Ravens unravel, fall to 0-2 against Titans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Baltimore Ravens' brutal reality is akin to a sorrowful country and western song where they're afflicted by virtually every imaginable calamity. Instead of contending with a cheating heart, the stumbling Ravens are dealing with the travails of fumbles, blocked punts and costly penalties. Their aging, mistake-prone offensive line is telling on them.

Dominated physically, confused and generally overwhelmed by the youngest team in the NFL, the veteran-laden Ravens plummeted into a 0-2 canyon with a 25-10 loss Sunday to the Tennessee Titans at The Coliseum. Baltimore registered a franchise-low 14 rushing yards.

"Obviously, hugely disappointed to play the way we did: the errors, the mistakes, the things that will get you beat," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, whose voice appeared to quiver with emotion afterward. "In terms of mistakes, turnovers, miscues, however you want to label it and I'm sure you will. Across the board, we have got to play better, more disciplined and more error-free.

"There's no use feeling sorry for ourselves. Second-guessing ourselves isn't going to do any good. Analyzing, critiquing and going back to work are the only answers I have when you play like that."

In a flagrantly bad display for an offense that was supposed to make major strides under new offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, Baltimore didn't generate a single first down in the first half, gained only 23 net yards by halftime and gave away two turnovers that led to 14 points.

Baltimore finished the game with only 182 yards on 60 plays, an average of three yards per snap.

The Ravens actually appear to be regressing from the Matt Cavanaugh era when they at least had the benchmark of a strong running game.

One week after Pittsburgh Steelers former third-string runner Willie Parker rambled for 161 yards in a 34-7 win over the Titans, running back Jamal Lewis was stymied completely with 9 yards on 10 carries. Baltimore didn't register a single first down on the ground.

Days before kickoff, Lewis pleaded that the coaching staff, "Let the horse run. Let me go."

They tried to, but the offensive line couldn't muster nearly enough room for Lewis to operate and Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth were constantly in the former Pro Bowl runner's face.

It was Lewis' fumble in the first quarter at the Ravens' 25 that set up the Titans' first score on quarterback Steve McNair's 2-yard touchdown to fullback Troy Fleming.

"I don't think it's an embarrassment when the other team played as well as they did," said Lewis, the 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year. "Honestly, I'm on mute right now. I'm going to keep saying the same thing. Go hear the same thing from somebody else."

Both of the Ravens' first downs in the first half were wiped out by penalties, and they went three-and-out on six of their first seven possessions. Also, wide receiver Clarence Moore continues to demonstrate shaky hands with yet another dropped pass.

"We have to learn to start fast. If we don't, it could be a long season," center Mike Flynn said. "I think we will. We have the talent here."

In his first start since a playoff loss to the Titans two seasons ago, quarterback Anthony Wright completed 25 of 40 passes for 212 yards, one touchdown and a 74.2 passer rating. Wright stared down rookie wideout Mark Clayton on an interception by linebacker Brad Kassel. He returned it 21 yards for a touchdown and a 23-3 lead in the fourth quarter.

Wright also fell when he tripped over Flynn's feet one time, bobbled snaps and sailed passes in place of injured starter Kyle Boller.

"It seems like whatever could happen did happen," Wright said. "I don't know why it happened. Nobody knows. We're going to respond, we have to."

After falling behind 13-0 by halftime, Wright directed two long scoring drives, including a 12-yard touchdown pass to former Titans Pro Bowl receiver Derrick Mason. Bringing the game to within 23-10 with 6:24 remaining was too little and too late.

Minutes later, defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch slammed Wright to the ground for his third sack. It would have been a safety if officials hadn't ruled Wright down at the Ravens' 1 with his forward progress.

On the ensuing play, the Ravens couldn't prevent Dave Zastudil's punt from being blocked by linebacker Rob Reynolds with safety Will Demps recovering in the end zone for a safety. This, despite having 12 men on the field.

"There's definitely some things you can build upon," Wright said. "We know we can move the ball. We've got to try to figure out a plan to go forward. This team is going to fight. We're going to keep plugging away. 0-2 is not a place we planned on being and not a place we're going to be."

Defensively, the Ravens were fairly solid, limiting the Titans to 97 rushing yards, three field goals and McNair to 195 yards and one touchdown. However, they only sacked him once for their first sack in two games under new defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. Nickel back Deion Sanders, 38, was taken advantage of on crossing patterns for the second week in a row.

Asked what the 0-2 start means for the Ravens' prospects, defensive end Tony Weaver replied: "It means we've got to win some games. Expectations are high and they're still high. Nobody's hitting the panic button just yet. Fortunately for us, we have this bye week. We need it."

When the Ravens opened the season 0-2 in 1999 and 2002 under Billick, they didn't make the playoffs. Traditionally, teams that begin 0-2 don't qualify for the postseason.

"I am sure there are a lot that folded up and a lot that overcame it and made their way to the playoffs," Billick said.

It was a subdued locker room scene where players emphasized not pointing fingers to prevent the season from unraveling because of discord. The Ravens don't play again until Oct. 2 against the New York Jets at home, and Billick said the team won't alter its practice schedule because of the 0-2 start.

"Mark my words, we will regroup. There will be a lot of people bad-mouthing us in the papers, saying, ‘This team ain't this and this team ain't that,'" said Mason, who caught eight passes for 60 yards against his old team. "I found out in this league when you lose those guys are going to jump on you, but when you win you're the greatest team in America.

"If the critics are gonna talk, go ahead and talk because it's a long season. I guarantee you when we start winning, I honestly don't want to hear a thing from you."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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