Baltimore Ravens: 2013 Week 9 BAl at CLE

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.
Joe Flacco Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsJoe Flacco was sacked a season-worst five times and hit a total of eight times against Cleveland.

CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden was right that these Baltimore Ravens aren't the Ravens of old. You can start with the fact that quarterback Joe Flacco, one of the remaining pieces of last year's championship season, isn't the Flacco of old.

Flacco is getting paid to be an elite quarterback. He obviously isn't playing like one. The disturbing part is he doesn't play with the same confidence he carried in the Ravens' Super Bowl run earlier this year, which is one of the reasons why the Ravens looked lifeless at times in a 24-18 loss at FirstEnergy Stadium and why the defending champions are in a midseason free fall.

While this was the epitome of a total team meltdown, Flacco played a major role in his first loss in 12 meetings with the Browns. He sleepwalked through the game's first 29 minutes. He struggled to throw the ball deep. And he didn't show any killer instinct in the final seconds of the game.

This wasn't just a problem in Cleveland, where he was outplayed by a journeyman quarterback. This has been the case for week after painful week.

"It's obviously frustrating we just haven't been good enough," Flacco said.

The problem is, the Ravens wouldn't be a playoff team if Flacco was slinging the ball all over the field like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees or any other quarterback in the NFL ritzy pay grade. The Ravens are a flawed team in every facet of the game. If you want to single out Flacco because of his $120 million contract, I can give you 120 more reasons why Baltimore has its worst record (3-5) at the midway point in coach John Harbaugh's six seasons.

The offensive line can't protect Flacco, who was sacked a season-worst five times and hit a total of eight times. The running game stalled so much that Flacco ended up as the team's leading rusher (25 yards). The defense couldn't get the other team off the field in the fourth quarter for the third straight game. And special teams are a mess as well, from Tandon Doss losing a punt at the Baltimore 13-yard line to Sam Koch shanking a 25-yard punt in the fourth quarter.

Asked if it's unfair to point the finger squarely at the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, offensive tackle Eugene Monroe said, "Definitely. Everyone is a part of this."

Even when it has been bad for the Ravens, there have been two assurances with Flacco. They always win after the bye and they always beat the Browns. After watching the Ravens lose for the first time in both instances, it's difficult to have any confidence in the Ravens or Flacco.

This was a time when the Ravens should have had a sense of urgency. With the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals losing Thursday night, the Ravens would've cut their lead to 1½ games heading into Sunday's showdown. Instead, the Ravens produced another lethargic first half, which has been a trademark nearly the entire season.

Flacco started off as rusty as he has been all season, misfiring on 10 of his first 15 passes. He repeatedly threw behind his receivers and missed two big plays to Jacoby Jones and Deonte Thompson in the first quarter. At one point in the game, the Browns' Jason Campbell had two touchdown passes and Flacco had three completions.

This has been a role reversal from the playoffs earlier this year. Flacco had a 113.8 passer rating in the first half during the playoffs and averaged 9.1 yards per attempts.

His worst pass in Sunday's punch-in-the-gut loss, and perhaps the season, was an underthrown deep pass that was intercepted by Haden in the second quarter. The throw fluttered so high in the sky that it looked more like a punt than a pass.

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Joe Flacco
Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports"Any time you make the quarterback uncomfortable, it changes everything for him," Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe said of Joe Flacco.
"It was just a terrible ball," said Flacco, who finished 24-of-41 for 250 yards and two touchdowns. "It didn't come out of my hand right or something. It was a really bad ball. I threw it up in the air and it just got caught up there and didn't do anything. It probably wasn't a great decision anyway."

Flacco was so off his game that it looked like he may have been hurt. He even underthrew Torrey Smith on a 46-yard pass that would have been a touchdown on a better pass.

But coach John Harbaugh said Flacco wasn't injured, and Flacco brushed off those suggestions better than he did the Browns' pass rush.

Asked if the hits were taking a toll on him, Flacco said, "I don't think so. Yeah, they hurt a little bit at the time. It is what it is. It's football. I thought I was able to escape the pocket a couple of times and try to make some things happen. They worked some times and they didn't work other times."

There were times when the Browns had clear shots at Flacco. The pocket collapsed almost immediately on third down in the fourth quarter, when Ray Rice missed a block. Flacco was sacked, ending a drive at midfield with the Ravens trailing 21-18.

