Ray Lewis sounds off after defensive breakdowns

OWINGS MILLS -- Ray Lewis directed his wrath through increased decibels, a steely stare and a vehement intent to change the subject. <br><br> The All-Pro linebacker's trademark intensity flashed Wednesday in the locker room whenever the topic of the Baltimore Ravens' usually stout defense's breakdowns over the last two weeks was broached.

It's obviously a touchy subject with Baltimore (7-5) in the midst of a two-game losing streak heading into Sunday's game against the New York Giants. Especially after surrendering 17 points in the fourth quarter of a 27-26 defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals where the defense allowed 453 yards of total offense.

"It's so hard to come in here and try to talk because it's always about yesterday, it's never about where we're trying to go," Lewis said. "It's always, 'What about this frustration? What about that frustration?' We're 7-5, but everybody's acting like it's the end of the world. We're not talking about football.

"You guys' place is to ask us about the Giants, I thought, because that's our next opponent. Treat it with the same respect, when we play good or we play bad. We've never done anything easy around here, even in 2000, when we won the Super Bowl. How does any of this matter about what you all want to talk about?"

The relevance lies in the fact that the Ravens' defense is faltering at the worst possible time: in the thick of the wild-card race.

This defense also allowed 21 points in the second half of a 24-3 loss to the New England Patriots two weeks ago. Normally, the defense is the team's rock-solid foundation.

Baltimore remains in position to hold onto the sixth and final AFC playoff spot, currently edging the Denver Broncos because of a superior conference mark. If this negative trend continues, however, the Ravens' playoff chances could quickly degenerate from promising to bleak.

"When things don't go right, it's not our obligation to always explain it to you guys fully," Lewis said. "It's not relevant to where we're trying to go. Where we're trying to go is to play the New York Giants. Where you guys want to take us back to is frustrations that we have to deal with as a team.

"If you bring these frustrations into Wednesday, you've already lost against the Giants. If you bring in the frustration from what we did two weeks ago against New England, you've already lost the rest of the season. Everybody's acting like everything's bad. I think we're sitting right where we need to be sitting, personally."

Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer passed for a career-high 382 yards on 80.6 percent accuracy. Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh exploited cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter with their crisp routes and the secondary's miscommunication and free-lancing. The duo combined for 20 receptions, 332 yards and three touchdown catches.

"It was a poor performance on my part, and I'm extremely unhappy with the circumstances that I put my teammates in," said McAlister, who departed the stadium Sunday without commenting. "A lot of it is on technique. There were no physical mismatches out there. Everything is correctable.

"There is no excuse whatsoever for our performance. It's just a matter of not going out and having a repeat of it this week"

Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is pragmatic on the situation, taking the big-picture view that Baltimore made an uncharacteristic showing while acknowledging that what happened was unacceptable.

"I'm not alarmed about it, but it's important that we don't dismiss that it did happen to us," Nolan said. "Last week, some of it was individuals, or us not playing together as one. We gave up some foolish big plays."

Baltimore dropped dropped from fourth in total defense to eighth in the league.
Palmer averaged 9.1 yards per passing attempt, and Cincinnati scored on three of four red-zone opportunities.

"When a guy is open on a second-and-20 and we let a completion occur, that's just us not playing together," Nolan said. "It's only alarming to the degree that we need to shore it up. Guys need to say, 'That doesn't happen on us.'"

The Ravens dropped from first in scoring defense to fifth overall because of the rough outing.

Baltimore has scored five defensive touchdowns, but has given up 191 points, including 94 in the fourth quarter. The defense has allowed 39 points in the fourth quarter over the last two games.

"Our guys have the ability to dominate, and we had some instances where we didn't do that and let our team down," Nolan said. "Our guys know that, that's why they're disappointed."

Don't forget angry, too.

Especially Lewis, who talked Sunday about teammates needing to perform a gut-check to make sure their hearts are in their work. Lewis' faith isn't shaken, though, in a defense clearly capable of better showings.

"The outside perception says we can't win a football game, we've done won seven," Lewis said. "It's simple: To win in this league, you have to have a great defense. Coming down the stretch, if we need to win, I'll put my money on my defense every time."  

Aaron Wilson is the chief writer for RavensInsider.Com He is also the Ravens' reporter for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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