Ravens' defensive onslaught leaves troubled Jets dazed and confused
The Ravens scored three defensive touchdowns in their 34-17 whipping of the Jets
Despite an improved receiving corps, QB Mark Sanchez hasn't taken the next step
Maybe the Jets have spent too much on their stars and not enough on the extras
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BALTIMORE -- Dispatches from the Ravens' so-ugly-it's-beautiful 34-17 win over the Jets Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium ...
Not to slight the first-place Ravens for their third victory of the season, but the biggest headline coming out of this game goes something like this: The supposedly super Jets are in trouble. I don't know if it's season-wrecking trouble just yet. But it's trouble nonetheless. New York is 2-2 after the loss to Baltimore, on a two-game losing streak, and looming this weekend is the first of two (or three) annual grudge matches with the Patriots. In Foxboro, to boot, meaning things could get worse before they get better in Gotham.
The situation just isn't unfolding as planned for the Jets on their three-game road trip. They got humiliated and dominated at Oakland last week, giving up 234 yards rushing and four touchdowns on the ground in the 34-24 loss. And then came Sunday, when New York's offense was virtually nonexistent. The Jets offense scored all of three points against Baltimore, with their other 14 coming off a 107-yard Joe McKnight kickoff return touchdown and a 35-yard David Harris interception return.
"I don't know what else to say, we got it handed to us,'' said Jets head coach Rex Ryan, looking even more dazed (but less angry) than he did last week in Oakland. "I think the credit goes to the [Ravens] defense. We're not pointing fingers, but it wasn't our best day, no question about it. It wasn't even close, but the opponent probably had about as much to do with it as anything.''
Baltimore's aggressive and takeaway-happy defense did indeed have plenty to do with New York's offensive meltdown. But the sad reality for the Jets at the moment is they just don't do much of anything well on offense. They don't run the ball successfully (38 yards on 19 carries), and they certainly can't throw the ball much when their running game has ground to a halt. Quarterback Mark Sanchez was abysmal against Baltimore, completing a staggering 11-of-35 passes, for 119 yards, one pick-six and a 30.5 passer rating.
Both segments of the offense have been affected by the Jets' offensive line issues. Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold missed a second straight game with his ankle injury, and New York's inability to pick up the slack in his absence is glaring. Sanchez got sacked just twice, but he was hit and roughed up many more times than that, and he looked uncomfortable in the pocket all night. Sanchez fumbled four times, losing three of them, and by the fourth quarter he couldn't even complete the easiest of throws.
"Well, I mean, he struggled mightily,'' Ryan said of his third-year quarterback. "There's no question about it. He had a 30.5 rating. It wasn't his best day, that's for sure, but he's our quarterback and I believe in him.''
Sanchez looks overmatched at the moment, and this was supposed to be the year he and New York's improved receiving corps took a significant step toward to lead the way on offense and win games. But the Sanchise is miles away from that kind of production in early 2011. He was under constant pressure, but he didn't exactly stand tall in the pocket. He did plenty of just chucking the ball, and seemed rattled at times.
"We didn't pass the test tonight,'' Sanchez said. "There's a lot of work to be done, and a lot to try and fix. It's not just practice this week. We've got to work. We've got to clean things up. We don't like this feeling. But the reality is we're one game out of first place (in the AFC East). We've got to fight, we really do. We've got to fight through this. We're better than what we showed tonight.''
They couldn't possibly be worse.
And we thought the days when the Ravens defense outscored the Ravens offense were long over, gone with the Kyle Boller era. Not so fast, Men of Harbaugh. Turns out it was Throwback Sunday in Baltimore, and the blast from the past was a Ravens team that looked like its best chance to score was courtesy of the guys who are paid to keep other teams from scoring.
This one was a trip into football's bizarro world from start to finish. Baltimore's defense produced a mind-boggling three touchdowns, setting a franchise record in the process and at least momentarily setting back the notion of the Ravens having evolved into a potent and powerful offensive force this season.
Not only did Baltimore's defense outscore the entire Jets team, 21-17, but also the defense outpointed Baltimore's offense for good measure, 21-13. All told, the two perennial playoff teams combined for four defensive touchdowns and one special teams score, accounting for 35 of the game's 51 points. Both offenses in essence took the night off. The five return touchdowns (with just one offensive touchdown posted) set a one-game NFL record.
Hit me again with all the reasons the NFL has become a passing league. Because after watching this one, I can't remember any of them. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco finished 10 of 31 for 163 yards and an interception, and he was the hot quarterback in the game. Flacco actually went a stretch of 35½ minutes without a completion, and had a 37.4 passer rating, pretty wretched statistics considering the Ravens never trailed and wound up winning by 17.
"It wasn't too pretty, but anytime you get a win in the NFL, it's a good one, especially when you're playing a good team like that,'' Flacco said. "Our defense really showed up today. I thought we were able to do some things really well on offense early on. It was a great team win.''
