BALTIMORE — There’s little to say that isn’t stating the obvious after the Ravens were steamrolled by the New England Patriots in a 41-7 home defeat on Sunday.
They were outplayed, outcoached, and overwhelmed in suffering the franchise’s worst home loss ever and the worst defeat of the John Harbaugh era, losing control of their path to a postseason spot in the process. But there’s no sense in harping on any of it with Baltimore still having a chance to advance to the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year with a win and either a loss by Miami or San Diego next Sunday.
“[Stuff] happens. That’s all I can say,” Suggs said. “We have to move on to next week. We can still get in. … You will have to look at the tape. Actually, you could burn the tape. It’s not even worth looking at.”
The truth is Sunday didn’t really teach us anything about the 2013 Ravens that we didn’t already know other than Week 16 being a horrendous day at the office. Sure, a four-game winning streak sparked conversation of the Ravens being the most dangerous team that no AFC team wants to play in January, but their deficiencies were still present. And as alarming as the loss was with such high stakes involved in Sunday’s game, it still only counts as one in the overall standings.
In summing up the first 15 games of the season, the Ravens have received good fortune, suffered a little bad luck, and shown a whole lot of mediocrity. They have a below-average offense, a good but not elite defense, and a Pro Bowl-worthy kicker who missed his first field goal on Sunday since mid-September.
There’s no one-size-fits-all way of how it looks over the course of 16 weeks, but those realities will generally add up to a record right around the .500 mark for most NFL teams in any given season. And it’s right where the 8-7 Ravens stand entering the regular-season finale.
But the biggest concern from Sunday’s humbling loss to Tom Brady and the Patriots was the play of quarterback Joe Flacco. The sixth-year signal-caller was hardly the only problem, but the state of his left knee and the impact it had on his play against the Patriots raises the biggest red flag for the Ravens’ chances of going to Cincinnati and winning next Sunday.
In fact, nothing else really matters if Flacco can’t play at a higher level.
The quarterback said after the game that it wasn’t a major issue, of course.
“I probably didn’t have the same burst, but I felt good,” said Flacco when asked about playing with a bulky knee brace. “I felt like I could move on it and run on it and do all kinds of things. It held up really well.”
Of course, Flacco isn’t about to make any excuses for his two-interception performance as the Ravens could only manage one fourth-quarter touchdown, a 1-yard sneak by the quarterback in the fourth quarter. It’s impossible to put a percentage on how much Flacco’s knee may have impacted his play as he made some poor decisions, including a fourth-down incompletion intended for a double-covered Jacoby Jones while both Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta were open on the opening drive of the second half.
Still, it was obvious — especially in the first half — that Flacco was uncomfortable, unable to move effectively in and out of the pocket as he has in recent weeks when he’s used his legs to make plays as both a rusher and a passer. On no play was it more evident than a first-quarter dropback when he stepped cautiously on his left leg before falling to the turf untouched for a sack.
Only Flacco knows how much his knee — and protecting it — was on his mind, but he did appear to move with more confidence as the game progressed. The Ravens can only hope that was a sign of better things to come next week with their playoff lives on the line.
The Patriots got to Flacco in the pocket — sacking him four times — and confused him as he tried to find receivers downfield. When he did, there were errant throws, drops, and a lack of timing with his pass-catching targets too often.
“They played a lot of zone, passing things off, and didn’t let us get any of the chunk shots on them,” Flacco said. “The check-downs were there, but we just didn’t do it enough. We didn’t play well enough and convert first downs. We ran the ball well but just couldn’t convert the first downs that we needed to.”
When the Ravens began the season 4-6, it was clear their fate would depend on how well Flacco would play in the final six weeks and the quarterback responded with his best football of the year over a four-game winning streak that came to a screeching halt Sunday. However, you now wonder if the helmet shot to Flacco’s left knee delivered by Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy last Monday may have thwarted the Ravens’ best chance of squeaking into the playoffs.
Make no mistake, Sunday’s loss was a team effort as the Ravens were humbled in the season’s final game at M&T Bank Stadium, a place where they typically play their best. But a similar-looking Flacco showing up in Cincinnati will likely spell doom for the Ravens next week.
The Bengals haven’t lost a game at Paul Brown Stadium all season and are still fighting for the No. 2 seed in the conference, meaning they have plenty to play for despite clinching the AFC North title on Sunday. The Ravens have too much pride not to bounce back with a better showing, but they need Flacco at his best — or, at least, close to it — to have a good chance to win before turning their eyes to the scoreboard for help.
“We’ve got to go in there and win. That was pretty much going to be the case no matter what, so that’s what we’ve got to do,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve got to play a lot better than we did today to go in there and win. They play very well at home, obviously. It’s a big challenge for us, but I feel like we’re up to it.”