When the Ravens miss the playoffs in 2013, they will look back at their overtime loss to the Chicago Bears, 23-20, and to being on the 2-yard line, with a chance to get a touchdown that would have won the game.
A win on the road against the Bears would have brought them back to .500, in a game they were not expected to win, and give them a margin of error in an effort to get to 10-6, as well as keeping them in the hunt for the AFC North, just a game behind Cincinnati in the loss column.
Like the 49ers after Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens will try to find reasons why they couldn’t punch it in.
They will look at play selection, blocking, everything. But what will be remembered will be the fact that in the end, they couldn’t get the score. The tying field goal to force overtime was followed by two defensive lapses, one a recurring failure to defend a bunch formation the Bears had been running (successfully) all day long and then an unthinkable blown coverage by Lardarius Webb to give the Bears a chip shot field goal to win.
At 4-6, the only reason the Ravens, now realistically out of the AFC North race, are still even in the 6th seed playoff discussion is because the Jets lost and they play the Ravens in Baltimore in their next game. But that’s just a detail.
The saddest irony about the Bears game is that overall the team played well. For the first time the entire season, the running game looked like an actual running game. Ray Rice ran for 131 yards and the Ravens were effective on third-and-short situations getting rushing first downs. They finally had a balanced offense.
The defense overall was stout in horrible weather conditions that CBS announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms likened to old-school football. The problem was one bad series in the second half when they allowed the Bears a huge drive to eventually score on a Matt Forte touchdown, and then the nap Webb took at the worst possible time in overtime.
Had the Ravens played like this earlier in the season against teams in winnable games such as those against Cleveland, Buffalo, and Green Bay, this loss would have been a speed bump. Had the team shown up and played like this against those teams, they aren’t 4-6 heading into the Jets game, but rather 7-3. That’s a huge difference.
As far as the playoffs, the Dolphins, Chargers, Browns, Steelers, and Jets are realistically in the discussion for the 6th seed along with the Ravens. The difference is that Baltimore and the Jets have easier schedules, with a lot of home games. The problem is that if 10-6 is the generally assumed record you need to have to be in the playoffs, the loss to the Bears removed any margin of error for Baltimore.
This winnable game turned loss means that the Patriots game, on a down year, is a must-win. The Lions game, a team with Calvin Johnson at receiver, who ate the Ravens for brunch in the team’s last (preseason) matchup, is now a must-win on the road. The Bengals game, already a must-win, is now especially critical if the season were to come down to one final game on the road.
As I have stated in previous columns, this team simply isn’t likely to get it done. If the Ravens were to somehow achieve the 6th seed, the reality is that other teams might just happen to finish worse down the stretch than the Ravens – no one being particularly “good” but the Ravens being less bad than the other teams. Whoever ends up with the 6th seed will be far-and-away the team no one thinks has a chance on the planet of going anywhere in the playoffs.
Once again the Ravens played lousy on either offense or defense (this time offense) in a game delayed by electrical power outage or severe weather, after the delay. The delay was extraordinary, approximately two hours in length versus 34 minutes in both the Super Bowl and the Broncos game earlier in the season.
Against the Bears, the Ravens came out after the delay, after a strong offensive start and a 10-0 lead, and gave the game right back on a field goal following a defensive goal line stand, and then a Joe Flacco/Ray Rice debacle of a play in which Rice didn’t block correctly and a Bears defender snatched and grabbed a poorly-thrown pass from Flacco and strolled into the end zone to tie the game at 10.
This game was winnable, should have been won, and yet again, the Ravens found a way to not win. The excuses – weather, delay, etc. – are easy to come by, but they are just lame excuses. After the delay the offense put together some drives but couldn’t cash in.
Ultimately, the team needed to find a way to punch the ball in. But they couldn’t. The Bengals, who will enjoy winning the AFC North in just a few short weeks, have a lot of weaknesses that the Ravens exposed just one week ago.
But the difference is that the Bengals this season have won a lot of the close games, that from their perspective should have been wins, and the Ravens have not. That’s why the Bengals are headed to the playoffs and the Ravens are left in the playoff emergency room.
At 4-6, with just six games left, the prognosis doesn’t look good.
GIF courtesy of Gordon Dixon