Ravens rookie Asa Jackson celebrated with an impromptu dance, blissfully unaware that his electrifying punt return for a touchdown had been nullified by a holding penalty on Nigel Carr.

His elation was short-lived.

After crisscrossing the field and scooting 85 yards into the end zone during the third quarter of the Ravens' 27-12 loss to the Detroit Lions on Friday night at M&T Bank Stadium, Jackson had to settle for a gain of 40 yards.

"I got into the end zone, and I got to do my celebration," the cornerback said. "Then, I saw the flag. Up until that point, it was one of the greatest moments of my life. ... It's an unbelievable feeling, I'm never going to forget it."

It was that kind of night for the Ravens' special teams, an outing defined by squandered opportunities and miscommunication.

Along with Jackson's score being taken away, rookie Deonte Thompson's 55-yard kickoff return at the end of the first half was reduced to a 42-yarder because of Sergio Kindle's holding penalty.

And Sam Koch had a punt blocked by Lions defensive end Willie Young during the fourth quarter.

"Everything is in the details," Ravens return specialist Jacoby Jones said. "There are good things going on out there, but one little thing can ruin the whole play. All 11 guys have to be on the same page to make this work."

Some of the problems were chalked up to ther unfamiliarity of the preseason, when evaluation is the first priority and coaches tend to experiment with different personnel groupings.

"We've got a lot of new guys, a lot of guys playing a lot of different positions," Koch said. "With so many guys on the sidelines trying to communicate and get everybody out there on the field, it's a little rough. [Special teams coordinator] Jerry Rosburg doesn't like that stuff going on. Nobody else does, either. We'll clean that up."

A former special teams coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, coach John Harbaugh chalked up the blocked punt — which was recovered by rookie safety Omar Brown — to a youthful mistake.

"That was just a bust by a rookie," Harbaugh said. "Just gets straight protection, it wasn't even a rush by them, just a guy leading when he should have been blocking."

The pair of holding penalties on special teams erased Jackson's score and took away good field position after Thompson's sprint up the right sideline. But those players were still able to leave an impression.

"I was happy to see some explosiveness from those guys doing it and a lot of good blocks," Harbaugh said. "That was also a step in the right direction."

The return game showed definite signs of progress with the Ravens averaging 15.3 yards on three punt returns and 28.3 yards on four kickoff returns.

However, this marked the second consecutive preseason game in which the Ravens had a breakdown on special teams.

During their 31-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome to open the preseason, the Ravens allowed a 45-yard punt return to Dominique Franks when Koch's punt had little hang time and the coverage team bunched up and didn't take proper pursuit angles.

That follows a rough season on special teams last year, when the Ravens allowed two punt returns for touchdowns and one kickoff return for a score.

The Ravens' kick coverage did improve against Detroit, as they only allowed a five-yard average on three punt returns and a 17.5-yard average on two kickoff returns.

"It's always going to be that one mistake that costs you," said linebacker Albert McClellan, who led the Ravens last season with 12 special teams tackles. "Unfortunately, they will find that hole, or that mistake will show up. I wouldn't say it's about last year, but you got to fix your mistakes and not have it show up again."

Although disappointed that his first NFL touchdown was taken away, Jackson immediately put the situation into perspective.

"That's why we play the preseason, so we can correct those mistakes for the games that really count against our record and that are going to help us get to the Super Bowl this year," Jackson said. "We're going to get that stuff cleaned up. That's not typical stuff that we do, especially on special teams."

awilson@baltsun.com

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