AFC North: 2013 Week 4 BAL at BUF

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Running back Ray Rice said no one should push the panic button on the Baltimore Ravens' struggling ground attack. He's wrong. It's time to sound the alarm after the Ravens' disappointing 23-20 loss at the Buffalo Bills.

There was nothing wrong about the Ravens not being overly concerned when they could not run the ball against Denver, Cleveland and Houston. But the Ravens cannot say "it's going to get better" after failing to run the ball against the Bills.

Buffalo has the third-worst run defense in the league. The Bills have given up more yards rushing than any other team in the league since 2009. In other words, the Bills stink at stopping the run. The Ravens, though, showed they stink worse at running the ball.

Once known for a physical running game, Baltimore gained an embarrassing 24 yards on the ground. That's 131 yards less than the Bills defense's average in the first three games. New York Jets running back Bilal Powell, not exactly a Hall of Famer, ran for 149 yards against the Bills just seven days ago. Rice couldn't break a run longer than seven yards.

The most telling part about all of this is no one complained that the Ravens only ran the ball twice in the second half. The Ravens finished with nine rushing attempts. That's the fewest in the 18-year history of the Baltimore Ravens. No Ravens team had ran the ball fewer than 12 times in a game before, and that includes the pass-happy Brian Billick.

"When you get behind, it's hard to pound the rock," said Rice, who indicated his hip injury wasn't a factor in the performance.

It's not like the Ravens were behind by four touchdowns. The Ravens never trailed by more than two scores in the second half. By no one calling for the Ravens to run the ball more, it says to me that no one has confidence in the running game right now. It's like everyone agreed that the Ravens should throw the ball 31 times after halftime because they knew the running game was done.

"We're not running the ball well. We've got to run the ball better," coach John Harbaugh said. "You saw the difference in the first half with (Buffalo). They're running the ball for four, five yards at a time and putting themselves in manageable third downs, and we're not doing that. That's tough on everybody. That's tough on the passing game, on our quarterback. We've got to get to the point where we can execute in the running game.

Last week, Harbaugh said it's more complicated that the Ravens drive defenders off the ball. Still, on Sunday, the offensive line couldn't budge the Bills. It doesn't matter if you have Rice or Jamal Lewis in the backfield. You're not going to consistently gain yards if there is no where to run.

"We maybe have to become a little more physical," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "We’re just not good enough right now. That’s probably as simple as I can make it."

The Ravens have been held under three yards per carry in each of their first four games. They're averaging 64 yards rushing per game.

It's time to hit the panic button. But, as everyone saw Sunday, hitting isn't exactly a strength for the Ravens offense right now.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw a career-worst five interceptions in the 23-20 loss at the Buffalo Bills. He was the reason why the Ravens flopped at Ralph Wilson Stadium, right?

Flacco signed a $120.6 million contract six months ago. He should be throwing five touchdown passes, not five passes to the other team. But Flacco is hardly the problem.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
AP Photo/Gary WiepertJoe Flacco was sacked three times, hit 12 times and threw three interceptions.
"Joe Flacco is not to blame; I'm going to put that out there," running back Ray Rice said. "He's our guy. Without him, we don't get down the field. Guys need to make plays. Joe is our leader. We've been down this road before. We don't point fingers around here, but the last person I'm worried about is Joe Flacco. He's a Super Bowl MVP. He's a Super Bowl quarterback. As long as Joe goes, we go. You saw it for yourself. As bad as we played, Joe Flacco still led us [to] march down the field and we were that close."

The Ravens still can't run the ball. Their longest run was 7 yards against the second-worst run defense in the NFL.

The Ravens couldn't stop the run. The Bills ran it up the gut of the Ravens' defense. The Ravens were outgained 203-24 on the ground, which underscores how both sides of Baltimore's lines got their tails whupped.

The Ravens couldn't protect Flacco. The Bills hit Flacco a dozen times, and a lot of those drove him into the turf.

And, on those instances when Flacco had time to pass, whom should he target? Ed Dickson and Tandon Doss cannot catch. One interception went right off Dickson's hands. Tight end Dallas Clark has trouble getting consistently open. Marlon Brown (thigh) and Deonte Thompson (concussion) left the game after getting hurt, joining Jacoby Jones (knee) and Brandon Stokley (groin) on the growing injury list.

It's not a stretch to say Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso, who had two interceptions, showed better hands than many of the Ravens receivers. The only receiver Flacco can have any confidence in is Torrey Smith, who will likely draw triple-teams from now on.

Flacco needs to play better, especially when the other team had three starting defensive backs inactive because of injuries. But it's not like Flacco is throwing the ball to Pro Bowl receivers or even experienced ones. Just look at his four top wide receivers Sunday. Two are undrafted (Brown and Thompson) and another was not on the team in the season opener because he was cut (Doss).

