Browns 33 Ravens 30 (The SYSTEM HAS MALFUNCTIONED Game)
In what will certainly go down as the most bizarre game in the Ravens’ short history, the Cleveland Clowns walked out of B-More with a 33-30 overtime win, handing the Ravens what was also probably their toughest ever loss to swallow. When Phil Dawson’s 51-yard field goal attempt as time expired clanked off the left upright, down to the crossbar extension, and back onto the turf below, the celebration was on at M&T Bank Stadium (I, for one, was running wild in the stadium concourse, high-fiving every purple wearing friend I saw). The teams went onto the field, the coaches shook hands, and the Ravens ducked into their locker room, but the 40,000 or so fans that remained trying to make their way down the aisles saw an unsettling scene begin to unfold. Most of the Brown-stains team had gathered in the end zone at the scene of the fishy field goal and were making a fuss to the officials, who, to the dismay of all who bleed purple-and-black, appeared to be listening. After 5 tense minutes of debate, which included one Ravens’ coach needing to be restrained from the referees, the zebras decided that the kick, which tied the game at 30 at the end of regulation, had indeed crossed the plane of the goal posts, and thus the contest was not yet over. Many Ravens had already began undressing and celebrating their win in the bowels of M&T, only to be suddenly and unexpectedly told they had to retake the field. The Clowns would win the OT coin flip, convert a 3rd-and-10 from the Ravens 48, and the rest was academic, as Dawson connected on a 33-yarder 5:50 into the extra frame to hand the Ravens their franchise record-tying 4th consecutive loss. For the fans that stayed, it was as if Santa Claus had re-descended the chimney on Christmas morning and stuffed all your unopened toys back in his sack just as you sat down to open them. The game was over. We had won. Then, just like that, we had lost. It was at once heart-wrenching and surreal for Ravens fans, who had watched their team battle back from a 10 point deficit in one of the most exciting 4th quarters in recent B-More football memory.
The loss still hangs fresh in our minds, like the stench of rotten vegetables in your nostrils after an overdue refrigerator cleaning gone wrong. But after the raw emotional wave of disappointment, despair, anger, and confusion has worn off, 20-some hours later we can look at the result semi-objectively – and when we do, the Ravens as well as we fans are forced to face the reality that if our team was worth a damn, it would have never came down to a disputed final-second field goal. The offensive woes of the first half, the inability of the defensive front to get any pressure on Derek Anderson or stop Jamal Lewis before he could get a head of steam, the dismal play of the special teams kick and punt coverage units, and the “here we go again” gross clock mismanagement of Brian Billick all doomed the Ravens and made any comeback attempt, no matter how inspiring, futile in the end.
Let’s start with the dog-crap offense of the 1st half. The drive chart for the Ravens first 5 offensive possessions: Punt, Interception, Fumble, Punt, Punt. On those 5 “drives,” they managed 5, 1, 2, 5, and 2 yards. And all this against the WORST defense in the NFL. What can be said? It absolutely boggles the mind that a professional football team can be so inept.
Moving right along, we come to the unit that can only be described as “special,” after deciding again and again that it was a good idea to kick the ball to Josh “Wow, I can’t believe they’re this stupid” Cribbs. After Ravens scores, Cribbs set the Browns up with stellar field position time after time. To whit, Cleveland, on kickoffs, started at: Cle 36, Cle 45, Bal 43, Cle 22, Cle 43, and Cle 41. Throw in a 26 yard punt return that set them up at the Ravens’ 11, and it becomes grossly obvious that Cribbs was the key factor in the Cleveland win – and in contrast, the coverage units must then take the lions’ share of the blame from the B-More side of things. After 2 or 3 times of Cribbs carrying half the Ravens’ special teams on his back down the field, the rallying call should have been simple: “SQUIB TO CRIBBS!!.” Alas, they just kept right on kicking to him, and he kept right on giving the clowns great field position. Why, why, why? You tell us, please. If any of you readers coach or play football, we would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Finally, we come to the Ravens final possession. In what would be the last time they would touch the ball all day, after an inspiring comeback and a half in which they put up over 350 yards of offense and 23 points, the Ravens again crapped all over the bed when it came time to manage the clock into their favor to seal the win. Tied at 27, with 38 seconds on the clock and having reached the Cleveland 29 yard line, facing 2nd down and 1 to go, the guru called for – and stop us if you’ve heard this one before – 2 passes! Both of which of course resulted in incompletions, handing the Browns the gift of a stopped clock. Just another example of a situation where 2 runs up the gut would likely result in a first down – a first down which would have allowed the Ravens to milk the clock all the way down, so Matt Stover’s kick, and not Phil Dawson’s, would have came as time expired – but Brian Billick goes pass-happy and completely blows the game in every sense of the word. Sure, the Browns would have likely used their timeouts to stop the clock, but at least you force their hand and make them be the ones to make that decision, rather than making it for them! Add that to the fact that running the plays will at least take SOME time off the clock, and Derek Anderson almost certainly would have had less than the 26 seconds he ended up with to set the Clowns up in field goal range – of course, only after taking advantage of another BIG return by Cribbs. Ugh…maybe that wave of emotion mentioned earlier hasn’t completely retreated to sea.
You want silver lining? Well, let’s see what we can do.
The Ravens committed only 2 penalties, their fewest since….hell, I can’t find it. A long time ago.
Ray Lewis put up another Hall-of-Fame caliber day, returning an interception for a touchdown, racking up 16 tackles, and was, as Mike Preston put it in the Baltimore Sun, the “best player on the field.” Lewis continues to play at a high level, and has been dominating in several games this season.
Kyle Boller again showed flashes of competence, if not brilliance, and made the throws he had to when he was given time. Say what you will about Boller, he is tough-as-nails, and should be commended for hanging in there with the beating he was taking and giving the Ravens a chance in the end. The Clowns had 11 sacks all season before yesterday, and were able to get to Boller 6 times. Where was the line?
The loss hurts. Unfortunately, the reality that our team really does stink hurts a bit worse. On a day where the official told us that the Ravens lost a replay challenge due to the fact that, “The System has malfunctioned,” we are left to ponder just how much deeper those words resonate than referee Pete Morelli realized when he spoke them.