The fallout from the Ravens’ 27-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday centered around the controversial offensive pass interference call that wiped out what would have been an 80-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Steve Smith in the final minute.
Frustration was understandable as Smith and safety George Iloka jockeyed for position on the deep ball before the veteran receiver’s hand made contact with the defender’s jersey, and, well, the rest was open to interpretation. Whether you saw Smith pulling the Bengals defensive back to the ground or Iloka doing a fine acting job, it was the kind of play that would have made the Bengals and their fans just as angry had the touchdown stood without any penalty, but we’ve all seen the direction of the NFL in recent years with more flags being thrown in the passing game and offensive pass interference being a proverbial “point of emphasis” this season.
Let’s not forget we’re also talking about the Ravens needing an 80-yard prayer to pull out the victory in Cincinnati, which speaks to the shortcomings on both sides of the ball leading up to that moment.
Yes, injuries were a significant storyline for the Ravens in Week 8 as they missed the short-to-intermediate presence of tight end Owen Daniels as well as the Pro Bowl-caliber play of Jimmy Smith in the secondary after the cornerback exited in the first half with a sprained left foot. Baltimore was also missing a number of other players at various times in the game as offensive linemen Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, and Marshal Yanda as well as wide receivers Torrey Smith and Michael Campanaro received varying degrees of medical attention.
But the story could have been much different had the Ravens gotten more from either side of the ball in the final six minutes of the game and not put it in the hands of an official making a questionable call.
It was a bad day for Flacco as he threw two interceptions and completed only 50 percent of his passes, but the Ravens offense had its second straight possession off a turnover after safety Matt Elam stripped a pass away from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and the ball landed in the arms of linebacker C.J. Mosley with 6:12 remaining and Baltimore leading 21-20. With the ball at the Cincinnati 43, the Ravens had the opportunity to add to their lead while running down a huge chunk of the clock, but they were unable to pick up as much as a first down and instead settled for a 53-yard field goal for Justin Tucker.
Though the Ravens came away with points, a few first downs and a touchdown would have made it a 28-20 lead and left little time on the clock for the Bengals. Instead, Tucker’s field goal went through the uprights with 3:59 still remaining.
And that’s when the defense followed its two biggest plays of the game — game-changing turnovers created by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and the combination of Elam and Mosley — with a letdown drive in which the Bengals ultimately won it. A secondary forced to rely on cornerback Dominique Franks in a starting role was in position to steal the win in Cincinnati before rookie safety Terrence Brooks lost Sanu in coverage for a 53-yard completion on third-and-10. Instead of the Bengals punting deep in their own territory and needing to use their timeouts in hopes of getting the ball back, the Ravens were burned on third-and-long and Cincinnati moved inside the Baltimore 30 with less than four minutes remaining.
Baltimore surrendered another third-down reception to Greg Little to move the Bengals inside the 10 before quarterback Andy Dalton crossed the goal line on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 57 seconds to go.
The Ravens couldn’t make a stop when they needed it, instead allowing Dalton and the Bengals to drive 80 yards on 10 plays in just over three minutes.
Dwell on the interference call if you’d like, but the Ravens had their chances to protect their late lead.
Of course, there were earlier moments on which the Ravens can look back such as the decision to throw a fourth-and-goal pass from the 1 to Kamar Aiken that netted zero points on the opening drive of the game or the fact that running back Lorenzo Taliaferro was Baltimore’s leader in receiving yards with 42, illustrating receivers’ inability to get open down the field. Flacco’s pair of interceptions led to 10 points, which put the Ravens in an 11-point hole early in the second half.
And the defense allowed Dalton to complete 75 percent of his passes as the secondary was bending throughout the game before finally breaking late.
Did the Ravens receive the short end of the stick on the interference call that wiped out the last-second touchdown to Steve Smith?
But needing an 80-yard miracle wasn’t exactly how you draw it up before that little yellow flag was ultimately thrown.