Ravens' special teams suffer without Thomas

OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens began their post-A.D. era against the Oakland Raiders by experiencing a few special-teams glitches during a 20-12 loss. <P> Coverage ace Adalius Thomas is out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair his broken elbow. <P> Without him, Baltimore allowed a 71-yard kickoff return to Doug Gabriel that set up a Sebastian Janikowski field goal for a 10-3 deficit in the first quarter on Sunday.

Thomas is the Ravens' leading special-teams tackler with 23 stops, an athletic gunner and wedge-buster despite his 6-foot-2, 270-pound dimensions.

"Our coverage teams have been excellent, but there are lapses," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "When there is a subtle mistake on your coverage, like there was, there can be a huge gash there. You miss A.D., but we got John Jones back.

"It was the same people in place. We lost our lane and it cost us. You have to overcome those things. That dug a hole for us on the road that we could not dig ourselves out of."

Also, return specialist Lamont Brightful fumbled when he was blindsided after ill-advisedly fielding a short punt.

And kicker Matt Stover's streak of 21 consecutive field goals was snapped when his 50-yard attempt fell a few feet shy of the crossbar.

SHUT OUT: Wide receiver Marcus Robinson didn't catch a single pass against the Raiders after catching six touchdown passes from quarterback Anthony Wright during three consecutive wins.

The Ravens' ‘Gamecock connection' was a non-factor as All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson and Phillip Buchanon bottled Robinson up.

"Obviously, they were going to put a lot of pressure on Marcus," Billick said. "That is one of the better cornerback tandems in the league."

Wright was under the impression that Robinson was double-covered.

"They were rotating coverage his way, trying to do things to take me away from him," said Wright, whose lob pass late in the fourth quarter to Robinson fell incomplete.

TWO-POINT DEBATE: After tight end Todd Heap's third-quarter touchdown cut the Raiders' lead to five points, Billick immediately stuck his fingers in the air to signal a 2-point conversion try.

After an instant replay review, though, officials said it was inconclusive whether running back Chester Taylor crossed the plane of the end zone before his knees hit the ground.

"Going for two seemed prudent for us," Billick said. "Particularly for the way the game had gone to get it to a three-point environment. It is more of a feel. It has to do with how the game is going."

COACH-SPEAK: A year ago, the Ravens entered their final two games praying for a wild-card berth that escaped them with loses to Cleveland and eventual division champion Pittsburgh.

The Browns wound up making the playoffs as Baltimore missed the postseason for the first time in two years.

With one more win at this point than last year's squad, the situation has changed a bit. The Ravens are in serious contention for their first division title, or could earn a wild-card spot.

"If you remember, we framed it as a playoff run," Billick said. "We wanted those young guys to feel that emotional energy. We really focused on that, even if it was contrived on our part."

INJURY UPDATE: Billick said he doesn't anticipate at the moment any players being listed as questionable on Wednesday on the injury report.

Linebacker Ray Lewis apparently didn't aggravate a bruised right shoulder joint.

Raiders scout Mickey Marvin, a former starting offensive guard for owner Al Davis, said he noticed that Lewis was wearing a protective shoulder harness.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times

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