Patriots 23 Ravens 20 OT (The GOTTA PLAY/COACH ALL FOUR QUARTERS Game)
On Sunday, the Ravens lost.
They lost to a very good football team.
They lost to a very good football team with a Hall-of-Fame head coach.
They lost to a very good football team with a Hall-of-Fame head coach and a Hall-of-Fame quarterback.
They lost to a very good football team with a Hall-of-Fame head coach and a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, who had two weeks to rest and prepare.
They lost to a very good football team with a Hall-of-Fame head coach and a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, who had two weeks to rest and prepare, on the road.
All of that, I can deal with.
What makes this loss so difficult to stomach is what I neglected to mention above…
On Sunday, the Ravens lost to a very good football team with a Hall-of-Fame head coach and quarterback, who had two weeks to rest and prepare, on the road…in a game in which they held a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.
Yeah. That last point is the inexcusable part. For the first 45 minutes of the game, the Ravens beat the Patriots up and down the field, building a 20-10 lead with 14:57 remaining. What was unfortunate, and what ultimately proved to be the difference in the game, was that in the four plays prior to Billy Cundiff’s 25-yard field goal gave the Ravens what would be their final points for the day, Ravens’ receivers dropped two potential touchdown passes. On the first, Anquan Boldin was separated from the ball by a New England safety after a perfect strike from Joe Flacco from 20 yards out. On the second, Derrick Mason heard footsteps and couldn’t haul in what should have been a seven-yard score.
Sure, both plays would have required impressive, if not spectacular, catches. But both Boldin and Mason got two hands on the ball, and in the NFL, those passes should have been caught – especially by veterans like those two. If they are, this recap likely has a much different tone.
Compounding the problem was that, after that series, the Ravens offense (both playcalling and execution) seemed to climb aboard the plane back to Baltimore. With the exception of an 18-yard pass from Flacco to Boldin on the opening play of their next drive, the Ravens offense went 3-and-out, 3-and-out, 3-and-out on their next three possessions of regulation and overtime. The aforementioned Boldin completion came with 10:24 left in the fourth. The Ravens would not pick up another first down until the 10:17 mark of overtime – over a full quarter of play.
Three plays after that 10:24 first down, a sequence that could likely be pointed to as the pivotal one of the game unfolded.
On 3rd-and-1 from their own 47, leading 20-17, Cam Cameron called for a quarterback sneak. A play which, for anyone watching, was obviously doomed from the start. Flacco attempted to go through Pats’ defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Greg Warren, and didn’t have a prayer.
The talk radio lines will no doubt be lighting up this week with people blaming Cameron for the odd call, and Flacco for not recognizing the defense and audibling out of the play. What is likely to be an even greater point of contention this week in B’More, though, is what happened next.
Facing 4th-and-the length of the football, Coach John “you have to put teams away when you have the chance” Harbaugh elected to punt. To punt the ball back to Tom Brady and the Patriots offense, who were fresh off an 8-play, 60-yard drive where they faced only a single third down, in that situation…puzzling, to say that least. To say a bit more, it was the kind of decision that we just aren’t used to seeing from Harbaugh, who has proven during his 2+ years as the head coach, that he has plenty of “balls” in those type of situations. This time, though, he went timid, and the Ravens paid dearly.
It wasn’t just Harbaugh that went into a shell in the fourth quarter and overtime though. He took the entire Baltimore coaching staff with him.
Cam Cameron stopped picking on the Patriots’ secondary.
Greg Mattison gave Brady the short underneath stuff in the passing game, and Brady took it eagerly.
Now, give New England credit. As mentioned, they have a great coaching staff of their own, and those guys made the necessary adjustments. They took away Flacco’s passing lanes. They threw quick screen after quick screen on offense. They did what was necessary to win the game. What the Ravens’ coaches were up to is anybody’s guess.
Flacco played very well all day, going 27/35 for 285 yards and two touchdowns. I don’t know if the Ravens’ coaches’ tentative mentality was preached to Joe on the sideline during the fourth quarter or what, but he wasn’t the same after those two dropped touchdown passes. He seemed much more willing to check down to Ray Rice, even though Rice was routinely swarmed by New England linebackers.
That’s another area where New England must be commended – they were not going to let Rice destroy them like he did in the two 2009 meetings. Although there seemed to be some nice holes on the Ravens’ opening drive, ultimately Rice ran the ball 28 times for just 88 yards, and his long of the day was just eight. He added eight receptions for 38 yards, but really wasn’t a major factor in the game.
Which brings us to the next puzzling thing about the gameplan of the Ravens’ staff…
Where the hell was Willis McGahee???
McGahee did not see a single touch in Foxborough, and I’m not even positive he was at the stadium. Sure, I was calling for Rice to take over goalline duties from Willis, but to just leave #23 on the sideline all afternoon? Especially considering the relative lack of success that Rice was having? It just makes absolutely no sense to me that McGahee was never even inserted as a sort of change-of-pace, and I’ll be anticipating how Cameron and Harbaugh explain that fact this week.
Before we wrap up, we can’t excuse the Ravens’ defense or special teams here either. While it’s commendable to hold New England to just 23 points, after they had put up 38 in each of their prior two home games, there were some disturbing signs from the “D.”
First off, what the hell is it with the Ravens’ inability to stop white running backs? We all remember Peyton Hillis running roughshod over them in week 2, and in Foxborough, Danny Freakin’ Woodhead had 63 yards and 5.7 per carry. They also had a hell of a time tackling Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and Deion Branch, allowing the Pats to rack up an incredible amount of YAC, after doing such a great job against the Denver Broncos last week.
Next, Mattison’s insistence to only rush three men so often is starting to cost the team. By now we know not to expect the kind of blitzes that we saw when Rex Ryan was in town, but giving Tom Brady 5 or 6 seconds to find a receiver down near the end zone isn’t a recipe for success in any universe. I don’t care if the Ravens emptied the bench and put 12 guys in the end zone covering Pats’ receivers, if Brady can basically take his helmet off back there and stand flat footed, he’s going to find someone. And that’s exactly what he did to get New England to within 20-17. With the exception of Haloti Ngata, the Ravens’ pass rush was disturbingly non-existent, especially considering the past success they have had against the Patriots.
Finally, we come to special teams. While they never came up with the huge game-breaker that we feared, and that they used to beat Miami in week 4, New England was clearly the superior unit on Sunday.
Jalen Parmele needs to be out of a job. His indecision/terrible decisions cost the Ravens a good bit of field position on at least two occasions.
Neither Chris Carr nor Tom Zbikowski can generate anything on punt returns. And when it seems like they just MIGHT, it’s always because someone else is illegally blocking or holding. On top of that, their refusal to come up and field punts that aren’t hit directly to them cost the team additional field position several times. It’s a sad state of affairs for the Ravens’ return games.
Even Billy Cundiff, despite his three touchbacks, had a costly gaffe. After going up 20-10, Cundiff’s ensuing kickoff squirted out of bounds at about the two yard line…two yards too soon, which resulted in the Patriots starting at their own 40-yard line.
The Ravens outplayed the Patriots for three quarters Sunday. Despite the Pats having two weeks to prepare, the Ravens appeared ready to take their best shot and bring a 5-1 record back to B’More.
Unfortunately, they were outplayed and (thoroughly) outcoached during the final quarter and the overtime period, and 4-2 is the result.
Still not a terrible place to be, after four tough road games, and with only a home game against Buffalo standing between us and the bye week.
Oh, and a certain guy who wears #20 is rumored to be coming back this week.
Things could be worse.
Let’s not melt down like a bunch of complete morons, please (these comments make me embarrassed to be a Ravens fan).