Ravens looking to regroup

OWINGS MILLS -- Minutes after the Baltimore Ravens were humiliated by the Pittsburgh Steelers in one of the most disastrous meltdowns in franchise history, linebacker Bart Scott kept wiping the blood off a small cut on his arm.

It wouldn't stop bleeding as Scott and his teammates trudged out of the locker room to fly home from Pittsburgh following a 38-7 defeat Monday night that marks the most lopsided loss during coach Brian Billick's nine-year tenure and the second-worst loss in the Ravens' existence.

The blood was symbolic of how the Ravens' season is leaking life. A campaign that began with Super Bowl aspirations has degenerated into a study in ineptitude.

Midway through their schedule, the Ravens (4-4) are looking to salvage a season that has gone awry.

While they're not giving up on making a postseason run, the Ravens' prospects don't look bright. Especially considering their demanding schedule, age, multiple injuries, a punchless offense and a defense that was helpless to stop Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from tossing five touchdown passes with the secondary missing starting cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle due to a knee injury and an undisclosed illness.

"The season's not over," Scott said. "We are in crisis right now. There's no denying that we have to get better. We can either tuck our tail between our legs and feel sorry for ourselves or we can fight our way out of this thing.

"I know this team has that kind of character. I've seen us overcome adversity before."

Rarely, though, have the Ravens looked this bad. Despite having 15 days to prepare for the Steelers and motivated by a chance to tie Pittsburgh for the lead in the AFC North, the Ravens were simply awful as their weaknesses were exposed on national television.

Veteran quarterback Steve McNair was just as culpable as a green secondary.

McNair, 34, fumbled twice, was intercepted once and completed 13 of 22 passes for 63 yards and a putrid 44.9 quarterback rating. It's the lowest yardage total by a quarterback in NFL history that completed at least 13 passes.

Despite having not played in a game since Oct. 7 as he recuperated from groin and back injuries, McNair didn't play with much spring in his step.

He was unable to avoid blitzing linebacker James Harrison, who was rarely blocked and finished with nine tackles, three forced fumbles, 3 1/2 sacks and an interception.

"We couldn't get nothing going, there's no one answer to solve this problem," McNair said. "We have to start all over again. It's real frustrating. "If you don't think it's embarrassing, you're not competitive. Of course when you get beat on national television, it's embarrassing, but you got to let it go."

Ravens coach Brian Billick reaffirmed that McNair remains the starter.

"Yep, absolutely," said Billick, who replaced McNair with backup Kyle Boller in the second half.

Boller wasn't any better, though, completing 3 of 9 passes for 21 yards.

McNair has thrown only two touchdown passes dating back to Dec. 31, 2006, also losing six fumbles and throwing six interceptions during that span. The four-time Pro Bowl selection said he felt fine physically, and declined to use rust as an excuse.

"It's not the end of the world, it's not the time to panic," McNair said. "We need to have a sense of urgency to get things going."

Billick acknowledged that his play-calling could stand for some work.

"I won't justify it, I won't try to explain it," Billick said, referring to the entire game. "You just can't do the things that we did. "They'll be disappointed. They're going to be embarrassed. We all are, but this team has a lot of faith in itself and they'll get ready for the next opponent."

The Ravens tied a team record for the fewest first downs in team history with five, setting a record for the fewest net yards in team history with just 104 yards.

Regardless of the travails of a stagnant offense, the players said they are still responding to Billick's approach.

"I think we do," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "Not responding means not competing, just doing what you want to. The coaches can¹t do anything about the turnovers. "That's upon the players to protect the ball. We just didn't do that as a whole. You can't blame it on one guy."

It was so ugly that the Ravens even drew barbs from Hall of Fame Steelers cornerback Mel Blount, who was attending the game as Pittsburgh celebrated its 75th anniversary all-time team.

Asked during the broadcast about the Ravens, Blount replied: "They're pretty pathetic. That's embarrassing."

Mason didn't disagree. Not after the Ravens committed four turnovers, committed 11 penalties and averaged two yards per offensive play on 51 snaps.

"Embarrassed as a competitor, yeah," Mason said. "More or less, you're disappointed in how you played as a whole. We're disappointed in how we started the game and how we dug ourselves a hole. In order to get ourselves out of this situation we've got to back on the field quickly, rectify everything that went wrong and try to pull out a victory next week."

Afterward, middle linebacker Ray Lewis kept pointing out how the defense shut down Pro Bowl running back Willie Parker, limiting him to 42 yards on 23 carries for a 1.8 average.

"They had no success running the ball, but then they attack our young boys," Lewis said. "Hey, I play defense. I don't play offense. Did Willie Parker do anything on the ground? No, nothing! You can't turn the ball over, it's as simple as that."

Lewis pointed out that no team can afford to commit that many turnovers and expect to emerge victorious. Not against a team eager to avenge last season's series sweep which Baltimore dominated by a 58-7 margin.

"The bottom line is, no matter who we got, if you make that many mistakes in championship football, you¹re never going to win," Lewis said. "Make people beat you, don't give them games. I've always kept the philosophy you play the way you practice. If you turn it over in practice, you're going to turn it over in games.

"The beautiful part is the season is ours. We lost to Cincinnati . We lost to Pittsburgh at home. We're supposed to lose at their field. Now, they got to come to Baltimore. For me, football season is just getting started. Like I tell these young guys, 'Ya'll going to hold your heads down because of one game?'"

However, that wasn't the point. The pass rush didn't bother Roethlisberger. Wide receiver Hines Ward decked Scott and safety Ed Reed with vicious downfield blocks. And replacement cornerbacks Derrick Martin, David Pittman and Corey Ivy were picked on constantly.

Now, the Ravens have five remaining games against division leaders, including the mighty New England Patriots and the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.

Winless in three division games, the Ravens rank behind the Steelers (6-2, 3-0) and the surprising Cleveland Browns (5-3, 3-1). The playoffs seem like a pipe dream, but the Ravens are determined to not sail the white flag of surrender yet.

"We can't put it out of our minds," Mason said. "To say we need to put the playoffs out of our minds would be giving up on the season."

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

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