ST. LOUIS — Dannell Ellerbe strutted and showboated, pausing for a swaggering moment on the cusp of the St. Louis Rams’ end zone as he returned a Keith Null interception.
Then, the Baltimore Ravens’ reserve inside linebacker leaned the football into the end zone with an exaggerated motion across the goal line to conclude a 57-yard touchdown in the second quarter that was greeted by loud boos from the Rams’ small assembly of diehards announced as 42,327 at Edward Jones Dome.
Seconds later, a clearly furious Ravens coach John Harbaugh was in Ellerbe’s face mask spitting out words probably not fit for print as he chastised the second-year linebacker
Ellerbe’s touchdown off a pass deflected by cornerback Cary Williams was easily the Ravens’ top individual showing during a 27-21 loss to the Rams on Thursday night during an ugly preseason finale defined by general sloppiness from the Baltimore reserves.
The athletic display was tempered by the extreme lack of discipline from Ellerbe. It obviously didn’t help matters that Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur were colleagues of Harbaugh on the Philadelphia Eagles’ staff.
Ellerbe remained in the game, though, replacing Jason Phillips at middle linebacker on the next series.
Besides Ellerbe’s individualistic display, it was a rough night for what amounted to the Ravens’ junior varsity as they didn’t play any starters. The Ravens (3-1) ended their seven-game preseason winning streak.
The Rams definitely didn’t follow that memo about resting their top players heading into the regular season, playing several starters during the first half.
Backup quarterback Troy Smith had an erratic night, struggling with deflected passes and his accuracy and judgment as he threw into coverage several times.
He was intercepted twice, including a pass intended for Demetrius Williams that was tipped and intercepted at the Rams’ one-yard line on fourth-and-goal to end the first half.
Linebacker Chris Chamberlain nearly ran back the interception for a touchdown before running back Jalen Parmele chased him down at the Ravens’ 12-yard line after an 83-yard return.
In the first half, Smith completed just 6 of 14 throws for 63 yards for a 26.8 passer rating.
Smith is fighting to make the team as the Ravens’ third quarterback, and this was an opportunity to showcase himself for the rest of the league.
Other than rushing for 56 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries, it was a tough night for the former Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State.
He completed only 15 of 34 passes for 196 yards for the game with no touchdowns and two interceptions for a paltry 38.4 passer rating.
The Ravens kept three quarterbacks on the roster during each of Harbaugh’s first two seasons in Baltimore, but they could get by with two this year considering the presence of starter Joe Flacco and two-time Pro Bowl selection Marc Bulger as his backup.
Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, the top overall pick of the draft from Oklahoma, completed all six of his passes on the opening drive of the game.
That included a 36-yard sideline touch pass to wide receiver Danny Amendola behind Williams.
Four plays later, Bradford lobbed a two-yard touchdown pass to starting tight end Billy Bajema wide open behind Phillips.
Phillips, who’s on the roster bubble, has had a strong preseason as a run-stuffer and blitzer as he recorded eight tackles to lead the team against St. Louis.
However, the gritty former fifth-round draft pick’s deficiencies in pass coverage could ultimately cost him his job.
Bradford was removed from the game after completing 6 of 6 throws for 68 yards and one touchdown.
The Rams weren’t done marching downfield.
Null engineered an eight-play 79-yard drive on the Ram’s second offensive drive capped by his three-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandon Gibson in the corner of the end zone.
It was an outstanding catch and throw, and there wasn’t much journeyman cornerback Travis Fisher could do about preventing the score.
Fisher’s roster status could be affected by the arrival of former University of Maryland cornerback Josh Wilson this week via a trade from the Seattle Seahawks.
Days before kickoff, undrafted rookie cornerback Prince Miller talked about not forcing plays as a punt returner and maintaining his composure.
That approach wasn’t on display during a major blunder in the second quarter.
Miller retreated several yards on a booming punt by Donnie Jones, fumbling it into the Ravens’ end zone.
Luckily, it was ruled a touchback after a mad scramble for the loose football. Miller is probably bound for the practice squad.
The Ravens were stuffed again on the ensuing possession with Smith being sacked by defensive end Victor Adeyanju on third down. The fumble was recovered by offensive lineman Joe Reitz.
The Rams’ next series was halted at the Ravens’ 17-yard line when outside linebacker Edgar Jones sacked Null as they settled for a 45-yard Josh Brown field goal and a 17-7 lead.
Operating the shotgun offense to open the second half, Smith looked much more comfortable.
He connected on a series of short passes before scrambling up the middle for an 18-yard gain down to the Rams’ four-yard line.
Two plays later, Smith pushed up the middle on a quarterback sneak for a one-yard touchdown to bring the Ravens to within three points.
The 12-play, 80-yard drive engineered by Smith lasted 5 minutes and 38 seconds.
After a Smith pass meant for rookie tight end Dennis Pitta was intercepted by Eugene Sims in the third quarter, the Rams capitalized on the turnover with a 54-yard field goal from Brown.
In the fourth quarter, the Rams padded their lead on a 26-yard Thaddeus Lewis touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandon McRae. Rookie cornerback Chris Hawkins whiffed in the open field while unsuccessfully trying to tackle McRae by the sideline.
There were no field goal attempts by kickers Shayne Graham and Billy Cundiff, so Cundiff should retain his slight edge as the Ravens contemplate who should win the job.
Wide receivers Demetrius Williams, who played despite a sprained right ankle, Marcus Smith and David Reed didn’t really distinguish themselves other than Reed’s impressive 53-yard kickoff return in the first half.
Smith bolted into the end zone up the middle for a two-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to cap the Ravens’ scoring.