At the end of December, we may be looking back at the game against the Chicago Bears as the proverbial nail in the coffin of the Baltimore Ravens’ real hope to make the 2013 playoffs.
More importantly, we’ll be looking back at the final goal-line offensive series the Ravens put together in that game. The offense’s inability to punch the ball into the end zone in the final minute may ultimately be what changed this season from a playoff year to one that ends with the team on the outside looking in.
Three chances starting from the five-yard line, and the Ravens offense faltered three straight plays, ultimately setting up a game-tying Justin Tucker field goal that proved to be not enough in a Ravens overtime loss.
Let’s take a look at the final three offensive plays, and how the Ravens failed miserably to capitalize on what could have been a prime season-changing win.
It was evident the Ravens were trying to take as much time off the clock as they could in the final minute, which led to run-based play calling, ultimately dooming the team’s hopes of winning.
On first down, the Bears put eight in the box, and ideally this would be a pass play.
The Ravens stick to the design, and the result is as expected.
Running back Ray Rice is swallowed up for a minimal gain. The blocking by the offensive line wasn’t that bad on this play, but when the linemen are outnumbered, it’s hard to expect them to get the job done in a goal-line situation.
Of course, we don’t know quarterback Joe Flacco’s audible ability on a play-by-play basis, but if he would have audibled to a pass play, he would have had three one-on-one opportunities.
Odds are one of them would have had a chance to make a catch. The odds in the passing game would have been much higher than a run play against an eight-man front.
Yet again, the Ravens line up against an eight-man Chicago front. Unsurprisingly, the result is the same.
You’d think the Ravens would have learned their lesson the first time, but they come out with the same personnel: one tight end, five linemen and Ray Rice.
Eight Bears defenders against six Ravens blockers. Who do you think wins?
You guessed right: the Bears.
Again, the blocking wasn’t poor by Baltimore, but the linemen and tight end Dallas Clark were simply outmanned.
It’s hard to expect Rice to score when he’s facing eight defenders in a tight space.
Solution? Pass the ball.
Here’s where the devastation sets in for Ravens fans. With just 11 seconds left and no timeouts, the Ravens opted for one last offensive play.
Obviously, the Ravens had to pass (a result of running on second down and burning their final timeout), and the play call was perfect.
There was only one problem: Gino Gradkowski.
The center’s poor snap derailed a promising play from the start.
Torrey Smith runs a route toward the back of the end zone, and he couldn’t have been more wide open.
Unfortunately, by the time Flacco finally grabs hold of the ball and looks up, the window is starting to close, and in a crucial time like this one, he appropriately throws the ball out of the back of the end zone, avoiding a turnover or a sack, either of which would have ended the game.
Here’s another look at how wide open Smith was (remember: at this point, Flacco is just picking up the ball out of the mud, instead of in position to throw, as he’d be if the snap was good).
So if there’s a blame game, the star pupil of the class is Gradkowski, as a clean snap almost certainly gives the Ravens an easy touchdown, a victory and a 5-5 record.
As the old adage goes, “there’s a fine line between winning and losing in the NFL.”
For the Ravens, they’ve learned this season that every close game can’t go their way, which pretty much is the opposite of what happened in 2012.
Miscues like the ones in the final minute of Sunday’s game have been a theme for the Ravens in close games this year, and it may be a sign that it’s just not their year.