ATLANTA FALCONS 26, BALTIMORE RAVENS 20
NOVEMBER 11, 2010
Sixty-five seconds… That’s how long a ragged Baltimore Ravens defense needed to hold-up at the end of the game in order to preserve a most unlikely comeback win. But hold up they did not. Instead, they broke down in the home stretch, once again, dropping to 6-3 in a season littered with down-to-the-wire scoring.
The fact that the Ravens had somehow managed to grab a 21-20 lead in the game’s final seconds was remarkable, given their atrocious first-half play, which led to a 10-0 deficit at the midway point that swelled to 13 points by early in the fourth quarter.
The late comeback was unlikely because Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan rained 50 passes down on the Ravens’ secondary out of a no-huddle, spread attack—inspired no doubt by the shellacking the Buffalo Bills applied to the Ravens secondary three weeks ago—and designed to run Ravens pass rushers and defenders ragged. And it was made all the more unlikely given the paltry three day’s rest the Ravens were afforded leading into this media-hyped road trip.
The comeback was also eye-opening given Ryan’s 17-1 record in the Georgia Dome since entering the league with the 2008 draft-class, alongside Baltimore’s Joe Flacco.
And it became seemingly more unlikely, still, after Lardarius Webb fumbled-away away a punt return near midfield at the end of the first half, as the Ravens were attempting to fight back from a 7-0 deficit. That miscue preceded a second Ravens turnover, a badly thrown interception by Flacco on the third play of the second half.
So managing to edge-ahead of the Falcons late in the contest was stupefying. Particularly when considering how easily Atlanta had been converting difficult third-down possessions, eight out of twelve attempts in the first half. The Falcons kept on throwing and the Ravens defense was kept on the field, eventually surrendering a near-thirteen-minute deficit in time of possession through one butt-ugly first half.
After demonstrating little-to-no prowess through the air early on—Anquan Boldin was not even targeted in the first half, and speedster Donte’ Stallworth was reduced to running end-around plays—the Ravens offense was forced to lean on their ground game. And yet still they managed to assemble a comeback.
The Ravens had done little right and the Falcons little wrong, but with just seconds remaining in the game there stood Todd Heap in the end zone celebrating a nine-yard TD reception that shifted over a lead that the Ravens had little business owning.
They say great teams find ways to win. Perhaps. Then what does that make the Ravens? Nearly great? Are they a winning team with the fortitude to stage comebacks, as they have done against Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Atlanta? Or are they a terribly flawed team that allows wins to slip away, as has occurred against New England and Atlanta?
The answer, quite clearly, is both. The grades tell the reason why this week.
Running Backs: B-
Credit Ray Rice and Willis McGahee with running hard and finding cutbacks when little else was going right for the offense. The tandem was most effective on draws. The fact that they were limited to 4 and 2 carries respectively in the first half is in sharp contrast to the 15 carries they shared in the second. Rice still managed 43 yards on three catches. It was a quiet day for Le’Ron McClain, the focus of much attention after an alleged spitting incident four-days prior.
Wide Receivers: B+
Tight Ends: B
Todd Heap caught four passes for 57 yards and the go-ahead touchdown. He continues to hold onto the ball despite getting battered over the middle. Ed Dickson played sparingly and seemed tentative, failing to get his head around fast enough on a throw in the flat, for instance.
Michael Oher had one of his poorer outings as a pro. He was particularly weak in pass protection, failing to move his feet fast enough to stay in front of the veteran John Abraham, who spent much of the day getting to Flacco. Oher was particularly vulnerable to hard inside slants by the five-technique tackles, or not picking up simple stunts to his side. Marshall Yanda had trouble keeping his feet, as did the interior lineman, raising questions about whether the Ravens had selected the right cleats for the old Geogia Dome turf. Chauncy Davis outplayed Yanda on a number of snaps.
Interior Line: D
Matt Birk was slow to get out in front traffic, which stunted some promising plays. Chris Chester was unable to hold his ground in pass protection, and Ben Grubbs did not stay on his feet through much of the first half.
The inexperience of Lardarius Webb showed as he was tasked with a tough cover assignment – the top receiver in the league, Roddy White. Eventually the Ravens gave Fabian Washington and Chris Carr shared responsibility for White after three consecutive third down conversions, but he still managed 12 catches and 138 yards with two touchdowns, including the game winner on a flag route where he muscled Josh Wilson to the ground and walked into the end zone. Webb and Wilson were good, physical tacklers—Wilson led with seven tackles–but both corners bit on double moves or played off receivers too far on comeback routes. The Falcons first touchdown may have been a result of Wilson trailing a receiver out of his zone and allowing Jason Snelling to slip out of the backfield uncovered. Carr is better suited in press coverage as a nickelback. Haruki Nakamura covered well in dime packages but could have tackled better.
