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CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Ravens' inconsistency on offense casts postseason doubts


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Nothing like a vulgar offensive performance in front of a national-television audience to once again open the Baltimore Ravens up to a litany of negative questions.

Is Joe Flacco the answer?

Is the play calling any good?

Can the receivers win outside?

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Haven't we heard this all before? But after a sickening-to-watch offensive performance in a 12-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, that included the Ravens gaining 16 total yards in the first half and not getting a first down until 5:29 left in the third quarter, it seems like it's that time again.

What's worse: You have a player questioning the offensive plan, mainly because running back Ray Rice had just eight carries.

"It baffles me that Ray Rice only had seven carries [actually eight]," Ravens veteran defensive end Terrell Suggs said. "This is a Pro Bowl running back you're talking about. They fed their horse. We have to feed our horse. It's all right, just calling a spade a spade."

I asked Suggs if that meant he was unhappy with the game plan.

"I don't really know what the game plan was," he said. "When I have a Pro Bowl running back, and he's not getting his touches, I'm going to feel some kind of way about it. He wants the ball. And I think we should feed him. Ray Rice is a phenomenal player. You have to use your phenomenal players. I have to question how many touches Anquan [Boldin] had. We've got guys on this team that can do some great things. We have to use those guys. It's that simple."

Rice gained 28 yards on his eight carries, but also lost a fumble and dropped a pass. Boldin, who was doubled much of the night, was targeted 12 times, but had just four catches for 40 yards and a touchdown.

The Ravens had just 146 yards of offense and 90 of it came on their lone touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.

There were a lot of people thinking this was a team that will push for a Super Bowl. With that kind of offense, the 4-2 Ravens can forget about it.

"If we don't get consistency on offense, we're not going anywhere," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We can't play a game like we played tonight and expect to accomplish anything. We all know it. We got our butts handed to us in that sense."

The Ravens came in as the fifth-ranked scoring offense, which makes this inept showing so surprising. Then again, maybe it shouldn't be. Isn't inconsistency a Ravens offensive trait?

It would be scary for Ravens fans to think this is who they are as an offense. For quarterback Joe Flacco, the questions about his viability as an elite quarterback will once again pop up. Flacco was 21 of 38 for 137 yards, one touchdown and an interception late that ended the Ravens' chances of a comeback. Up until the 90 yards he got on that final drive, he had 47 yards passing.

Stick your finger in your mouth and gag. That's what Ravens fans probably did. Or they're pointing it right at Flacco.

"That's the nature of playing the position," Harbaugh said. "You always get too much credit or too much blame. I guarantee you this week is going to be too much blame. There's no doubt about it. Everybody -- starting with me on down -- had a hand in our offensive performance. Everybody is going to have a hand in straightening this thing out. I know these guys. I know Joe Flacco. I know how we're going to bounce back from this because we've done it before."

Flacco knows what's coming. He's had it come at him like a linebacker full steam for most of his career. The inconsistency has been there, which leads to questions about his ability, especially in his fourth season.

Through six games this season, Flacco has a passer rating of 76.2 and has eight touchdowns and five interceptions. He's completing 52.1 percent of his passes.

Has he actually regressed? Or is the youth on offense an issue? Flacco hinted that could be the case. He also said he knows the criticism is coming at him.

"Oh, yeah," Flacco said. "What are you going to do? It's not like I pay attention and watch all that stuff, but that's the name of the game in the NFL. It's the name of the game in football. Like John said, they look at the quarterback when things are good and things are bad. That's what happens."

Sixteen yards in the first half will do that.

"There's no excuse for that," Boldin said. "You have to give them credit. They played like it was their Super Bowl."

Maybe so, but the Ravens on Monday night, with a chance to show off their swagger, did little to make anyone even mention Super Bowl next to their name.

The offensive inconsistency has to be maddening inside the locker room and for Ravens fans. The questions about Flacco and the Ravens offense are there again.

"Who cares?" Boldin said. "I don't care about what anybody outside this locker room says."

So what do you have to say about the offense, Anquan?

"You've seen this offense perform," Boldin said "I really don't have to speak for this offense. We'll go out and show it."

They better do it soon. Or else they can forget about playing deep into January.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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