Former University of Maryland Terrapin Josh Wilson was the hero in Houston, saving the Ravens from what would have arguably been the worst collapse in an important game in the team’s fifteen year history. The Ravens blew a 28-7 lead, and were up by 15 entering the game’s final period. However, as has been their M.O. this season, no lead was safe…
Nice company to be in, huh?
Those two ESPN graphics looked to be prescient and incredibly accurate as the Texans scored a touchdown and a 2-point conversion with just 21 seconds remaining in regulation to force the extra period. With the way the Ravens defense played over the final quarter, overtime looked to be just a formality in what was to be another Ravens’ collapse and Texans’ come-back win.
Luckily, Josh Wilson stepped up to preserve the win for the good guys.
Let’s dive into this one a bit…
With 14:30 to go in the third quarter, this game looked to finally be the complete dominant game that Ravens fans have been waiting for all season. The offense had already put up 21 points, and touchdowns on two of their final three possessions of the half. The defense had held the Texans’ high-powered attack to just a single score, a touchdown on a hurry-up drive to end the second quarter. And kick returner David Reed set the franchise record for longest kickoff return with his 103-yard touchdown to start the second half. Life was good in Purple Paradise.
Slowly but surely though, the wheels came off. Again.
Letting them back in it
In fact, Reed’s kick return touchdown may have been a bit of a blessing and a curse. Instead of a two-score game, the Houston Texans suddenly found themselves trailing by a full three touchdowns. With any minute hopes of postseason play – and likely, their coach’s job – fading before their eyes, they developed a “nothing to lose” mentality. They were forced to throw the ball, and be aggressive. And with weapons like Houston has – wide receiver Andre Johnson, running back Arian Foster, tight end Owen Daniels – they are very capable of putting up points in bunches, which is just what they did.
On the ensuing possession after the kick return, Houston faced 4th-and-3 at the Ravens’ 41. In a 21-7 game, they probably punt there. Trailing 28-7 though, they were forced to go for it. They converted, and seven plays later a Neil Rackers field goal made the score 28-10.
Then came the wonderful Cam Cameron “playing from ahead” offense.
This was a great tweet from Tony Lombardi of Ravens 24×7 during the game:
The Ravens next offensive play was a Ray Rice run for no gain. After that, a nine-yard sack of Joe Flacco. Two plays, and the drive was effectively over, as they faced a 3rd-and-19 at their own 13-yard line. A 12-yard pass to Rice would be the Ravens’ final play of the quarter until he ran for 4 yards on the period’s last play.
In the entire third quarter, the Ravens offense ran 4 plays (not including the punt) for 7 yards.
Still, they led 28-13, so things were looking alright.
Although they were on the field for about 13 minutes in the third quarter, the Ravens’ defense gave up only two field goals. However, all that time on the field would result in some cumulative fatigue. As a result, those third quarter field goals turned into fourth quarter touchdowns for Houston.
The offense again sputtered, picking up just two first downs before giving the ball back to the Texans. Five minutes and fifteen plays later, the score was 28-20.
The Ravens’ defense was struggling, and obviously needed a break before being sent back out on the field.
Then things really got weird.
More odd clock management
Last year, Ravens fans were frustrated with the way John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco managed timeouts and the clock in the final minutes of halves and games. The Ravens’ two-minute drill was terribly ineffective in 2009, and many of us felt that just from having played Madden for a few years, we better understood how to manipulate the game clock to our advantage than the Ravens did.
Obviously, that’s ridiculous. But so is the way Harbaugh used…and continues to use…timeouts.
For whatever reason, those situations have been more rare in 2010 – the Ravens haven’t had too many occasions where they’ve had to run a two-minute drill and put up points. The first Pittsburgh game comes to mind, but that’s about it.
However, the Ravens’ coaches’ questionable decision-making with regards to clock management have reared their ugly head in other areas. Last week, it was Cam Cameron’s decision to pass the ball on 2nd-and-5 in the game’s final minutes, resulting in Troy Polamalu’s sack-fumble and a Steelers win. Last night, a similar situation presented itself.
