RAVENS FALL TO 3-3 FOR FIRST TIME SINCE 2009
M&T BANK STADIUM, BALTIMORE -- During the last four years, Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers are the only quarterbacks in the league to throw for 3,600 yards, 20 touchdowns and fewer than 12 interceptions on an annual basis.
So, given the NFL's topsy-turvy nature, it was only natural that both Super Bowl MVP-winning signal callers would take part in a game that featured relatively little offense.
But when it counted, the visiting Green Bay Packers turned to the grinding runs of rookie running back Eddie Lacy to key a late 72-yard, seven-minute scoring drive and an eventual 19-17 win against the Ravens before 71,319 disappointed fans unaccustomed to seeing a home loss.
"We just need to continue to get better," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "We've got the right people, doing the right things, so the one thing we're not going to do is overreact.
"We're a work in progress. We would have loved to have won this game, but we didn't, so give credit to the Packers."
Another slow start hamstrung the Ravens, who are 3-3 at this point during a season for the first time since 2009 -- each of the last three years, their third loss hadn't come until after Nov. 1. Their opponents scored first for the fourth time out of six games, and the Ravens were scoreless during the first half for the second time at home.
"We have to find a way to get it going for all four quarters," said Flacco (20-for-34, 342 yards, two touchdowns, five sacks, 112.6 rating). "For the most part, the pass protection was pretty good. I had time to step up, to move to the left and the right, but you can't expect to play that badly and win."
The game, which featured two of the three teams that have reached the playoffs each of the last four years -- New England is the other -- evolved into a grind-it-out affair, and the team that proved best at sustaining it, as well as stopping it, came out on top.
Lacy, who had to pace the Packers' run game in place of the injured James Starks, carried the ball six times for 32 yards behind an offensive line that Pro Football Focus ranked as the league's worst this week.
Those runs set up Mason Crosby's fourth field goal of the day, a 31-yarder with 4:17 to go to make the score 19-10 and force the Ravens to score twice to try to extend their 13-game home winning streak against NFC teams, the last loss coming in October 2006, against the Carolina Panthers.
Memories of the "Charm City Chuck" miracle play in Denver in January must have sprung to Ravens' fans minds when Flacco hit Tandon Doss (99 yards, four catches) for 63 yards to the Packers' 18 before Dallas Clark (81 yards, four catches, touchdown) made a one-handed end-zone grab to cut the lead to two with 2:04 to go.
But when the Packers (3-2) faced third-and-3 on their own 27, tight end Jermichael Finley (75 yards, three catches) pulled off a 52-yard catch-and-run to effectively seal the visitors' first road win of the year and the franchise's first win in Baltimore since a win against the Colts at Memorial Stadium in September 1974.
Jacoby Jones (42 yards, two catches, touchdown) did gather in an 11-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the east (tunnel) end zone to cut the Packers' lead to six, 16-10, with 11:52 left and help the Ravens avoid being held without a touchdown at home for the first time since Nov. 22, 2009, when they lost to Indianapolis, 17-15.
Earlier, after backup Green Bay receiver Jarrett Boykin gained 43 yards on a hitch pass when Baltimore cornerback Jimmy Smith missed a line-of-scrimmage tackle, the Packers got a 50-yard Crosby field goal with 6:06 left during the third quarter, extending their lead to 9-0 and forcing the Ravens to get two scores to take the lead.
But the way the offense was sputtering most of the day, it was hard to imagine it getting one. Baltimore did get three points late during the third quarter, but only after wasting a chance at six.
Not even a 59-yard catch-and-run by Marlon Brown (71 yards, three catches) could set up a touchdown, for two subsequent passes to Brown in the end zone were incomplete before Justin Tucker's 23-yard field goal put the Ravens on the board.
Rodgers (17-for-32, 315 yards, touchdown, interception, three sacks, 84.8 rating) then broke the game open with a play-action fake, roll to the right and a 64-yard bomb to Jordy Nelson (113 yards, four catches, touchdown), who had beaten Lardarius Webb to the post, to make it 16-3 and effectively end the Ravens' misery before the too-little, too-late rally.
HOME D HELPS, BUT NOT ENOUGH
The offenses produced plenty of frustration for the fans, but not nearly as much as on the field, where Flacco and Rodgers seemed constantly annoyed by their teams' lack of progress.
Green Bay's high-powered offense, consistently ranked in the league's top 10 in recent years, was slowed by knee injuries to receivers Randall Cobb (53 yards, four caches) and James Jones; neither returned to the game.
Nelson, the team's only remaining veteran wide target, had a chance to score a third-quarter touchdown, but Jimmy Smith outjumped him and intercepted the ball in the end zone. Later during the period, Webb tipped away another possible scoring toss for Nelson.
That played typified the afternoon; points and yards were at a premium for most of the game. Despite nearly equal numbers of first-half plays and amounts of possession time, neither team could gain as much as 165 yards of total offense, and the squads combined to go 3-for-19 on third-down situations (8-for-31 for the game).
Usually stout at home, the Ravens' defense kept them in the game by forcing Rodgers' offense to punt six times out of nine total first-half possessions after Green Bay's game-opening field goal, which was followed by an unsuccessful 44-yard try just before the intermission.
But when Flacco was sacked and fumbled the ball away right before halftime, Crosby made up for his earlier miss with a 31-yard field goal to give the Packers a 6-0 lead.
It was the second time this season the Ravens have trailed by such a margin at the break; Cleveland held a lead against Baltimore by the same score during Week Two.
Coming into the weekend, Baltimore was the only team to not allow a touchdown at home, a string it extended to 43 straight opponents' drives by halftime and 45 before the Packers broke it.
