Ravens lose focus, lose game

BALTIMORE -- Adrenaline and aggression easily won the battle over discipline and focus as the Baltimore Ravens hurt themselves Sunday night with a series of self-inflicted blows. With trash-talking, late hits, seven false starts or neutral-zone infractions with 11 penalties during a 13-12 loss to the New York Giants, it was fairly obvious why the Ravens left M&T Bank Stadium shaking their heads.

"That's just how we are, we like to do a little trash talking just to make the game fun, but that's not what happened," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I think we were just too anxious and they just caught us in our aggressive nature."

Being tough is one thing, but playing smart football is paramount.

The breakdowns came one day after concluding a drama-free training camp in Westminster that Ravens coach Brian Billick described as phenomenal.

"I'm disappointed in play like that," Billick said. "I don't have to go any further than the penalties. I don't think we're going to get much out of that film because there's not much to be gained from saying, ‘Yeah, we can't jump offsides, offense and defense the same way.'"

One week after a 29-3 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles where the Ravens were only flagged three times, the defending AFC North champions committed nine in the first half alone.

"I think last week we set a tall bar," said quarterback Steve McNair, who threw an interception to cornerback Sam Madison when he forced a throw into heavy coverage. "You're going to have games like this, that's why we play the preseason. Go ahead and get it out early and be done with it.

"This shows you turnovers and mental mistakes will kill a team, regardless of how good you are. I don't think this is something we'll continue to do week-in and week-out. This is a veteran team, and we'll correct those mistakes."

Right from the start, the Ravens appeared to be overly excited. Especially first-round draft pick Ben Grubbs, who jumped offsides prior to the first snap of his starting debut at right guard.

Those sorts of mistakes kill drives, just as personal fouls and holding calls tend to age coaches prematurely.

"You can't be overaggressive, that's just the bottom line," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We're out there just trying to bust somebody in the mouth. You're going to be offsides every time, and when you do that you make your team vulnerable."

The big-picture view emanating from the Ravens' locker room centered on timing with players pointing out that it's much better to have this kind of setback in August rather than during the regular season.

"If you don't have one of these games in preseason, it's just going to sneak up on you in the regular season," Lewis said.

Lewis wasn't alone in that sentiment as several veterans opined that losing this game might eventually wind up helping the Ravens' cause as they prepare for a Sept. 10 opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"This type of thing is good for us," defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "It's good for football teams to face adversity in the preseason, because you see teams go 4-0 and [struggle] when the season starts. You want to get it out of the way, address all the mistakes and things that you did wrong, and address it in the preseason instead of Week 1.

"We were a little grumpier because I think we bought into some things that we shouldn't have bought into. You have to take it the right way. You take it the wrong way and then you're in trouble."

Against the Eagles, Baltimore didn't commit a turnover. Against the Giants, Baltimore had one turnover along with busted coverages and missed tackles.

Last season, Baltimore was penalized 109 times for 876 yards and their opponents were flagged 79 times for 580 yards.

Billick predicted that this sort of penalty-filled debacle won't become a recurring issue.

"They'll come back, this is a good group," Billick said. "You would think you wouldn't need to learn a lesson like this, but if you don't keep your focus and your wits about you, then that's what you'll see out there."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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