Being stranded in the desert is a rock-bottom feeling, no matter how one arrived there.
That is where the Ravens find themselves after a 26-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals Oct. 26 left their record at 1-6 before 64,722 fans at University of Phoenix Stadium.
For most of the evening, it didn’t fit the usual 2015 template of close, frustrating losses filled with certain big plays that spelled the difference. In fact, big plays (25 or more yards) had accounted for 32 percent of opponents’ yards against Baltimore this season.
Arizona inflicted slow torture upon its visitors, rolling up 414 total yards and dominating the game during the second half. Its big-play oriented offense notched six plays of 20 or more yards, a typical showing for this year’s Ravens defense.
The unit has not forced a turnover during 17 quarters, having come up empty in Arizona for a fourth straight game. Baltimore has forced four giveaways all year, none since a third-quarter fumble against the Cincinnati Bengals during Week Three.
The Cardinals (5-2), who scored 19 unanswered points to take control of the game, are perhaps the most complete team the Ravens have faced so far this year, despite having faced two opponents in the Denver Broncos and Bengals that were unbeaten through six weeks.
Going into Week Seven, Arizona was one of only two teams to be ranked in the top 10 in total offense and defense — the New York Jets being the other.
Besides penetrating the porous Baltimore defense, it overwhelmed a Ravens offense that had been averaging 23.8 points per game, a respectable 11th-place ranking going into Week Seven. The Ravens gained 121 yards after halftime and rushed for 55 for the game.
Left tackle Eugene Monroe (shoulder), left guard Kelechi Osemele (knee) and backup cornerback Tray Walker (possible concussion) had to leave the game, further adding to the team’s struggles.
Meanwhile, Cardinals running back Chris Johnson (122 yards, 18 carries, touchdown) was supposedly stopped on a short third-quarter running play, but rolled over nose tackle Brandon Williams without touching the ground. He got up and ran 62 yards to the Ravens’ 8-yard line.
The play set up a field goal that gave the hosts a 20-10 lead, not an imposing margin, but one that seemed to seal the game with a third quarter that saw the Ravens not cross midfield and get outgained in yards, 130-37.
The Cardinals then drove 79 yards in 11 plays before receiver John Brown (65 yards, four catches, touchdown) beat cornerback Jimmy Smith to the end-zone pylon and caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Carson Palmer. The conversion kick was missed, but that hardly mattered.
Eventually, neither did cornerback Asa Jackson’s blocked punt — the fourth of his career — that led to fullback Kyle Juszczyk’s (15 yards, four catches, touchdown) 1-yard score from quarterback Joe Flacco with less than five minutes left. Tight end Nick Boyle’s two-point conversion reception accounted for the Ravens’ final points.
The Ravens did drive to the Cardinals’ 4 during the final minute, but an illegal-shift penalty and end-zone interception ended the game.
That giveaway, the Ravens’ second of the night, left their turnover margin at minus-7 for the season.
But of some consolation was the fact that the Ravens were able to summon some pride through the use some of the physicality for which they have always been known, along with some creative play calling.
The Ravens, victimized by slow starts and no points on opening drives this year, at least tried some imagination against a heavy blitzing defense — Arizona featured the league’s third-most frequent blitzes — as the game began.
Guard John Urschel caught a pass in the left flat deep in Cardinals territory, but he was flagged for not reporting as an eligible receiver.
But with plenty of pre-snap motion and an unbalanced line at times, the Ravens at least tried to confuse the Cardinals’ defense and dictate tempo.
The drive stalled when defensive lineman Frostee Rucker sacked Flacco (26-for-40, 252 yards, touchdown, interception, three sacks, 80.4 rating), forcing kicker Justin Tucker’s 44-yard field goal. The kick marked the Ravens’ first opening-drive points all season.
Baltimore’s early-game penchant for dumping off to combat the blitz nearly paid off.
With the Cardinals’ defense loosened up, wide receiver Chris Givens nearly got free early during the second quarter, but a goal-line pass for him was underthrown and tipped away by cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.
Flacco found receiver Steve Smith Sr. (78 yards, five catches) for 16 yards on third-and-11 to keep the drive going, but Mathieu sniffed out an end-around for Givens to stop the Ravens’ progress.
The Ravens had trouble running the ball early, gaining 19 yards on their first 10 carries. But Smith continued to find seams in the Cardinals’ secondary, gathering in a 28-yard pass to the Arizona 42.
That helped free up rookie fourth-round running back Buck Allen, who got free for a 15-yard run to the 27 before flaring out into the right flat, catching a pass and getting to the 14.
From there, running back Justin Forsett (36 yards, 12 carries, touchdown) used one of his patented stop-and-go runs, this time going to the left side instead of the right and scoring from 14 yards out to cap an 84-yard drive and put the Ravens in front, 10-7.
But bad luck would rear its head again.
Returner Jeremy Ross was stripped of the ball on a punt runback, setting up the Cardinals on the Ravens’ 12. Webb was then flagged for pass interference at the 3, and Trawick got called for the same infraction in the end zone.
Quarterback Carson Palmer then found wideout Michael Floyd (59 yards, three catches, touchdown) with a touchdown pass on a slant inside cornerback Jimmy Smith to put the Cardinals back in front, 14-10.
The tide had not only turned,but it had ebbed away.
Joe Platania has been covering professional football since 1994.
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