The defense for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was good against the host Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, but Baltimore's vaunted defense was better.
The Ravens held the Bucs to 263 total yards and 14 first downs, limited Tampa Bay's running game and generally made life miserable for second-year quarterback Josh Freeman until the fourth quarter in a 17-10 victory over the Bucs.
Freeman tried to pull off one of his patented fourth-quarter comebacks, hitting Kellen Winslow on a five-yard touchdown pass that brought the Bucs within seven with 3:05 to play, but head coach Raheem Morris opted not to try an onside kick after the score, bouyed by his defense shutting out the Ravens in the second half.
Baltimore running back Ray Rice answered with three straight first downs, one receiving and two rushing, to burn up the Bucs' timeouts and clinch the victory for the Ravens.
The Bucs waited until there was too little time remaining to go no-huddle and try to force the action against Baltimore's defense and paid the price, although if Michael Spurlock hadn't dropped a 63-yard bomb from Freeman in the end zone with 6:10 to play the last few minutes might have been even more interesting.
After completing his first four passes, Freeman finished the game 17-of-37 passing for 163 yards. He was not sacked, but the Ravens' rush did have an impact and much of Freeman's passing yardage came in the fourth quarter.
At one point, he missed 15 out of 20 passes and Freeman had 94 yards in the air through three quarters. The Buccaneers punted nine times and had a quiet 101 rushing yards.
The Bucs (7-4) remained winless against teams with winning records this season, falling to 0-4. The Ravens improved to 8-3.
Joe Flacco threw two touchdown passes and that was more than enough when supported by the stingy Ravens defense, although the Bucs made four sacks and held the Ravens to 92 rushing yards. The sacks included two by rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
Flacco finished the game 25-of-35 passing for 289 yards, with one interception to go along with the two scoring throws.
That interception -- the sixth of the season by Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib in the second quarter -- set up the Bucs' only points until the closing minutes. Even then, Tampa Bay could not reach the end zone from a first-and-goal at the Baltimore 4-yard line.
Still, it could have been worse.
Freeman nearly was intercepted under heavy pressure inside the Bucs 10-yard line late in the third quarter, but was saved by a replay review.
Freeman was trying to get the ball to Cadillac Williams but the ball bounced off Williams' hand and was grabbed by defensive lineman Cory Redding with 2:18 left in the period, but Redding dropped the ball when he was run into by linebacker Ray Lewis.
With 5:13 left in the third quarter, Rice had 76-yard catch and run for a score wiped out by a questionable holding penalty against Baltimore receiver Anquan Boldin.
Going to a hurry-up attack with 7 1/2 minutes left to play, Freeman moved the Bucs 77 yards in 13 plays before he found Winslow in the back of the end zone with 3:05 remaining. That came about three minutes after Spurlock's drop.
Flacco's second touchdown pass, to wide receiver Derrick Mason, gave the Ravens a 17-3 lead with just 32 seconds left before halftime.
The Ravens were helped on Mason's TD catch by a questionable pass interference call against rookie cornerback Myron Lewis the play before.
Lewis was whistled for defending Baltimore receiver T.J.Houshmandzadeh on a throw down the left sideline. The 24-yard penalty gave the Ravens a first down at the Tampa Bay 10-yard line and Flacco found Mason over the middle on the next play. It was Mason's seventh catch, for 74 yards, in the first half.
Baltimore got the ball on its own 45 to start the drive, after a 23-yard punt by Tampa Bay's Robert Malone and a 10-yard holding penalty against the Bucs' Cory Lynch on the punt.
Flacco threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Todd Heap, giving the Ravens a 10-3 lead on their prior possession.
Heap ran unchecked through a broken coverage and hauled in the pass from Heap with 3:04 left in the first half for the easy score. The big Baltimore tight end ran past linebacker Barrett Ruud, cornerback Ronde Barber and newly inserted safety Sabby Piscitelli for the Ravens' longest play from scrimmage this season.
Connor Barth kicked a 22-yard field goal after a turnover, bring the Buccaneers into a 3-3 tie less than a minute and a half before Heap's score.
Barth's kick with 4:32 left before halftime came after the Bucs stalled following a first-and-goal from the Baltimore 4-yard line.
Freeman threw two incomplete passes into the end zone and LeGarrette Blount was stopped for no gain before Barth came on for the short kick. Blount finished with a team-high 55 yards on just 13 carries.
It marked the 17th time in as many opportunities this season that the Baltimore defense did not surrender a touchdown after an opponent took possession past midfield.
Talib intercepted a Flacco pass at the Tampa Bay 39, diving and trapping the ball between his knees as he rolled to the ground, then scrambling to his feet and returning the ball 25 yards to the Baltimore 36 with 8:56 left in the first half.
Rookie safety Cody Grimm was hurt on the play. Boldin rolled into Grimm's ankle from behind while tackling Talib after the turnover and Grimm remained down on the field for several minutes before being helped onto a trainers' cart by medical staff.
Grimm was thrust into a starting role when strong safety Tanard Jackson was suspended for at least a year after the second game of the season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy for the third time.
Grimm had 57 tackles and two interceptions, one for a score, this season before the injury. He had a team-high four tackles against the Ravens before leaving the game. He was replaced by Piscitelli.
Billy Cundiff kicked a 45-yard field goal early in the second quarter to give the Ravens a 3-0 lead.
The Ravens opened the second quarter deep in Bucs territory, but McCoy sacked Flacco on third down at the Bucs 19, throwing Flacco for an 11-yard loss and forcing the field goal try that was good with 13:56 left in the second quarter.
It was the second sack total, and first solo, of the the season for McCoy, the third overall pick in last year's NFL Draft. He added another sack in the fourth quarter. McCoy was credited with two half-sacks in the Bucs' 21-0 victory over the San Francisco 49ers last week.
Tampa Bay offensive guard Davin Joseph left the game with a foot injury after the first quarter. He was replaced by Jeremy Zuttah.
The Ravens won the battle of field position against the Bucs in a scoreless first quarter.
The Bucs started their first three possessions at their own 11, 8 and 4-yard lines. After driving to the Ravens 47 on their first drive, the Bucs went three-and-out on the next two.
The last one gave Baltimore a first down at the Tampa Bay 41 with 1:49 left in the opening period after a 38-yard punt by Malone. The Ravens had the ball with a second down at the Bucs 19 when the quarter ended.
The Buccaneers faced the host Ravens at close to full strength, with only one starter listed as inactive, before the injuries to Joseph and Grimm.
Tim Crowder made his third start at left defensive end with Kyle Moore still out. Moore missed his third straight game with a sore shoulder
Other inactives for the Bucs were T Will Barker, OT Derek Hardman, FB Erik Lorig, DB Elbert Mack, DT Frank Okam and WR Preston Parker. Rudy Carpenter remained the emergency quarterback.
The Ravens were without G Chris Chester, TE Ed Dickson, DT Lamar Divens, ILB Dannell Ellerbe, DE Brandon McKinney, WR Marcus Smith, CB Fabian Washington and FS Tom Zbikowski in the interconference battle of 7-3 teams.