Not really. It was a case of the Ravens defense taking control of the game and dictating almost everything, from the very first Jets offensive snap on. On that opening New York play, Baltimore safety Ed Reed stormed in to blind side Sanchez, causing a fumble that linebacker Jameel McClain picked up and returned six yards for a touchdown. Later in the first half, the Ravens defense struck again, when outside linebacker Jarret Johnson picked up another Sanchez fumble, caused by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and raced 26 yards for another touchdown.
The Ravens defense capped its record-setting night in the third quarter, when cornerback Lardarius Webb timed a Sanchez pass perfectly, stepping in front of receiver Santonio Holmes to intercept and return 73 yards for the game-clinching touchdown. For comparison sake, Baltimore's defense scored three touchdowns all of last season, but matched that figure in less than 2½ quarters.
"I've been around football a long time and I've never seen anything like that before,'' the Jets' Rex Ryan said of the defensive-dominated game. "One offensive touchdown [between the two teams]. The performance by their defense was spectacular. I don't think we were even on the field [on defense] for three touchdowns. A lot of big plays. They were coming after us. That's that Ravens defense. It reminded me of the 2000 and 2006 [Baltimore] defenses.''
With Ryan's brash-talking ways setting the pace, the Jets thrive on their team-wide swagger, but it's hard to be confident when you've gotten embarrassed two weeks in a row. It's the first consecutive double-digit losses of the three-year Ryan coaching era. I asked Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis if New York has lost its swagger, and if this team can get where it wants to go with that missing ingredient?
"I have no clue,'' Revis said. "No clue. I know it's not very exciting around here right now. I really don't know. We've lost two games in a row, and last year we were successful on the road. We need to find ways to win. We're not playing up to our potential and up to our goals, that's for sure. No one said it was going to be easy. They jumped on us, and we never bounced back.''
The Jets didn't say it was going to be easy, but with Ryan predicting a Super Bowl trip for his team at the drop of a hat, they have raised the bar of expectation so high in New York that being 2-2 and a game out of first place in the AFC East can feel like a crisis of confidence. And that can start to breed upon itself, especially if next week brings another galling defeat.
"It's a little frustrating,'' said little-used Jets receiver Plaxico Burress, who has to be wondering if he signed with the right New York NFL team after all. "Right now we've lost two games we didn't expect to lose. We've got to go back to work and get it fixed. There is no need to panic right now. There's too much football left. I've been in this business too long and seen some crazy stuff.''
Yep, and most of it occurred Sunday night against the Ravens.
So much for Ryan getting revenge on Baltimore for not hiring him as its head coach in 2008. The former Ravens defensive coordinator was making his first regular-season return to M&T Bank Stadium since taking over the Jets in 2009, and he wanted nothing more than for his new defense to outplay his old defense.
It didn't happen. Not by a long shot. Baltimore's defense was superb, and it left Ryan sounding almost humbled by the butt-kicking his team took.
"It's a long road, and we've got to get better in a hurry,'' Ryan said. "Adversity is part of this business, and you've got to face it. You're not going to be perfect, but we've got to be good enough, and we've got to fix it in a hurry because we're going against probably the best offensive football team in the league [at New England].''
Reality says the Jets are a couple of costly Tony Romo fourth-quarter turnovers away from being 1-3 and in desperate straits as they enter Patriots Week. New York was fortunate to win its opener against visiting Dallas by three points, and has really only put together one quality performance this season, the 32-3 home rout of Jacksonville in Week 2.
Mangold's loss has undoubtedly hurt the Jets, but it also shows that New York doesn't have enough depth on its offensive line. Losing one starter should not doom an entire five-man line to bad performances. But perhaps the Jets have spent too much on the stars on their roster, and not enough on the extras and reserves. New York benched rookie center Colin Baxter for a time Sunday night, moving left guard Matt Slauson to center and inserting Vladimir Ducasse to left guard, but nothing really helped slow up the Baltimore defensive line.
The Jets running game is supposedly their calling card, but third-year rusher Shonn Greene (23 yards on 10 carries) runs as if he's never going to fulfill the promise he flashed late in his rookie year, and LaDainian Tomlinson is a mere afterthought (three rushes for minus-3 yards).
"This football team cannot be successful when we're rushing for 38 yards,'' Ryan said. "There's no chance. You've got to give Baltimore credit, they always do a great job stuffing the run, and they did tonight obviously. But 38 yards, you're not going to win. I don't know how many teams can win with 38 yards rushing. Clearly we've got to get a heck of a lot better in a hurry on that.''
The Ravens enter their Week 5 bye looking like the class of the AFC North so far. Baltimore has won three of its four games, and leads Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati by one game. Even though the Ravens offense wasn't sharp against the Jets, Baltimore has scored 35, 37 and 34 points in its three victories, and that'll get it done most weeks. They'll need to keep scoring, because after their bye, the Ravens draw a visit from the potent Houston Texans.
Don't forget how important it is for the Ravens to win their division this year. John Harbaugh has led his team to the playoffs in each of his three seasons, and Baltimore has won at least one playoff game each year. But the Ravens have yet to play a home playoff game under Harbaugh, having to play all seven of their 2008-2010 postseason games on the road as a wild-card qualifier.
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