Ravens can't escape from injuries, mistakes and close losses
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Baltimore Ravens figured their miserable 2015 season was merely an aberration.
Instead, it appears to be the start of a trend.
Plagued by the same problems they experienced last season - injuries, inexplicable mistakes and close defeats - the Ravens are stumbling through their worst stretch since coach John Harbaugh arrived in 2008.
A 24-16 loss to the struggling New York Jets last weekend ended a winless October for the Ravens (3-4), who entered bye week with their first four-game losing streak since the days of Brian Billick.
Under Harbaugh, Baltimore has been a perennial contender. Last season, however, the Ravens finished 5-11, their first losing record in eight years.
The reason appeared obvious: Season-ending injuries to stars Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Steve Smith and Justin Forsett contributed to eight defeats by eight points or fewer, along with a minus-14 turnover differential.
After assessing the damage, owner Steve Bisciotti expressed confidence the team would improve.
''I have a lot of faith that we'll get it straightened out,'' he said. ''I hope we don't have as many injuries and I hope we (create) a whole lot more turnovers. I think those kind of differences would get us back to where we want to be.''
Just like last season, the injury problems began this season in the summer.
In 2015, top draft pick Breshad Perriman sustained what would be a season-ending knee injury on the first day of training camp. Last August, tight end Benjamin Watson had his season end with a torn Achilles tendon.
Still, with Flacco, Suggs, Smith and Forsett healthy again, the Ravens bolted to a 3-0 start. Each game was close, and on every occasion Baltimore made the decisive plays in the closing minutes.
Then came October. Four losses, each by no more than eight points.
In the wake of a perfect September, Forsett was cut, Smith was downed by a sprained ankle, Suggs tore his triceps and Flacco played through a shoulder injury.
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot injury) missed the entire month, and Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) sat out the past two games after playing 53 in a row.
Two interceptions and a lost fumble proved pivotal against the Jets. All three turnovers occurred in the second half, including a game-changing fumble by Timmy Jernigan while he foolishly attempted to run from the end zone with a Jets fumble.
Although the Ravens didn't have Suggs against the Jets and sack specialist Elvis Dumervil has played only two games - ineffectively - because of a foot injury, the defense has been sound.
Problem is, the Ravens can't score touchdowns. Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Marc Trestman after a 16-10 loss to the Redskins and handed the job to quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg, but the Ravens scored only two TDs offensively in their past two games.
Part of the problem can be attributed to the absence of Stanley and Yanda, but that's not the extent of it. Untimely holding penalties, a poor running game and inconsistency at quarterback are all factors.
''Right now, we just have one guy here and there doing something that is a little bit off - myself included - and it halts a whole drive,'' Flacco said.
''When that happens throughout the course of the game and you have a good amount of those, it leads to what we have been dealing with, which is not putting any points on the board.''
The Ravens rank 26th in yards rushing and 25th in points scored. Flacco is 42nd among quarterbacks with 6 yards per attempt and has six interceptions compared to five touchdown throws. But Harbaugh remains steadfast in his support of the 2012 Super Bowl MVP.
''On offense, he's the key to the whole thing,'' Harbaugh said. ''He can do all of the things we need to do. We need to make sure that we give him a chance to do that. We need to protect him. We need to run routes. We need to create confidence in our passing game. We need to run the ball well.''
That's quite a list. Yet, if the Ravens heal during their bye, perhaps they can regroup.
After all, Pittsburgh leads the AFC North by only a game and still doesn't know when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be back from knee surgery.
''We can accomplish everything we want to accomplish,'' Harbaugh said. ''That's the thing that's exciting.''
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