OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Perhaps no other player epitomized the differences in performance between the Ravens’ dominating win over Pittsburgh to start the season and Sunday’s surprising 26-13 defeat to Tennessee than quarterback Joe Flacco.
A week after throwing three touchdown passes and posting a 117.6 quarterback rating in what some were calling the best performance of his four-year career, Flacco completed only 15 of 32 passes and tossed two interceptions as the Baltimore offense sputtered, stalled, and self-destructed in a losing effort to the Titans. As a result, the many naysayers singing his praises after beating the Steelers were once again questioning his mettle after mustering just 13 points and lacking any real identity in a losing effort.
When he wasn’t under duress from shaky pass protection, Flacco struggled to find open receivers while going through his progressions and forced several throws as the game progressed.
“We need to go out there and play better, and that’s why you have 16 weeks of football in the NFL,” Flacco said. “You don’t have two weeks. The Super Bowl champion is not decided in Week 2. It’s not decided after Week 1, just like everybody wanted to react to that. We have a long way ahead of us.”
Many questioned the Ravens’ lack of urgency after falling behind 23-10 in the fourth quarter. Starting a drive with 12 minutes remaining on the clock, Flacco and the offense moved methodically down the field instead of using a hurry-up offense. After taking five minutes off the clock and driving to the Tennessee 6-yard line, a delay of game penalty moved the Ravens to the 11, where coach John Harbaugh elected to kick a field goal and forgo a chance to make it a one-possession game.
While Flacco stopped short of openly criticizing the play-calling and time management of Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, the quarterback was clearly displeased with the tempo and the end result of three points after taking so much time off the clock.
“I don’t know what to really say besides that’s what we were doing,” Flacco said. “I guess that was the plan. It’s not really my job to kind of question it and say that we weren’t. We need to go down there and score a touchdown, and we didn’t score a touchdown. I did ask about maybe going for it on fourth down there rather than kicking the field goal, but it’s what we decided to do. We can’t really question that; we’ve got to look ahead.”
In addition to the lack of urgency late in the game, the Ravens were miserable on third-down situations, largely due to their inability to run the football and create manageable down-and-distance situations to convert.
The Ravens were only 3-for-10 on third down, and Flacco’s first interception came on a manageable third-and-4 play in the first quarter.
“It’s hard to be successful without third-down efficiency, unless you’re just throwing it over people’s heads all the time,” Harbaugh said. “You have to stay on the field. You’ve got to keep the defense on the field and get them off balance and get them on their heels.”
A theme that carried over from Week 1 was the Ravens’ inability to get contributions from receivers other than Anquan Boldin. While Lee Evans caught two passes for 45 yards, it was apparent for the second straight week that the 30-year-old wideout’s ankle is not close to 100 percent.
And with Harbaugh suggesting this week that the Ravens may elect to sit Evans in hopes of getting better contributions after the ankle has improved, it becomes even more paramount for rookies Torrey Smith, LaQuan Williams, and Tandon Doss to make their presence known immediately. With return specialist and receiver David Reed sidelined until after the bye with a shoulder injury, the pressure falls on the rookies even more heavily. Performing in practice is one thing; showing up on Sundays is another.
“It’s always a question of how guys are going to transfer practice to the game,” Harbaugh said. “But, they’ve been practicing well. They make plays out here, so we expect them to do it in games.”
The Rams will pose a test with head coach Steve Spagnuolo and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole trying to bring pressure from the St. Louis defense. After an 0-2 start despite being a favorite to win the NFC West, Flacco is expecting everything but the kitchen sink when the Ravens travel to the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday afternoon.
Defensive ends Chris Long and James Hall combined for 19 sacks a year ago and could pose problems for Ravens tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher.
“When a team has that pressure to go out there and get a win under their belts, they’ll probably play a little bit more like they don’t have anything to lose, and they’ll probably come after us a little more,” Flacco said. “It’s going to be our job to play the exact same way.”
For a team battling injuries at wide receiver and along the offensive line — Evans and offensive linemen Ben Grubbs and Matt Birk didn’t practice on Wednesday — the Ravens have little margin for error offensively, making it all the more critical to establish the running game and create third-and-manageable scenarios against the desperate Rams. The Ravens will want to dictate the tempo and not have to react to the punches of the opposition as they did against the Titans.
“You don’t win football games in this league unless you go out there and play to win,” Flacco said. “You can’t sit back on your heels and just really play not to lose and hope you win football games. You’ve got to play to win football games, and if you don’t do that, you’re not going to win a lot. You might end up losing a couple like that, but that’s the way it goes.”
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