The Ravens led 28-20 with 2:58 remaining in the game, and faced a 3rd down and 2 at the Texans’ 44-yard line. Houston had just burned their final timeout of the half. A first down here would seal the game for the Ravens. However, failing that, just keeping the clock running would be the next best thing – a 1-yard run would result in a 4th down, but the Ravens could have taken the clock down to about 2:10, and then either used a timeout or taken a 5-yard delay of game penalty, punted, and pinned the Texans deep with two minutes to drive the length of the field, and – at best – a single stop of the clock from the two-minute warning.
Ravens Nation was screaming – RUN THE BALL.
Did Cam run the ball? Of course not. Incomplete pass, clock stops, and now Houston takes possession with 2:42 to go. They would go 95 yards and score with, again, 21 seconds left. The Ravens could have taken 40 seconds off the clock by running on 3rd-and-2. You do the math.
When asked after the game about the decision to pass, John Harbaugh responded with some nonsense about “not thinking about the clock there,” and that “we wanted the first down.” Really coach, NOT thinking about the clock at all? Your biggest ally at that point in the game? Yeah, that’s not asinine or anything.
And did the rules change? You can’t get a first down by running?
“It’s all Cam’s fault,” is still a popular mantra in Baltimore today, even with the Ravens’ win.
Taking them with you?
As odd as the decision to run the ball on 3rd-and-2 was, the coaches’ use of timeouts down the stretch was even stranger. As mentioned, the defense was GASSED. They had nothing left.
Greg Mattison is being criticized today for his 3-man rush late in the game today. There is some merit to that, however, there are other circumstances to examine. It’s widely understood that the most exhausting thing to do in football is rush the passer. Matt Schaub threw 62 passes in the game, the great majority of which were in the second half. The Ravens didn’t have anybody with enough energy to blitz. This was never more painfully obvious than when, with 1:07 to go, Schaub scrambled for eight yards to the Ravens’ 35. On the play, Jarret Johnson was giving chase, but Schaub – who runs something like a 5.5 40 – looked like Mike Vick running from the tired J.J.
The defense had nothing left. What the team did have left was timeouts. Two of them, to be exact. Twice in the final minute the Texans stopped the clock – once by running out of bounds and once with a spike. Two opportunities for the Ravens to use a timeout and give their defense a breather while not “helping the Texans out” at all by stopping the clock. They chose not to, for whatever reason.
I’m shocked that one of the players – especially an Ed Reed or Ray Lewis – didn’t look around at their exhausted teammates and say “f this, coach,” and take a timeout on their own accord.
Now, with 21 seconds remaining, the score is 28-26. A stop on the two-point conversion try can still win the game. With 21 seconds, any dreams of having time after the kickoff to move down the field and get into field goal range are out of the question. These timeouts can do absolutely no good after this play. You can’t take them with you into overtime.
WHY NOT CALL A TIMEOUT AND REGROUP FOR THE 2-POINT TRY? YOU CAN STILL WIN THE GAME HERE!
This decision still boggles my mind.
The real hero
With all due respect to Wilson, perhaps the real hero of the game is Cory Redding. Redding stood at midfield before the overtime period, and correctly guessed “tails” on the coin flip. Had the Ravens lost the toss, I have no doubt that we would be talking about an 8-5 team today. The utterly pooped Ravens’ defense was not going to go back out there and stop Houston, not without at least a small break.
Tails gave them that break.
With a chance to go win the game, the offense of course failed again. They did at least pick up a first down and hold the ball for three minutes. Apparently, that was all the defense needed.
In the two plays that they were on the field in OT, the Ravens got great pressure with four rushers on Schaub. It was Haloti Ngata harassing him in his own end zone that caused the errant pass from Schaub that ended the game.
Thanks for the drops
This recap is getting a bit too lengthy, so I’ll cut it short and save some other observations (terrible O-line play, great special teams) for a later post. However, any analysis of this game can’t ignore the fact that the Texans started the game unable to catch a cold.
Texans’ receivers dropped five or six passes in the first half, which went a huge way in allowing the Ravens to build the 21 point lead that, in the end, they needed every bit of.
Thanks for being terrible at catching, Texans.
Now the Ravens come back home to face the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints, who are finally getting healthy and seem to be hitting their stride as the season comes to a close.