BALTIMORE RAVENS 37 BUFFALO BILLS 34, OT
October 24, 2010
Déjà vu fourth-quarter collapse ends with overtime win.
The scene was sickeningly similar. For the second week in a row the Baltimore Ravens were facing a rested AFC East opponent coming off their bye week. And like the Patriots before them, the Bills had just roared back from a ten-point, fourth-quarter deficit to shockingly send the game into overtime.
Again this week, the Ravens won the toss and had the first shot to win in overtime. But again, the offense sputtered the initial advantage away.
This time however, with a numb hometown crowd looking on, Billy Cundiff sailed a field goal through the uprights and the Ravens had escaped with a very peculiar 37-34 overtime win against what was supposed to be the league’s worst team.
There was nothing steady or pretty about this game, as the two teams exchanged shots to the gut, and kept coming back at each other.
A week ago we could point to the Ravens offensive coaching staff taking their foot off the proverbial gas pedal in the fourth quarter to allow New England to hang around long enough to steal a win. Not this time with a lead, as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron kept calling for long pass attempts downfield rather than milk the clock by running the ball against the league’s worst run defense.
This week the breakdowns were on the defensive side. Coordinator Greg Mattison’s conservative approach to rushing the quarterback could be questioned. But so too could the players on defense, many of whom may have been thinking ahead to their own bye week as they seemed to sleep walk through the start and finish of this game.
Either way, with the Bills piling up over five-hundred yards of offense, it was frankly an embarrassing exhibition of defensive football on a day that was supposed to be about celebrating dominance. In fact, it was scheduled as a homecoming game of sorts to honor the Super Bowl XXXV Ravens, and one of the greatest defenses of all time, with many players from that team on hand for a halftime celebration.
Did the mere presence of many members of that great defense cause the 2010 Ravens defense to rest on their laurels just a bit? Or is the difference in personnel between the two defenses that bracket the decade as great as it appears?
From this vantage point, the Ravens appear tentative covering receivers. With Ed Reed returning this week from the Physically Unable to Perform list, the Ravens benefited with two more interceptions from their dominate safety. But perhaps with Reed’s return also comes growing pains as the defense re-learns how to play together again as a unit.
Regardless, this was a surprising game of strange spurts from a Ravens squad that has yet to find any consistency.
Granted, consistency is something good teams build up to in December. After all, even those vintage 2000 Ravens got off to an identical 5-2 start that included an uncharacteristically ugly 39-36 home win against Jacksonville.
So the 2010 Ravens will take their wins however they can get them, study the film and learn how to get better as the season progresses. And there is plenty of ugly film to learn from this week.
Joe Flacco was uncharacteristically inaccurate throwing the deep ball. He repeatedly overthrew Anquan Boldin downfield, including an uncatchable ball out of the side of the end zone as Boldin streaked open. He also seemed to force some throws, perhaps getting a tad too comfortable with the idea that his covered receivers will always make a play on the ball. He was lucky when Boldin prevented an interception in the end zone and when Derrick Mason made a very good catch on the sideline. Some of his difficulty finding a rhythm may have stemmed from a concerted effort to push the ball down field rather than settling for the check-down. The aggressive approach did help pad his numbers to a respectable 16/31, 250 yards passing and, 3 touchdown throws, including two throws down the middle to Todd Heap where Flacco did a nice job of stepping up in the pocket under pressure. Boldin got the other TD catch from Flacco on an easy flea flicker to start the second half.
Running Backs: B
After sitting out the entire New England game, Willis McGahee was used heavily against his former team and it paid dividends. McGahee looked fresher and stronger than Ray Rice and was effective using space to explode through holes for big chunks of yardage, while averaging nearly six yards a carry. But he also had a bad fumble on the nine yard line that destroyed a chance for the Ravens to put the game away in the fourth quarter. Ray Rice didn’t show a lot of vision finding holes for the second week in a row, and he isn’t running away from tacklers on short dump-offs like he did earlier in the year. Still, he managed 72 yards on the ground through 16 carries, compared to 64 on just 11 for McGahee. Le’Ron McClain was very effective catching the ball out of the backfield twice for 35 clutch yards.
