Sunday’s contest against the Oakland Raiders was certainly physical. There were some short-yardage and goal line situations with serious battles in the trenches. We saw players fighting for every inch for a first down, and of course the Raiders pass rush pummeled Joe Flacco all game long. But as hard-hitting as the game was, it was ultimately mental mistakes that led to the Ravens’ first loss of 2016.
Statistically, Baltimore dominated the Raiders. They had 151 more total yards on offense, had the ball for almost ten minutes longer, and had almost twice as many first downs.
So what happened?
John Harbaugh, like he has several times in the past, let his emotions and adrenaline get the best of him.
Harbaugh is an emotional guy, and at times it serves him well. There’s a reason the Ravens played so hard even in meaningless games at the end of last year. His words and emotions can inspire his team. But at times it seems as if that emotional and competitive spirit can fog his judgement.
That happened twice in Week 4, and both plays were crucial in deciding the outcome of the game.
You shouldn’t chase points too early in games. It’s hard to understand why Harbaugh elected to go for two in the third quarter. There was plenty of time left in the game. The Ravens have had a hard time finding the end zone in 2016, and their goal line offense has struggled going back to last season.
The two point conversion attempt was ill-advised, and it turned out to be a crucial decision for Harbaugh.
But that wasn’t even his biggest blunder.
When Harbaugh accepted an offensive holding penalty in the fourth quarter, his logic was understandable. The penalty pushed the Raiders to the edge of field goal territory. But the Ravens should have declined and gotten the Oakland offense off the field, forcing fourth down and the field goal try. Instead, the Raiders converted and were in the end zone a few plays later.
It was a gamble that ultimately cost the Ravens four points.
Hindsight is 20/20, and Sunday’s loss stemmed from many more issues than poor decisions by Harbaugh. But the elite coaches in the NFL make in-game decisions that put their team in the best position to win.
Harbaugh faced two of those tests on Sunday and he failed them both.
The loss certainly doesn’t fall squarely on his shoulders, but the choices he made essentially spotted the Raiders five points and the Ravens lost by one.
You do the math.