As we mentioned in this week’s game recap, the Ravens defense, for all its great stats, intimidation, and reputation, for some reason isn’t quite the same when playing with a lead. It may seem like those last 2 gut-wrenching losses to the Steelers and Titans, so fresh in our minds, were an aberration. Surely our vaunted defense has no problem holding leads the majority of the time, right?
Not so fast.
A closer look reveals this disturbing statistic: Dating back to the start of the 2007 season, the Ravens have held a lead at the start of the 4th quarter (or very near it) in 11 games. Their record in those 11 games is a very mediocre 7-4. At least 4 of those wins had Ravens fans white-knuckling their seats despite what had seemed like a comfortable lead only moments earlier.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?
1. 2007 week 2 Ravens 20 Jets 13 – The Ravens led 17-3 entering the 4th quarter. A seemingly safe lead nearly disappeared as the great Kellan Clemens led scoring drives of 68 and 81 yards, then drove 73 yards and threw what should have been the game-tying touchdown. Luckily for the Ravens, Justin McCareins dropped the ball, and the purple and black were able to hold on.
2. 2007 week 3 Ravens 26 Cardinals 23 – This time the Ravens were up by a score of 23-6 as the 4th quarter started. This lead too, would go the way of the dodo, as Kurt Warner carved up the defense in front of a stunned M&T Crowd. Arizona had touchdown drives of 71 and 54 yards, and another scoring drive of 64 yards that ended in a field goal. With the game tied, Kyle Boller and the Ravens took over with 1:50 on the clock, and Matt Stover kicked a 46-yarder as time expired to give B’More their 2nd way-too-close win in as many weeks.
3. 2007 week 5 Ravens 9 49ers 7 – This time, the Ravens were clinging to a much more tenuous lead, 9-7, entering the final period. Trent Dilfer had revenge on his old coach on his mind as San Francisco took possession with 6:22 remaining. The 49ers picked up 46 yards on 8 plays, setting up Joe Nedney for a 52-yard FG attempt that would have put the 49ers up with less than 3 minutes to go. Nedney missed, and the Ravens survived yet another scare.
4. 2007 week 11 Browns 33 Ravens 30 – Special teams were as much to blame for this one as the D, but it still has to be included because the defense had chances to seal it. The offense held up it’s end of the bargain for once, staging an inspired comeback. A Matt Stover 47-yard FG with just 31 seconds remaining put the Ravens up 30-27. A 39-yard return by Joshua Cribbs set the Browns up at their own 43, and from there they went 24 yards in only 26 seconds to set up Phil Dawson’s infamous, game-tying, off the uprights-off the crossbar 51-yarder. In overtime, Cribbs took the opening kick 41 yards to the CLE 41. Derek Anderson & Co. would march 43 yards on 9 plays, converting on a 3rd-and-10 from the Ravens 48 en route to setting up the game winning 33 yard chip shot.
5. 2007 week 13 Patriots 27 Ravens 24 – Keeping the 2007 New England Patriots off the scoreboard was pretty much impossible. However, the Ravens defense had countless opportunities to keep those damn cheaters off poor ol’ Mercury Morris’ street. On the 2nd play of the 4th quarter, Kyle Boller found Dan Wilcox from 1 yard out to put the Ravens up 24-17. With the score 24-20, Tom Brady took over from his own 27 with 3:30 showing on the clock. We won’t rehash all the gory details for you, but suffice to say that the Pats went 77 yards on 13 plays, 3 of which were either successful 3rd or 4th down conversions, to score the game winning touchdown.
6. 2007 week 15 Dolphins 22 Ravens 16 – The winless ‘fins weren’t happy with the purple-and-black, having let New England off the hook, and they made us pay. Despite leading 13-10 as the seconds began ticking away in the 4th, the Ravens allowed Cleo Lemon to lead field goal drives of 82 and 43 yards, the 2nd of which put Miami up 16-13 with just 1:56 remaining. Troy Smith, filling in for an injured Boller, took the Ravens 59.5 yards to the Miami half-yard line. Brian Billick decided to kick the tying field goal instead of going for the win, and overtime ensued. The Ravens moved the ball on the opening possession, but Matt Stover missed a 44 yard game-winning attempt. No defensive stop was to be for the Ravens. Just 3 plays later, Lemon hit Greg Camarillo, who raced 64 yards untouched to the end zone.
7. 2007 week 17 Ravens 27 Steelers 21 – Sure, they were resting most of their starters (hey, how’d that work out for you, anyway? taints.), but that wasn’t raining on the party at M&T as the Ravens were avenging their week 9 beating in Pittsburgh, carrying a 27-7 lead into the 4th quarter. Charlie Batch, however, put together TD drives of 81 and 56 yards, and was set up with the chance for the game-winning drive with 1:36 to go from his own 11. Gladly, the drama didn’t get too intense, as the Steelers only went 19 yards before Batch was intercepted by David Pittman to preserve the win.
8. 2008 week 4 Steelers 23 Ravens 20 – Although this lead evaporated in the 3rd quarter, not the 4th as in the rest of these examples, it bears mentioning. After allowing just 1 first down on the Steelers previous 6 drives, Pittsburgh went 67 yards on just 4 plays to pull within a field goal. You know the rest.
9. 2008 week 5 Titans 13 Ravens 10 – The Ravens started the day giving Kerry Collins flashbacks to Super Bowl 35, intercepting him twice in the first quarter. However, on that final drive, Collins had 62 passing yards after only putting up 101 through the game’s first 54 minutes.
Sure, you could argue that the offense needed to do something to put those games away, instead of leaning on the defense. But isn’t defense the identity of this team? Obviously, that’s the idea. But if defense is really to be the identity of the Ravens (rather than say, “bad,”) then they need to get back to executing for 60 minutes, not 50 or 55 or 59. Until Joe Flacco and the offense start putting up 20 or 30 on the regular, the Ravens need to be able to count on their defense with the game on the line. Unfortunately, a mounting pile of evidence is saying that maybe they can’t.