Ravens squander lead, go winless on road

CLEVELAND -- It was the epitome of a collapse, a frustrating exercise in how an advantage can disintegrate and intensity can disappear. It was yet another road failure for the Baltimore Ravens, one more bullet of ammunition for the legion of Kyle Boller doubters and perhaps the blueprint of what not to do with a lead.

The Ravens' 20-16 defeat Sunday to the Cleveland Browns dropped Baltimore (6-10) to 0-8 on the road this season with an 11th road loss in a row in a league-worst streak that dates back to Nov. 14, 2004.

"We're upset," defensive end Tony Weaver said of the inability to win on the road. "Now, we have to carry that into next year. We wanted to get that monkey off our back."

The loss illustrated several issues that disturbed players and coaches, especially losing intensity while squandering a 13-0 lead as the Browns scored 17 of the game's final 20 points.

Between three red-zone failures, Boller's erratic passing that included two interceptions, allowing a punt return for a touchdown and failing to put away rookie quarterback Charlie Frye when he was on the ropes, there was plenty of blame to be shared.

"We did not have the intensity and could not match the momentum swing," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who was retained for next season last week by owner Steve Bisciotti. "It was reminiscent of the early problems in the season.

"We did not play with the intensity we needed to, especially on the offensive side of the ball. You need to play with a certain sense of urgency and intensity when an opportunity presents itself and we did not do that."

Baltimore led 13-0 early in the second quarter behind two Matt Stover field goals and linebacker Adalius Thomas rumbling nine yards for a touchdown off a Frye fumble forced by Terrell Suggs.

A sparse crowd was silent, and the offense was seemingly doing enough to keep Cleveland down. However, the lead wasn't nearly high enough.

"We gave them life," said linebacker Tommy Polley, who used a profanity to describe what the Ravens did with their momentum. "We knew we could beat Cleveland."

However, the Ravens were ultimately haunted by a nullified touchdown pass on a Boller shuffle pass to Mark Clayton because of an ineligible receiver downfield penalty on offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. They settled for a field goal.

Plus, there was a botched field goal after Polley's interception. Rookie long snapper Matt Katula's bad snap to holder Dave Zastudil erased any chances for points in a second-quarter drive.

After consecutive wins where the offense scored 78 points, this was a clear step back with an 0-for-3 red-zone performance.

"Honestly, it did waver a little bit," wide receiver Derrick Mason said of the intensity. "If you measure by how we played the last few weeks, our intensity was down a bit. You can't allow your intensity to be at a level where you can't compete on every play. .. They beat us to the punch in all phases.

"I don't know if our focus was on something else, or if we were complacent or content with 13-0 lead. You can't blame it on play-calling. It's up to the players to generate some type of energy. Coaches can't do it for you."

After building a 16-6 third quarter lead, Gary Zauner's special-teams problems cropped up.

First, rookie Josh Cribbs returned a kickoff 54 yards with a fumble forced by B.J. Ward returned another 11 yards to the Ravens' 24. Frye scrambled around long enough on a muddy field to locate Antonio Bryant (nine catches, 123 yards) for a 6-yard touchdown pass.

And trailing 16-13, Dennis Northcutt gathered in a 58-yard Zastudil punt, ran through a Thomas arm tackle try and dashed 62 yards for the game-winning touchdown. The score prevented Cleveland from going winless in the division for the first time in franchise history.

"I don't think we played up to our potential considering the talent we have and the personnel we have on this team," Mason said. "Our record sums it up. .. I could say a lot of things, but I don't want to say the wrong thing at this time."

Frye out-dueled Boller, rebounding from four sacks to finish 22 of 38 for 199 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Boller regressed to a shaky 15 of 36 for 151 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 31.1 passer rating. He endured constant pressure up the middle for two sacks.

Boller was 1-for-7 in the third quarter for 13 yards. He was intercepted for the second time by safety Brian Russell to end the game on 4th-and-20.

He errantly lobbed his third-to-final throw of the game out of bounds in the final minutes as Mason had a few steps on the defense.

"It kind of sailed a little bit," said Boller, who had a cumulative 123.8 quarterback rating in the previous two games. "I saw him real late out of the corner of my eye. It was a little too wide."

Despite high expectations, the Ravens missed the playoffs for the second year in a row. The road streak is particularly mystifying as Baltimore went 6-2 at M&T Bank Stadium.

"I can't understand the mentality we take into road games," future Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders said one day before he's expected to formally announce his retirement. "Do we have to stay the whole week like a bowl game? We don't know what the problem is or the solution, but it has to be rectified."
 

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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