In Minnesota on Sunday afternoon, Ravens coach John Harbaugh started his post-game press conference by mentioning his team “plays with the heart of a lion”.
He’s right, they do.
Unfortunately, his defense happens to look a lot like the one employed by the Detroit Lions.
You can’t win games if you give up 33 points.
Unless your field goal kicker misses one that would have given you 34.
Lost in the wake of today’s near-miss-win in Minnesota was the fact that the Vikings did their very best to give the game away with a heartless fourth quarter defensive effort of their own — and yet, the Ravens couldn’t cash in because they couldn’t stop the Minnesota offense in the final minutes.
It was going to be Chapter #2 of Joe Flacco’s career — you know, the game where he leads his team back from the jaws of defeat and stands tall down the stretch to put the Ravens over the top. Alas, Steve Hauschka’s 44 yard miss at the buzzer gave the Vikings an improbable win and handed Baltimore what COULD be a very damaging defeat. Make no mistake about it, despite being outplayed for the better part of 50 minutes or so, Baltimore squandered a golden opportunity to steal one on the road today. Those chances don’t come along very often.
And make no mistake about this: The Ravens defense is wobbling. Big time.
True, they faced a prolific running back today in Minnesota and Brett Favre can still play a little bit, but this Baltimore defense is showing signs of throwing a piston. The secondary is struggling. That’s an understatement, of course. The secondary has become a glaring liability. It’s been that way for most of the season, actually. Sunday in Minnesota it was no different, as Favre picked them apart early, then simply threw long bombs that created man-to-man mismatches and led to the final two Minnesota field goals…otherwise known as, the difference in the game.
Dawan Landry had a tough day, Fabian Washington was worse, and Frank Walker was left to mark a receiver five inches taller than him and could do nothing except foul him. Twice.
I’m not sure why Walker was playing in the 4th quarter. Was Washington hurt? Or benched? Wouldn’t have mattered either way, really, as Washington was picked on from the start. Landry was out of position on two Minnesota TD passes, including the 2nd one to Vishante Shiancoe in the 4th quarter that “seemingly” put the game out of reach before the Vikings defense collapsed and the Ravens came storming back to take the lead with just over three minutes to play.
Greg Mattison will again be under scrutiny this week for his defensive formations. With Walker in the game – and assigned to mark Sydney Rice – why wouldn’t Mattison slide Ed Reed over to assist Walker against the much bigger, stronger Rice? Walker simply was a bad match-up with Rice and Favre sniffed it out right away. And the Ravens paid for it.
The loss will also diminish a heartwarming effort from Joe Flacco, who looked a lot like Joe Montana in the 4th quarter, guiding the Ravens down the field three times for TD’s — all the while getting hammered like Rocky against Apollo Creed. It was yet another coming-of-age afternoon for Flacco, who rebounded from a miserable home effort against the Bengals last week and did his own “gunslinger” impersonation in his first-ever meeting with Brett Favre.
The comeback was aided by a 4th quarter for the ages by Ray Rice, who’s looking more and more like the league’s new version of Maurice Jones-Drew. And this time, Mark Clayton DIDN’T drop a key pass.
In the end, it came down to a field goal and the Ravens couldn’t connect. The snap wasn’t perfect – Matt Katula will definitely admit that – and Hauschka’s kick was left all the way.
And it goes down as a loss.
A lot of folks will blame Hauschka. After all, a 44-yard field goal in the NFL is a reasonable distance to expect success. Many people will blame Walker. He was involved in two huge plays in the 4th quarter. But on both occasions, Favre wasn’t pressured by the Ravens defensive line and he was able to hoist long throws that created trouble for Walker.
The Ravens lost the game for a VARIETY of reasons. They were behind 14-0 before everyone in Minnesota had finished their first beer. Baltimore completely mismanaged their 2-minute offense to end the first half and could only put 3 points on the board when a touchdown looked probable. Those four points turned out to matter in a big way. Their pass rush – other than the Ray Lewis sack late in the game – wasn’t very good (again) and their secondary was victimized time and time again. Finally, their final drive included some puzzling clock management, including a Flacco throw-away to Mark Clayton with less than a half-minute to go that was nothing more than a spike. And just moments before the final field goal effort, Ray Rice failed to get into the middle of the field, meaning Hauschka had to kick from the left side instead of straight on.
This was a game the Vikings tried to hand deliver the Ravens and they didn’t answer the door in time.
I hope it doesn’t come back to haunt them, but games like this — ones you can steal, but don’t — usually have a way of slapping you in the face in December or January.
One thing for certain — while the Ravens players are set to enjoy a bye week, the coaching staff needs to ask owner Steve Bisciotti if he’ll pay time-and-a-half for their overtime. They need to put some SERIOUS defensive game-plan work in at 1 Winning Drive, and make some personnel decisions on the likes of Washington and Walker.
Harbaugh was right. The Ravens do play with the heart of a lion.
They nearly stole one today.
And they did it mostly with heart and grit.
In January, though, it will still count as a loss.
And if the don’t improve defensively — soon — their January schedule will be limited to a date with the Raiders on the 3rd. And that will be the extent of their January football.