Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense could not have played much worse than they did Sunday in Buffalo.
It was an ugly afternoon, as Flacco threw a career-high five interceptions, including one in the final minute that sealed the Ravens' fate and gave the Bills a 23-20 victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
"We didn't play well at all," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "I'll take responsibility for that. It was a poor performance."
The offense struggled mightily for two-and-a-half quarters.
Baltimore had just five first downs and 121 total yards when they went into the locker room at halftime. Eight of the first 11 drives ended with either a three-and-out or a turnover. The Ravens had 24 total rushing yards, and ran the ball just twice in the second half.
"We didn't make plays, especially on offense," Harbaugh said. "We had assignment issues in pass protection that cost us a couple sacks, that shouldn't have happened. And we had turnovers. When you have five turnovers that's going to challenge you."
Despite all the miscues, the Ravens had a chance to mount a comeback late in the fourth quarter. The defense kept the Ravens in the game, forcing three turnovers of their own, giving the offense an opportunity to overcome the early deficit.
The Ravens got the ball back with two minutes, 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter trailing by only three points. Flacco drove the Ravens into Buffalo territory and needed just about 10 yards to get into field-goal territory. But then Flacco's third-down pass intended for tight end Dallas Clark got picked off, ending the late-game rally and dropping the Ravens to 2-2 on the year.
"We had so many opportunities, even though we didn't necessarily deserve so many, and we weren't able to convert on any," Flacco said.
The Ravens victimized themselves with the turnovers and penalties.
They started three drives with penalties on the very first play. Tight end Ed Dickson had a pass bounce off his hands that led to an interception. Flacco telegraphed two passes for interceptions and also lobbed a jump ball in the end zone for another pick.
The Ravens' lone scoring drive in the first half came after they caught a break at the start of the second quarter when Chris Canty came up with a strip-sack of Bills quarterback EJ Manuel, and the Ravens recovered at Buffalo's 27-yard line. The Ravens scored with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Brown three plays later.
"With the way I played in terms of turning the ball over and all that, the fact that we were still able to hang in there and still have a shot at the end, we did certain things well," Flacco said. "We just let them create too many turnovers."
A big problem with the offense was the inability to run the ball. The Ravens have struggled to establish the running attack in all four games this season, and that trend continued on Sunday. Even the return of Ray Rice from a hip injury did not provide a boost, as he had just 17 yards on five carries.
"We're not running the ball well. We have to run the ball better," Harbaugh said. "That's tough on everybody. That's tough on the passing game, the quarterback. That's tough on everybody."
The Ravens attempted a pass on 32 straight plays between the second and fourth quarters after falling behind by two touchdowns.
"When you fall behind like that in the second half, you can't pound the rock," Rice said.
As the offense struggled, the defense had problems of its own stopping the run. The Bills picked up yardage in chunks on the ground, and Buffalo finished with 203 rushing yards. The ground-and-pound approach then set up plays in the passing game, and Buffalo's rookie quarterback took advantage of missed assignments in the secondary.
Manuel finished the game 10-of-22 for 167 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, and his touchdown to receiver Robert Woods came soon after Ravens' top cornerback Lardarius Webb left the game with a thigh injury.
The miscues on offense and blown assignments on defense led to the Ravens trailing 23-14 at the start of the fourth quarter, and that's when they attempted to mount a comeback.
Flacco turned to the deep passing game and connected on long passes to Deonte Thompson and Torrey Smith – Smith was the bright spot on offense, finishing with five catches for 166 yards and a touchdown – and the big plays led to field goals by Justin Tucker. Tucker's field goals cut the score to 23-20, and then the Ravens had one final chance to take the lead or tie the game in the final minutes.
"The thing that I'm proud about is that our guys kept playing," Harbaugh said. "We have a quarterback that can keep you in any game at any time. We all felt that way at the end. And that's the most important thing going forward."
The saving grace for the Ravens is that two other division rivals also lost Sunday. The Cleveland Browns pulled off a 17-6 upset over the Cincinnati Bengals, and now the Ravens, Bengals and Browns are all tied with a 2-2 record in the division. The Pittsburgh Steelers dropped to 0-4 with a loss to the Minnesota Vikings in London.
The Ravens stay on the road next week when they travel to Miami to face a Dolphins team off to a 3-0 start.
"We're two months into this thing, and the team we're going to be two months from now is not the team we are right now," Harbaugh said. "We'll continue to work the way we've been working, and make the changes we need to make."