As Joe Flacco’s third down pass to Kyle Juszczyk late in the fourth quarter sailed out of bounds, stopping the clock for San Diego and forcing the Ravens to kick a field goal to go up by six, we knew the game was probably over. But we knew the final result wouldn’t favor the Baltimore Ravens.
Phillip Rivers got the ball back and moved effortlessly down the field (with the help of a favorable pass interference call on Anthony Levine. Both players were equally interfering with each other. That’s a no-call.) and threw the game-winning 1-yard touchdown to give the Chargers the 34-33 win.
Make no mistake about it, this was an awful, awful loss by the Ravens and one of the biggest collapses in the John Harbaugh era.
To put the blame on the secondary seems too easy. They blew it in the end and allowed Rivers to pick them apart like he was some mad-scientist combination of Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. No team should be able to go 9-11 on third down like the Chargers were able to do. Even if the Ravens make it to the playoffs, it seems improbable that they can get anywhere with this group. The defense has now given up 61 points and 965 yards in their last two games.
The main issue was the Ravens’ inability to capitalize in the red zone. The Ravens scored just three touchdowns in seven red zone attempts. When your defense forces just one punt in the entire game, all of those field goals are going to come back and haunt you. This is where the Ravens miss Dennis Pitta, who was the clear go-to guy inside the 20. But even without him, the Ravens should and need to do better than 3-7.
Yet even with how poorly the defense played, the Ravens managed to have a shot to win when Joe Flacco hit Kamar Aiken at the San Diego 43-yard line. A 60-yard field goal is certainly no gimme, but it’s definitely possible with Justin Tucker, who hit a 61-yarder last year (granted that was in a dome). But the Ravens were out of timeouts. John Harbaugh is one of the league’s top coaches, but his inability to manage timeouts hurt the Ravens again. On Tucker’s last field goal, the Ravens lined up like they were going to fake it, with Owen Daniels standing near the sideline. Harbaugh ended up burning their second timeout and kicking the field goal anyway. Does he think timeouts grow on trees?
On the previous play, the Ravens chose to run a play action play instead of running the ball to either force San Diego to take their last timeout or run the clock down to the two-minute warning. While Rivers probably would have driven down and scored anyway, especially with the help of the pass interference, one less timeout or less than two minutes puts much more pressure on him. Again: clock management.
Luckily for the Ravens, San Diego (8-4) has a brutal last four games (New England, Denver, at San Francisco, at Kansas City) and Pittsburgh (7-5), Cleveland (7-5) and Kansas City (7-5) all lost. The Cincinnati Bengals now have a 1.5 game lead over the Ravens but they still have to play the Steelers twice and Cleveland once. The playoffs are very much still a possibility for the Ravens but they will likely need to win out and finish 11-5. Every game from now on will be the biggest of the season, and it starts in Miami against a really tough Dolphins team.
I predicted a few weeks ago that the Ravens would finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs. But if they can go into Miami and win, then I think they sneak in, even with this secondary.