Ravens implode in final minutes

Trudging up the tunnel toward the Baltimore Ravens' tomb of a locker room, outside linebacker Peter Boulware wore a look of sheer disgust. He muttered to no one in particular about how easily the Cleveland Browns all but vanquished the Ravens' playoff dream. Two minutes painted the portrait of their season, revealing the Ravens after a 14-13 loss as being ultimately too inexperienced and immature to wear the cloak of a true contender.

The Ravens' campaign was cut short on the game-winning final drive through the accuracy and arm strength of Browns quarterback Tim Couch. He ripped their hearts out.

"A lot of guys, if they're not sick after a loss like this," center Mike Flynn said, "then there's something really wrong with them."

Couch was aided considerably by the Ravens' lack of aggression in pass coverage schemes, a mixture of Cover 2 and Cover 3 zones that left obvious seams to exploit.

 Another barrier the Ravens couldn't overcome was cornerback Chris McAlister and his selfish, stupid act of shoving Browns running back Jamel White after venturing well past the sideline marker. Three plays later, Couch found tight end Mark Campbell for the exclamation point to a Browns victory that left the Ravens shaking their heads.

Resplendent in a fancy three-piece suit and shielded from reporters' questions by teammate James Trapp and his own reluctance to be accountable for his oh-so costly unnecessary roughness penalty, McAlister declined to discuss why he did what he did. McCalister's response, except for a few choice profanities directed toward the media, when Trapp asked him if he was going to conduct interviews: "I'm getting my coat and going to the car."

 Yes, McAlister is the same recalcitrant defensive back who tore the helmet off Saints receiver Donte Stallworth two weeks ago and tossed it into the end zone.

 Yes, this is the same unrestricted free agent and former first-round pick who whined about his contract status, believes he should have made the Pro Bowl with one interception and has vast athletic gifts that he consistently fails to realize.

"If we are going to be a great team in the next few years, we're going to have to learn how to not give up big penalties," said Boulware, who chased Couch down for two sacks but was blocked on the final drive.

The resourcefulness of the Ravens after injuries to Ray Lewis and Chris Redman transformed a rebuilding season into a discovery period for new standouts like safety Ed Reed, linebacker Edgerton Hartwell and tight end Todd Heap.

"We ain't off by that much," quarterback Jeff Blake said. "We're starting to click now."

The Ravens' woes are nothing that prudent spending of a reported $17 million in salary cap room can't fix. Look for the Ravens to try to upgrade at wide receiver, defensive line, offensive line, cornerback and, possibly, quarterback.

"Yes, nobody thought we would go this far," rookie linebacker Bart Scott said. "We don't look at it that way. We have a lot of athletes and competitors. We want to win no matter what the odds are. To think otherwise, would be an excuse. That's a cop-out."


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