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CLEVELAND — Scattered tape and discarded towels were the remnants in the locker room as the Baltimore Ravens trudged out of town wearing business suits and somber expressions.
The Ravens left a lot more out on the football field Sunday, squandering prime scoring opportunities and surrendering big plays defensively as they absorbed a 27-13 belt-whipping to the Cleveland Browns that included quite a few self-inflicted blows.
"It’s very disappointing beyond the loss because it’s tough to play that way," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We just got our butts beat, plain and simple. There’s no magical answers."
It was actually a tad more complicated, considering how the Ravens (2-2) disturbingly dropped to 0-2 against the AFC North as Cleveland (2-2) uncharacteristically dominated before 73,024 at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The litany of errors was somewhat surprising considering that the Ravens are the reigning division champions and the Browns have finished last four years in a row and had never scored this many points against Baltimore since rejoining the league in 1999.
"This is a pretty low point for us," tight end Todd Heap said. "You think about how the game went and not a whole lot went our way. Those are the most frustrating games when you don’t even put yourself in position to win.."
Quarterback Steve McNair sailed throws with no rhythm as the offense piled up 418 yards of total offense, but botched three of four trips inside the red zone. He was erratic at crucial times, uncorking a costly interception.
Late in the first half, McNair, who completed a career-high 34 passes for 307 yards on a career-high 53 attempts, threw three consecutive incompletions from the Browns’ 11-yard line.
He missed tight end Daniel Wilcox, wide receiver Demetrius Williams and misfired to Heap as Baltimore had to settle for a field goal.
McNair insisted that his pulled groin wasn’t a factor in his performance, although he acknowledged that he did twist it slightly.
"No, I didn’t feel it," McNair said. "It’s not the groin. Everything is fine. I just rushed the throws. There were a couple of throws I wish I had back.
"I just missed some throws in the red zone and led the guys too much instead of giving them the opportunity to make plays. Thirteen points is not enough. We left 35 points off the scoreboard. We can’t put that much pressure on our defense."
The Ravens never punted, drove into Cleveland territory nine times and only wound up with two field goals and a fairly meaningless touchdown pass to reserve tight end Quinn Sypniewski.
It wasn’t long before the frustration bubbled over, and even more mistakes ensued.
Down 7-0 after former Ravens quarterback Derek Anderson hit Joe Jurevicius from two yards out for a touchdown on the opening drive with cornerback Derrick Martin nearby, McNair drove Baltimore down to the Browns’ 27-yard line.
Then, McNair stared down Heap and cornerback Leigh Bodden broke on the football for an interception.
"The guy played off on the outside receiver and he sloughed off, came back and made a great play on the ball," McNair said. "I was looking at Todd and I threw it to him, and the guy came outside and made a play."
Nine seconds later, the Browns were up 14-0 when Anderson lobbed a 78-yard touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards, who scorched cornerback Chris McAlister.
McAlister overreacted to Edwards’ fluid inside fake, and the wide receiver burst to the outside to gather in Andersonâ€™s spiral to dash into the end zone untouched up the left sideline.
When asked what he saw on the play, McAlister had a droll, honest reply: "Him running by me. I just didn’t play my man. He gets paid a check every week like me. He made the better play."
Anderson, who was cut by Baltimore in 2005, calmly completed 10 of 18 passes for 204 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for a 109.5 quarterback rating. He was never sacked, and was rarely harassed or hit.
In a fairly bizarre occurrence, kicker Matt Stover missed two field goals.
His first miss was from 46 yards, pushing it wide right and replicating the sequence on a subsequent 41-yard attempt.
"I slipped a little, and that’s why I missed it," Stover said. "I was not as consistent as I would have liked to have been. I have to take responsibility and get better.
"The field was a little loose, but I’ve kicked on loose fields plenty of times That’s no excuse."
An Ed Reed interception set up Baltimore’s first points, but that was preceded by an eerily familiar red-zone breakdown.
McNair threw incomplete to Williams, Musa Smith was stuffed for two yards and Derrick Mason (10 catches, 78 yards) came up shy of the first down prior to Stover’s 21-yard field goal.
Later, Figurs fumbled at the Ravens’ 31-yard line on a kickoff as he was struck by former Baltimore tight end Darnell Dinkins.
"I was trying to make a play," Figurs said. "I saw the seam and didn’t protect the ball."
That wasn’t the only red flag for the Ravens as Billick didn’t throw the red flag in time as he sought an instant-replay challenge in vain following former Baltimore star runner Jamal Lewis’ disputed, 1-yard touchdown run.
Lewis never appeared to break the plane of the end zone on his dive over the top. Billick hesitated and didn’t appear to throw the flag until the ball was snapped on the extra point, which gave Cleveland a 24-6 advantage.
When asked what happened, Billick retorted: "The officiating matched our play."
As in, it was bad.
Baltimore shut down Lewis with the exception of a 28-yard run. He gained just 64 yards on 23 carries, averaging 2.8 yards per carry against the NFL’s top-ranked run defense.
However, the red-zone issues and the defense’s inability to stop the big play as tight end Kellen Winslow caught four passes for 96 yards along with Edwards’ three catches for 97 yards ultimately doomed the Ravens.
Despite running back Willis McGahee gaining 104 yards on 14 carries for his biggest game since being acquired in a trade, he wasn’t counted on in scoring position.
"When my number is called, I’ve got to step up," McGahee said.
All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis had several heated conversations on the sidelines with the coaching staff. Without calling anyone out specifically, he asserted that the Ravens need to play more straightforward, hard-nosed football.
"Sooner or later, you can’t trick anyone anymore," Lewis said. "You just line up and play football. That’s what this game is all about. That’s why you put on the pads and helmet and try to beat the man in front of you.
"It’s not about trickery. When you have that many mistakes, you can’t beat anybody. It’s about playing hard-nosed football."
McNair completed 9 of 17 passes for 95 yards and a 45.0 rating during the first half when the game was being decided.
During the second half, the Ravens never recovered from a 24-6 deficit.
McNair hit Sypniewski for a 4-yard score in the fourth quarter, but the game was essentially over by that point.
Baltimore, playing without offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, cornerback Samari Rolle and defensive end Trevor Pryce, never matched the Browns’ intensity.
Now, the Ravens have reached an early crossroads as their high expectations are being dimmed by a harsh reality.
"At some point, you have to have a sense of urgency," linebacker Bart Scott said. "I’m not one to believe that, ‘We’re 2-2, we’re okay.’ You say that all year and you look up and you’re sitting outside the playoffs saying what happened.
"You have to get it fixed now. Every game could mean the difference between making the playoffs and home-field advantage. You have to get a sense of urgency. We have to tighten this thing up. We have a lot more quality opponents coming through."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.