BALTIMORE — There was the carnage of another Baltimore Ravens defensive assault that exploited, bashed and demoralized an inept football team. There was the gallows’ humor derived by watching the Oakland Raiders being unable to execute one of the most basic and vital fundamentals of the sport with four botched center-quarterback exchanges.
Plus, a relentless Baltimore defense has yet to allow a touchdown this season and tied a franchise record Sunday by generating six turnovers during a 28-6 victory before a record crowd of 70,744 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Although the most important immediate aspect of the result was how it boosted the Ravens’ overall record to 2-0 for the first time since 2000, a bigger-picture issue disturbed several veteran players. Unable to capitalize on five of six red-zone opportunities, the Ravens continually stalled deep in Raiders territory.
“An F, it’s hard to give a passing grade,” wide receiver Derrick Mason said. “We played real bad, but the score doesn’t really indicate how we played. Our defense played tremendously, but as an offense we have to get that mentality that the defense is going to save us out of our heads.
“If we’re going to be considered a top-rated offense, we’re going to have to carry our own weight. Hopefully we can go down to Cleveland next week and get this offense going. If not, the way our defense is playing, hopefully they can score points, they can be our offense.”
Because of a combination of mistimed passes and penalties, including a holding penalty on center Mike Flynn that wiped out a Musa Smith touchdown run and a delay-of-game flag on quarterback Steve McNair during the opening drive, Baltimore wound up having to settle for four Matt Stover field goals instead of scoring at least 50 points.
Despite piling up 131 rushing yards, the offense was plagued by inefficiency when it left the ground.
McNair had several errant throws, completing just 16 of 33 passes for 143 yards and a 58.0 passer rating. While McNair connected on a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Todd Heap at the end of the first half, he missed Heap badly on a nearly identical attempt after halftime.
The former NFL Co-Most Valuable Player threw his first interception since joining the team. The Raiders were incapable of doing much damage, though.
“We took a step back, we weren’t as focused as we should have been,” McNair said. “I love Stover to death, but I want to keep him off the field. We kind of killed ourselves. We shot ourselves in the foot.
“This was just two phases and one doesn’t live up to par and that was the offensive side of the ball. We’re not pushing the panic button right now. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Ravens, who pushed the Raiders’ streak of no touchdowns to 120 minutes, allowed only two field goals. They limited Oakland (0-2) to 162 yards of total offense for an average of 2.7 per play.
“We really thought we could have had the goose-egg,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said.
Guarded by cornerback Chris McAlister, former All-Pro wide receiver Randy Moss only caught two passes for 32 yards.
The defense also put a stranglehold on the Raiders’ running game, which sputtered to 39 yards on 26 carries.
“They haven’t crossed the goal line yet,” said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who declined to assess the passing game and McNair. “That’s something for our defense to hold onto, and something that will continue to motivate us. .. We’re 2-0. We’ll tear it apart tomorrow.”
The Raiders began about as inauspiciously as possible with starting quarterback Aaron Brooks flubbing both of his snaps with both recovered by Baltimore. He was replaced by Andrew Walter, ostensibly because he sprained his right rotator cuff.
When asked to react to the Raiders’ inability to snap the football successfully, linebacker Adalius Thomas cracked: “Thank you.”
It was Thomas who finished with seven tackles, two sacks and an interception. It was also Thomas who pounced on Walter in the end zone for an 18-3 lead on the first Baltimore safety since the 2000 season.
The Ravens intercepted Walter three times, including one apiece from linebackers Ray Lewis and Thomas along with rookie cornerback Ronnie Prude.
It wasn’t long before Walter was visibly cringing at what was coming next. He was sacked six times.
The Raiders didn’t manufacture a first down until eight minutes remained in the second quarter.
“I don’t know if you ever want to say another group of professionals is afraid, but we want to make them think about matching our intensity and matching our speed,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “You could say they were hesitant.”
The Ravens also produced a franchise-record 59-yard fumble return from nose guard Kelly Gregg, the second long return by a hefty Baltimore defensive lineman in the first two weeks of the season.
After a sack by linebacker Terrell Suggs popped the football out of Walter’s hands, Gregg scooped up the loose football and scooted as fast as his 310-pound body would take him. Gregg ran out of energy, much like rookie tackle Haloti Ngata did last week on a 60-yard interception, and pitched it to Lewis, who was screaming for the ball.
“I don’t know what drills we can do,” Billick quipped. “Maybe we’ll get a track coach.”
Once again, though, the offense was stonewalled. They settleed for a 23-yard field goal after consecutive incompletions by McNair to Clarence Moore and Heap.
Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden eventually left the game with a minor knee injury, but not before vehemently expressing his displeasure to Billick on the sidelines.
“Everybody has to be on the same page,” said Ogden, who declined to elaborate on why he was upset. “I’m an emotional player. Sometimes I ask questions and I just get a little loud.”
Although running back Mike Anderson salvaged the second half for the offense with a 34-yard touchdown run for his first score since joining the team, the game raised some old familiar concerns.
“We have all the tools, we have the guys who can make the plays, but we’re not clicking,” Mason said. “If I had an answer, it would be fixed. There are no answers for why we played the way we did.
“If we play a team that’s very good on offense and defense, we’re going to have to score points, point blank. If anyone else says differently, they’re lying to themselves.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.