Wide Receivers: B-
Anquan Boldin had a solid outing, catching six passes for 92 yards and a TD. He was also effective as a blocker, notably on Leodis McKelvin to spring Rice for 14 yards. Derrick Mason hobbled off the field on the second series and had a quiet, but effective day, including a great sideline grab to bail out Flacco on a poor throw. TJ Houshmandzadeh didn’t appear to be focused. He jumped offsides with the ball deep in Ravens territory and made a poor effort to catch a third down ball to force a punt. He was able to get past Drayton Florence to get interference call go his way.
Tight Ends: A-
Todd Heap continues to have an excellent year. He was effective sitting in the middle zone on the goal line to go up and grab two TD catches, exposing his body to hits that never came this week. Still dealing with a stinger from an illegal hit by Brandon Meriweather a week ago, Heap experienced a scary moment as a blocker when a blow to the side of his head appeared to aggravate the stinger and sent him down in, well, a heap. But he returned after missing just a series, showing tremendous toughness.
Michael Oher snapped back from a rough performance to record a solid outing this week. He was very good in space on a couple of screens and held up well as a pass blocker. Marshal Yanda was very focused on getting off the ball quickly in pass protection and he continues to improve each week at this aspect of his game, which is crucial for the Ravens with the news that the intended starter at right tackle, Jared Gaither, was placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the year, likely ending his career as a Raven. Yanda’s one miscue was a complete whiff on a goal line running play. But he was effective down-blocking to create cut-back lanes.
Interior Line: A-
Other than twitching for false start penalty on the game’s second series Ben Grubbs was solid, as was the entire interior line. Matt Birk piled up another impressive performance, and was out in front of a number of effective runs and screens. Chris Chester continued to do a fine job pulling on runs to the left, and did a nice job picking up a stunting lineman on one of Heap’s TD receptions. Neither of the two sacks of Joe Flacco was due to mistakes along the Ravens line.
Fabian Washington had a game to forget. He was repeatedly burned by Lee Evans and Steve Johnson, running past him on go routes, fade routes, dig routes, slants…it didn’t seem to matter, Washington could not cover them. Finally, with four minutes left in the game Washington was benched for nickel Josh Wilson. Washington was effective only in coming up for a few tackles near the line of scrimmage. Chris Carr saved the unit from a flat-out failing grade, but was clearly disadvantaged against bigger receivers, and did give up a 22 yard reception to a small receiver in Roscoe Parrish. As a nickel, Wilson did a decent job limiting Lee Evans as a short-route option. Lardarius Webb did not play particularly well. He allowed Johnson to run past him on a simple fade route for a score, and then played too far off Johnson on third and long situations. He also made an uncharacteristically poor tackle to allow Parrish to get 21 yards on a catch and run.
Ed Reed was noticeably tender as he saw his first action back from his hip injury, but he was an instant difference maker. It started with Reed popping the ball out of Parrish’s hands after what would have been a third down conversion. Reed also had two interceptions, including a typical long return to the Bills nine that would have sealed the game if not for the McGahee fumble. Dawan Landry looked a lot more comfortable and effective in his strong safety role with Reed in the game. Landry did a nice job shutting down the corners on runs – he was second on the team with ten tackles — and was better in one-on-one coverage than in past games. He did miss a tackle on Corey McIntyre for a nine yard gain in the red zone and pulled up rather than delivering a hit on Evans in the end zone.