Dawan Landry was run over on the five yard line to allow the first score. With the Falcons running the ball very little, Landry’s strength playing near the line of scrimmage was negated, and his average pass coverage skills were exposed. With so many receivers in the secondary Ed Reed had difficulty diagnosing where the ball was going. He was excellent when doubling receivers, however, and helped to limit Tony Gonzalez to four catches and 38 yards.
Ray Lewis was injured on a blitz when Michael Turner blindsided him, knocking him out for a couple of plays. He was ineffective after that, coincidently or not. He did manage one big hit on Ryan as he released a pass. The linebackers as a unit were very poor in coverage, with the exception of Jarret Johnson who was effective covering tight ends and backs. Dannell Ellerbe made a terrible play shoving Harry Douglas twenty yards down field for an easy penalty call to extend a Falcons drive. Tavares Gooden was also flagged for obvious pass interference. He also missed tackles and took bad angles. Jameel McClain was decent filling gaps but poor dropping into coverage.
Defensive Line: B
The entire defensive line played well. Terrell Suggs started to look like a $60 million player in the second half once the Falcons had made it clear they were not going to run the ball. Number 55 finished with two sacks, two tackles for a loss, and four quarterback hurries. Cory Redding was excellent in pursuit, as was Kelly Gregg, although it did not always result in tackles. Terrence Cody had his best game as a pro up and down the line of scrimmage. Haloti Ngata appeared to be worn down trying to penetrate but did control the line.
Special Teams: C
Two negative plays happened on the same special teams play. Dannell Ellerbe blocked in the back on a punt return that was fumbled by Webb. Marcus Smith was also flagged for a facemask that brought a Sam Koch punt out from the ten to the twenty-five yard line. Koch continues to be deadly punting inside the ten. Cary Williams was offsides on a kick-off that cost the Ravens 13 yards in field position. The Ravens tried Ed Reed as a punt returner after that, but will probably need to keep looking for a spark on special teams. Billy Cundiff continues to be a major threat booming kicks for touchbacks. David Reed was steadier as a kick returner, returning one to the 36 to set up the Ravens first score in the second half.
It’s tempting to dole out a lower grade, but poor play was more a factor than poor scheming. Cam Cameron was not at all effective in the first half attacking the 26th ranked pass defense, settling for check downs too often. But the plan improved in the second half, mixing runs, rolling the pocket to buy time, and allowing longer throws, which helped spur the comeback. Greg Mattison did not have an answer for the Falcons’ no huddle offense in the first half. After the break he did make some adjustments, to his credit and they slowed the Falcons somewhat. Fans have been calling for more pressure all year long. Ironically, on the final scoring drive, the Ravens were effectively getting to Ryan with a three man rush. But when Mattison dialed up pressure, Ryan burned them with two key receptions downfield to win the game
This is another case where it is tempting to grade more harshly, but a reasonable assessment dictates otherwise. Terrell Suggs got a bad facemask call on a play where he and Snelling were each grabbing masks. It should have been an offsetting call, but as usual the refs flag the defensive aggressor. There was no flag when Falcons safety William Moore got a shot to the head of a sliding Joe Flacco at the end of a run; but likewise, there was no flag when Ravens safety Ed Reed attempted to deliver a head shot to the sliding Ryan. The call of a catch for Mike Jenkins, as he brought in a finger tip catch on the sideline for 24-key yards was correctly upheld. The controversy of the day was Roddy White bulldozing Josh Wilson to the ground for an easy touchdown winner. While it should have been a penalty, rarely do officials throw the flag when the receiver pushes off.
Aside from an opening graphics package, it was a poor telecast by the NFL Network. There was no chemistry between Bob Papa, Matt Millen and Joe Theismann. Papa did little to set up the action and even failed to warn viewers that commercial breaks were due to expiring quarters. Millen had little awareness of what he was looking at and was quick to credit or discredit players unjustly. Joe Theismann talked so much that he was bound to eventually make a point, and did make some insightful comments in the second half. Overall the broadcast was sloppy and the audio was flat and uninspiring. Other than Falcons fans, and Mr. and Mrs Ryan, most of the country must have felt that the nonstop Matt Ryan lovefest was a bit much.
The Ravens certainly saw their fill of Ryan, and will now have ten days to prepare for a much easier road opponent in Charlotte when they take on the Panthers.