Defense Fails, and Ravens Fall
By Ken Denlinger
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Sept. 20 The Baltimore Ravens brought the best team in their three-year history here today, then left with the worst loss in their usually tense series with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Quarterback Mark Brunell threw two touchdown passes and backup running back Fred Taylor had a 52-yard touchdown run as the Jaguars shredded the Ravens' previously stout defense with a 24-10 AFC Central victory before 67,069 at Alltel Stadium.
"How we came up with a game like this is hard to understand," Ravens Coach Ted Marchibroda said. "This is a good club, a hard-working club. Then, all of a sudden, the biggest game of our life and boom a game like this."
Indeed, the Ravens (1-2) could have tied the Jaguars (3-0) for first place in the division. But they surrendered 519 yards for the game, got only 123 themselves in the second half and had four special-teams penalties. Baltimore had lost all four previous games to the Jaguars, but by a total of nine points.
"We played like we were in Pop Warner," said cornerback Rod Woodson.
The Ravens went to backup quarterback Eric Zeier in the first half for the third straight game, this time because Jim Harbaugh was ineffective. Zeier again rallied the Ravens with a 56-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Lewis that produced a 10-7 lead late in the second quarter.
But Zeier also was intercepted midway through the fourth quarter, trying to overcome the two-touchdown lead Jacksonville had gained on 72-and one-yard scoring passes by Brunell after the teams went into halftime tied at 10.
Part of the reason for the Ravens' defensive collapse was the loss of their leading tackler, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, to a dislocated left elbow on the last play of the first quarter. He will have an MRI exam today. Marchibroda indicated Lewis would miss at least two weeks.
"Somebody landed on it," Lewis said. "It bent backward. The bone was sticking out and I sort of freaked out. It's my worst injury ever."
The Jaguars had three plays of at least 38 yards in their first two possessions, but could only gain a 7-3 lead at the end of the opening period because running back James Stewart lost a fumble in Baltimore territory.
Brunell decided on play-action with the opening play from scrimmage and hit wideout Jimmy Smith in the middle of the field for a 52-yard gain to the Ravens 36-yard line. Had Smith not stumbled on the catch and fallen, he might have scored.
On the next play, Stewart was smacked by Lewis and fumbled to linebacker Peter Boulware.
Harbaugh scrambled for a first down, but the Ravens soon had to punt. Kyle Richardson pinned the Jaguars on their 12, and Boulware threw Stewart for a two-yard loss on first down. Stewart injured his left knee on the play and was replaced by rookie Taylor.
On the next play, Brunell again faked a handoff and passed downfield, this time to tight end Pete Mitchell for a 38-yard gain to the Jacksonville 48. Taylor then took a handoff going left, quickly cut back inside and found himself all alone after pulling away from outside linebacker Jamie Sharper. He outran safety Corey Harris into the end zone and the Jaguars had a 7-0 lead.
Near the end of the first quarter, Harbaugh bought some time rolling to his right on third and five from his 33 and hit tight end Eric Green behind the secondary for a 56-yard gain to the Jaguars' 11. That set up Matt Stover's 25-yard field goal.
Baltimore lost Lewis on the last play of the first quarter after Taylor lost a yard. Lewis's replacement, Tyrus McCloud, did not hurt the defense during his action the remainder of the first half, but the Jaguars ran extremely well after halftime.
Marchibroda went to Zeier with 8 minutes 38 seconds left in the second quarter and Zeier combined with Jermaine Lewis on a 56-yard catch-and-run play for a touchdown on the next series.
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