The road trip finally ended for the Ravens yesterday, but the drought didn't.
One more time, the red zone turned into the Bermuda Triangle. One more time, the end zone was a forbidden paradise. One more time, quarterback Tony Banks was left to explain how all those high-priced offensive weapons disappeared under a cloud of mistakes.And there was no explaining a 10-3 loss to the Washington Redskins before 83,252 at FedEx Field.
It was a game that boiled down to two plays - one that Redskins running back Stephen Davis made and one that Banks didn't.
When Davis ran through a gaping hole on the right side of the Ravens' defensive line - and through safety Rod Woodson - early in the fourth quarter for a 33-yard touchdown, the Ravens (5-2) relinquished their hold on first place in the AFC Central Division.
When Banks threw an interception on the goal line at the end of the first half, it sent the offense spiraling toward its third straight performance - all road games - without a touchdown.
The Ravens haven't reached the end zone since the fourth quarter of a Sept. 24 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals. The drought spans 13 quarters, 186 minutes, 39 seconds of clock time and 36 possessions. It's the longest current dry spell in the NFL.
More? The Ravens have scored one touchdown in five road games this season, none in the past four.
"This here is ridiculous," said tight end Shannon Sharpe, one of the Ravens' expensive off-season additions. "I'm very disappointed. I just told Tony, `You're going to get all the blame, and you have to understand that. But you can't get down on yourself.' "
The Ravens acknowledged confusion on a stunt call that opened the gate for Davis' touchdown run. Banks' mistake was much more obvious, and painful. But the end-of-the-half sequence was hardly all his fault. Poor clock management was also a contributing factor.
The Ravens got the ball with 2:57 left in the first half when linebacker Jamie Sharper forced a Davis fumble and cornerback Chris McAlister recovered at the Redskins' 42.
After Banks ad-libbed a 10-yard run, running back Jamal Lewis got the call on the next four plays to reach the 10-yard line, where the Ravens called their first timeout with 56 seconds left. They got just two plays off in the next 46 seconds, though. There was a 2-yard loss for Lewis, then a pass-interference call against Washington's Matt Stevens in the end zone.
On first-and-goal from the 1 with 10 seconds left, Banks threw over the middle for Sharpe, but found linebacker Kevin Mitchell instead for a drive-killing interception, the first of Mitchell's six-year career.
Billick said he eschewed a run because of the amount of time left.
The play sent in was a pass to wide receiver Travis Taylor, who was covered. Sharpe was the third read, a "last resort," Sharpe said.
"I saw [Sharpe], and I thought I had a little seam, but obviously I didn't. Coach [Billick] tells me constantly not to throw a flat ball down there, and I threw a flat ball," Banks said.
Banks, in fact, threw the ball over the middle late and low. H-back Obafemi Ayanbadejo came open late when linebacker Shawn Barber peeled off him to help make a play against Sharpe.
In despair, left tackle Jonathan Ogden, playing with a sprained right ankle, yanked his helmet off, threw it, then kicked it.
The frustration of three straight touchdown-less weeks on the road had bubbled to the surface.
"That ain't nothing new," Ogden said of his helmet-throwing fit.
Neither was it a sign, he said, that he was frustrated with his quarterback.
"No, everyone plays a part," Ogden said. "It's not one person. We have to block better, run better, catch better."
Billick, meanwhile, did not waver in his support for Banks.
"Tony Banks is my starting quarterback, without question," he said.
Why? "Because he's the starting quarterback, we're a 5-2 team, and that's the guy I think gives us the best chance to win right now."
For the third consecutive week, Banks' passing yardage dropped. Against Washington, he was 16-for-27 for 135 yards.
Yesterday, Banks said the offensive woes were getting to him.
"I feel I'm pressing out there," he said. "I threw balls into the dirt that I never have. I've got to relax. I think coming into today, I wanted to put it all on my shoulders. I wanted to make plays downfield. That didn't happen early, and I started pressing even more."
Banks missed a potential 62-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, when Redskins cornerback Darrell Green strained his right calf trying to cover wide-out Jermaine Lewis. But Banks' deep throw sent the wide-open Lewis out of bounds at the Redskins' 30 to make a non-catch.
The only scoring the Ravens achieved was a 51-yard field goal by reliable Matt Stover in the second quarter, after rookie Kris Heppner hit a 37-yarder for the Redskins (5-2). Stover has scored the Ravens' last 34 points.
The Ravens are 0-for-14 in the red zone in their five road games.
"It's weird," said split end Qadry Ismail. "I don't feel like we're getting a return on our investment. [But] we really, really are solid with each other. To not show up on game day, it's kind of an enigma."
Even the Ravens' defense succumbed in the second half, when Davis rushed for 89 of his game-high 91 yards. Davis' running and a suspect illegal contact penalty on safety Kim Herring allowed the Redskins to run out the last 5:30 of the game. Herring was called for bumping tight end Stephen Alexander on a pass that sailed over the Redskins' bench.
"It was a bad call," Herring said. "You make a call like that, when the ball is five yards out of bounds ... you don't make that kind of call in that kind of situation this late in the game."
The Ravens finished the five-road-games-in-seven-weeks portion of their schedule with a better-than-expected 5-2 record, but in a major offensive drought.
"I don't care how good your defense is, you can't win like that," Sharpe said. "It'll catch up with you. It caught up with us today."