Slips, Drops and INTs Cost Ravens in Loss to 49ers

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Photo: Sabrina Moran/Pressbox

Halloween may be approaching, but each week of this lost Baltimore Ravens’ season is starting to feel like the movie “Groundhog Day.”

It’s not just because the same things keep happening, but because the team’s hole is getting deeper and deeper.

The Ravens can’t see any postseason hope, let alone their shadow, after a Week Six 25-20 loss to the host San Francisco 49ers dropped their record to an unprecedented 1-5 in front of 70,799 fans at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calf., site of Super Bowl 50.

Turnovers, injuries, missed opportunities, dropped passes (three in the end zone, two by reliable wideout Steve Smith Sr.), a lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball and other common maladies resurfaced, as Baltimore looked flatter than it had during its previous losses.

Even kicker Justin Tucker wasn’t immune, slipping on the turf and missing a 45-yard field goal try, leaving three points on the field.

That’s because the Ravens’ four previous defeats had all come in what looked like winnable games. But even though the final margin was five, it never seemed the Ravens were close to winning, despite a last-second end-zone pass that fell incomplete.

“We got a lot of games to play,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ll keep fighting. … We understand that. That’s the arena we’re in. We’ll go to work, and we’ll find a way to get better.

“… You can’t put a percentage on it. … It hurts a lot.”

The 49ers (2-4) exploited a further-diminishing Ravens secondary that lost cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Kendrick Lewis to injuries, the latter with a left leg ailment on which he could put no pressure.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (33-for-53, 343 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, 77.8 rating) also couldn’t get much production from wideouts not named Smith (137 yards, seven catches, touchdown).

“It’s not as if there wasn’t a lot of room out there to make plays,” Flacco said. “… But we had two stupid mistakes by myself. Not only did one give them three points, but it took points off the board for us.

“When plays are presented, we have to make them.”

Smith’s 34-yard score during the third quarter brought the Ravens to within 19-13, but that didn’t hide the fact that no wideouts other than Smith caught a pass until that quarter. Still, the Ravens rang up 420 total yards, breaking the 350-yard barrier for a franchise-record fifth straight game.

San Francisco receivers Anquan Boldin (102 yards, five catches) and Torrey Smith (96 yards, three catches, one touchdown) played physical, inspired ball against their former teammates.

Right from the outset, San Francisco did a good job isolating quarterback Colin Kaepernick (16-for-27, 340 yards, two touchdowns, three sacks, 128.2 rating) out of the pocket and taking advantage of the Ravens’ lack of speed.

Kaepernick, whose 225 first-half yards was a career high for the first 30 minutes of any game, was able to get out into space and complete his first five passes. His unit averaged more than 8 yards per play during the first half.

Entering the game, the 49ers’ previously moribund offense had been trending upward, getting eight big plays — defined as runs of 10 or more yards and passes of 20 or more — during each of their first five games.

Slow starts have plagued Baltimore as well, and the Ravens had another one, despite having  previously injured players, such as Steve Smith (back), tight end Crockett Gillmore (calf) and running back Justin Forsett (ankle) at their disposal.

The visitors, clad in all white uniforms — just as they were during their only win this year, in Pittsburgh — managed 14 total yards on eight plays during their first two possessions.

Finally, the Ravens’ offense caught fire and drove the team downfield before short-yardage and red-zone demons surfaced again.

Flacco found Steve Smith and a leaping Gillmore for catches totaling 38 yards as the Ravens drove to the San Francisco 7. But Forsett (62 yards, 17 carries; 39 yards, seven catches) was bottled up on a short run, and Steve Smith couldn’t hold an end-zone pass.

Tucker’s 22-yard field goal put Baltimore on the board, but it couldn’t score a touchdown against a 49ers defense — ranked 31st in yards allowed — that had allowed 14 red-zone six-pointers, tied for second most in the league.

The missed opportunity immediately cost the Ravens.

Torrey Smith blazed by cornerback Shareece Wright with a double move down the right sideline for a 76-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 13-3 lead. Wright would also get burned by Quinton Patton on his game-clinching 35-yard score during the fourth quarter.

“I don’t care if you’ve been here four days,” Harbaugh said of Wright. “You can’t let a guy get behind you in man coverage.”

The Torrey Smith play covered 26 yards longer than any catch by a Raven this year, and it fell in line with what has happened previously — Baltimore had allowed touchdown passes that averaged nearly 30 yards in length.

But the 49ers weren’t through.

Last week, Flacco went without an interception for the first time all year, but 49ers linebacker Michael Wilhoite read his eyes and intercepted a pass meant for Kamar Aiken (22 yards, three catches, touchdown) in the middle of the field at the Ravens’ 29. Dawson’s subsequent 25-yard field goal upped the lead to 16-3.

The Ravens’ defense had pass-rush ace Elvis Dumervil on the field, but he appeared slowed by his groin injury. Arrington left the game early with an ailment, which precipitated Wright’s presence on the long touchdown play.

It’s those type of bad breaks that have helped opponents sustain drives — Baltimore has forced 12 three-and-outs this year — one against San Francisco — in 73 opponents’ drives after forcing the league’s second most from 2012-14.

“We haven’t been good enough to win these games,” Flacco said.

Halloween is still about two weeks away, but this Ravens season has turned decidedly scary.

Joe Platania has been covering professional football since 1994.

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