Ravens beat themselves in Pittsburgh, losing 23-20

December 27, 2009 | Drew Forrester

If you’re a good team in the NFL, you can’t make those mistakes.

Not if you expect to win, that is.

Can’t drop a sure touchdown in the 4th quarter of a one-score game.

Can’t get a blocking from behind penalty on an interception return for a touchdown.

Can’t forget to call a time-out when the other team is 3rd and 12 on their own 4 yard line with 1:11 to play in the half.

And your quarterback, when under siege all day because of an inexperienced offensive line, has to make better, quicker decisions.

It all added up to a 23-20 loss in Pittsburgh that pushes the Ravens to the brink of extinction next week in Oakland.

Trailing by 10 points at halftime, the Ravens completely dominated the 3rd quarter, as Pittsburgh looked like a team in retreat once Baltimore scored to make it 20-17.  But it became a game of mistakes — who could make the least — and that’s where Baltimore predictably fell short.

Penalty flags once again haunted the Ravens.  It’s been that way for a while now.  A few years back, the fans wanted the old coach fired because “he couldn’t control the team”…and today, like it’s been all year, senseless penalties and bad decisions cost Baltimore dearly.

Maybe it’s not the coach.  Maybe the players just aren’t good enough – or smart enough – or something-enough.  Players play…coaches coach.

But penalties at the wrong time always seem to accompany the Ravens on these road trips.  It’s like they board the team charter and sit in first class.

I can hear the flight attendant now: “Hi there, Dumb Penalties, what can I get you to drink once we get in the air?”

Last year it was Daren Stone with a no-reason “late hit” penalty in the AFC title game.  This year, it was Haloti Ngata with an equally dumb blunder in the 3rd quarter that cost the Ravens precious field position with the game tied at 20-20.

And here’s the real kicker — the team’s two offensive stalwarts both had costly gaffes that otherwise marred solid days.  Ray Rice was again a beast running the ball (141 yards), but his 2nd quarter fumble came at a horrible time, as the Ravens had just trimmed the Pittsburgh lead to 13-10 and recovered a Rashard Mendenhall fumble at the Pittsburgh 31.  Instead of going in to take the lead – or tie the game with a field goal – Rice fumbled on the first play from scrimmage and the Steelers recovered.

And in the 2nd quarter, the Ravens never recovered from that mistake, falling behind 20-10 late in the quarter after a time-out fiasco and missed assignment by Domonique Foxworth on Santonio Holmes. Foxworth had an outstanding afternoon in the secondary, but his late blitz and bite on a Roethlisberger pump fake left Holmes open and he easily beat Dawan Landry for the touchdown.

The other major offensive contributor with a major offensive miscue was none other than the usually-reliable Derrick Mason (77 yards), who dropped a sure-fire touchdown with 14 minutes to play in the game.  That was the last chance the Ravens would have, unfortunately.

Baltimore did have one final push into Pittsburgh territory with four minutes remaining in the game but two straight sacks by LaMarr Woodley sealed the Ravens’ fate.  The first one took Baltimore out of field goal range and the second caused a Flacco fumble that was basically “intercepted” in mid-air.  Woodley had a rock-star afternoon, haunting Oniel Cousins for 60 minutes and chasing Joe Flacco all over the field.  His final manhandling of Cousins created the day’s final turnover with 2:27 to play.

Ballgame.

Harbaugh’s puzzling time-out usage at the end of the first half…Rice’s poorly-timed fumble…the offensive line’s surprisingly weak play…and Mason’s once-in-a-50-games-drop were just part of the issue on Sunday, but they each were monumental tide-turners in what could be a huge loss.

Rumor has it that Harbaugh didn’t want to answer many questions after the game in his post-game press conference.  I don’t blame him.  If he would have stayed around to answer them all – like Jim Schwartz did two weeks ago in Baltimore when the Lions lost 48-3 – Harbaugh would have to catch the 9:50 pm flight from Pittsburgh to BWI later tonight.

This loss was truly a team effort.

Coaching, lack of discipline, bad penalties, poor decisions and lack of killer instinct…they all played a part on Sunday at Heinz Field.

I forgot to mention in all of this that Pittsburgh executed fairly well under-the-gun on Sunday afternoon.  I have to give them SOME credit…they needed the win and their quarterback, when called upon, came through in the clutch as his pedigree indicates.

It always seems to come down to that.  Pittsburgh’s quarterback gets the job done.  OK, now…that’s enough credit for the Black and Gold.

The Ravens gave this game away.  Period.

The amazing part?

A win next week in Oakland is likely to earn the Ravens a trip to the post-season, depending on the outcome of some games later on today and next Sunday.

It’s far from over.

But this is a football team that continues to put itself behind the 8-ball week after week.  Falling behind 20-10 at the half was the crushing blow, particularly the way the Ravens bungled the clock in the final two minutes of the 2nd quarter.  And Mason’s drop in the end zone in the 4th quarter was the defining moment — perhaps not only of the game, but the season.

Just not good enough.

But there’s a week to play and a game to win.

And if Baltimore can win next Sunday in Oakland, they might still squeeze their way in to the post-season.

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