Embarrassingly, the Ravens (1-3) managed to commit a franchise-record 21
penalties for 147 yards to come within one of tying the NFL record shared by
three teams. Plus, rush end Terrell Suggs and safety B.J. Ward were ejected in
the third quarter for making contact with officials.
"Passion, emotion and intensity are good, but they always have to be under control," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who denied it when asked if he has lost control of his team. "Clearly, we didn't have it. .. You counsel them not to do it. The last thing I told them as we left the locker room was that I did not want anyone talking to the officials. The emotion got the better of them."
The Ravens' self-control issues were compounded by four turnovers, one of the major reasons why they're in last place in the AFC North.
Boiling over while venting after being flagged for roughing the passer when he slammed Lions quarterback Joey Harrington to the ground, Suggs was ejected for bumping into and jawing at referee Mike Carey. His face mask appeared to make contact with Carey's cap.
"He bumped me with malice in his heart, and he was gone," Carey said of Suggs, who was penalized earlier in the drive for tripping running back Kevin Jones. "He said a number of things to me."
Before Suggs, who was unavailable for comment afterward, was led off the field by security officers, he endured watching the Ravens fall behind 21-10. In an 18-play, 73-yard drive that lasted an astounding 9 minutes and 38 seconds, Baltimore committed four penalties in one of the worst sequences in the team's history.
With one more penalty, the Ravens would have tied the record for penalties held by two teams and most recently by the San Francisco 49ers in 1998.
"It was outrageous and it cost them," said Lions cornerback Dre' Bly, who intercepted quarterback Anthony Wright twice and recovered a fumble.
Criticizing the officials is a finable offense, and Billick was understandably wary in his post-game remarks.
"We have no structure right now in the league for me to comment on officiating in an appropriate way," Billick said. "I will file whatever concerns I have with the league. To do it right now would serve no purpose, the league doesn't want it. I don't want it anymore than ranting at the officials on the field served a purpose."
The Ravens were jubilant for scant seconds, believing they had made a critical goal-line stand on a 3rd-and-goal from the 1 after Harrington's incompletion. That is, until the Lions got a new set of downs after nose guard Maake Kemoeatu was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct when he flipped off the Lions' faithful with his middle finger.
"I think the refs just let their feelings get into it a lot," receiver Derrick Mason said. "They crossed the line."
Added middle linebacker Ray Lewis: "Sooner or later, they are going to get critiqued publicly like we do. It is sad. Sooner or later, they really try to get at your nerves most of the time, but you have to keep playing football."
Three plays after Kemoeatu's transgression, Artose Pinner capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run that wasn't official until after the play was reviewed. Pinner appeared to be stuffed up the middle on the Lions' sixth try from the 1, but it was inconclusive as he was caught up in a pile of bodies and it cost Billick a timeout.
"I still don't think he scored," Lewis said. "God himself was going to have to come down and tell me he got in the end zone, no one else."
Predictably after the touchdown, cornerback Chris McAlister was flagged for a personal foul. It preceded rookie safety B.J. Ward being ejected for making contact with an official. It looked like Ward was trying to keep safety Ed Reed from going after Lions tight end Casey FitzSimmons following Reed pointing a finger in FitzSimmons' face as he appeared upset about a cut block. Reed appeared to brush against the official.
"I know I didn't make contact with him," Ward said.
Regardless of the penalties, the Ravens inflicted more than enough damage on themselves without the officials.
Long before they were outscored 21-7 in the second half, their struggles had begun.
First, Wright forced the football into Mason in the first quarter for Bly's first interception. Then, safety Will Demps was blocked inside by receiver Roy Williams and McAlister lost containment on Jones' 14-yard touchdown run.
It was the ensuing drive where the Ravens began losing their afternoon-long battle with the officials.
Harrington was sacked while appearing to be in his throwing motion. However, the officials ruled it was a fumble, which Jones alertly scampered with 27 yards to the Ravens' 1. The call was upheld by instant replay, costing Billick a timeout.
"The ball was loose in the quarterback's hands before his hand came forward," Carey said. "He didn't have a grip on the ball and didn't have full control."
The Ravens didn't react to the whistle not being blown. It cost them as Jones rumbled off left tackle for his second touchdown run and a 14-0 lead.
"You can't quit," Billick said. "You've got to go to the whistle. Everybody kind of stopped."
The Ravens squandered a prime opportunity when Suggs' interception was followed by Wright staring down Randy Hymes in the end zone for Bly's second interception. Two drives later, they got on the scoreboard with a 15-yard shovel pass from Wright to running back Jamal Lewis.
"You can't fall into that kind of stuff and feed into it," said Lewis, whose season-high 95 yards on 19 carries was overshadowed by the Ravens' histrionics. "We've got some very aggressive guys over here and got some real players over here. Sometimes, you let things take over that and kind of lose focus a little bit."
In another pique of passion that went awry, McAlister was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in the first half after he intercepted Harrington and threw the football down at former teammate Kevin Johnson.
"It's unfortunate," McAlister said. "I don't have the right to slam the ball down on anybody."
The Ravens managed to enter halftime down only 14-10 after Matt Stover's 46-yard field goal, but quickly wasted the momentum after halftime.
Despite Harrington's ineptitude as he went 10 for 23 for just 97 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, the Ravens couldn't capitalize. Especially not with the lack of control that typified this brutal outing.
After falling behind 28-10 when FitzSimmons outleapt Ray Lewis for a 2-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, Baltimore lost it again.
This time, a normally cool-headed veteran was guilty of the foul. Mason whipped the football at the wall below the stands after an incompletion on a drive eventually capped by Wright's 6-yard touchdown to tight end Todd Heap.
"You get so emotionally attached to the game that sometimes you allow yourself to get outside of the framework of what's going on," said Mason, who lost a fumble along with fullback Ovie Mughelli. "It was evident, a penalty here and a penalty there. It was a strange game for everyone. It was yellow flags on the ground every other play. It was really weird."
Lions coach Steve Mariucci said that he warned his team before kickoff about the need to maintain their poise, saying it would be a contest waged by angry teams.
"We knew what kind of game this was going be, emotions were going to fly high and you saw it," Mariucci said. "I"m proud of our guys for keeping their heads on straight. We were less chippy."
The final dagger was thrown by Lions running back Shawn Bryson, whose 77-yard touchdown run capped a game where Jones ran Ray Lewis over on one drive along with twice stiff-arming safety Will Demps roughly to the ground.
Mason insisted that the penalties weren't a case of not listening to the coaches. Not even with Billick's admonition about not talking back to officials.
"That has nothing to do with it, we are all grown men and for us to say that we are not listening to our coach is to say that we are all little kids," Mason said. "It has nothing to do with us not listening to our coach.
"Football is an aggressive and emotional sport. You can never allow what you're doing to get bigger than the team concept."
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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