The Ravens added yet another to the 2009 list of crushing last-minute defeats yesterday, as they fell to Indianapolis by two points despite being in field goal range with under three minutes to play. Joe Flacco’s ill-advised toss right into the palms of Gary Brackett on what turned out to be the team’s final offensive play sealed the deal, and let the horseshoes escape B’More with their perfect record intact, and their seventh straight over the purple and black.
The blowout that many of us expected (and most of us probably would have preferred) never materialized, as the Ravens never trailed by more than a touchdown for the entire afternoon. However, because of their failure to get into the end zone even ONCE, their 32-27 time of possession and 3-2 turnover (3-0 for the game’s first 57 minutes) advantages were rendered moot. The Ravens’ much maligned defense refused to be lit up by Manning like they had by Rivers, Favre, and Palmer, as they picked him off twice in the first half. They set up the offense at the Indy 29 and their own 48 on the strength of interceptions by Dawan Landry and Ed Reed, only to see Joe Flacco & Co. settle for Billy Cundiff field goals on both possessions. After Landry’s, they managed a pathetic three yards before trotting out Cundiff to cut the score to 7-6.
Holding Peyton Manning to just 17 points is a commendable feat – it was the second-least points they have put up all year, and the fewest since Week 1.
This loss is squarely on the shoulders of Cam Cameron and the Ravens’ offense. The O, which came out gangbusters to start the season, has been stuck in neutral since the furious rally in the second half of the Minnesota game. They have now scored just one offensive touchdown in their last TWELVE quarters of play. The chunks of yardage, big plays, and 30-point outputs that gave us visions of Testaverde-to-Jackson to start 2009 have suddenly turned into painful reminders of Tony Banks-to Travis Taylor(-to ground).
The offensive FAIL was never more pronounced than when, with 12 minutes left in the game, trailing 14-12, the Ravens were stopped on three consecutive plays from inside the Colts’ 1-yard line.
Where was Le’Ron McClain?!
Your quarterback is 6’6″ and you need five inches…he almost got it on the first try, so why not sneak it two more times?!
Settling for a field goal there, as the CBS announcers were quick to point out, sealed the Ravens’ fate.
When you can’t punch it in from INCHES out, at home, in a pivotal game…you don’t deserve to win, let alone call yourselves a playoff contender.
Sure, the final drive was heart-wrenching, and the Ravens were in place to go ahead at or near the two-minute warning – but that game was lost with 10:53 on the clock, when Willis McGahee was stopped short for the second straight time.
It was a fitting sequence for an offense that has regressed greatly over the last several games. Joe Flacco, who started the season spreading the ball out admirably between all of his receivers, seems to have again fallen in love with Derrick Mason, only this time there is a lover’s triangle that also includes Ray Rice. The stat sheet will tell you that eight different Ravens caught passes; however, a closer look reveals that 16 of Flacco’s 23 completions went to Mason or Rice. There were three Colts’ defenders around #27 on the game-ending interception…somebody else was open, Joe.
You can’t fault Flacco for wanting to get the ball into the hands of Rice, who has quickly developed into a premiere playmaker, or of Mason, his security blanket. But a line has to be drawn at some point. Kelley Washington has proven himself to be a very capable target, and Mark Clayton seems to be catching everything thrown his way since his drop in Foxboro. Flacco seems to have become extremely risk-averse lately, and the throws into tight windows in the middle of the field that we saw early in the season, and which are crucial to his continued development, have all but disappeared. Whether it is a coach in his ear telling him to be more careful with the ball, or a doubting of his own abilities that has taken hold as a result of his earlier red zone interceptions, is up for debate.
What are not up for debate though, are these facts:
- Flacco threw the ball into the end zone just once all day against Indy, a ball that was nearly picked off.
- After throwing 11 touchdowns in 6 games, Flacco has now thrown just 1 in his last 4.
- Washington had 24 receptions in the season’s first 8 games, and has 2 over the 3 games since.
At this point, Ray Rice basically IS the Ravens offense. A situation that is likely to present itself sooner rather than later is that a good defensive coordinator (ahem..Dick Lebeau, anybody?) will find a way to shut down Mighty Mouse and make Flacco use his other options. From what we’ve seen lately, it is tough to believe that Joe Cool still trusts his ability to go to those other guys consistently.
It’s a problem. And Cam Cameron, after all the genius he displayed last season in making something out of not-much in B’More, is going to start finding himself under increasing scrutiny should this year’s team fail to start putting up points again.
Other nit-picky items from the game:
- John Harbaugh showing us that he did, indeed, learn by watching Andy Reid in Philadelphia, as his atrocious clock management cost the team valuable seconds down the stretch in both halves. Everyone will point to the challenge-time out debacle in the second half, but there was more of the same in the first. Flacco completed a 19-yard pass to Mason to the IND 34 with 0:35 to play, and with plenty of time to run up and spike the ball, the Ravens instead burned their final timeout. Standard wisdom says to keep a timeout in your back pocket as long as possible in that situation.
- The defense played well overall, but Terrell Suggs’ absence was glaring, as there was no pass rush to speak of. The Ravens never once sacked Manning, and hit him only a small handful of times.
- Ed Reed. Ed…Reed. Quite possibly my favorite Raven of all-time, but…man. You just CAN NOT do that. Lateraling the ball, while being dragged to the ground, to an unsuspecting teammate, with a last-gasp field goal attempt still in the cards…just…wow. Speechless. Also, whichever coach – Rosburg, Harbaugh, whoever – that decided to put him back there in that situation, knowing his history of ball “insecurity,” should be b-slapped. Reed is best served trying to block the punt in that situation, not given the chance to pitch away any chance of victory.
I know I said that this time doesn’t deserve to utter the “p” word. However, thanks to last minute choke-jobs by both the Steelers in Kansas City and the Bengals in Oakland, the AFC North looks exactly the way it did on Saturday. The Ravens blew a golden opportunity to gain some ground, but they did’t lose anything in the standings either. Jacksonville currently holds the final playoff spot in the AFC but come on…does anybody really think they’ll be able to hold onto it? They’re awful.
Sunday Night’s clash with Pittsburgh is just as meaningful as it would have been if both teams won yesterday. And the Steelers may be without Troy Polamalu AND Ben Roethlisberger – at the very least they will not be at full strength. Even though the sky seems to be falling, the truth is, it’s still up there, albeit as gray and cloudly as one would expect in mid-November.