On Sept. 29, 2013, the Baltimore Ravens lost to the Buffalo Bills and their rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, 20-13, in Orchard Park, N.Y.
However, Manuel was not the difference in that game.
Instead, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw five interceptions, including one on a potential game-tying scoring drive in the fourth quarter. It was an all-around poor performance by the Ravens, who missed tackles, dropped passes and committed several careless penalties.
It’s been a familiar script for both of the team’s losses here in 2017, four years later.
On Sunday, the Ravens get another crack at Manuel, who was named the Raiders’ starter with Derek Carr out with a back injury.
The Ravens appear to have caught a break, because Carr has torched their defense over the past two seasons. Last year at M&T Bank Stadium, Carr threw four touchdown passes, including the go-ahead score to Michael Crabtree with 2:12 left in the game, paving the way for Oakland’s 28-27 victory.
However, it doesn’t matter who starts at quarterback for Oakland if the Ravens can’t find a way to play better on both sides of the ball. Otherwise, Manuel might improve to 2-0 against them.
Earlier this week, Flacco took full responsibility for the team’s recent woes. In four games this season, Flacco has completed just 73 of 118 pass attempts for 601 yards with four touchdowns and six interceptions. He is hoping this week will be different.
“I think I’ve been a little bit quick to get the ball out of my hands, at times,” Flacco said. “I think if I just hang in there and trust the process, trust the pocket … I might have to step up and make some plays here and there. I think when some of those big plays are presented to us – they’re there, they’ve been pretty easy; you can make them in your sleep – and we haven’t made them. I think the combination of those three things can definitely go a long way.”
While Flacco has struggled to make plays, the loss of offensive lineman Marshal Yanda has clearly hampered the team. Flacco has been sacked six times over the recent two-game losing streak, prompting more questions about his health.
The offensive line will literally have its hands full again on Sunday. Oakland defensive ends Khalil Mack and Mario Edwards Jr. have combined for seven sacks and will spend the afternoon trying to make life miserable for Flacco and his injury-marred offensive line.
The Ravens are fully aware of that challenge.
“They have a number of pass rushers. It is not just those guys. ‘96’ [Denico Autry] is a really good pass rusher, too,” Harbaugh said. “They have a number of guys that can get to the quarterback. They get good push from their nose guard and from their three-technique. It is a very good front five; it is a very good front seven.”
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens have given up 339 yards on the ground in the past two games with nose tackle Brandon Williams out of the lineup with a foot injury. Williams is still unable to practice this week and that could spell further trouble. Even though Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch has struggled to make plays this season, he is fully capable of a break-out performance.
In short, this is shaping up to be another tough game for the Ravens. The cross-country trip is not going to help. Under Harbaugh, Baltimore is just 3-5 on the West Coast.
Luckily, Oakland is not as far as London.