Ravens hit rock bottom

SAN DIEGO -- Mass confusion, listlessness and lethargy reigned for the Baltimore Ravens in yet another self-destructive display of bad football. Unraveling in a 32-14 rout to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium, the Ravens' fifth consecutive loss represents a true low point as last year's AFC North champions set a record for the longest losing streak in franchise history.

It was the latest depressing chapter in a discouraging season that began with lofty Super Bowl aspirations. The Ravens are now in last place in the AFC North.

"We got to dig deep and ask ourselves, ‘Do we really want this?'" running back Willis McGahee said. "We got all the talent in the world. It's just not going our way.

"Nothing is going our way. It's not our year, man."

The Chargers' retro fight song is probably still ringing in the Ravens' ears after quarterback Philip Rivers calmly dissected a once-dominant defense to toss three touchdown passes.

Between multiple botched defensive coverages that allowed Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates to catch two long touchdowns, a nonexistent pass rush, shaky pass blocking that allowed quarterback Kyle Boller to be sacked four times and losing the turnover battle again, the Ravens (4-7) were fighting a lost cause.

"It's definitely one of the lower points," said offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who has been with the team since its inaugural 1996 campaign. "Where do we go from here? I don't know. I know we're not going to give up. It's tough, it's been really tough."

It was a familiar recurring theme for the Ravens, who haven't won a game since an Oct. 14 victory over the St. Louis Rams. They've been outscored 143-72 during this unprecedented five-game skid.

"At some point, we're just going to have to find a way to break this cycle we're in right now," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "The cycle of what we're in right now with the turnovers, you just can't win in this or any other league turning the ball over. I'm open to any suggestions."

Long after returning on a red-eye flight to Baltimore this morning, linebackers Ray Lewis and Bart Scott and safety Ed Reed will still be trying to answer this question: Who was supposed to check Gates?

During the first half, Scott released Gates in coverage apparently thinking Reed would be there to pick him up as a dormant pass rush gave Rivers all the time he would need on the 35-yard touchdown pass. Gates finished with a game-high 105 yards on six receptions.

"I don't know who was back there or what was going on," Scott said. "It was cover 3 defense. I had the hook and curl."

When Gates streaked past Lewis from 25 yards out a few minutes into the third quarter for a commanding 29-7 lead, Lewis slowed down his gait. Gates was already several yards in front of the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year en route to the end zone.

"When you have a couple of blown coverage plays on one of the best tight ends in football, it's always going to be that way," Lewis said. "It was just a blown communication. Bottom line is we can't be giving one of the best tight ends in football two wide open touchdowns."

Rivers completed 25 of 35 passes for 249 yards and no interceptions for a 119.8 rating, completing 20 of 28 passes by halftime.

Entering the game with a league-high 17 turnovers, Rivers was never sacked and was rarely hit or even bothered.

Chargers All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson was quiet until a 36-yard run that pushed the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player over the 10,000 career rushing yards milestone, making him the 23rd player in league history to hit that mark. He finished with 77 rushing yards on 24 carries after being held to eight yards on 10 carries in the first half.

With Boller connecting with wide receiver Derrick Mason for a 23-yard completion to the Chargers' 1-yard line, McGahee surged through a pile of defenders for a touchdown run off left guard. The score, which was set up by a Yamon Figurs' 57-yard kickoff return down to the Chargers' 37-yard line, briefly gave Baltimore a 7-3 advantage in the second quarter.

However, the Chargers scored 26 unanswered points to put the game away.

Trailing 9-7, the turnover bug that has haunted the Ravens all season for a league-high 28 turnovers cropped up again.

The Ravens are still probably wondering who was supposed to block imposing outside linebacker Shawne "Lights Out" Merriman, who had one of the Chargers' four sacks and forced a fumble. He burst past Ogden to strip the football from behind from an unsuspecting Boller to set up a field goal.

"You try to maintain ball security," Billick said. "Protect the quarterback so he's not throwing under duress, try to make sure everybody is where they are supposed to be. There is no magic thing to do to eliminate turnovers."

A couple drives later, Chris Chambers ducked behind cornerback Samari Rolle, who was making his first start in three games after a bout with epilepsy. Unhurried, Rivers had plenty of time to allow Chambers to slip past Rolle for a 5-yard touchdown catch and a 19-7 lead.

"He just had a lot of time," Rolle said.

On the ensuing kickoff, the ball bounced off the hands and chest of reserve running back Mike Anderson. The muffed catch gave San Diego the ball at the 34-yard line with 25 seconds remaining in the half to set up Nate Kaeding's 41-yard field goal with three seconds left to put the Chargers comfortably ahead 22-7 at halftime.

"You've got to handle a kickoff," Billick said. "We've been at this a long time now. Those are the basic things."

Boller completed 21 of 33 passes for 191 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for a respectable 89.3 rating.

Unlike last week's 33-30 overtime loss to the Cleveland Browns where Boller engineered an admirable comeback, that wasn't going to be the case this time.

Not with Igor Olshansky and Jamal Williams throttling the Ravens' offensive line upfront with an unblocked Merriman violently slamming McGahee into the ground for a loss in the first quarter.

The turnovers just haven't stopped with Baltimore up to 19 lost fumbles and nine interceptions for a total of 28, destroying any semblance of rhythm offensively and putting the defense at a nearly constant disadvantage.

"If I knew, if I could pinpoint it, I would tell somebody," Ogden said. "It seems like we never get into a flow, we never get in a rhythm. We get behind and we struggle."

Added Lewis: "That's the story of this season. It gets kind of frustrating. As a team, we can't turn the ball over and give them short fields."

Although rookie fullback Le'Ron McClain was understandably excited after notching his first NFL touchdown on a 13-yard pass from Boller in the third quarter, it was a classic case of too little and too late.

With five remaining games, the Ravens are hoping to avoid a 4-12 finish. Only three teams in the AFC -- the Oakland Raiders, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins -- have worse records than Baltimore.

Now, the Ravens have another potentially disastrous situation on the horizon. The New England Patriots are coming to town Monday night, and they have been annihilating the competition with a thirsty bloodlust.

All but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the Ravens are resigned to trying to spoil the Patriots' season.

"Everybody is very disappointed," Rolle said. "It hurts because we have the talent. "It hurts because we have to tell them that we don't have the answers. The sad thing is Monday night is probably going to be our Super Bowl and it's the 12th game of the season."

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

Ravens Insider Top Stories