Long-held constants for Ravens go up in smoke in overtime

October 16, 2017 | Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens had no business being in the game, yet they somehow entered overtime against Chicago with momentum on their side.

A defense that had given up a handful of big plays over the first 40 minutes of action had tightened up to force three three-and-outs and two fumbles on the Bears’ final five drives of regulation. Michael Campanaro’s 77-yard punt return for a touchdown — with a 2-point conversion — had miraculously tied the score at 24 with 1:37 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Even with a bumbling offense that was nothing short of dreadful all afternoon, how could you not like the Ravens’ chances starting over against a 1-4 opponent and a rookie quarterback in overtime? After all, Baltimore hadn’t lost a home game to a first-year signal-caller in 20 years.

The time of possession and number of plays run by each side was virtually identical at the end of four quarters, meaning there was no real excuse for the defense to be tired. And it showed on the opening possession of overtime when the Ravens forced another punt after only four plays.

Now is when we’re supposed to criticize the offense for a three-and-out after a bad punt had given Baltimore the ball at its own 40-yard line, but I haven’t the energy to belabor the point anymore. This disastrous unit is the product of injuries and a poor offseason approach from general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh, and there’s little reason to hope for meaningful improvement at this point. It’s not as though this group had been clicking even with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin on the field beyond last week’s win in Oakland, so to watch a completely broken passing game without him on Sunday wasn’t surprising.

Still, a Baltimore defense comprised of free-agent acquisitions and a slew of draft picks in recent years took the field with Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears backed up at their own 7 with 5:40 remaining. You had to know Chicago offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains was going to call for a run in that situation, and that’s exactly what he did.

Bears running back Jordan Howard had rushed for 114 yards to that point, but he’d needed 32 carries to do it. That’s hardly great run defense as the Bears’ ground game had managed to remain functional throughout the day — allowing them to keep the game out of their rookie quarterback’s hands — but the Ravens had surrendered a very respectable 3.4 yards per carry in regulation.

Surely a franchise that’s prided itself in stopping the run for the better part of two decades wasn’t going to be beaten on the ground in overtime, right?

Howard ran outside left, eluded lunging Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley, and was engaged by Eric Weddle. Instead of wrapping tight and waiting for reinforcements on a short gain, the 11th-year safety focused on trying to strip the ball and allowed the 224-pound back to break free for a 53-yard gain.

You can’t have two of your best defensive players whiff in that crucial situation.

Even after that disastrous play, the Ravens still had a chance to make a stop on third-and-11 from the 41, which would have made for a long field goal try at best. All they had to do was come up with a play against a rookie quarterback as they’d done so many times at home over the last 20 years, whether it was Peyton Manning in 1998 or DeShone Kizer earlier this year.

Trubisky stood up to pressure in the pocket, however, and delivered an 18-yard strike to a leaping Kendall Wright.

Ballgame.

Yes, the offense deserves the lion’s share of the blame for Sunday’s 27-24 defeat when it mustered just three field goals and a 2-point conversion in its home stadium. But this is a defense that was supposed to be great — that was the overwhelming focus of the offseason, after all — and really hasn’t been close to that level since the first two weeks of the season. Make no mistake, the absence of defensive tackle Brandon Williams has been a major factor, but using that as the sole explanation is letting the rest of the players and coaching staff off the hook.

A great defense doesn’t surrender the longest play of the game in overtime when you know a run is coming and doesn’t let a quarterback in his first career road start drive a stake through its heart on a third-and-long play.

Stopping the run and making life miserable for rookie quarterbacks at M&T Bank Stadium have been two constants for the Ravens over the years, but those went up in smoke when it mattered most.

As did their chances to win after they were fortunate to be given new life in the first place.