"Any time you make the quarterback uncomfortable, it changes everything for him," Monroe said. "Even if you have the most poised guy in the world, if you're getting hit or pressured, you might look for that. Joe sits in there and he makes plays when we need him to. If he does get hit, he doesn't give any crap about it. He's a standup guy. We have to do our job to protect him. The better we can do that, the better the passing game will prosper from it."

Flacco got the ball back at his own 20-yard line with 13 seconds remaining. Unlike the last game in Pittsburgh, Flacco wasn't as aggressive. Needing a touchdown, Flacco decided to throw the ball short on his final two passes instead of chucking it deep like he did in the playoff game at Denver.

"The first one, we had the play where we throw the curl to Torrey and we're looking to pitch it all over the place," Flacco said. "On the second one there, I figured the same thing would happen. I figured I could get it to Ray [Rice] and he can make somebody come across the field and start pitching the ball."

Flacco isn't the only high-profile quarterback struggling these days. Matt Ryan, who received more guaranteed money than Flacco this offseason, has a 2-6 record. Two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, are a combined 4-12.

The Ravens didn't pay Flacco this offseason based on stats. They spent the money because he's a proven winner. But, halfway through this season, he has been part of the problem, not the solution.

"I think if I was an outsider, I'd be somewhat surprised that we're 3-5 right now," he said. "I wouldn't expect that. But we were out on the field and I know how we played today and I know we weren't good enough."


Locker Room Buzz: Baltimore Ravens

November, 3, 2013
CLEVELAND -- Observed in the locker room after the Baltimore Ravens' 24-18 loss at the Cleveland Browns:

No shows: The Ravens have a losing record at the midway point for the first time in coach John Harbaugh's six seasons. You would like to hear what the Ravens' leaders have to say about turning the season around. But linebacker Terrell Suggs declined comment while walking out of the stadium and running back Ray Rice was gone before reporters got into the locker room. It's time for players to stand up, not sneak out.

Facing the 'challenge': The Ravens insist they're not panicking even though they've lost four of their past five games and fell to 3-5. "The math says it's going to be a challenge," Harbaugh said in looking forward. "We've got our work cut out for us. We're going to have to win some games. We're going to have to start winning close games. So, that's the No. 1 thing we have to get done. You do that, first of all, by not losing the game. You can't make the kind of mistakes that create opportunities for your opponent. We've done way too much of that throughout the course of the whole season."

Not a fan of Greg Little: Ravens safety James Ihedigbo had a jawing match with wide receiver Greg Little throughout the game. It got out of hand when Little ripped off Ihedigbo's helmet, which drew a 15-yard personal foul. "He's trying to be a tough guy," Ihedigbo said. "Some guys who aren't tough try to prove that they're tough."

Rapid Reaction: Baltimore Ravens

November, 3, 2013

CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 24-18 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

What it means: The Ravens (3-5) fell into third place in the AFC North and 21/2 games back of Cincinnati. This continues a downward spiral for the Ravens, who lost for the fourth time in five games. It ended the Ravens' 11-game win streak over the Browns, who hadn't beaten Baltimore in 2,177 days (November 2007). The Ravens also lost for the first time after the bye in coach John Harbaugh's six seasons. The Browns (4-5) moved into second place in the division.

Collapsing on Flacco: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was off his game, and it could have been the result of the hits inflicted on him. He was sacked five times (tying a season high) and hit a total of eight times. It was rough going for Flacco from the start, when he missed on 10 of his first 15 passes. He finished 24-of-41 for 250 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.

Stock watch: Rising: Marlon Brown. The rookie wide receiver accounted for 14 points with two touchdowns and a two-point conversion. Undrafted coming out of Georgia, Brown has a team-leading five touchdowns this season.

Major breakdowns: The Ravens gave up three touchdown passes to Jason Campbell after allowing four of them the past six games. Cornerback Lardarius Webb got faked out badly in the open field on Davone Bess' 20-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and no one covered tight end Gary Barnidge on a 4-yard touchdown pass. The secondary couldn't get the opponent off the field late in the fourth quarter for a third straight game.

Costly drop: With the Ravens trailing 14-10 in the third quarter, Tandon Doss let a punt go through his arms, giving the ball to the Browns at the Baltimore 11-yard line. The Browns needed only two plays and a bad penalty by the Ravens (12 men on the field) to get into the end zone. Doss was the NFL's second-best punt returner entering this game.

What's next: The Ravens play their first home game since Oct. 13 when they host the AFC North-leading Bengals. Baltimore has beaten Cincinnati the past three times at M&T Bank Stadium, but streaks don't seem to matter much when it comes to the Ravens this season.