No one should take this as absolving Flacco from accountability. If he had been smarter with the ball, the Ravens probably would have won, or at least gone to overtime. His vision and decision-making were as poor as I've seen them.

If Flacco hadn't been picked off in the end zone in the third quarter (he underthrew Smith), the Ravens could have hit a 36-yard field goal, which would've been huge in a game decided by a field goal. And if Flacco hadn't been intercepted on his final pass (it came on third down), the Ravens would've had one more shot to go 15 yards to get into field goal range. In total, the Bills converted 13 points off Flacco's mistakes.

"We are definitely going to get better. We have to get better," Flacco said. "A lot of that falls on me today ... throwing the ball to the wrong team. If we don't do that, this game probably goes a little different."

It's easy to put all of the blame on Flacco. The Ravens have lost their past 12 games when he throws multiple interceptions.

"I believe we have a quarterback that can keep you in any game at any time," coach John Harbaugh said.

The problem is Flacco doesn't have the supporting cast right now to come back on the road this season. He could not in Denver. He could not in Buffalo.

If you really want to fault Flacco for something, it is the fact that the NFL's third-highest paid quarterback could not carry his team when everything else was falling apart around him.

Locker Room Buzz: Baltimore Ravens

September, 29, 2013
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed in the locker room after the Baltimore Ravens' 23-20 loss at the Buffalo Bills:

Taking accountability: Coach John Harbaugh was the first of many to shoulder the blame for the upset loss. "We didn't play well. We didn't play well at all," Harbaugh said. "I will take responsibility for that. It was a poor performance." But Harbaugh added this: "The team we’re going to be two months from now is not the team we are right now." He was shocked by the team's play, especially after a good week of practice.

Taking accountability, Part II: Joe Flacco also put much of the loss on him after he threw a career-worst five interceptions. He was visibly disappointed in his play but he wasn't beating himself up over the mistakes. "We're definitely going to get better but a lot of that falls on me today ... just throwing the ball to the wrong team," he said. "If we don't do that, this game looks a little different."

Abandoning the run: The Ravens only ran the ball twice in the second half despite never trailing by more than two scores. But there was no one griping about the pass-heavy game plan. "We got behind," said running back Ray Rice, who indicated he came out of the game healthy. "When you get behind, you can't pound the rock. You can't do it. We had to find a way to score quick."

Injury report: Cornerback Lardarius Webb (thigh) left in the second quarter and didn't return. Already without two receivers -- Jacoby Jones (knee) and Brandon Stokley (groin) -- the Ravens had two more get banged up. Marlon Brown has a thigh injury and Deonte Thompson has a concussion.

Rapid Reaction: Bills 23, Ravens 20

September, 29, 2013

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills:

What it means: Undone by interceptions and no ground game, the Ravens (2-2) were upset by the banged-up Bills (2-2). Baltimore didn't show up in the first half just a week after routing the Houston Texans. The Ravens fall into a three-way tie for first place in the AFC North with the Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) and Cleveland Browns (2-2).

Picked apart: Quarterback Joe Flacco threw a career-worst five interceptions against a makeshift Buffalo secondary, and the Bills converted those turnovers into 13 points. The most interceptions Flacco had previously thrown were four (Week 2 in 2010 at Cincinnati). His fourth interception came late in the third quarter, when the Ravens were down six points (20-14) and in Bills territory. His last one occurred in the final minute of the game when the Ravens were within 15 yards of a game-tying field goal.

Stock Watch: Rising -- wide receiver Torrey Smith. The Ravens' top playmaker caught five passes for 166 yards and scored his first touchdown of the season. It makes you wonder why the Ravens didn't go to Smith more often. Falling -- the Ravens' run game. Even with the return of running back Ray Rice, the struggling ground attack couldn't get anything going against the second-worst run defense in the league. The Ravens managed 24 yards on the ground and couldn't break a run longer than 7 yards. Baltimore completely abandoned the run game after halftime, running the ball two times in the second half.

Streak ends: The Ravens saw their streak of not allowing a touchdown end at nine quarters. Cornerback Corey Graham, who replaced injured Lardarius Webb, was beaten by Robert Woods for a 42-yard score. It was the first touchdown given up by the Ravens' defense in 30 drives. The Ravens then gave up another touchdown in the second quarter after a Flacco interception (which went off Ed Dickson's hands).

What's next: The Ravens stay on the road next Sunday, visiting the Miami Dolphins (3-0), who play at the New Orleans Saints on "Monday Night Football." Baltimore is 0-2 on the road this season.

C.J. Spiller injures ankle

September, 29, 2013
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller left in the third quarter of Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens with an ankle injury.

The team announced his return as questionable.

Spiller limped off the field after a run for no gain. After swatting at the bench in frustration, he remained on the sideline and tried to jog off the injury.

Prior to being hurt, Spiller rushed 21 times for 65 yards.

Spiller was limited to nine yards on 10 carries last week against the New York Jets before leaving with a quad injury.