- Michael Smith, NFL Senior Writer
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FOXBORO, Mass. -- Defense still wins championships. But a championship-caliber defense alone couldn't come into Gillette Stadium on Sunday and beat the world champion Patriots.
Baltimore's defensive players should all be suffering from figurative back pain following their 24-3 loss. Once again, they were asked to carry the one-dimensional Ravens by themselves. In the second half, the burden got a bit too heavy. They buckled.
"Clearly," Ravens coach Brian Billick said afterward, "we weren't a good enough football team today to compete with a championship team."
Let's examine two words from Billick's comments: team and today.
Team first. A complete one, Baltimore is not. The Ravens' offense contributed nothing to the cause Sunday. Granted, it was missing running back Jamal Lewis and tight end Todd Heap. But New England was missing its top three corners -- Ty Law, Tyrone Poole, and Asante Samuel -- and had an undersized linebacker, Don Davis, playing one of the safeties. Both teams had excuses. One executed.
Young Kyle Boller, who seemed to turn the corner in the past few weeks, regressed, completing 15-of-35 attempts for 93 yards, with an interception, for a quarterback rating of 38.4. He didn't handle pressure from the Patriots well at all and threw a lot of balls into the mud. His receivers also dropped balls.
Baltimore's offense collectively dropped the ball. This was a matchup between two of the league's best defenses, and it would be up to the offenses to settle it. Without Lewis and Heap, the Ravens, frankly, have next to nothing on offense. Sunday it produced next to nothing -- 124 net yards. Like the song says, nothing from nothing leaves three points.
Given an opportunity via two 15-yard penalties against the Patriots to take the lead just before halftime, the Ravens settled for a field goal even though the possession began at New England's 16. Baltimore punted to end 10 of its 13 possessions, excluding the one to end the game. The Ravens went three and out six times and converted more than one first down on only one possession, their second. Their longest drive of the day was 26 yards. They averaged 2.1 yards per play and turned it over twice.
"We just had no rhythm. Couldn't get anything going," Billick said. "Too many mistakes."
Now to Billick restricting Baltimore's problems to today. The Ravens, like the Patriots, believe they can compete for a championship as presently constituted. They have a Super Bowl championship from four years ago to prove the formula can work. But Vanilla Ice had a hit record once. It doesn't mean it's happening again.
Regardless of when Heap and Lewis return, if the Ravens don't start getting more from their offense, particularly the passing game, against upper-echelon teams such as the Patriots, that championship-caliber defense of theirs won't even get to compete for one. Sunday's loss looked a lot like their last one, at Philadelphia, with the defense keeping it close as long as it could before yielding a backbreaking touchdown, in this case Corey Dillon's 1-yard plunge three seconds into the fourth quarter that made it 16-3.
The Patriots had a slight edge in first-half time of possession -- 16 minutes to 14 minutes. The score was 3-3 at halftime. New England was on offense for close to 20 minutes in the second half, when Baltimore's defense appeared to tire.
To win these kinds of games, the Ravens need their defense to score points, or at least set their offensive teammates up to do so with turnovers. New England didn't oblige, protecting the ball well for the most part and never really providing playmaking opportunities for Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Co.
Reed got his hands on one ball -- a low throw by Tom Brady that counted as a pass defensed -- and Lewis finished with a quiet 12 tackles.
"He's mic-ed up every game," one Patriot said afterward. "If he was mic-ed up tonight, it wouldn't have been very good."
In contrast to Baltimore, New England's offense and special teams did enough to complement its stingy defense.
"It was a good team victory," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
Dillon finished with 123 yards -- 83 in the second half -- and the Patriots dominated the field position game in the second half, beginning five of six possessions beyond their 40.
Baltimore won't be playing beyond the first weekend in January if its offense doesn't pull its weight against the big boys. After home games against the Bengals and Giants, Baltimore goes to Indianapolis to face Peyton Manning and then to division-leading Pittsburgh before finishing up at home against Miami. Even Indianapolis, once in a while, gets plays from its defense. A Baltimore team that already plays with little margin for error has even less. In this year's AFC, six losses could mean no playoffs.
"We have an opportunity to be better and see if we can come back in here at some point if things work out well in the playoffs," Billick said. "We have five weeks to improve and get better."
It's clear where they need to start, or else their season will conclude earlier than they'd planned.
Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
But the Ravens were reminded during Sunday's loss that they need some offense to win games.