It’s fortunate that the Ravens will have 10 days to regroup after a stunning 26-21 loss at Atlanta in a game that Baltimore seemingly had won with 1:05 to play in the Georgia Dome in a battle of two teams that seemed like mirror images of one another in 2010.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense had struggled for the better part of three quarters, trailing 13-0 before storming back with two touchdowns in a span of 4:37 late in the fourth quarter to take a 21-20 lead on a 9-yard TD catch by tight end Todd Heap.
But the other quarterback in the constant comparison of 2008 first-round draft picks, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, drove the Falcons 80 yards in seven plays and 45 seconds to win the game on a gutsy pass play to wide receiver Roddy White with 20 seconds left.
With Atlanta driving at the Baltimore 33 for what most thought would be a game-winning field goal attempt, Ryan rolled left and hit White at the 17, and White danced into the end zone for the 33-yard touchdown.
The Falcons were put in position to win on the previous play. Atlanta faced third-and-10 at the Ravens 41, and Ryan threw over the middle to tight end Tony Gonzalez, who was ridden to the turf for a defensive pass interference call on Baltimore’s Tavares Gooden.
The resulting 8-yard penalty gave the Falcons an automatic first down at the 33, and Atlanta cashed in. After the touchdown, the Falcons went for two points, but failed when Ed Reed picked off Ryan’s pass attempt.
Atlanta was also helped by an earlier third-and-10 catch for 24 yards by wide receiver Michael Jenkins during the drive. Jenkins appeared to juggle the ball as he went out of bounds. The replay booth upheld the call on the field, and the Falcons had a first down at their 44.
Baltimore’s David Reed made an ill-advised return of the ensuing kickoff, and was upended at the Ravens 9 with 16 seconds left. Three plays later, a fumble out of bounds after a catch by T.J. Houshmandzadeh ended a frustrating night for the Ravens.
The Ravens marched 72 yards in eight plays to take a 21-20 lead with 1:05 left. Flacco found wide receiver Anquan Boldin on a 9-yard pass on third down to the Atlanta 35 to keep the drive going. Three plays later, Flacco gunned a bullet into the end zone that Heap caught, but dropped to the ground after taking a couple of steps. The play was reviewed by the replay booth and upheld, and Billy Cundiff’s extra point gave Baltimore its first lead of the game.
But it was not enough as Ryan and the Falcons found a way through a tired Ravens defense at the end.
Ryan finished 32 of 50 passing for 316 yards and three touchdowns. White caught 12 of his 17 targeted passes for 138 yards and two scores.
Flacco finished 22 of 34 for 215 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He hit eight different receivers, including Boldin five times for 50 yards and a touchdown, and Heap four times for 57 yards and the late TD.
Atlanta was held to 60 yards rushing on 23 carries – paced by Michael Turner’s 39 yards on 17 attempts, while Baltimore got 116 yards on 21 rushes, led by Ray Rice, who ran the ball 12 times for 59 yards.
It was obvious from the start that the Falcons wanted to throw the ball on offense after most expected Atlanta to try to use Turner a lot early on.
The first quarter was nothing more than a punt-fest as each team had to kick away twice. Sam Koch’s second punt pinned the Falcons at their 9 with 3:02 left in the quarter, but Ryan began to find his groove.
Ryan completed four consecutive passes as the first quarter ended with the Falcons sitting on the Ravens 44. Ryan kept passing, and eventually the Ravens were able to drop White for a four-yard loss back to the Ravens 28.
On the next play, Ryan rolled out and found backup running back Jason Snelling alone on the right side. Snelling caught the ball 4 yards past the line of scrimmage, got a head of steam, and broke the grasp of Dawan Landry to score on a 28-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 11:24 left in the first half.
Baltimore did very little on their next possession, and a Koch punt pinned the Falcons deep again at their 7 midway through the second quarter.
Atlanta got out to their 27 and was forced to punt, but Lardarius Webb didn’t keep a strong hold on the ball during the return and it was stripped out. After a long discussion by Ron Winter’s officiating crew, the Falcons had recovered at the Ravens 43.
The Falcons methodically used the clock and took 12 plays, including a key third-down illegal contact call on Dannell Ellerbe, to stretch their lead to 10-0 just before the half on a Matt Bryant 28-yard field goal.
The Ravens had just 17 offensive plays in the half to Atlanta’s 43 (28 passes), and the Falcons had the ball for 21:14.
The Ravens second turnover of the game was costly as Flacco was picked off by Brent Grimes at the Baltimore 39 early in the third quarter. The Falcons needed just four plays for Bryant to kick a long 51-yard field goal for a 13-0 lead with 12:51 left.
Baltimore showed signs of life on its next possession as the Ravens went back to the run game. The Ravens moved 65 yards in 10 plays to score on a Flacco 5-yard pass to Boldin with 6:50 left in the quarter, as Baltimore cut the margin to 13-7.
In the fourth quarter, the Falcons were the recipient of a key call against Terrell Suggs. On third-and-10 at the Ravens’ 33, Suggs was flagged for a facemask penalty that gave the Falcons a first down at the Baltimore 13 after it was tacked on to the end of a 7-yard pass to Snelling.
Three plays later, Ryan rolled out and led White across the end zone for a 4-yard TD pass and a 20-7 lead with 11:34 left to go.
The Ravens took over after White’s TD, and Flacco moved the offense methodically on an 11-play, 75-yard drive, capped off by a 6-yard TD toss to Derrick Mason with 5:42 to play to pull Baltimore to 20-14.
Atlanta racked up 362 yards of total offense to Baltimore’s 320. The Falcons were 12 of 20 on third downs, and had the ball for 35:09. The Ravens were 6 for 11 on thirds, and were penalized six times for 51 yards.
The Ravens (6-3) will be back in action next Sunday against another NFC South foe, as Baltimore travels to Carolina. The Falcons (7-2) travel to St. Louis next Sunday.