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Ravens implode in historically bad opener
September, 6, 2013
By Jamison Hensley | ESPN.com
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesEd Dickson had a number of misplays trying to fill the void left by Dennis Pitta's injury.
DENVER -- The Baltimore Ravens' free fall from atop the football world was embarrassing and historic Thursday night.
The Ravens' new-look defense gave up an NFL-record-tying seven touchdown passes to Peyton Manning. Baltimore suffered the worst season-opening loss for a defending Super Bowl champion and allowed the most points in the Ravens' decorated history.
But it became clear, from the cringe-filled 3 1/2 hours on national television to the sobering atmosphere in the locker room, that the Ravens' 49-27 loss was self-inflicted. The Broncos didn't beat them. The Ravens beat themselves.
In fact, the Ravens beat themselves up. They injured their own teammates -- twice. When you combine that with the dropped passes, the blocked punt and the miscommunication in the secondary, the Ravens should feel lucky they didn't get beat by more.
With 10 different starters from their Super Bowl team, the Ravens knew they would be a work in progress, especially early in the season. Their performance in the opener showed they have a ways to go to match up against a top team in the AFC.
"The biggest issue that we had tonight was that we gave up too many easy things," coach John Harbaugh said. "Even right down to the end, we're fighting like crazy to try to create a play and we gave them a touchdown at the end. That's just the bottom line. We can't give them easy plays."
The knee-jerk reaction is to say the Ravens lacked poise in their first game without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. How the game was lost goes deeper than that.
Some mistakes were uncharacteristic. Quarterback Joe Flacco, who hadn't thrown an interception in 210 passes, was picked off twice in his own territory.
Other mistakes were more alarming, especially at tight end and in the secondary. Without Dennis Pitta (hip injury), tight ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark combined to drop more than a handful of passes. General manager Ozzie Newsome was the best tight end on the Ravens on Thursday night.
"There were things that can easily be corrected within a couple of days and will be corrected in a couple of days," said Dickson, who didn't play in the preseason because of a hamstring injury.
The most devastating drop came late in the second quarter, when Clark dropped a third-down pass near the goal line. The Ravens had to settle for a field goal and a 17-14 lead going into halftime. The biggest reason why the Ravens signed Clark was his sure hands and ability to make plays in the red zone.
"It's disappointing," Clark said, "and you have to get the next one."
Everything spiraled out of control for the Ravens in the second half. After Harbaugh didn't challenge a Wes Welker drop -- the coach said the Ravens never saw a replay -- the Ravens gave up three touchdown passes in less than six minutes in the third quarter. Jimmy Smith got burned by Andre Caldwell for a 28-yard touchdown. Corey Graham couldn't stay with Welker for a five-yard touchdown. And Graham and Lardarius Webb both covered Demaryius Thomas and left Welker wide open for a two-yard touchdown.
This certainly raises a red flag when a defense, which allowed 15 touchdown passes all of last season, gets lit up for almost half that amount in one game. Graham, who picked off Manning twice in last season's playoff game, had a hand in three touchdowns.
"It was one of those games where everything they did went right, and everything we did went wrong," Graham said. "It's a rough one, and for me personally. It's probably one of the worst games I've ever played in my life."
The hope is the secondary will get better when the defensive backs gain more chemistry and the tight ends will get more of a rapport with Flacco. The bigger problem for the Ravens may be injuries.
AP Photo/Joe MahoneyJoe Flacco and the Ravens were humbled, but he expects his team to be able to bounce back.
Wide receiver Jacoby Jones was knocked out of the game with a sprained knee after his teammate, rookie Brynden Trawick, ran into him on a punt return. Later in the second quarter, right tackle Michael Oher left the game with a sprained ankle after guard Marshal Yanda rolled into him on Ray Rice's one-yard touchdown.
Harbaugh didn't provide an update on the injuries. If they're serious, the Ravens would rely on two rookies, wide receiver Marlon Brown and right tackle Rick Wagner, to replace them.
The Ravens acknowledged being disappointed and humbled by how they played. They weren't ready to concede to the division to the Cincinnati Bengals and give up on a sixth consecutive playoff appearance after one lopsided loss.
The 1993 Dallas Cowboys opened their Super Bowl defense by getting beat by 18 points. They started out 0-2 that year before rebounding to win the Super Bowl again.
"We've all been through this before and we've gotten beaten like this," said Flacco, who was 34-of-62 for 362 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. "So, I don't think we overreact. John is an experienced head coach and we've got enough guys who are experienced with this type of thing. We'll know how to handle it. Overrating sometimes isn't a bad thing. There's a lot of mistakes and guys tend to react well to it."