Trailing by six points, the Ravens could not establish first-string offensive rhythm, getting more hard running from backup Bernard Pierce than from starter Ray Rice (34 yards, 14 carries; 15 yards, three catches).
Pierce has been fighting a thigh injury and Rice is still dealing with a hip flexor strain, but it was Pierce who showed more point-of-attack push, totaling 24 first-half yards and 31 yards for the game. That proved to be a gaudy total for a Ravens team that once again didn't get out of the gate as fast as their guests.
PACK START FAST, BUT SLOWED BY RAVEN D
Green Bay got the ball right away and had an opportunity to test its fifth-ranked running game against the Ravens' sixth-ranked run defense.
The early advantage went to the visitors.
Even though team rushing leader James Starks missed the game with a knee injury, rookie and first-round pick Lacy (120 yards, 23 carries) -- who led the team with 99 yards during its win against Detroit Oct. 6 -- ripped off runs of 11 and 37 yards into Ravens territory behind strong interior blocking from a questionable Packers offensive line.
Both runs came on first-down plays, an area in which the Packers had excelled against Detroit, averaging 7 yards per first-down run, and a weak point for the Ravens during a loss to Buffalo Sept. 29.
Two plays later, Nelson beat Webb on a slant, but dropped the pass, just as several Miami Dolphins had done Oct. 6 against Baltimore. On third-and-4, Baltimore linebacker Josh Bynes capitalized on the break and knocked away a pass for tight end Jermichael Finley to stop the drive.
Crosby's perfect season continued with a 45-yard field goal for the game's first points. Crosby led the league in misses last year with 12, but this kick was his 14th straight successful attempt.
Kick returner Jones, one of several injured players whose return bolstered the Ravens, ran back the ensuing kickoff 30 yards to the Ravens' 32. Two Rice touches -- one rush, one catch -- netted 2 yards, and then A.J. Hawk got a third-down sack of Flacco, helping make up for the absence of pass-rushing linebacker Clay Matthews (thumb).
Rice did get 11 yards on his next touch, a check-down pass from Flacco, which featured a good stiff-arm on the way to the sideline. After a pass into double coverage to Marlon Brown was knocked away, a 31-yard Jones catch-and-run put the ball at the Packers' 38, but the home team -- which got no rushing yards on four first-quarter carries -- advanced no further.
Meanwhile, Rodgers showed throughout the game his willingness to throw quickly and into tight windows with a lightning-fast release. But he took two first-quarter sacks in the process, one each from Elvis Dumervil and Arthur Jones, and fumbled after one of them, a miscue the Packers recovered.
But the run game, which had shown so much early promise, fizzled by quarter's end; a third-and-1 Johnathan Franklin run from the Green Bay 39 was snuffed out by safety James Ihedigbo. After Lacy's initial bursts, the Packer run game got 8 yards on five carries for the rest of the period.
PIERCE RUNS HARD, CAN'T BREAK THROUGH
Pierce's strong runs after two short passes nearly helped the Ravens overcome a second-and-25 situation as the second quarter began.
But even though the Ravens fell short of the first down, the plays did flip field position, which was bolstered when Sam Koch's 46-yard punt was downed at the Green Bay 6. Koch had shanked a pair of 26-yarders in Miami, an atypical day for him.
That nearly proved disastrous for the Packers, when Dumervil got his second sack of Rodgers inside the 5-yard line, causing a fumble that Green Bay recovered. But the speedy Randall Cobb gathered in a 13-yard sideline pass, which netted the visitors a first down.
Pressure up the middle on third-and-7 from the 22 forced an incompletion that ended the drive. The news got worse for the Pack with word that Jones had left the game permanently with a knee injury, robbing Rodgers of one of his many fast, athletic targets that observers thought would lead to a Green Bay win.
Speaking of fast and athletic, Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith carried a 20-yard per-catch average into the game -- second in the NFL only to the Jets' Santonio Holmes -- but wasn't targeted until six minutes into the second quarter on an underthrown sideline pass, which glanced off his body.
One play later, corner Sam Shields had Smith blanketed again on a long pass to the right side, but Smith landed out of bounds. Ostensibly, the Ravens' drive had ended, and matters got worse when Green Bay's Ryan Taylor inflicted Koch with his second blocked punt of the year.
But the ball bounced past the line of scrimmage, where Packers fullback John Kuhn tried to pick it up, but dropped it. Ihedigbo recovered it at the Baltimore 41 to complete the bizarre play with a good break.
An even better turn of fortune came on third-and-10 when Flacco found tight end Dallas Clark on a crossing pattern and turned it into a 45-yard catch-and-run to the Packers' 14.
Flacco and Clark have developed a rapport during the last couple of weeks to the point that they have spent a lot of time together on the practice field; they even walked through the pregame tunnel together.
Flacco then went back to Smith, who was held in the end zone by Shields to put the ball on the 4-yard line with a new set of downs.
Two Rice carries got the ball to the 1, but even though a third-down carry also fell short, the Ravens eschewed a game-tying field goal, went for it -- in order to keep the Packers bottled up if they didn't convert -- and inserted Ryan Jensen as an extra tight end. Three Packers stuffed Pierce's subsequent run, preserving their slim lead.
"Our philosophy is to attack," Harbaugh said. "You have to do it within reason. But those are good decisions that are going to pay off for you. … We are not going to play nervous."
But right now, given the team's championship-caliber weaponry and the way it sometimes performs, Ravens fans are chewing their fingernails with the 60-minute intensity they would like their team to show.