JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The biggest roadblock to the Baltimore Ravens' path to the Super Bowl isn't the Pittsburgh Steelers or the New England Patriots. It's the Ravens' offense. In Baltimore, it has always been the offense.
In Monday night's 12-7 loss at EverBank Field, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Baltimore's offense couldn't beat a one-win Jacksonville Jaguars team. The performance was so bad Flacco actually had more receptions (one) than the Ravens had first downs (zero) in the first half. The Ravens avoided the embarrassment of their first shutout by scoring with 2:02 left, but they still finished with 146 total yards -- 42 yards shy of the team record for futility in a game.
Flacco couldn't extend plays when the pocket collapsed. When the offensive line did block the Jaguars, the receivers didn't get open. When the receivers got free, Flacco missed them.
Offenses are supposed to strike fear in opponents. The Ravens' attack probably made LaMarr Woodley and Bill Belichick fall asleep watching it.
Fans want answers for such ineptitude, and more importantly, so do the Ravens' defensive players (just ask linebacker Terrell Suggs). The offense stirred up more noise in the locker room than on the field.
"It’s about as bad as you can play on offense," coach John Harbaugh said bluntly. "I don’t know if you can play any worse than that until the last one drive."
That's a bold statement when talking about the Ravens. The coordinators (from Matt Cavanaugh to Jim Fassel to Brian Billick himself) and quarterbacks (from Trent Dilfer to Kyle Boller) change, but the struggles on offense remain the same.
Ray Lewis and this defense have been good enough over the past decade to get back to the Super Bowl, and probably multiple ones. You know the defense has to be having flashbacks when it held the Jaguars out of the end zone and still lost.
The defense played so well, the Ravens still had a shot to win the game at the end. Down five points with 1:43 left, the offense took the field at its own 20-yard line. But any hope of a comeback ended after two plays when Flacco was intercepted on a late throw over the middle.
"It was bad football for most of the game," said Flacco, who was 21-of-38 for 137 yards. "We had probably had a three-minute span where we played all right. That’s a pretty bad percentage when it’s a 60-minute football game."
The Ravens didn't record a first down until there were five minutes left in the third quarter. The first 11 drives resulted in nine punts, one fumble and one missed field goal. They produced 56 yards on their first 40 plays. There were so many forgettable images, such as Flacco catching his own batted pass on third-and-35.
The frustrating part for the Ravens is how hot and cold this offense has become. Flacco can throw three touchdowns in one quarter one week and throw for 8 yards in one half (like he did Monday).
"If we don’t get consistency on offense, we’re not going anywhere," Harbaugh said. "You can’t play like the way we played tonight on offense and expect to accomplish anything. We all know it. We got our butts handed to us in that sense, and we’ll go back to work."
The offense had better fix itself quick, because it's not just the fans who are questioning the play calling. Suggs is among those wanting some answers.
"It baffles me that Ray Rice only had [eight] carries," Suggs said. "When I have a Pro Bowl running back and I see he’s not getting his touches, I’m going to feel a certain way about it. He wants the ball, and I think we should feed him. I have to question how many catches Anquan [Boldin] had. We’ve got guys on this team that can do some great things, and we’ve got to use those guys. It’s that simple."
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron explained that Rice's carries were limited because the Ravens had a limited amount of plays.
"Hey, I agree with him wholeheartedly," Cameron said. "In every game, we have to make sure Ray Rice is involved."
Rice, who finished with 63 total yards on 13 touches, wasn't in the locker room after the game. He did post on Twitter: "Tough one this is when we will see who is really with us and to the fantasy owners I promise you a better performance next week."
The Ravens can't worry about points in a fantasy league when they can put up only seven points against a team that had lost five straight and has a coach who is on the hottest seat in the NFL.
When asked about the inconsistency on offense, Flacco explained it's still a work in progress. Wide receiver Lee Evans and left guard Ben Grubbs have been out with injuries for most of the season. Take away Boldin, and Flacco's options are a couple of rookie wide receivers (Torrey Smith and LaQuan Williams) and two tight ends who are in their first full season as major contributors (Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta).
The road doesn't get any easier with six of the Ravens' final 10 games against defenses ranked in the top 5.
"We’re a young football team," Flacco said. "We’re switching guys out and in up front. We need some time. Like I said, we have to win while we really start jelling. We’re a little bit inconsistent right now. That’s part of what’s good about this is we’re going to learn each week. You’d like to learn while you’re winning football games. For the most part, we’ve done that. But today, we just weren’t able to do it. And it’s got to change."
Flacco added, "We’re going to continue to get better each week. We have to make sure when we’re not on our A-game that it’s not this."
Harbaugh made it clear that not all the blame can be placed on Flacco. The problems are bigger than that.
"Everybody, starting with me on down, had a hand in our offensive performance," Harbaugh said. "And everybody is going to have a hand in straightening this thing out. I know these guys. I know Joe Flacco. I know what they’re all about as men. I know how we’re going to bounce back from this because we’ve done it before. It’s not going to be a surpise when we bounce back."