BALTIMORE — I wouldn’t be unfair at all to say that Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh sometimes likes to have fun with the truth.
After the team’s Week 12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Harbaugh told reporters he was unaware of the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers had gone to overtime and nearly lost to the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“I didn’t know about the Steelers game until right now” Harbaugh had said. “That was one I missed when the scores came up unfortunately.”
It was probably the right thing to say in the moment, but no one was buying it. In fact, Harbaugh made it apparently shortly after the press conference ended that he actually HAD been keeping tabs on what was going on with the Ravens’ AFC North rivals.
It wasn’t the only time during his first three seasons in Charm City that Harbaugh has…well…”stretched” the truth.
Four days before the Ravens played their regular season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium, Harbaugh made another statement that some folks expressed skepticism towards.
With the Ravens’ fate in the race for the AFC North title tied directly to the Steelers’ game against the Cleveland Browns Sunday, there was a thought process that Harbaugh could pull starters in the 2nd half should the Steelers game get out of hand. Harbaugh said that wouldn’t be happening.
“No I won’t do that based on Pittsburgh’s score. We’ll just play it like we’ll always play it when we try to win.”
Things got out of hand for the Steelers Sunday. They had a 31-3 halftime advantage at Cleveland Browns Stadium; a lead that ballooned to as much as 41-3 in the 2nd half before ultimately ending in a 41-9 win for the Steelers, clinching the division title.
The Ravens (12-4) would eventually hold on for a 13-7 win over the Bengals (4-12). Had the score not been so close, perhaps backup QB Marc Bulger and other reserves would have seen more time. Yet John Harbaugh….true to his word…never pulled Ravens starters in Baltimore.
“I think we focused on winning the game” said Harbaugh of the decision.
WR Derrick Mason was more emphatic in saying Harbaugh made the right decision.
“We didn’t have the game won (at halftime). The score was 6-0, and why pull the starters when we’re not consistently going down the field? We wanted to go out with a win and go into the playoffs with momentum.”
The Ravens DID get the win. I’m not sure how much momentum comes from having to cling to dear life late against a team whose only postseason activity could be a coaching change, but they did get the win.
And fortunately for Harbaugh, the win doesn’t appear to have come at any great expense.
CB Josh Wilson and LB Dannell Ellerbe both left the game due to first half shoulder stingers. An argument could be made that the Steelers game was still in hand before either player was hurt.
DT Haloti Ngata, OT Michael Oher and S Ed Reed all left early with various bumps and bruises in the 2nd half. Team spokesperson Kevin Byrne declined to offer any further information on the injuries; saying the Ravens prevented players from returning due to “precautionary” reasons.
If that proves to be true and none of the players are affected by the injuries moving forward into the playoffs; Harbaugh won’t feel any repercussions of the decision. For his part, Reed downplayed the significance of his injury following the game.
But if Ngata or Oher were to be forced to sit out the Ravens’ Wild Card playoff game, the second guessing would reach a fever pitch around Charm City.
Harbaugh faced a difficult decision. Throughout the week, he preached the importance of Sunday’s game to players knowing a first round bye and a home playoff game could still be within reach.
By benching players at halftime, Harbaugh would have run the risk of saying “this game is the most important game we’ll play all season” only to follow it up with “just kidding.”
(I think it goes without saying that those weren’t direct quotes, right?)
Even had Harbaugh thought it was best to pull players, there’s no guarantee those players would have gone for it. Not only did Mason appear opposed to the idea, but Reed mentioned after the game he had actually been approached by the staff about not playing in the second half.
“You want to continue to play” said the Pro Bowl safety. “Next week wasn’t even here yet.”
Had other players opposed the idea of leaving the game, it would have been up to Harbaugh to force his hand; which could have created an uncomfortable situation for the team right before the postseason began.
Had RB Ray Rice or QB Joe Flacco gone down with a torn ACL in the 2nd half; that uncomfortable situation would have looked like a much more desirable outcome.
Hopefully Ngata, Oher, Reed, et. al. will be back on the field for the playoff opener and this topic will never come up again.
John Harbaugh was honest this time. What happened in Pittsburgh had no bearing on what the Ravens did.
If the Ravens are shorthanded in the postseason, he’ll probably wish he would have been lying.
(Photo Courtesy of the AP)
NOTES: Hear from Harbaugh, Rice, Reed, Mason, LB Terrell Suggs, LB Jarret Johnson and LB Ray Lewis following Sunday’s win in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault here at WNST.net……Johnson is scheduled to join Drew Forrester Monday morning at 9:40 on “The Morning Reaction” on AM1570 WNST……The Ravens will return to 1 Winning Drive in Owings Mills Monday, Harbaugh will hold his weekly press conference at 4pm……The Ravens will open the playoffs Sunday, January 9 against the AFC West Champion Kansas City Chiefs. The game will kickoff at 1pm from Arrowhead Stadium, it will air on CBS