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Tuesday October 25th, 2011

Ray Rice

The Jaguars shut down Ray Rice then clamped down on the rest of the Ravens' offense. (AP)

At one point during Monday night's Baltimore-Jacksonville dud, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden described the game as "morbid."

Here's a better word, at least for Baltimore's effort: Pathetic.

Just as they did during a 26-13 loss at Tennessee in Week 2, the Ravens went on the road to take on an AFC South team and took an absolute dive. This time, it resulted in a 12-7 defeat.

The Jaguars came into Week 7 losers of five straight, with a rookie quarterback and a coach on the hot seat. And the Ravens did almost nothing against them -- needing an Anquan Boldin touchdown with 2:02 left to avoid their first shutout in nine years. It took Baltimore more than two-and-a-half quarters to pick up a first down. At one point in the second quarter, the Ravens faced a 4th-and-43 after Joe Flacco caught his own tipped pass and ran for an 8-yard loss.

"That's about as bad as you can play on offense," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after it was over.

You're telling us.

Baltimore prides itself on being a physical, intimidating bunch. Jacksonville flipped the script Monday, shoving the Ravens' game right back down their throats.

The Jaguars took Ray Rice out of the game early, even forcing Rice's first regular-season fumble since 2009. They also came after Joe Flacco from the get-go, sacking him three times and putting pressure on him constantly.

The Ravens defense, of course, showed up, as it usually does. Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert actually had a worse night than Flacco. He finished just 9 of 20 passing for 93 yards; Flacco, with a late push in the hurry-up offense, wound up with 137 yards and a TD (despite a terrible 3.7 yards-per-attempt average).

Not even that effort could wake up the Ravens' slumbering offense, though.

This is supposed to be a Super Bowl contending team, remember. In theory, the Ravens are right up there with the Patriots and Steelers -- they smoked the latter, 34-7, in Week 1 of this season.

But that's twice in six games that Baltimore's offense simply has taken the day off. Write it off as a bad night if you want, but this is the type of loss that can have repercussions all season long.

As it stands already, Baltimore now finds itself a half-game back of Pittsburgh in the AFC North with a trip to Heinz Field looming in Week 9. The Ravens should have learned their lesson last year, when a Week 2 loss in Cincinnati helped tip a divisional tiebreaker in Pittsburgh's favor, forcing the Ravens to open the playoffs on the road in the wild-card round.

They won their first game, in Kansas City, then lost at Pittsburgh.

Baltimore left the door open for a similar, frustrating scenario to play out in 2011 after Monday's letdown, and there was no reason for it.

Again, that's not meant as a slight to a Jaguars team that had every reason to just roll over and instead turned in an inspired defensive effort. What does it say about the Ravens, though, that they can get physically dominated on offense by a 1-5 team?

This was also the type of game that keeps coming up when people debate Joe Flacco's place among NFL quarterbacks. The Ravens have made the playoffs in all three of his previous seasons at the helm, but have done no better than a share of first place in the AFC North and have yet to make that final leap to the Super Bowl.

Flacco had a chance Monday to pull the Ravens up and deliver an undeserved victory. Instead, down by five with 1:43 left, he threw an incomplete pass well out of bounds, then tossed an interception to Drew Coleman.

Rice, for the record, finished with eight rushes for 28 yards and the one fumble. That mistake relegated him, pouting, to the bench for at least a series. His fill-in, Ricky Williams, managed to gain a grand total of five yards on the ground.

The big question following Baltimore throughout the preseason was about its offensive line -- would it be the weak link? That query remained unanswered, even after the Ravens added Bryant McKinnie and started to get healthy up front.

Monday night was the Ravens' worst nightmare. Yes, Flacco has to be much better. And no doubt, Rice must hold onto the football and make some plays.

Still, all the talent in the world can only do so much if the Ravens' offensive line can't keep people out of the backfield. At 4-2, Baltimore remains in fine shape for a playoff run, and quite frankly, the Ravens should make the postseason again. There's just no way to forgive Monday's offensive -- in every meaning of the word -- performance.

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