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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The football left Baltimore Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller’s fingertips just before Aaron Schobel crashed into him, and the errant pass skidded across the ground after sailing over the head of running back Musa Smith.
That failure on fourth down in the final two minutes spelled the end of a last-gasp comeback attempt for the unraveling Ravens. It was yet another frustrating moment in a disastrous 19-14 defeat to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, a setback that leaves Baltimore at a crossroads heading into its bye week.
This debacle against the NFL’s statistically worst defense and second-worst offense hurts the Ravens (4-3) significantly, leaving a sting that alternately angered and subdued the locker room.
Afterward, Ravens coach Brian Billick could be heard yelling at his players. A few minutes later, Boller loudly pounded his fist twice on the podium during an interview.
"We’ve got to stick together obviously," said Billick, who attributed the penalties and other issues to a lack of focus. "Everybody is very vulnerable right now.
Everybody is upset, everybody is [expletive] off, and that’s to be understood. We did enough things on all sides of the ball to put us at risk."
Between jumping offsides five times among 11 penalties for 91 yards, the league’s fourth-ranked defense being run over and juked by rookie running back Marshawn Lynch and not being able to intimidate rookie quarterback Trent Edwards along with an offense that still doesn’t have a viable plan to score, the Ravens fell behind 9-0 by halftime.
Buffalo had only won one previous game.
"To a man, you got to look at yourself in the eye and say, ‘Do you really want to play this game? Do you really want to go out there and give it your all?’" receiver Derrick Mason said. "You can talk it all you want. But if you want to act tough, play tough. That’s my attitude and that’s everybody, including me.
"If you want to talk the talk, prove it. We’re in a corner right now. And nobody can sugarcoat it. Either we’re going to come out fighting like a lion or we’re going to stay balled up like a cub."
It was ugly throughout for the Ravens as they surrendered four field goals with the first Rian Lindell kick set up by two offsides penalties on linebacker Jarret Johnson and cornerback Samari Rolle.
Plus, Edwards completed 11 of 21 passes for 153 yards and led the Bills on five scoring drives.
Playing without starting quarterback Steve McNair, tight end Todd Heap and cornerback Chris McAlister and an offensive line that featured three rookies, the Ravens generated only 125 yards in the first half as they were penalized eight times for 78 yards.
Baltimore generated just one first down and 29 yards on its first three drives.
Conversely, the Bills scored on three of their first four possessions.
â€œWe didnâ€™t play good enough to win and the score dictated that,â€ Mason said. â€œYou can tiptoe around it and you can pretend it didnâ€™t happen, but we didnâ€™t play well. Weâ€™ll straighten out some things that we got wrong. We’ve got to come back with an attitude, and that attitude is: We got to win every game here on out and I don’t care who we play."
Despite falling behind 19-7 after a defensive pass interference penalty on cornerback Corey Ivy set up Lynch’s 1-yard touchdown run, the Ravens weren’t quite done.
Rolle intercepted Edwards at the Bills’ 14-yard line with his touchdown return nullified on an instant-replay review that determined he was down by contact after being tagged by wide receiver Lee Evans. It led to Boller’s clutch 15-yard strike to Mason on 4th-and-11 for a touchdown.
Down 19-14 with 4:50 remaining, the Ravens’ play-calling and execution haunted them once again.
First, Boller threw a 3-yard pass to tight end Quinn Sypniewski, whose fumble in the second quarter set up the Bills’ third field goal. Then, running back Willis McGahee gained no yards on a run off left guard with Boller pressured and throwing incomplete to Demetrius Williams to halt the drive.
Following another defensive stop and a 9-yard pass to Sypniewski, Boller threw three consecutive incompletions to halt the comeback try.
"Losing sucks," said Boller, who completed 21 of 36 passes for 191 yards and no interceptions. "We came up short. We didn’t bring our ‘A’ game. Itâ€™s emotional.
"Itâ€™s a tough loss. We had a chance at the end, but it was our play the entire game. It wasn’t one play here or there, it was the whole game.â€
Boller emphatically denied that the team was looking ahead to its vacation instead of preparing diligently for the Bills.
"I really think everyone was focused on Buffalo,â€ he said. â€œNo one was focused on the bye week coming up. Everyone is a professional. We just didnâ€™t execute.â€
Meanwhile, McGahee woke up from his slumber with an impressive 46-yard touchdown run after a first half where he gained one yard on his first five carries. McGahee dodged safety Donte Whitner, rudely stiff-armed safety George Wilson to the ground and stumbled forward before diving into the end zone.
Although McGahee finished with a season-high 114 yards on 19 carries, he had to sit out for a few series in the second half due to dehydration that required him to get intravenous fluids.
On the heels of a messy divorce from Buffalo where he criticized the city and suggest the team should be moved to Toronto, he was heavily booed by the Bills’ faithful every time he touched the football.
"They can have hard feelings," McGahee said. "When you leave this place, the fans get upset. They never want to see players leave."
Even when McGahee began to hit full stride, the Ravens would falter as Buffalo answered on the ensuing possession with a 41-yard Lindell field goal that was set up by a 25-yard pass to Josh Reed behind Ivy.
Ivy was beaten badly by Evans on a 54-yard pass over the middle on the next Bills possession to set up Lynch’s touchdown. Ivy declined an interview request.
Usually outspoken Pro Bowl linebacker Bart Scott didn’t have many answers, repeatedly saying the team just needed to play hard.
"We didn’t play very well defensively in the first half, not to our standards," defensive end Dwan Edwards said. "We wanted to set the tone and get some helmets on Marshawn Lynch. We didn’t tackle well in the first half. We came in and put some hats on him in the second half, but we had dug ourselves a big hole."
Lynch was excited after rushing for 84 yards on 27 carries, including yardage up the middle at the expense of middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
"It’s something I always dreamed about, getting to run against Ray-Ray," Lynch said. "It was everything I dreamed of, just having him come downhill was just like in my dreams."
It was a nightmare game, though, for Baltimore.
Now, the Ravens have to regroup as they prepare to play the Steelers twice along with the undefeated New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers and the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.
A year ago, Billick fired offensive coordinator Jim Fassel during the bye after a 4-2 start and Baltimore responded by winning nine of its final 10 games to finish a franchise-record 13-3.
"Hopefully, we’ll sprout up like we did last year after the bye," center Mike Flynn said. â€œThere’s a lot of frustration wondering what direction we’re going to go in offensively and defensively.
"Expectations are tough. They always are. There’s a lot of pressure. At least we have the talent."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.