Ravens go backwards in loss

MINNEAPOLIS -- Instead of a seamless dress rehearsal, the Baltimore Ravens experienced a disjointed regression. Instead of polishing their skills during the starters' final extended action prior to the regular season, the Ravens' downward spiral excluded virtually no part of the football team.

The Ravens appeared to lack their trademark intensity Friday night in a 30-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings as they were consistently beaten to the punch at the Metrodome.

"We did not look that good," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We were not playing with a lot of passion or physicality. We'll have a lot we can coach from the way we played."

Not even quarterback Steve McNair, the former NFL Co-Most Valuable Player, was immune to the struggles.

His first-half sideline pass intended for well-covered wide receiver Mark Clayton was snatched away by cornerback Fred Smoot, who scooted and strutted into the end zone on a 69-yard interception return.
A week ago, the Ravens were concerned about their red-zone efficiency. This time, the first-string never ventured deep inside Vikings territory.

"It wasn't about them, it was more about us," McNair said. "I think we made too many mental mistakes for the third game. We just need to correct those now.

"We can't have that happen during the regular season. I think we did some good things, but we did some bad things."

The Ravens were threatening to score in the second quarter with a 3rd-and-2 at the Vikings' 32-yard line when McNair committed his costly turnover. McNair didn't stare down his primary read to give away his intentions. Clayton simply wasn't open and McNair probably shouldn't have thrown the football.

"Steve wasn't alone on that interception," offensive coordinator Jim Fassel said. "That was a play that had a couple of mistakes. We'll get that corrected."

Overall, McNair completed 13 of 17 passes for 80 yards and a 60.9 passer rating. His longest completion was an 11-yard out pass to Clayton, who led Baltimore with five receptions for 32 yards.

There was nothing explosive, though, about the Ravens' conservative West Coast offense.
In the first quarter, the Ravens generated a meager 12 net yards on eight plays, an average of 1.5 yards per attempt.

They finished with 86 yards on 29 plays in the first half and converted just 2 of 7 third-down attempts as running backs Musa Smith and Mike Anderson were held to seven yards apiece.

"They had us out of sync early," Fassel said. "Their front seven did a good job, but we had mistake after mistake after mistake. We lost our composure a little, got it back and then didn't finish."

Defensively, the Ravens' secondary was often beat to the punch by the accurate, well-timed spirals of Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson.

He completed 7 of his first 10 passes for 75 yards, striking downfield at will on a series of short to intermediate patterns. The Ravens surrendered multiple first downs regardless of whether they were in man-to-man or zone coverage schemes as they played well off the line of scrimmage.

Cornerback Samari Rolle missed a tackle on receiver Troy Williamson, who picked up 18 yards before middle linebacker Ray Lewis shoved him out of bounds in the first quarter.

Baltimore was stingy against the run, though, bottling up former Ravens runner Chester Taylor to 27 yards on 10 carries.

"We regrouped after a tough start, but the tackling wasn't up to our standard," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "Brad Johnson is pretty good. It's tough to get to him because he gets rid of the ball so fast and he's decisive with where he goes."

Veteran kicker Matt Stover, the third-most accurate kicker in league history with an 83.2 percent all-time conversion rate, shanked a 46-yard field goal attempt wide right with 25 seconds remaining in the first half.

One of the notable positives for the Ravens was the improved punting of rookie Sam Koch, who booted three first-half punts for a 46.3 average. Koch, who is the favorite to win the job over veteran Leo Araguz, boomed a 61-yarder in the third quarter.

Plus, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs registered seven first-half tackles, including a sack of Johnson. Earlier in the game, he was penalized for unnecessary roughness when he shoved Johnson to the ground out of bounds after he had already released the football.

Lewis was much more active than he was a week ago in his first football game in 10 months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn hamstring last December. The seven-time All-Pro piled up five tackles, slamming Taylor to the ground a few times.

"I think we played pretty well," Lewis said. "They made one big play to get into good field position. To give up three points in any ball game and get off the field the way we did, I have to tip my hat to our defense once again."

In the second half, wide receiver Clarence Moore made his preseason debut a memorable one after missing the first two games while he recovered from sports hernia surgery.

He leapt for a 44-yard reception over Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin up the sidelines. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound wideout followed that acrobatic catch up with another one near the goal line where he elevated over the coverage to snag Kyle Boller's high pass. Moore finished with two receptions for 60 yards.

On the ensuing play, Boller scrambled around the pursuit for a 1-yard touchdown run for the Ravens' only points.

Vikings rookie quarterback Tarvaris Jackson hit wide receiver Jason Carter for a 77-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. It appeared to be the result of a busted coverage by cornerback Derrick Martin that left safety Robb Butler trailing well behind Carter.

Wide receiver Devard Darling fumbled in the second half in the open field. Quarterback Brian St. Pierre threw an interception. Offensive tackle Adam Terry jumped offsides.

The Vikings capped their scoring with a 29-yard fumble return for a touchdown from defensive end Khreem Smith after rookie Ray Edwards knocked the football out of St. Pierre's hands in the final two minutes.

Meanwhile, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden allowed a sack in his first game of the preseason after missing the first two games for personal reasons following his father's death. Ogden is trying to shed 15 to 20 pounds and the rust he has accumulated, but played solidly for the most part in one half.

"It felt like I hadn't played football in about seven or eight months," Ogden said. "I feel like I am playing a little high, so on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give it a 6. I made it through the half, and I still have some more time to keep working on getting back into form.

"We still have a lot to work on, but fortunately we have a couple more weeks to get things all tied together."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times

Ravens Insider Top Stories