From the long touchdown pass that never was to the game-winning kickoff return that never should have been, the 17-10 loss to the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday left the Ravens scratching their heads and falling a few rungs below the upper echelon of the league.
In essence, the game was decided by second chances in the fourth quarter - one that Chiefs kick returner Dante Hall took advantage of and one that Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller didn't.
When Hall broke a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown - which was a do-over after an offsides penalty, the Chiefs (4-0) showed the resiliency of a Super Bowl contender.
When Boller threw an interception near the Kansas City end zone in the final minute - which looked like a repeat throw from the first quarter, the Ravens (2-2) showed their inexperience with the game on the line, squandering an opportunity to take sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
"This is a very disappointing loss," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Clearly, you cannot make the mistakes that we made in critical times and expect to beat an elite team."
Mistakes from Boller are expected, but ones from the Ravens' special teams ace are not.
After running back Jamal Lewis tied the game at 10 with an up-and-over 1-yard dive late in the fourth quarter, the Ravens carried that momentum into stopping Hall deep in his own territory on the kickoff. There was just one problem: Adalius Thomas, their leading tackler on special teams, was flagged for offsides.
Hall took the second kickoff and raced untouched up the left side to become the first player in NFL history to return a kick for a touchdown in three straight games. That record-setting dash put the Chiefs ahead 17-10 with 5:08 left in the game.
"It's frustrating to me because I expect more out of myself and my teammates expect more out of me," Thomas said. "I'm one of the leaders on special teams and in a crucial situation like that, you can't make that error. That really started the downward effect."
On the Ravens' final drive of the game, they moved to the Kansas City 44 after a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty and three short passes by Boller.
The Ravens went for the game-tying play with 36 seconds left, and Boller's throw down the left sideline went over the head of falling tight end Todd Heap and into the waiting arms of Dexter McCleon. Kansas City then ran out the clock, leaving the Ravens to think about what might have been.
"It's hard to take because we were right there," said Boller, who finished 15-for-26 for 140 yards and three interceptions. "I live for a two-minute drive like that in the end to be able to take the team down and win. This time, it didn't happen. Hopefully, next time the chips will fall our way."
The Ravens' misfortune can be traced back to the first quarter.
With fourth-and-one at the Chiefs' 8, the Ravens decided to run rather than kick a 35-yard field goal. Taking a pitch to the outside, Lewis slipped going one-on-one with McCleon and fell 2 yards short of the first down.
"In that situation, when we've got the No. 1 rushing attack against the No. 1 scoring team in the league, you have to take every opportunity you can," Billick said.
The red zone was just as treacherous on the Ravens' first drive of the second half.
Two touchdowns - a Lewis run and a Heap fumble recovery in the end zone - were negated by a holding penalty on tight end Terry Jones and an illegal shift (running back Chester Taylor moved forward when Heap was already in motion).