win. The Rams kept capitalizing and eventually closed Baltimore out with Jeff Wilkins' four field goals in the fourth quarter. Baltimore did mount an unorthodox rally that included the rare sights of former starting quarterback Chris Redman under center and massive offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden catching a touchdown pass. 

Through three quarters, the defense held St. Louis to 79 yards as cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter bottled up St. Louis wideouts Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce

Besides the blow of losing Boller to a left knee strain that will require a magnetic resonance imaging exam today, the Ravens' tendencies to commit turnovers and stall in the red zone were continually exposed. The most glaring example occurred in the second quarter. Rams strong safety Adam Archuleta's aggressive blitz paid off with him sacking Boller, forcing a fumble and returning it 45 yards for a touchdown and a 21-12 first-half lead. Running back Jamal Lewis unsuccessfully attempted to cut off Archuleta after he burst untouched through the gap between center Mike Flynn and right guard Casey Rabach

Baltimore closed the gap to 21-19 in the final minutes of the first half with a tackle-eligible pass to Ogden for his first touchdown since his rookie year. And the Ravens held a 22-21 lead entering the fourth quarter on Matt Stover's fourth field goal. 

The problems started minutes after kickoff with Boller's accurate pass deflecting off receiver Travis Taylor's hands directly to Rams cornerback Jerametrius Butler. His 45-yard return set up Marshall Faulk rumbling off right tackle for a 7-0 lead. According to Stats Inc., Taylor entered the contest leading the AFC with six dropped passes. Odd bounces of Dave Zastudil's punt careened backward right in front of the Ravens' sidelines. St. Louis receiver Dane Looker alertly fielded it as Baltimore failed to adjust to the ball's erratic movement as he scooted 44 yards to the Ravens' 1 before Harold Morrow dragged him down from behind. One play later, Faulk punched the ball into the end zone behind fullback Spencer Nead's thunderous lead block directly at linebacker Ray Lewis to stake St. Louis to a 14-0 advantage. 

Given possession at the Rams' 15 when DeJuan Groce muffed a Zastudil punt right to safety Gerome Sapp, Baltimore squandered the scoring opportunity. Jamal Lewis' 12-yard run to the St. Louis 3 was called back due to a holding call on tight end Todd Heap. So, the Ravens eventually settled for a 41-yard Matt Stover field goal to get on the scoreboard, 14-3. It was the first of three Stover field goals in the first half. 

It wasn't long before the Ravens would flex some more defensive muscle, followed by displays of offensive ineptitude. Ray Lewis intercepted a Bulger pass intended for Torry Holt and managed to dive to the Rams' 3. However, linebacker Cornell Brown's clipping penalty pushed the Ravens back to the 20. When Billick decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the Rams' 11, a Lewis plunge up the middle ended with a fumble as linebacker Tommy Polley, a Baltimore native, ripped it out of Lewis' hand. 

The series of miscues took on similar forms. Especially in the red zone, where Baltimore entered the game ranked last in the league, the problems were glaring. Boller was sacked on 2nd-and-5 when none of the receivers got open. One play later, he missed badly on a fade route to Heap that sailed out of bounds. Before leaving with the knee injury, the first-round draft pick completed 10 of his 21 passes for 112 yards, one touchdown, an interception and a 60.0 quarterback rating. Stover connected on a 25-yard field goal to close the gap to 14-6. Taylor began making up for his costly first-quarter drop with a spinning 40-yard reception to set up Lewis' 2-yard touchdown run. 

Down 14-12, Billick opted for a two-point try that failed when Boller overthrew Marcus Robinson. Days before kickoff, safety Gary Baxter talked about "shocking the world" by winning as seven-point underdogs. Baltimore pulled off its goal of negating the Rams' passing game. Through three quarters, Bulger had completed only 9 of his 20 passes for 82 yards, two interceptions, no touchdowns and a 17.2 quarterback rating. Faulk gained just 33 yards on 13 carries through three quarters. However, the Ravens' offense was simply too much to overcome. Baltimore converted only 2-of-13 third downs entering the fourth quarter with three fumbles and two interceptions. Redman was 0-for-4 in the third quarter and threw an interception for a zero quarterback rating. 

NOTES: Receiver Frank Sanders started despite a sore back, but sprained his right ankle and will be out for a few weeks. Tight end John Jones has a strained quad. Receiver Travis Taylor has a chest contusion that will be examined again today. Outside linebacker Peter Boulware has a strained shoulder. 

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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