For three quarters, the Baltimore Ravens held a lead against the NFL's best team. But in the end, another close game with the Jacksonville Jaguars produced the same result for Baltimore: a loss.
The Ravens gave up a franchise-record 23 points in the fourth quarter to lose 30-23 to the Jaguars today in a game they led 16-7 going into the final period. Following a 6-3 loss to Jacksonville on Nov. 14, it was the sixth time a game between the teams was decided by seven points or fewer. Jacksonville improved its record to 8-0 against Baltimore.
The 68,428 fans who gave the Ravens a rousing ovation at the end of the first quarter were booing them in the fourth quarter after the Jaguars (10-1) scored twice to take a 22-16 lead with 10 minutes 44 seconds remaining. Quarterback Tony Banks rallied Baltimore by throwing a three-yard touchdown pass to Chuck Evans for a 23-22 edge, but the Ravens (4-7) frittered away their chance not only to get the biggest win in the franchise's four-year history but to improve to a franchise-best 5-6.
"There's no greater pain than lost opportunity," Baltimore Coach Brian Billick said.
Quarterback Mark Brunell completed 7 of 8 passes for 69 yards during the Jaguars' final scoring drive, which was capped by James Stewart's four-yard touchdown run with 1:39 to play.
The blame for this loss fell equally on the Ravens' offense and defense. After scoring on its first two drives of the game, Baltimore failed to sustain its offensive momentum. Banks completed 17 of 34 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns, but he fumbled twice and threw a fourth-quarter interception that defensive end Tony Brackens returned 21 yards for a touchdown.
Brackens's score gave Jacksonville its first lead of the game, and Banks's second fumble halted Baltimore's final drive on the Ravens' 26-yard line with 1:06 to play.
"We had a chance offensively to put it away," Banks said. "We made more plays this time than the last time we played them, but we still had more opportunities to make more plays and we didn't make them."
Baltimore's defense, which ranked second in the NFL, was just as culpable. It allowed Jacksonville to convert on several key third-and-long situations and gave up 100 yards to an opposing receiver for the first time this season. Jacksonville's Jimmy Smith (10 catches, 132 yards) and Keenan McCardell (eight catches, 102 yards) hurt the Ravens throughout the game.
"We're Pro Bowl receivers and we have to make plays," Smith said. "Mark got real protection and that helped us get open. I don't care who you are, if a quarterback has time, we're going to get open."
Brunell (27 of 47 for 338 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions) managed to elude Baltimore's blitz most of the afternoon but was sacked three times and hit hard repeatedly. He was particularly impressive in third-and-long situations, completing a 22-yard pass to McCardell on third and 14 and a 24-yard strike to the wide receiver on third and 16. On third and nine and again on third and 12, he completed 24-yard passes to tight end Kyle Brady.
"We got killed on third down," said Ravens safety Rod Woodson, who made his fourth interception in five games. "We didn't make plays and you can't do that."
The Ravens got off to an impressive start. On the first play from scrimmage, Banks completed a 36-yard pass to Qadry Ismail (five catches, 76 yards). As Ismail was running downfield, he was hit by Jaguars strong safety Donovin Darius and the ball squirted ahead to the 38-yard line, where the Ravens' Patrick Johnson scooped it up and carried it another 12 yards. The 61-yard play put Baltimore on the Jacksonville 26-yard line. Two plays later, Errict Rhett caught a 20-yard touchdown pass to put the Ravens up 7-0. The Jaguars had not allowed an opponent to score a touchdown on its opening drive in 28 games.
On the Ravens' next drive, Matt Stover kicked a 46-yard field goal--the first of three--to give Baltimore a 10-0 lead to end the first quarter.
But the late-game collapse kept Baltimore winless against the Jaguars.
"It's a mind thing," Baltimore left tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "I don't think it's physical. I think mentally we've got to be tougher as a whole team."
CAPTION: Jaguars' Keenan McCardell (eight catches, 102 yards) tries to gain control of a pass as Ravens' Duane Starks, center, and Rod Woodson (26) engulf him.
CAPTION: Ravens' Errict Rhett (32) runs past Jaguars' Bryce Paup, right, scoring on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Tony Banks.