The Ravens were looking for one of two quarterbacks to stand out in Saturday's preseason home opener, but none of them provided a spark in a flat 23-15 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Neither Troy Smith nor Kyle Boller was rather effective operating against Minnesota's stout defense.
As fans filed out of M&T Bank Stadium one hour after the final whistle, the smiles on their faces were the result of watching Michael Phelps win an unprecedented eighth gold medal on the SmartVision screens, not the stellar play of a revamped offense or a solid defense.
The Ravens missed nine starters, struggled to move the football and had trouble shutting the Vikings down on third down, even when starting signal-caller Tavaris Jackson was knocked out of the game with a knee injury in the first quarter.
Still, head coach John Harbaugh considered his team's shaky performance less of an indictment and more of a learning opportunity.
"I think what you take out of it is an opportunity to learn and get better," Harbaugh said. "The reality for a game like this is that it's a 'camp' game.
"We've got guys holding out, guys who are out, guys who are coming into camp, and they're not fresh. We need to take the things we can improve on and get better."
Troy Smith was given the best opportunity to shine as the starter, but he only attempted five passes, ending his night with a bad interception when he underthrew Mark Clayton and the wideout batted the ball to safety Darren Sharper.
Behind an offensive line that featured two reserve tackles, Smith endured three sacks while rushing three times for 35 yards. Meanwhile, he tallied only 25 yards on his three completions.
"There were definitely some situations where we could've done better," Smith said. "That's what the preseason is all about, where you go out there and keep learning. You make those mistakes and you iron them out.
"Then, you come out stronger in the regular season."
Even with the interception, Smith noted that he would rather make the interceptions now than later.
"There are some areas on the field where my passing game can get better," the quarterback stated. "The interception towards the end of the half, I wouldn't say I was greedy, but I was just trying to get a guy a chance to make a play."
With the Ravens having trouble through the air, rookie running back Ray Rice took advantage of starting in place of injured Pro Bowler Willis McGahee (knee surgery).
The second-round draft pick received one of the loudest ovations during team introductions, and he fulfilled the expectations of an announced crowd of 70,585 fans by busting loose for a 42-yard run on his first carry.
Rice, who totaled 77 yards on eight attempts, including a 6-yard touchdown, was the bright spot for a unit that had trouble sustaining long drives.
"When you get in that huddle, you're the starter and you have to play like the starter," said Rice, whose family was in attendance. "You have to come out here and put the team in a position to score.
"I'm just out there doing my best."
However, it wasn't enough. Rice's touchdown knotted the contest at 7, after safety Dawan Landry and cornerback Fabian Washington had a miscommunication in the secondary to allow Minnesota's first touchdown.
Washington thought Landry would offer help behind him, but Landry bit to the middle of the field, leaving Martin Nance wide open in the back of the end zone.
The Vikings would go on to score four more times, including another touchdown that got past cornerback Corey Ivy.
"Secondary-wise, we just need to focus on our communication," Landry explained. "We gave them two touchdowns, one in the first quarter on miscommunication and in the second quarter with miscommunication."
"That wasn't Ravens defense," added defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. "Our communication from the coaches and on the field wasn't what it should be. You can put that on me."
Even when Boller and running back Cory Ross stepped in for Smith and Rice in the second half, the result was the same.
Boller completed eight of his 12 passes for 40 yards, but led two three-and-outs before finally crossing into Minnesota territory one snap into the fourth quarter.
The Ravens' only other points came when cornerback Derrick Martin jumped in front of a pass intended for receiver Nate Jones and took his interception 22 yards to the end zone. Ross made the two-point conversion to lock the final at 23-15.
Like Smith, Boller's biggest gaffe came on his final attempt, tossing a pick to rookie Brandon Sumrall, who made a spectacular one-handed grab. The six-year veteran gave way to first-round draft pick Joe Flacco with 8:01 left in the fourth quarter for spot duty.
Shaking off two early sacks, Flacco showed promise on the night's last drive, running a two-minute drill all the way to the Vikings' 13-yard line. He finished the game 10-of-15 for 74 yards.
But, Flacco will have to wait on the sideline while Smith and Boller battle it out for the starting role. Harbaugh said that what began as a three-quarterback race has now whittled itself down to two.
"I think Troy and Kyle, by the basis of practice so far, have separated themselves from Joe in terms of being ready to line up and win a football game for us at this level," the coach noted. "Not to say it couldn't happen, but right now they've moved ahead."
Just which one of the final two has moved on remains to be seen.