Ravens squander strong defensive effort

DENVER -- The Baltimore Ravens' defense was more than stout enough to win a football game Sunday. Especially the way it clogged up the middle to stop the run. It wasn't enough, though, as Baltimore (4-9) lost 12-10 to the Denver Broncos because of a turnover-prone, scoring-challenged offense.

Despite limiting the No. 2 rushing offense in the NFL to 96 rushing yards on 32 carries -- 66.8 yards below the Broncos' season average -- the Ravens broke down at a few key junctures. They didn't generate enough of a pass rush to exploit quarterback Jake Plummer when he wasn't at his sharpest.

"All we can do is put our best 11 guys out there and play our hearts out," defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu said. "We left everything we had out on the field and it didn't work out."

Although Plummer completed only 19 of 33 passes for 236 yards, he threw one crucial touchdown in the third quarter to build a 12-3 lead and finished with a 90.0 passer rating. Plummer was only sacked twice.

The Ravens limited Denver to 3.0 yards per carry, two yards below their season average.

"We just seem to match up well against their style of running game," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I don't know if it's anything more technical than that."

Even though Baltimore held running backs Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson to 63 and 21 yards, respectively, and cornerback Samari Rolle forced a Ron Dayne fumble that Terrell Suggs recovered, the offense didn't capitalize.

"A lot of guys are banged-up and we pride ourselves on playing defense," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "It's not like they lit up the scoreboard."

However, neither did the Ravens.

J. LEWIS OUT: Running back Jamal Lewis was a late scratch with a hand injury. Although X-rays revealed no break, the Ravens had concerns about whether Lewis could hold onto the football sufficiently.

"The whole question was, could he grip it or not," Billick said. "It turned out he couldn't. I don't think he has a broken hand. I would categorize it as a bruise."

Lewis wasn't available for comment afterward.

Backup Chester Taylor started and gained 59 yards on 20 carries, an average of just 3.0 per carry. He was stuffed on 4th-and-1 on the Broncos' goal-line for a 4-yard loss. He also fumbled to set up a Plummer touchdown pass.

Taylor declined interview requests.

"Those kind of mistakes tend to get you beat, and we have done a couple of them," Billick said. "We kind of stayed away from it in the middle of season and now they have cropped up with us again the last couple of weeks."

RECORD-BREAKER: Rookie wide receiver Mark Clayton continues to emerge as a dangerous vertical threat, and it's showing up in the Ravens' record book.

For the second week in a row, the first-round draft pick from Oklahoma caught seven passes. Clayton eclipsed Travis Taylor's rookie receptions and yardage record established in 2000. He's up to 34 catches for 346 yards.

Clayton also caught his first NFL touchdown on a 39-yard score with 1:52 remaining. His 105 receiving yards marks the first 100-yard receiving game for a Baltimore receiver since the 2003 season.

"Mark's really a great receiver," quarterback Kyle Boller said. "He has all the potential in the world. I just got to keep getting him the ball."

Clayton's impressive effort wasn't matched by teammates, especially Boller who committed three turnovers.

"It's tough, but that is football," Clayton said. "The only words coming out of my mouth are encouraging to anyone."

RED-ZONE BLUES: The Ravens entered the game ranked 28th in the NFL in red-zone offense with 11 touchdowns in 28 possessions inside the 20, and they lived up to that billing with an 0-for-3 showing in Denver.

"You've got to score, and that's been our problem the whole year," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "You can't win in this league scoring field goals. You must score touchdowns."

Added tight end Todd Heap: "The red zone has been our nightmare."
ROOKIE DEBUT: Rookie lineman Jason Brown made his NFL starting debut with left guard Edwin Mulitalo out with a knee injury, and the fourth-round pick from North Carolina fared pretty well.

"For Jason Brown, I thought protection was outstanding," Billick said.

It was Brown's first extended playing time, and he was joined on the field at the end of the game by rookie left tackle Adam Terry as All-Pro Jonathan Ogden departed with a mild right ankle injury.

"All I wanted to do was give my team a winning performance and I hope after reviewing the film that I can say that," Brown said. "I feel pretty good about myself."

TRAINING ROOM: Tight end Daniel Wilcox will have a magnetic resonance imaging exam today on his right ankle, and Lewis will be examined again, too.

INACTIVES: The Ravens deactivated wide receiver Patrick Johnson, cornerback Evan Oglesby, fullback Justin Green (wrist), linebacker Mike Smith (hamstring), offensive guard Keydrick Vincent (thigh), wide receiver Clarence Moore, defensive end Tony Weaver (back) and quarterback Brian St. Pierre.

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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