At the worst time.
And, like the one last week against Green Bay, it was there for the taking.
Sunday’s 19-16 loss in Pittsburgh – against a mediocre-at-best Steelers team – will sting for a lot longer than the 45-minute flight home later tonight.
The Ravens are in unfamiliar territory now, dropping two straight games heading into the bye and sitting at 3-4 as the halfway point of the season approaches.
John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs and the rest of the men in purple have their work cut out for the next ten weeks or so, that’s for certain.
Once again on Sunday, the Ravens offense failed to do anything for the first 50 minutes of the game.
Then, like last week against the Packers, they suddenly came to life with a championship-type-drive late in the 4th quarter to knot the game at 16-16.
Unfortunately, it was also “just like last week” for the defense, who surrendered a huge throw to Jermichael Finley late in the Packers game that sealed their fate and allowed 39 yards in the final two minutes of Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh to put the Steelers in position to nail the game-winning field goal.
That’s been the story of the last two weeks, in particular, and most of the season, really.
Offense: not very good for most of the game, comes to life late.
Defense: decent for most of the game, runs out of gas late and gives up a huge drive.
In fairness to Baltimore’s offense on Sunday, do you know how many possessions they had in 60 minutes of football?
Think about it for a second — in four quarters against the Steelers, how many offensive series’ did Flacco have at his disposal?
They had seven offensive possessions in four quarters and scored on four of them; three FG’s and a TD.
The reason they only had seven? For starters, they gave one of them away with a third-quarter onsides kick attempt that wasn’t all that bad of an idea, honestly. They just needed better execution, which means, basically, that Jeromy Miles can’t be offside on the play. Even though Justin Tucker was flagged for touching the ball before it went ten yards, Miles was flagged for offsides, which would have negated the play had it been successful.
And the bigger reason why they only had seven offensive possessions? The Ravens defense just can’t get the other team off the field without yielding a 12-play, 10-minute drive of some sort.
Pittsburgh, too, only had seven offensive series’ on Sunday, but not once did they go 3-and-out. In fact, five of their seven offensive possessions were eight plays or more.
On the final drive, Baltimore just couldn’t get a defensive stop when they needed it. Just like last week against Green Bay.
The back-breaker of the whole affair wasn’t even an offensive or defensive play. After the Ravens had tied the game with 1:58 to play, Emmanuel Sanders promptly took the ball six yards deep in his end zone and ran it back out to his own 37 yard line, scampering past the Ravens’ kick-coverage contain player who was supposed to seal the sideline but failed to do so. Starting in decent position, Ben Roethlisberger connected on three big passing plays and before you could blink, Shaun Suisham was lining up for the game-winner from 42 yards out.
In review, at the seven game mark, the biggest issue continues to be the team’s offense. Even with the no-huddle effort on Sunday, they looked lethargic and lacking the big play explosiveness you would expect from a unit with a QB who can throw it sixty yards like you and I can throw it twenty. They ran the ball for 82 yards, which looks like an improvement over recent weeks, but still have lots of work to do in that department between now and New Year’s.
Defensively, the Steelers penetrated the Ravens front seven time and time again with their own hard-nosed running style and Roethlisberger was his typical, scrambling self, finding receivers who had created enough separation to get the ball buzzed into them in tight quarters.
Baltimore’s defense, while decent enough “stats wise” this season, just isn’t adept enough at getting opposing offenses off the field quickly. Case in point on Sunday: the Steelers punted the ball one time all afternoon.
So, it’s back to the drawing board for Harbaugh and his coaching staff. The biggest benefit for the Ravens? They haven’t yet played the division leading Bengals, so they’ll have two swipes at them between now and their 16th game.
That said, if the offense can’t play better in the first 50 minutes and if the defense can’t play better in the final 10 minutes, those two showdowns with Cincinnati might not matter at all.