The Ravens survive the Eagles and emerged from the game with an important 27-26 win to set up a showdown in Pittsburgh on Christmas Day for the top spot in the AFC North. Yet by the time the clock ticked down to 0:00 it felt more like relief than a victory. It felt more like survival than a conquering.
And it didn’t have to be this way…
I’ve always been a big fan of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. It’s traditional for me to watch the animated program, perhaps the forefather of Pixar. For some reason, following the game, I thought of the scene where Yukon Cornelius falls off a cliff while taking on the Abominable Snowman. His friends, Rudolph included, all think he has perished. But to their delight, they find out on Christmas Eve that Yukon survived because bumbles (aka the Abominable Snowman) bounce. Fortunately for the Ravens Carson Wentz’s pass intended for Jordan Matthews bounced off the fingertips of CJ Mosley, preventing the Ravens from a probable bounce from the postseason dance — despite the bumbles who called for and poorly executed an unnecessary pass.
With 6:21 to go and leading 27-17, the Ravens faced a first and 10 from the Eagles 11-yard line following a Joe Flacco to Mike Wallace connection good for 54 yards, 42 of which came after the catch. Perhaps excited by the prospects of putting the Eagles away, the Ravens took too much time to get off the next play and were forced to use a time out before the play clock expired.
What Flacco, Marty Mornhinweg and John Harbaugh discussed during the timeout is anyone’s guess. The common sense approach would have been to burn more clock and if necessary, settle for another Justin Tucker field goal. Instead they opted for what Harbaugh would later describe as the “all-time worst call ever!”
The resulting interception completely changed the game’s momentum and opened the door to an Eagles comeback which they very nearly completed.
Joe Flacco made 3 outstanding plays. Facing a 3rd-and-5 from the Ravens 30-yard line at the 13:13 mark of the second quarter, Flacco slid forward through a collapsing pocket to hit Kamar Aiken for a 14-yard gain. With 16 seconds left in the first half, Flacco hit Steve Smith, Sr. with a 34-yard scoring strike. It was a throw that few on this planet could make. He used a pump fake (where has that been?) to move the safety out of position and then fired a laser to the streaking Smith. Then in the fourth quarter on the pass to Wallace, Flacco threaded the needle to hit the speedy receiver in stride, enabling the 42 yards of YAC…Kenneth Dixon was forced to pay the price of a few running plays that were DOA yet still managed to gain 36 yards on 9 carries including the 16-yard scamper for a score in the fourth. He had a very impressive 19-yard gain between tackles called back due to a holding call against Vlad Ducasse.
The cross route involving Wallace and Aiken from the 5-yard line was a well-designed play that produced the game’s first points…The Ravens had a balanced attack which is hopefully a sign of things to come (33 pass plays v. 24 runs). One run was a nicely timed end around to Michael Campanaro for 39 yards…Kyle Juszczyk had a solid game as an outlet receiver and as a lead blocker. His contributions this season are unsung…Ronnie Stanley and Marshal Yanda were stout at the point of attack and Jeremy Zuttah made a few nice blocks at the second level.
Terrell Suggs chipped in with a few clutch plays contributing 3 tackles for loss and a QB hurry…Eric Weddle forced Carson Wentz into some second-guessing and was generally spot on with his reads although his effort on the Wentz TD run was weak…Tavon Young was regularly in position to make plays. He left his man after reading TE Trey Burton leaking out into the right flat late. His tackle was text book, stopping the much larger Burton for a 1-yard gain. He also did a nice job defending Dorial Green-Beckham in the front right corner of the end zone despite giving away 8 inches. Young was flagged for a DPI against Nelson Agholor late in the fourth when he was left on an island during an all-out blitz. Given the situation it was the right play to make…Jerraud Powers played well as the nickel and was part of the game clinching defensive play.
CJ Mosley had 13 tackles but the closest any of them got to the LOS was 3 yards. His 8 solo tackles were on average 8 yards downfield but that in part can be attributed to the Eagles game plan to run cutbacks off the back side of stretch runs and outside the tackles. The game plan seemed to be to not let the Ravens two-tons of fun (Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce) thwart the rushing attack. Of the two Pierce had the better game. Mosley’s tip at the LOS on the two-point conversion saved the game and perhaps saved a couple of jobs…Dean Pees did a nice job of dialing up pressures in the first half to confuse his rookie adversary. But as is so often the case, halftime adjustments got the better of the Ravens DC…Justin Tucker continues to amaze, connecting from 53 yards out on a wet surface in the rain.
