By Ashley Anderson
I would say good morning, Baltimore Ravens fans, but I am quite sure you are all still reeling from last night’s loss. Of course, the defining moment of the game was Head Coach John Harbaugh’s decision to try for a two-point conversion to win in regulation after Baltimore drove down to score. Conventional wisdom tells you to kick the extra point, go for the tie, and let things play out in overtime. Harbaugh decided against that.
The Ravens, of course, knew something that fans at home did not. Marlon Humphrey had suffered a potentially serious injury on Pittsburgh’s previous drive, and he would not be returning to the game. Pittsburgh had already been running roughshod over Baltimore’s defense, and now they were even more short-handed.
Pundits’ Reactions to the Baltimore Ravens choice:
Some pundits were jumping for joy, excited to see an aggressive approach in line with Harbaugh’s typical strategy. Others felt the Ravens should take the near sure thing and have Justin Tucker kick the extra point. After the touchdown, Harbaugh immediately held up two fingers, and those watching the CBS broadcast could hear how enthused Tony Romo was.
Pittsburgh took a timeout to get their defense situated. Baltimore then seemed to hesitate, as Tucker was on the field. That was just a decoy, however, as Harbaugh fully intended to go for the two-point conversion from the get-go.
The Play Itself
By now, everyone has seen the play. The Ravens went with a misdirection, trying to fake like the ball was going to Devonta Freeman. T.J. Watt did not bite on the fake, and he was in Lamar Jackson’s face untouched nearly instantaneously.
Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was caught out of position, though. His eyes were in the backfield, as he believed Freeman had the ball. That left tight end Mark Andrews wide open in the flat.
Andrews appeared to slow up on the route and square his hips to the line of scrimmage. With Watt in his face, Jackson threw an off-target pass that went wider than he intended. Although Andrews stuck out one hand and tipped the ball, he was not able to tip it back to himself to secure it. The pass fell harmlessly to the turf, and the Steelers escaped with the one-point win.
Football has always been a game of inches. Early in the day, Pittsburgh missed on a sure touchdown when Dionte Johnson had a ball bounce off his fingertips in the end zone. The Ravens missed a near pick earlier as well on a ball that bounced off a couple of players and through the hands of Marlon Humphrey. On the last play, a couple of inches made all the difference.
Questions Abound for the Baltimore Ravens
It is fair to question Baltimore’s strategy in this situation. Their offense had just executed a solid touchdown drive, and there was nothing saying they would not get the ball back in overtime. Harbaugh, however, felt the best chance at a win came from finding a way to get those two key points in regulation.
In four straight games, the Ravens have now failed to score 20 points. Their offense has sputtered, even when they are in a position to score like they were early in yesterday’s game. The offensive line was dealt another blow with the loss of right tackle Patrick Mekari to a hand injury. Pittsburgh had an eye-popping seven sacks on the day, partly due to poor play by the line, and partly due to Jackson holding the ball too long. With all that going against them, Harbaugh did not trust them to execute another scoring drive.
He also did not trust his defense to make a stop. After holding Pittsburgh to three points through the first 45-minutes, the defense came unglued in the fourth quarter. Poor tackling again reared its ugly head. Anthony Averett was getting burned on every other play.
A miscommunication between Averett and Humphrey allowed Johnson to take a 29-yard pass untouched for a score. Humphrey’s injury occurred while trying to defend Johnson as he scored his second touchdown of the day to put Pittsburgh on top. 17 unanswered points certainly does not inspire confidence.
Personally, I still wish the Ravens had kicked the extra point. Sure, it is the most conservative approach, and it may have extended the misery. Perhaps, Harbaugh was trying to avoid further injuries and get our of Pittsburgh with at least a handful of healthy corners. However, with a kicker who was good from 66-yards earlier this season, one has to wonder what could have been if the coin flip went Baltimore’s way.
If the Ravens won the toss, there was nothing saying Devin Duvernay wouldn’t take the kickoff to the house. He leads the league in kick return yards, so it is entirely possible he would have ripped off a big gain and put Baltimore in excellent field position. On the previous kickoff, Chris Boswell actually kicked the ball out of bounds and gave the Ravens the ball on the 40-yard line. If either of those things happened, Jackson would have only needed to move the ball between 25-30 yards to kick a field goal.
The flip side is that Baltimore may have lost the toss. Even in that scenario, the special teams unit had pinned Pittsburgh deep all day. A proud defensive unit, even sans its top corner, would have been eager to make a stop. Wink Martindale may have found a way to pressure Ben Roethlisberger into a mistake, or bounce or two may have gone Baltimore’s way.
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Now, we will never know what might have been. As he did all day, Watt disrupted Jackson’s timing, and poor execution on both ends of the play caused the two-point try to fail. It never should have come down to that, but the Ravens made too many mistakes throughout the game. At 8-4, Baltimore still leads the AFC North, but their season is very much in jeopardy.