More pressing matters facing the Ravens than revenge talk

SportsFootballBaltimore RavensJohn HarbaughJoe FlaccoNew England PatriotsPhiladelphia Eagles

In a near 15-minute news conference Monday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wasn't asked one question that included the word rematch. The topics of revenge and redemption never came up either.

Six days before his team plays host to the New England Patriots to renew a rivalry that peaked with the Patriots' 23-20 AFC championship victory in January. However, Harbaugh — and Patriots coach Bill Belichick for that matter — have more pressing concerns.

On Sunday, the Patriots were beaten, 20-18, by the Arizona Cardinals in their home opener and lost productive tight end Aaron Hernandez to an ankle injury. Meanwhile, the Ravens squandered a 10-point, second-half lead and fell 24-23 to the Philadelphia Eagles, a defeat that prompted the usual post-loss questions about play-calling, the consistency of quarterback Joe Flacco and the age of the defense.

"I think any time you lose … it creates an opportunity," Harbaugh said. "When you win, you look at everything really hard and you try and build on it. But when you lose, that sting, it really forces you to dig deep, I think all of us. It's just human nature. To that extent, if we can make the most of the fact that we didn't win the game even though we had opportunities … and find ways to get better and grow as a football team, in the long run, that's how you get to where you are going. That's how you build what you're trying to build. We're going to try and make that into a positive that way, come back swinging next week. … We're moving on to New England. "

If the losses didn't knock a little luster from Sunday's highly-anticipated, prime-time game, they certainly quieted the hype, at least for a couple of days. The departure of wide receiver Lee Evans and kicker Billy Cundiff, who garnered much of the blame from the AFC title game loss, may contribute to that as well.

Harbaugh's teams have won 13 consecutive games in weeks following losses, but his group's resiliency didn't come up in Monday's news conference either. The Ravens' struggles in third down and short-yardage situations, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and Flacco's role in the play calling most certainly did.

"That's the kind of offense we've played," Harbaugh said when asked about the pass-heavy calls , specifically on third and fourth down. "There are options out there. I'm not going to say which way it goes as far as how we do it. [Cameron and Flacco] are a collaboration in terms of run/pass, pass/run, that sort of thing, and we want to keep building in that direction."

While much of the postgame fallout to the Eagles' focused on Flacco and middle linebacker Ray Lewis' complaints about the performance of the replacement officials, the majority of the Ravens pointed to missed opportunities. For the defense, that meant allowing quarterback Michael Vick to drive his team 80 yards in just 2:48 for the winning score and missing several tackles and assignments that was partly to blame in Philadelphia going 7-of-15 on third down and accumulating 486 yards of offense.

The Ravens didn't mount a consistent pass rush on Vick and communication breakdowns led to Jeremy Maclin's 23-yard touchdown catch and tight end Brent Celek catching eight passes for 157 yards. Harbaugh said that defending tight ends "has to be addressed," especially with a matchup against New England's Rob Gronkowski looming.

For the Ravens' offense, that meant lamenting 4 of 16 on third and fourth down, and completing just 8 of 25 passes after halftime while also throwing an interception.

"When you get in third and short, it doesn't matter, run or pass, you got to get the next down," said running back Ray Rice who rushed for 99 yards on 16 carries and caught six passes for 53 yards. "Third down is the money down. We did great on first and second down, but when you get in third and short you have to get the first down."

In two games, the Ravens are just 7 of 23 (30.4 percent) on third downs. But the circumstances surrounding their third and fourth down failures Sunday made it an even bigger issue. The Ravens had third or fourth down and 2 yards or less to go six times, including on their final two offensive plays. They tried to pass each time and went 0-for-6 .

Careful not to criticize the play calling, Rice did acknowledge that he would have liked to see his Pro Bowl fullback, Vonta Leach, in the game more in those situations.

"We ran the plays that were called," Leach said. "I think we left a lot of plays on the field."

Harbaugh attributed to the short-yardage play calling to the Eagles focusing on taking away Rice.

"They were stacking the box against us and when they do that, we had some options in there to throw or to run. A lot of it was called passes, all things that we have a lot of confidence in. I feel good about that and I think we're going to make most of those but we didn't. I'm disappointed by the fact that we didn't convert those," Harbaugh said. "You go back and look at all that and you certainly do second guess yourself."

Harbaugh undoubtedly wasn't the only one doing that Monday as the Ravens reviewed game film and conducted meetings. Flacco was off throughout the second half and the wide receivers struggled to gain separation and none of them had more than two catches. Asked about facing press coverage, Harbaugh acknowledged that the Ravens "have to find a way to beat some of that stuff."

"We've got no choice but to move on," said Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin. "We've got a good team coming in."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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