Ravens officially angry

Sarcasm and scorn for the officials bubbled together into a nasty glob of angst that Brian Billick couldn't wait to spit out. Heartbroken, frustrated and downright infuriated fit the Baltimore Ravens' emotional state inside an antiseptic cellar of this domed stadium. This football team was collectively smarting more than the damaged shoulder that kept All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis out of uniform for the first time in four years.

The grim reality: In all likelihood, an official ensured the Ravens' 22-20 loss to the Indianapolis Colts because of a controversial pass-interference call on cornerback Gary Baxter at the end of the fourth quarter.

It happened after an acting performance by former Baltimore wideout Qadry Ismail worthy of a casting call from director Oliver Stone.

"The officials were beyond reproach," Billick said. "I can't afford the fine on the performance of the officials. It's hard to learn a lesson when a game is taken out of your hands. It was a physical game, but I'm amazed and in awe of the officials."

The truth: This was a valiant effort by a young football team capable of winning the downtrodden AFC North. Virtually every superlative is deserved by the defense for how it salvaged the day despite Baltimore committing seven fumbles and an interception.

The ingredients for a Colts blowout were there, if not for some fortunate bounces and defense. The Ravens battled without Lewis, center Mike Flynn, end Michael McCrary and receiver Brandon Stokley, but made too many mistakes against a capable opponent.

"They didn't blink," Billick said in reference to Lewis' absence. "We matured greatly. They didn't feel a second sorry for themselves. We grew up a lot."

Yes, there were obvious bright spots like Jamal Lewis' running, linebacker Edgerton Hartwell's tackling Edgerrin James, five sacks of Peyton Manning as well as the returns of Lamont Brightful, Robert Tate and Javin Hunter.

Still, the fumbling was ridiculous. Manning basically did what he wanted as Marvin Harrison caught a dozen passes. Plus, Ravens quarterback Chris Redman regressed slightly after two excellent games.

Rumination over one single play ruled the locker-room conversation. Ismail admitted afterward that he did everything possible to make the slight jostling from Baxter more evident.

Five plays later, Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt pierced the resilient Ravens' heart with his game-winning field goal.

The Ravens were understandably stingy with compliments because they believe Manning's pass to Ismail couldn't be caught without the aid of a ladder.

They contend that Ismail flopped, and that Baxter should have been allowed to be more physical. Because Manning rolled to the sideline with Peter Boulware in pursuit, pass-interference rules are supposed to be more lenient as Manning shifts from passer to runner.

"Those guys played their heart out and fought their butt off," Ray Lewis said. "We play in a billion-dollar business, and we let one guy make a call."

Bottom line: The Ravens are inching past the respectability line at an estimable pace. Yet, until this offense displays the heart and creativity of Mike Nolan's defense, the Ravens will be susceptible to situations like a veteran resorting to trickery.

"Qadry did a great job of acting," Baxter said. "I'm mad right now, and there's nothing I can do about it."

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