OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After seeing their kicker making only two of five kicks this month and nursing a left calf injury, the Ravens appear moving closer to making a decision regarding the woes of Billy Cundiff.
His miss from 36 yards on the Ravens’ opening drive helped set the tone for a disastrous night in which the Ravens were beaten soundly in all phases of the game. The 2010 Pro Bowl kicker is just 27-for-36 on field goals this season with all nine misses coming away from M&T Bank Stadium.
When the injury first surfaced two weeks ago, the Ravens had veteran Shayne Graham on standby before Cundiff proved healthy enough to kick against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 14. However, coach John Harbaugh admitted Cundiff’s effectiveness while kicking at less than 100 percent is being questioned more and more.
“It’s always a concern,” Harbaugh said. “I think it’s probably all wrapped up in there together. We’ve got to look at that today; we’ve got to look at that this week, because he hasn’t been able to practice the last couple weeks. That may have affected him a little bit. Nobody’s more frustrated right now than Billy with it.”
Given the healthy state of the 53-man roster, Baltimore could elect to sign Graham and allow Cundiff a week or two to rest before inserting him back in the lineup or electing to place him on injured reserve if the calf fails to improve. Regardless of how the Ravens choose to handle the situation, Harbaugh appears ready to address the situation sooner rather than later.
“We’re going to have to look at that really hard this week and try to make a good decision that way.”
Fumbling control of destiny
Aside from the embarrassment of being blown out in a nationally-televised game on Sunday night, the Ravens lost their grip on the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the AFC and slipped to the No. 5 berth in the current AFC standings.
The Ravens will now depend on help from others to determine whether they can regain control of the AFC North or ultimately find themselves back on the road as a wild card for the fourth straight season. While not conceding the loss of a first-round bye, Harbaugh expressed obvious disappointment at the failure to take advantage of a golden opportunity.
“We haven’t let it get away yet, obviously, but the control of it we certainly let get away,” Harbaugh said. “That’s disappointing. That’s something that we really wanted to hold onto. That was a target for us.”
The Baltimore coach acknowledged the accomplishment of the Ravens clinching their franchise-record fourth straight playoff appearance, continuing an impressive run since arriving on the scene as a rookie coach in 2008. It’s a feat not to take for granted, according to Harbaugh.
“The first thing you have to do is make the playoffs. It’s tough to do. It’s not so much a one-week accomplishment, either. It’s what you do over the course of the season that earns you the trip into the playoffs. I’m proud of that for our team. I think that’s exciting. That’s something we’re looking forward to, but now the next two weeks is going to play out in terms of exactly what that’s going to mean for us.”
The Ravens will do plenty of scoreboard watching over the next two weeks, starting with Pittsburgh’s Monday night game against San Francisco, but Harbaugh made it clear how critical it is for his team to handle everything it has the ability to control, starting with the Cleveland Browns on Saturday afternoon.
“That’s the thing we can control. We have complete control over the next two weeks as far as what we do. That’s what we need to take care of.”
To the surprise of nearly everyone, cornerback Lardarius Webb was able to play in San Diego after missing a full week of practice due to a turf toe injury he suffered against Indianapolis the previous week.
Webb was limited, however, playing in the nickel package while rookie Jimmy Smith started at cornerback opposite Cary Williams in the base defense throughout the night. It’s unclear whether the Ravens would have used Webb as a returner considering the Chargers never punted in their convincing victory over Baltimore. His inability to prepare physically led to the decision to go with Smith over Webb in the regular defense.
“He hadn’t practiced all week,” Harbaugh said. “That was the main thing. He held up fine physically. I think it’s something that you really don’t want to push if we didn’t have to.”
Smith and Williams were torched repeatedly by the combination of 6-foot-5 receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, who combined for eight catches, 180 yards, and a touchdown against the Baltimore secondary. There’s no predicting whether Webb’s presence on every play would have helped matters much, but Harbaugh chose to go with the combination of cornerbacks who prepared all week for a complicated passing scheme.
“We felt like our young guys were going to do a good job out there, but the main thing was just handling all the different route combinations and the coverage,” Harbaugh explained. “We felt like those guys had practiced all week, so that gave us the best opportunity, combined with the injury, was the direction that we wanted to go.”
Many questioned why Harbaugh didn’t use his allotment of timeouts on San Diego’s final possession of the first half as the Chargers marched down the field and took a 17-7 lead on a 1-yard run by Ryan Matthews. With the Chargers scoring at will against the Baltimore defense and set to receive the opening kick of the second half, it was an opportunity to save time for Joe Flacco to operate the two-minute drive and come away with points to make it a one-possession game at halftime.
Instead, the coach refrained from using his timeouts, and the Ravens started from their own 21 with just 19 seconds remaining. A 24-yard pass play to Ray Rice was followed by one of four Antwan Barnes’ sacks to end the first half.
It was a decision Harbaugh regretted when asked about it on Monday afternoon.
“I thought about that right away while the game was going on. I should have used those timeouts and given us a chance to get down there and get some points before the half.”
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