Three days after Thursday night’s loss in Atlanta, and I can finally bring myself to think about the game without the uncontrollable urge to throw the laptop through the window…well, for the most part.
Perhaps the most infuriating thing about the game can be said for not only this game in particular, but the 2010 Baltimore Ravens season as a whole to this point. This team has flashes of absolute dominance, when they look like they could be as good as any team in the NFL, but they cannot, for whatever reason, put together a full four quarters of their best football.
Between the first halves in Cincinnati and now Atlanta, and the fourth quarter collapses in New England and against Buffalo, the Ravens time and time again sabotage themselves by sleepwalking through large portions of their games. It’s a disturbing phenomenon, and it’s happened enough now that it can’t be dismissed as a trivial thing.
Against the Falcons, the Ravens’ offense did absolutely nothing for three quarters, and the defense, while not allowing Atlanta to rack up an insurmountable lead, was absolutely atrocious in getting off the field on third downs (Atlanta was 12/20 on 3rd down). It took Anquan Boldin having a Ray Lewis-esque sideline huddle, screaming in the faces of the entire offense, to break the O out of their funk. After that, they racked up three touchdowns in 1.5 quarters, and nearly stole a game that they didn’t deserve at all.
The fact that they did, in fact, nearly escape Atlanta with a victory despite playing absolutely terrible for about 35 minutes is, again, a testament to just how good this team has the potential to be. At 6-3, and with four of their final seven games at M&T Bank Stadium (along with very winnable road games in Carolina, Cleveland, and Houston), this team can still very much accomplish what they set out to at the outset of the season – but these kinds of slow starts, which leave the game hanging in the balance (and, to an extent, the hands of the officials) in the waning moments have the potential to catastrophically derail the lofty ambitions of division titles and playoff byes.
The Ravens are dead last in the NFL in punt returns, and nothing that happened Thursday night will get them out of the cellar. Ed Reed returned one for nine yards, and Lardius Webb one for seven before fumbling it away to Atlanta. David Reed broke a 31-yard kickoff return (HUGE for this team), but his decision to bring the final kickoff of the game out of the end zone was extremely ill advised, and did the Ravens no favors in what was already a very bleak situation.
At this point, there isn’t likely to be an “a-ha!” moment on special teams, where the Ravens suddenly find a guy who can be dangerous back there. Webb’s fumble may have shaken both his own confidence and that of the coaching stafff, and returning punts does nothing positive for Ed Reed’s already precarious health. Perhaps Donte Stallworth will get in on the action here in coming weeks.
Stallworth the RB
Speaking of Stallworth, he has still yet to see a pass come his way in two games back from injury. He did, however, have runs of 19 and 15 yards on Thursday night, showing that the coaching staff is very interested in finding creative ways to get him the ball. Still, it would be nice to see Flacco start looking for #18 on some deep balls moving forward.
Joe Cool vs. Matty Ice
The much hyped Flacco vs. Ryan match up didn’t disappoint, with both quarterbacks leading late touchdown drives resulting in a heart-pounding finish. Flacco’s touchdown pass to Todd Heap with 1:05 remaining, of course, wasn’t enough, as Ryan needed just 45 seconds against the porous Ravens’ defense to put Atlanta back on top for good. Each quarterback had very impressive numbers, with Flacco going 22/34 for 215 yards and 3 scores vs. Ryan’s 32/50 for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Despite what Mike Preston and Joe Theisman (who disgustingly slobbered over Ryan for the entire broadcast) may think, I don’t think Ryan appreciably outplayed Flacco. The main difference between the two, in my eyes, was their protection. Flacco was under constant pressure throughout the game, as his offensive line had one of their worst performances of the season. Ryan, on the other hand, was very well protected, thanks in part to Greg Mattison’s insistence to bring 3-man pressure constantly.
Going into the game, I stated that I was more worried about Falcons’ running back Michael Turner than I was about Matt Ryan.
Well, the Falcons game plan was obviously based around exploiting holes they saw in the Ravens’ secondary, and not around having Turner replicate what Browns’ RB Peyton Hillis did to the Ravens earlier in the year. “The Burner” carried 17 times for just 39 yards. Up front, Haloti Ngata and rookie Terrence Cody were fairly immovable, and Atlanta’s running game was never really a factor.
Unfortunately, despite forcing them into repeated 3rd-and-long situations, the Ravens defense couldn’t get off the field. Ryan-to-Roddy White was lethal, and Webb was even benched for Fabian Washington for a stretch in the first half, after being repeatedly picked on during the Falcons first couple drives.
Again, safety Dawan Landry failed to live up to his nickname (“whop,” given to him for the sound coming from his hard hits during training camp), as he was ran over by Jason Snelling on the Falcons first touchdown. Although Landry made contact with Snelling at about the 7-yard line, he barely slowed the running back down. Landry’s tackle attempt was pathetic, diving straight for Snelling’s shoelaces before being dragged for a few yards then completely shaken free.
The next time Dawan Landry makes a play this season will be the first.
I’d probably be forced to turn in my Ravens fan card were I not to complain about the referees after a loss, so here goes.
If we’re honest with ourselves, the Ravens have come out on the good end of plenty of questionable calls this season. Thursday night served to right the ship a bit. On top of the no-call on Roddy White shoving Josh Wilson to the ground on his game-winning touchdown, there was the pass interference on Tavares Gooden just one play prior. The pass was tipped at the line, so Gooden’s tackle of tight end Tony Gonzalez was completely legal. The flag flew though, so instead of being forced to either go for it on 4th-and-10 or try a game-winning 58-yard field goal attempt, Atlanta was given another first down.
Then, of course, there was the facemask call on T-Sizzle. The play in question occurred on a 3rd-and-10 from the Ravens’ 33, so instead of a 4th-and-10 long field goal try, the drive ended in a touchdown. This was the facemask call that went AGAINST Suggs:
Three plays later, the Falcons led 20-7.
Don’t put the game in the hands of the officials. It’s as simple as that.
The Ravens now have a nice little “half bye week” with 9 days off before traveling to Charlotte to face the 1-8 Panthers. The terrible taste of this loss should be fresh in their minds, and hopefully they can come out and dominate a clearly inferior team – as they were unable to do against the Buffalo Bills a few weeks ago.