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Monday, December 10, 2012
Backups beating Ravens' beaten-up defense

By Jamison Hensley

When the Ravens' schedule was released in April, the stretch that stood out was seven Pro Bowl quarterbacks in the final eight games. The problem is, Baltimore hasn't been losing to Pro Bowl quarterbacks.

With a chance to clinch a playoff spot the past two weeks, the Ravens were stopped by Charlie Batch and Kirk Cousins. Baltimore couldn't celebrate another trip to the postseason because it failed to hold a fourth-quarter lead against a 37-year-old third-stringer (Batch) and a rookie fourth-round backup (Cousins).

The Ravens have a rich tradition of success on defense. Baltimore has ranked in the top 10 in defense for the past nine straight seasons (2003-11), which is tied for the third-longest streak since the 1970 merger. Now, this banged-up defense can't keep the likes of Batch or Cousins out of the end zone when the game is on the line.

A week ago, Batch was 10-for-11 for 105 yards and one touchdown in rallying the Steelers from seven points down in the fourth quarter. On Sunday, Cousins replaced an injured Robert Griffin III to tie the game with 29 seconds remaining when he hit Pierre Garcon for an 11-yard touchdown pass and ran in the two-point conversion.

To be fair, the Ravens are dealing with several injuries on defense, especially at linebacker and cornerback. Their team leader (Ray Lewis), best defensive player (Terrell Suggs) and top cornerback (Lardarius Webb) didn't play. Dannell Ellerbe, who replaced Lewis in the starting lineup, was out with an ankle injury. So, when Jameel McClain left in the third quarter with a neck injury, Baltimore was down to undrafted free agents Albert McClellan and Josh Bynes at inside linebacker. The Ravens are also starting special-teams ace Corey Graham at cornerback because of injuries to Webb and Jimmy Smith.

Are the Ravens in trouble? “No, man. We ain't in trouble,” safety Ed Reed told reporters after the game. “Next question.”

OK, what about this question: How can the Ravens beat Peyton Manning when they can't beat Batch and Cousins? Manning, who plays the Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday, has won eight straight meetings against the Ravens. The last time Baltimore beat Manning was December 2001.