Ray Lewis led the team with 14 tackles. And along with Ed Reed, was the difference maker on defense when his team needed a spark. That included perhaps the play of the game: a hit and forced fumble on David Nelson on a bizarre play where Nelson was lifted off the ground for several seconds by several Ravens, allowing Lewis to strip the ball from him and set up the winning field goad. Lewis and fellow linebacker Jameel McClain did a poor job early of filling gaps and it led to a number of damaging runs by CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson. Eventually McClain began to play more steadily and got some penetration. Jarret Johnson also did a poor job early holding the edge, which led to a number of longer runs. He too did a much better job of turning runs into the center for the defense later. Dannell Ellerbe and the linebackers in general, need to improve covering the tight end. Ellerbe missed a couple of tackles.
Defensive Line: B-
While the defensive line yielded some ground, they did a good job maintain gap responsibility, particularly later in the game. Cory Redding and Brandon McKinney flashed some athletic moves to get to ball carriers, and Redding patted down a pass. Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg did not have their best games, but were still effective for the most part. When Gregg was out for a series, Terrence Cody got extra reps and appeared to play better within the scheme. Paul Kruger looked active, but didn’t get near the ball enough. It was disappointing to see Terrell Suggs jawing with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick at the end of the half, after Ryan had torched the defense, but Suggs did come back and made some plays at the end of the game including two tackles for a loss.
Special Teams: B-
Josh Wilson started as the Ravens kick returner to try to spark something, but the experiment ended after he awkwardly tried to reverse field and fumbled on his own ten. Jalen Parmele was steadier, but no more spectacular on kick returns. The Ravens cover kicks better than they return them. Billy Cundiff continues to be tremendous booming touch backs. And Sam Koch continues to pin punts inside the ten. Brendon Ayanbadejo was back playing special teams, but did not do anything special. Prescott Burgess showed very good technique wrapping up a tackle and trying to strip the ball. Credit Jalen Parmele with stripping the ball from Spiller on the kick return to start the second half. Ironically, it was the man Parmele has competed with for Ravens kick return duties, Josh Wilson, who recovered the fumble and redeemed himself for his own fumbled kick.
Fans wanted to see a more aggressive offensive game plan, and Cam Cameron obliged, registering 37 points on the scoreboard. While just 27 rushing attempts against the league’s worst run defense can be questioned, Cameron took what the Bills defense gave him, as they were scheming to stop the run. He opened up the offense. As tempting as it is to blame coaching on all the scoring that the Ravens defense gave up, that wasn’t the issue on Sunday. The players on defense were beaten, plain and simple. While you can criticize the coaches for a team that came out flat, you have to credit them for not panicking and getting the team in a position to win, despite the disappointment of allowing a bad team to carry the game into overtime. Seeing the staff insert Ed Reed as a punt returner was a shock after watching Reed go into the locker room a few minutes before with a noticeable limp.
With a lot of strange, bang-bang calls, Pete Morelli and crew did a good job of using replay to get the calls right. One slip-up came after replay showed that Joe Flacco did not fumble the ball on a sack. Morelli got the call correct, but incorrectly spotted the ball on the 30, where it would have been recovered by the Bills, rather than the 25 where Flacco went down. It didn’t matter after Cundiff hit a 48 yarder, but would have been a huge error if the field goal was missed in such a tight game. The officials let Reggie Corner absolutely mug Anquan Boldin in end zone to grab a would-be interception had the corner Corner not landed out of bounds.
Don Criqui stumbled through another broadcast, botching names and misidentifying players. Haloti Ngata was referred to as Na-Gata, which hadn’t been done by a crew since his rookie year. Criqui credited Gregg with a tackle when he was not near the play, and he announced the end of the first half when the first quarter was just over. Not to be outdone, Steve Beuerlein called Ed Reed “Dawan Landry” on replay analysis. But by and large Beuerlein was quick with insightful analysis, even if his opinions were quirky.
Quirky is probably the best description for this game in general – a game the Ravens were lucky to win in the end. Going into the bye 5-2 is a huge break, rather than having to spend a bye week stewing over a 4-3 record and a loss to the winless Bills.
They have two weeks now to prepare a tough home game against Miami, who just lost to the Steelers by a single point.