MIAMI - The Ravens' hopes, like a ball in Jamal Lewis' hands, are growing more fragile.
Their season, like their team identity, is splintering more every game.
What looked so promising a couple of weeks ago now appears utterly haywire, as the Ravens' defense did enough to win while their offense did more than enough to falter in yesterday's 9-6 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins before 73,333 at Pro Player Stadium.
The Ravens produced more turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble) than they did scores (two field goals). Their last mistake - Lewis' fumble at his 33-yard line - proved to be the Ravens' undoing, setting up Olindo Mare's game-winning, 43-yard field goal 6:12 into overtime.
For a Ravens defense that held the Dolphins to 267 total yards and no touchdowns, its reward was mounting frustration for the second week in a row.
"We'll always stay together," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We understand what a team is."
The Ravens' second straight loss - their first losing streak of the season - dropped them to 5-5 and virtually out of first place in the AFC North. Although they have the same record as the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens are actually behind them as a result of a tiebreaker, with their loss at Cincinnati a month ago.
"In every season, there is a defining point on how a team becomes a team," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "I think this is going to be one of those times. Remember back to the 2000 season when we stuck together. That's the main focus for this week."
Those 2000 Ravens rebounded from a five-game touchdown drought to win the Super Bowl. Unlike that team, this year's Ravens offense has become an oasis for the opposition.
The Ravens have turned the ball over 10 times in two games, giving up 26 points in the process. Jamal Lewis, in particular, has fumbled three times the past two weeks after coughing it up just once in his first eight games.
But Lewis may not be solely to blame.
The league's leading rusher had missed the previous two plays because he aggravated his right shoulder sprain but he said it was all right on the fumble.
He then repeatedly sidestepped the specifics of the fumble, saying he first needed to look at the film. Although it looked like Lewis just dropped the handoff, there was speculation that new quarterback Anthony Wright, who was filling in for the injured Kyle Boller, didn't use the right footwork in giving Lewis the ball.
"I don't want to blame nobody; I don't want to blame myself," said Lewis, who was held under 100 yards for just the third time this season. "We just turned the ball over, and we just can't do that in that time of the game."
The Ravens gave Miami (6-4) its first points of the game, too.
Wright's first pass of the second quarter was underthrown deep in the middle of the field and was picked off by Sam Madison. Seven plays later, Mare hit a 23-yard field goal to put the Dolphins ahead.
The Ravens' only points of the first half came as a result of Lamont Brightful's 73-yard kickoff return. The Ravens, who had the ball at the Miami 15 (the closest they got to the goal line all game), moved back 6 yards on three plays and settled for a 39-yard field goal to tie the game.
There were no more red-zone struggles since the Ravens didn't get a sniff of the 20-yard line for the rest of the game. The Ravens finished with 220 yards of total offense, their lowest output of the season.
"It's time for us to take accountability for the offense and give this defense some kind of help," receiver Travis Taylor said. "The way they've been playing the last two games, what else can you ask from your defense?"
The Ravens' defense didn't surrender a drive longer than 47 yards and allowed the Dolphins to cross the Ravens' 25-yard line just once. Two of Miami's field goals came off turnovers, when the defense was backed at its own 23- and 33-yard line.
"It's a hard thing for a defense to be continued to be put in situations like that," linebacker Peter Boulware said. "But our job description is to stop the other offense. And that's it. It doesn't really matter where we are or where we get the ball."
The Ravens' offense had a chance to vindicate itself in the fourth quarter.
After Ed Reed's interception placed the Ravens at the Miami 36, coach Brian Billick said he needed more yards to get closer than a 53-yard field goal and decided to pass. But with blitzing linebacker Zach Thomas in his face, Wright threw behind tight end Todd Heap and was picked off.
"It was a bad throw on my part," said Wright, who was 14-for-25 for 112 yards in his first start in two years. "I couldn't step up into the pass. It is something that I routinely do. I can hit that throw. It's just tough that it turned out the way it did."
In overtime, the Ravens' offense finished its horrific day with Lewis' fumble.
Lewis watched the game-winning field goal on the stadium scoreboard and then turned with a blank expression. Teammates felt his pain.
"It kind of felt like you had a hole in your stomach," Mulitalo said. "You exhale all the hope you had in the game."
Said tight end Todd Heap: "I was mad and upset. I thought we were going to have the opportunity to win the football game. Our defense got us the ball back. We need to get some points up one way or another."
Like the game, Billick seemed defensive when asked about any locker room dissension.
"You think it's not frustrating for the offense, for the special teams and for the coaches?" Billick said. "I understand that you're [media] going to ask the players about it and you're going to look for anybody you can that will say something [expletive] about one of his teammates. I understand that's part of the job. We're not going to give into that. We're going to do everything we can to avoid that."
Moments after Billick talked, a shouting match could be heard in the Ravens' showering area. According to a team source, Ray Lewis broke up an argument between offensive tackle Orlando Brown and offensive line coach Jim Colletto.
When asked about tempers flaring, Lewis said, "I think that's a sign of winners. That's a sign of people wanting to win. If you walk around with a nonchalant attitude, everybody in this locker room has a problem with you. Losing doesn't feel good."
In playing four of their final six games at home, the Ravens are concentrated on the healing process after two painful losses.
"We'll go back this week and decide what we've got to do to fix our team," Mulitalo said. "I think once we figure that out, we can figure out what's going on around the league. Right now, we're digging ourselves a hole."
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