The Eagles were the 22nd ranked offense on third down conversions entering the game with a success rate of 37.2%. During the second half they were 5 of 9 (55.6%)…Dixon needs work on pass protection. He whiffed on OLB Nigel Bradham in the second quarter contributing to a strip sack and turnover (Flacco fumble) at the Ravens 8-yard line. Flacco does need to show better awareness in those situations. You know he’ll see a few in Pittsburgh. This isn’t your first rodeo Joe…Breshad Perriman had his weekly drop to go with 0 catches…On the Ravens first possession of the second half Terrance West busted a 41-yard run to the Eagles 34. After the next 3 sloppy plays they were forced to punt into the wind from the 39. Sam Koch punted it into the end zone, in part because Aiken’s attempt to field the punt inside the 10 gave the viewer the impression that he was battling vertigo. They netted 19 yards on the punt and only possessed the ball 61 seconds more during the balance of the quarter.
The Ravens defended screens poorly and their own screens on offense, as they so often are, were DOA…Zach Orr has had a very good season. Against the Eagles he played his worst game. He looked tired and slow and struggled to disengage from blockers. His drop in coverage when defending TE Zach Ertz was far too shallow and left a gaping hole in the secondary for Wentz during the Eagles final drive. Despite the poorly thrown ball that reminded me of a Bruce Chen fastball, the play went for 24 yards with 33 seconds left. Orr also had a personal foul for a late hit, clearly a frustration play following a bad call for illegal contact. The call negated a Weddle interception.
Speaking of bad calls, the back judge (I believe) made a similarly bad call against Mosley. Both LBs were called for illegal contact yet in both situations Ertz initiated the contact beyond the 5-yard limit…Vlad Ducasse struggled against Fletcher Cox. Most do but when the Ravens tip their hand with obvious keys that they will run, Vlad is no match for Cox.
The Ravens won the game, but like so many others it was ugly. The run defense was punched in the mouth, particularly off the edges. A few time Suggs turned plays in as he should only no one was there to clean up because Mosley and Orr got caught in the wash. This may have been Brandon Williams‘ most ineffective game. Despite Wentz’s inability to get any passing game going until their final possession (55 of the Eagles 159 net passing yards came after the 1:39 mark of the 4th), the Eagles ran it 38 times for 169 yards. Ryan Mathews had 128 yards on just 20 carries (6.4 ypc).
The Ravens had no answer for Zach Ertz who was menacing as a blocker and contributed 6 catches for 80 yards…The Ravens flat out refusal to use cadence as a weapon hurts their running game. When they attempted to chew up clock on their next to final possession, they were dominated. Perhaps they took their team chaplain a bit too seriously. The meek shall inherit the earth but not with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles dominated time of possession 36:38 v. 23:22 overall and 20:11 v. 9:49 in the second half. The Eagles ran 81 plays to the Ravens 57 plays. Joe Flacco took just 23 snaps in the second half (including the victory formation kneel down) while Wentz ran 46 plays…That M&T Bank Stadium turf is pretty pathetic. Hopefully the Ravens saved their receipt. If they are fortunate enough to win the AFC North, they will host a game. And if they do, Marty Mornhinweg should utilize the weak spots on the field to his advantage when crafting his game plan. I know, I know, that’s asking a lot of the guy responsible for the “worst call ever.”
Those who have followed my work know that I can be a harsh critic of Joe Flacco. It’s not like I want to be. He earns it. Is it too much to ask a 9-year vet who is among the game’s highest paid players not to screw it up when leading by 10 with 6 minutes to go while enjoying the advantageous first-and-10 from the opponent’s 11-yard line? He saw a hole to get it into Steve Smith but not the linebacker standing directly in front of him? I’m still looking for it. Check out this video and let me know if you find it.
What was the Ravens “brain trust” discussing during the timeout just before the play? Last week John Harbaugh said that he would veto a pass called by Mornhinweg and opt for a run in the right situation. If this wasn’t the right situation there may never be one. And it wasn’t as if it was a play sent in during the normal flow of the game. They were coming out of a timeout! Apparently Flacco was too giddy about the possibility of a third TD pass. But I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
THE MEGAN FOX
Terrance West was determined, rugged, tireless and fought for extra yards. He had a healthy 5.9 ypc, finishing with 77 yards on 13 carries. He was also a beast in the passing game adding yards after the catch while tallying 45 yards on 4 catches. If only he had another 3 carries, there might be a bit more confidence in the Land of Pleasant Living today.
Now Santa, about that game on Christmas Day in Pittsburgh…