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Another win seems improbable for free-falling Ravens

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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BALTIMORE -- If the Baltimore Ravens thought changing offensive coordinators would shake them out of a late-season funk, I've got news: It won't. In fact, the Ravens were so bad in Jim Caldwell's debut as a play-caller that you have to wonder the once unimaginable -- namely, do these guys win again?

I'm serious.

The answer is: Probably. But that's mostly because Cincinnati remains on the schedule. The Bengals haven't beaten Baltimore and Pittsburgh in nine straight games and were drilled by the Ravens in the season opener. But after watching Denver shred the Ravens 34-17 on Sunday, tell me why anyone should believe this is a team going anywhere when it gets to January.

Because it's not.

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"We're a 9-5 football team," said quarterback Joe Flacco, "and it feels like we're 0-14 right now."

I can see why. The Ravens are a mess. But it's not their injuries that concern me. It's not the league's 25th-ranked defense, either. It's an offense that is in disarray, with the Ravens switching coordinators with three weeks left in the season and finding ... nothing. Bad enough that they produced one first down and five punts in their first six offensive series under Caldwell. What finished me -- and the Ravens -- was a mind-boggling call at the end of the first half that ended this game and may have ended what hopes the Ravens have of making a run deep into the playoffs.

Did I say playoffs? These guys just need to win a game ... any game ... and consider that questionable. Because it's not like this was just another loss. Nope, this was the first time since first half of 2009 that Baltimore dropped its third straight and the first time since 2007 it lost two in a row at home.

Bad, huh? That's not even close to that horrific call just before halftime. Let's go to the videotape.

The Ravens are down 10-0, but piece together a drive with two minutes left that takes them from their 20 to the Denver 4. Thirty-four seconds remain when Flacco hurries his teammates to the line of scrimmage, takes a quick snap from center, retreats three steps then throws to the left sideline.

The pass is meant for wide receiver Anquan Boldin, but it never reaches him. Instead, cornerback Chris Harris steps in, makes the easy interception and outruns Flacco for a 98-yard TD. Game, set and question, please: What in the world were the Ravens ... er, Flacco ... er, Caldwell ... doing?

They had all three of their timeouts. They could have run once. They could have run twice. Time was not an issue. But, no, they race to the line of scrimmage, then throw a 2-yard pass where it's danger, danger, danger. Flacco later admitted he might've been late with a pass he believed was safe because Boldin could've stepped out of bounds to kill the clock, but let me repeat: THE CLOCK WAS NOT AN ISSUE.

The Ravens were not going to run more than three plays, and they had all of their timeouts. Somebody do the math. If they don't do anything, they kick a field goal and can tie the game when they receive the opening kickoff of the second half. If they give the ball to Ray Rice and he's stopped for, say, a 1-yard gain, they use the first of their three timeouts. What they absolutely, positively could not have happen is exactly what did.

Now I have one more thing to ask: Who chose that play?

"That's coach's call," said the Ravens' John Harbaugh. "That's my call. We run that a lot. We've done that a lot this year. We've done it over the last few years. There's a number of play calls that we have in that situation. Joe is trying to stick it in there for a touchdown. The kid (Harris) made a great play. That's what happens."

But it's not what should happen to Baltimore. Remember, this is a club that last weekend couldn't put away Washington when Flacco was hit trying to throw at the Redskins' 6, with his pass intercepted by the Redskins' London Fletcher -- a mistake that led to the Ravens' defeat. That game got offensive coordinator Cam Cameron fired, and I suggest Caldwell pay attention -- because those who know say it was Caldwell who made this call.

All I know is that it was an unnecessary risk that lost a game, and, yes, Caldwell must be held as accountable as Cameron was.

"Could you talk about that play?" Boldin was asked later.

"I'd rather not," he said.

I feel his pain. From beginning to end, Baltimore was outclassed and outplayed, with Flacco fumbling on his third snap of the game and sacked on his last two. It was as bad as it gets for this once mighty team, and it's a sobering reminder that the Ravens -- the Baltimore Frickin' Ravens -- are in deep, deep kimchi. They have the New York Giants here next week, then go to Cincinnati after that, and it's hard to make a case for them after the carnage we just witnessed.

"As [a part of] Ravens' nation, and as a player," said Baltimore safety Ed Reed, "I'm embarrassed for our city ... The last three weeks, it's terrible. It's what all you guys have been saying about us right now. It's just been the truth. And we've just acted on it."

That's one way of putting it. Another is: They're losing their grip on what and who they are ... or were. Under Harbaugh, Baltimore historically improved as the season wore on, but not now ... and, OK, so they were decimated by injuries Sunday. They're not alone. This is the time of season when almost everyone throughout the NFL is affected by injuries. That doesn't explain the Ravens' gaffes, and that doesn't explain their failure to take Cameron's firing as a warning to get better ... or else.

"Honestly, we did not play," Reed said. "We did not play football. This is the NFL. You have to be on your game. And nobody's safe. That's why we lost a coach last week. There's got to be sense of urgency for every man. There's got to be something to every man to know your job's on the line. We have to make corrections."

Instead, they make mistakes ... and everyone but themselves happy.

"I felt like it was Christmas, and not for our side," Reed said. "I felt like we were in a giving mood. I don't have to go back and watch the tape to know we gave up a lot of things."

I don't, either. Yet they may not be done.

"We have to keep moving forward and keep our eyes on the prize," Flacco said. "Everything in this league is: What have you or me done lately."

Exactly. But that's the problem, and the Baltimore Ravens know it.

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