On Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens honored the 2000 Super Bowl team with a “homecoming” of sorts.
Maybe they should have let those guys play a bit. Even though most of them haven’t stepped foot on a field in nearly a decade, they certainly couldn’t have been any worse than the current Ravens were yesterday.
I’m pretty sure Tony Siragusa could have plugged up the middle and slowed down Buffalo’s rushing game more aptly than Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, and co. were able to.
I’m fairly certain that Duane Starks would have held his own against the Bills’ wide receivers better than Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb did.
Fabian “Toast” Washington was burned repeatedly
And I’m damn positive that Kim Herring could have stepped in and given Dawan Landry an absolute clinic on how to make a tackle.
On a day when members of the greatest defense of all time were in the house, the Ravens did little to make the former Super Bowl champs proud.
The Buffalo Bills came into Baltimore and ran roughshod over the Ravens’ defense, doing pretty much anything they wanted to all afternoon. They entered the game averaging just 251 yards of total offense per game, and had more than doubled that output (506 total yards of offense) by the time Billy Cundiff’s 38-yard field goal gave the Ravens the 37-34 victory. In overtime. Against, of all teams, the freaking Buffalo Bills.
Buffalo also sported the worst 3rd-down conversion percentage in the NFL entering the game. At the end of the day, one of the two teams was just 2/11 on 3rd downs, while the other was a stout 11/17 on their way to holding the ball for more than 38 minutes. The latter, of course, however inexplicably, was the Bills.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick put an end to the Bills league-worst 58 consecutive games without a 300-yard passer, and did so emphatically; he threw for 374 yards and FOUR touchdowns. Not to be outdone, receivers Lee Evans and Stevie Johnson ended Bills streaks of their own, as each surpassed 100 yards receiving, something no Buffalo Bill had managed in 11 games.
Not that it was a complete aerial assualt – Buffalo also put up 132 yards on the ground for the day.
And yet…as bleak a picture as all of those numbers paint – not only on the day, but moving forward as well – the Ravens still eked out the win.
It was up to the offense to bail the defense out yesterday, and Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin, Todd Heap, and company were up to the challenge. Finding themselves in a 24-10 hole after Evans’ second touchdown with 5 minutes remaining in the first half, the Ravens’ offense – with an assist from the great Ed Reed (more on him later) – ripped off 17 points in just 71 seconds of game clock to take a 27-24 lead.
The final 7 of that 17 came on a beautiful flea flicker, a play that I would bet the Ravens haven’t hit on in at least five years. From the Buffalo 34, Joe Flacco handed to Willis McGahee, who lateraled back to Flacco, and Joe launched a gorgeous touchdown rainbow to Anquan Boldin.
While Joe didn’t have his best day, he made enough plays to win the game. He connected on just 16 of his 31 throws, but the ones he did hit, he made count: 250 yards through the air was the final result, with three touchdown strikes of 26, 14, and 34 yards.
Ed Reed. The man just makes plays. Even though Reed looked a half-step slow at times during the day, his uncanny nose for the football just will not be suppressed. On the Bills’ first series, when it looked like they were about to pick up a 3rd-and-8 from the Ravens’ 32, Reed came up and put his helmet right on the ball, jarring it free from wideout Roscoe Parrish. The Ravens didn’t recover, but Buffalo lost 12 yards on the play, and the ensuing punt set the Ravens’ up to take their short-lived 3-0 lead. On Buffalo’s very first snap of the second half, Reed, off a tipped pass from Ray Lewis, intercepted Fitzpatrick to set up the aforementioned flea flicker score. And, at the end of the third, with the Ravens holding a 34-24 lead, just a single play after he came up a little lame and CBS analyst Steve Beuerlein noted that Reed looked a little slow, #20 AGAIN intercepted Fitzpatrick, this time returning the pick 40 yards to the Buffalo nine.
That play should have effectively won the game for the Ravens. Unfortunately, Willis McGahee and Joe Flacco botched the handoff on the ensuing snap, and gave the ball right back to the Bills. Instead of a 17-point lead early in the fourth quarter, the defense was faced for the second straight week with a 10 point lead at the same juncture in the ball game. And, just like in New England last week, they would cave.
Buffalo put together a 63-yard touchdown drive and a 59-yard field goal drive – the latter starting at their own 9 yard line with just 3:26 to go in the game – in the fourth quarter, while the Ravens managed just a single first down in the final period. It’s distressing that just a week after blowing a fourth quarter lead, both units – offense and defense – again choked when given the chance to put the game away.
Facing the worst run defense in the league, and having gained nearly 5 yards per carry all day, the Ravens’ fourth quarter play selection was the following:
1st drive: Run (fumble)
2nd drive: Pass (incomplete), Run (6 yards), Pass (1 yard), Punt
3rd drive: Pass (incomplete), Pass (36 yards), Run (1 yard), Run (3 yards), Pass (incomplete), Punt
And in overtime (the drive that didn’t START in field goal range): Run (5 yards), Pass (incomplete), Pass (sack), Punt
Five runs, seven passes.
Now, some will argue that Cam Cameron was just doing exactly what Ravens fans were blasting him for NOT doing after last week’s New England loss – that is, being aggressive and not “going conservative.” To those people, I’d offer this rebuttal: the difference is, in both instances, Cam went AWAY from what was working. Last week in New England, it was the intermediate passing game that was having success – and in the fourth quarter the Ravens decided they were going to play it safe. Against Buffalo – again, the WORST run defense in the league – Ray Rice was having a fairly good day and Willis McGahee was outstanding (besides the fumble), averaging nearly six yards per carry. Add in that Flacco, as mentioned earlier, was erratic on the day (he should have been intercepted at least once, if not twice), and the decision to skew the playcalling towards the pass in the fourth quarter and overtime becomes even more perplexing.
I suppose I just don’t understand NFL playcalling. I’ll leave it at that for now, so I don’t drive myself insane.
Two additional points I’d be remiss not to address: First up, Ray Lewis. With his former teammates watching, is it any surprise that #52 would say, “enough of this bullshit, we’re not losing,” and just straight up maul the football from Bills tight end Shawn Nelson? Make no mistake about it, Ray won the game with that play, as the Ravens had very little hope of stopping the offensive juggernaut that stole the Buffalo Bills’ jerseys and wore them in Baltimore.
The second point, which piggybacks right off of that one – the officials. I’ve complained about the refereeing enough on this blog over the years that I’d be quite hypocritical to not acknowledge that the Ravens were aided monumentally at least once yesterday by the guys’ in stripes. So, referee Pete Morelli and crew: thank you for not blowing the whistle on that play.
In fairness, former NFL VP of Officiating Mike Pereira says the refs made the right call.
The other curious ruling came two plays before Flacco found Heap to pull the Ravens to within 24-20 at the half. Flacco had appeared to have found Bills cornerback Reggie Corner (great career choice BTW Reggie!) for an interception that would have kep the deficit at 11 points at the break. However, luckily, Corner was ruled out of bounds even after review – and Boldin was not flagged for offensive pass interference (though either player could have been called for P.I.)
The Ravens have problems on both sides of the ball, and on special teams, and we’ll get into those problems deeper here during the bye week. But for now, let’s just thank our lucky (after yesterday, that word bears repeating) stars that the Ravens go into the off date at 5-2 and right where they need to be…record-wise, anyway.