SEATTLE, Wash. — The Baltimore Ravens' formula for success these days is fairly well spelled out: Throw the ball deep, pound the defense into submission with the running game, present multiple defensive fronts to confuse enemy offenses, and complement tight cornerback coverage with a deep safety look.
The Ravens saw more than enough of that on Sunday in Seattle's CenturyLink Field, but it was the now 3-6 Seahawks who exhibited far more of those winning characteristics in a 22-16 upset. And now, the Ravens are tied up in a three-team race in the AFC North with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who they've beaten twice already this season, and the Cincinnati Bengals, who they get a first shot at this coming Sunday.
It's still good to be king of the AFC for John Harbaugh's team, but Baltimore's coach can also feel the Barbarians at the gate. The New England Patriots are rounding back into form, and the Houston Texans are the best team nobody's talking about. As much as the Ravens wanted to see 2011 as a referendum on their long-awaited climb to the top, the loss to Seattle put Baltimore back in the soup.
"We had an opportunity here to do something, to separate ourselves a little bit in the division," Harbaugh said after the game. "We didn't take advantage of it. These are tough games we're playing. We know we're fully capable of bouncing back, and we have to next week, [against] our next divisional opponent. We have to play our best football. We take full responsibility for this loss, we know that."
That next divisional opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, will be looking to do what the Steelers could not — make the Ravens nervous about the pole position in their division. They have an advantage in that rookie quarterback Andy Dalton proved that he can be rattled against better defenses in Sunday's close loss to the Steelers, but on the other side of the ball, it's become obvious that opposing defenses don't take quarterback Joe Flacco seriously as a deep thrower right now.
The Seahawks played young cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner in tight press coverage most of the game, and aside from two overthrows from Flacco to rookie receiver Torrey Smith, the Ravens never made Seattle's defense pay for it. Flacco ended his day completing 29 passes in 52 attempts (a 4.9 per attempt average) for one touchdown and one interception. Running back Ray Rice, who was barely a factor on the ground, actually matched Flacco in touchdown passes on the day with a bit of second-quarter red zone trickeration.
"They're big guys, their corners, and they were pressed on us most of the day. They kind of went to a [cover] 2-shell a lot of the second half, and forced us to do some of those things. I thought that we moved the ball pretty well on offense, when we had the ball. We didn't take advantage of some things, and we did make some mistakes, but for the most part we moved the ball decent. They did a good job of keeping the ball away a little bit. We turned the ball over; we didn't have a lot of possessions, but we definitely hurt ourselves in a couple of those drives where we could have kept ourselves on the field, and we ended up not getting first downs."
Three turnovers didn't help, including two by receiver David Reed on kick returns — had the Seahawks not failed to convert those turnovers to touchdowns (kicker Steven Hauschka set a franchise record with five field goals), the game could have easily gotten out of hand.
"It's pretty high," Flacco said when asked about his own frustration level with the offense. "We had a long trip out here, we felt confident and to come in here and to not be able to get that game of separation on everybody else in your division when you really have a good shot to do that, it doesn't feel good. But, at the same time, we know that we have room to improve.
"We know that we have to improve, and we have a couple of good games coming up in a short amount of time, and we have to be able to rebound and come back strong and it starts with Cincinnati, and they've been playing really good football."
It's not over yet either way, but right now, the Ravens are one of many NFL teams trying to find themselves. And in the fishbowl of the NFL, time tends to shrink as the postseason gets near.
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