The Ravens have made a name for themselves, both recently this season and in the past, by winning tough home games and being a formidable opponent when their backs are against the wall.
Sunday was expected to be more of the same, and most predictors had the Ravens winning a close contest against the New England Patriots.
Unfortunately, the Ravens quit before the game started, coming out flat and staying flat until the end of the third quarter through about 6:35 in the fourth quarter, when the team simply gave up hope – and played accordingly.
John Harbaugh somehow controlled his emotions in the postgame press conference, but this is smash-up-the-locker-room, kick-over-water-coolers time. It was that pathetic of a game, the type of game that’s explainable earlier in the season, or maybe on the road, but not at home, and not with what was at stake.
Harbaugh’s team gave up, and it was painful to watch for anybody but giddy Patriot fans, but even they expected more of a game from the team that knocked their team out of last year’s AFC Championship game.
Every aspect of this game, from the blatantly one-sided refereeing by Ron Winter and his crew, to horrible play-calling from the coaching staff, to miscommunications and fundamental errors from the players, was abysmal for the Ravens all of the first half, and good chunks of the third and fourth quarters too.
Joe Flacco, for starters, was hurt. That was obvious. The knee brace clearly bothered the Ravens QB, who consistently missed throws and had no mobility during the game when just earlier this week he might have rushed for a first down if no one was open. He was also missing lots of receivers when they were open.
Jimmy Smith was terrible for much of the game after playing well against the Lions. Smith removed 15 strong Jacoby Jones return yards to start the Ravens on the 10 after an inexplicable personal foul on punt coverage which is Zeus Brown/Bart Scott-level bad. Then on the next defensive series, Smith tripped Patriots WR Danny Amendola for pass interference (due to his blown coverage) leading to a walk-in touchdown for the Patriots to start the game. The walk-in-er let the Pats do everything they wanted quickly – get off to a fast start and take the crowd out of the game.
The offensive line was pathetic after playing well against the Lions, pushed around all game when they weren’t being penalized, and giving Flacco little time to throw against a pass rush that coming in had been one of the league’s worst.
But despite being down 17-0 at the half, despite bad turnovers and team-wide breakdowns, the Ravens still had a chance to climb back in the game with a third-and-one at the Patriot 5-yard line. Most teams would pound the ball up the middle to try to get a first down, but instead Flacco tried to get a quick score or a penalty, missing out on both, and then watched Ray Rice’s 4th-and-one dive get stopped inches short of the marker. The play-calling was nonsensical and Harbaugh and Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell seemed to be living off on an island to call what they did there.
The Ravens came out with nothing, and that of course dramatically changed the game as a score there would have brought Baltimore within just a couple scores, and made the hypothetical next TD a sweat-inducing one for the Patriots.
Another case of Harbaugh taking plays off, as he has done in other games, was the inexplicable decision, down 20 in the fourth quarter at that time, to attempt a fourth-down field goal, which Justin Tucker ended up missing. The decision was essentially a concession to the Patriots that that Ravens were playing not to win the game but rather put a smiley face on a loss, and to not be shutout.
In the postgame interview, Harbaugh seemed even more clueless, suggesting to reporters that he thought they were only down two scores at the time, then saying he couldn’t remember the situation. Really coach? The whole stadium of fans seemed to know the situation and by their groans, could not understand the field goal try.
But even with the missed opportunities in the third and the inexplicable field goal try in the 4th, after the Patriots burned only a minute and change off the clock after throwing a first down incomplete pass intended for Julian Edelman, Flacco drove the Ravens (then down 20-7) to Patriot territory with a chance to again make it a 20-14 game, but instead threw consecutive incompletions to hand the ball back to New England on downs and effectively end the game.
Instead of playing to get a few yards here and there to make for third-and-manageable situations, the rush to try to get deep completions left the Ravens in desperate situations from which they couldn’t get the job done.
Earlier in the game, in the first half, with the Patriots defense deliberately taking away Flacco’s deep ball, that didn’t stop the Ravens from trying a few deep throws, none of them successful, though other receivers were open in the flat, and wasting downs and forcing third-and-longs when they needed to keep the chains moving.
In the game the Ravens went 0-3 on 4th downs and seemed lost on third downs. While the game ultimately became a comical farce at the end, ultimately the worst home loss in Ravens history at 41-7, think little of that because the game ended long before quarterback Tyrod Taylor stepped into the game and did what either was a clown impression or a Santa impression, whichever metaphor you prefer. Either way, it was at times hilarious, or sad, but certainly spread some good cheer on the Patriot sideline.
It is painfully obvious that Taylor has little future as a starter anywhere, but looks suspect as a backup too, given that the two games in which he’s played much at all – last year’s regular season-ending loss to the Bengals and against the Patriots here, have been games to forget.
Harbaugh and the Ravens have to hope that three things now happen: one, that the Bengals take next week off, which they might, to rest their starters, and that Flacco can get healthy for that game.
The Ravens also have to hope Kansas City comes to San Diego ready to play, which they haven’t been much lately, including today’s 23-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, or that the Dolphins, like the Ravens, coming off a loss, get a game from the New York Jets. But those two games are at home for the Chargers and Dolphins, while Baltimore is on the road.
What is fairly certain is that the playoffs will be a short stay for the Ravens if they make it in, but now, after thoroughly embarrassing themselves in all facets of the game against the Patriots, they might not even get that invitation.