It was beginning to feel like old times for the Ravens late in the second quarter.
Holding a 10-7 lead with just over three minutes left in the first half, the offense had just orchestrated one of its finest drives of the 2015 season and a much-maligned defense had responded by forcing a three-and-out to force the Arizona Cardinals to punt for a second straight possession. Still with two timeouts remaining, the Ravens had visions of growing their advantage before halftime.
They had temporarily made you forget the misery of a 1-5 start, and they suddenly didn’t look like the substantial underdogs that they were entering Monday night.
Of course, that all changed when punter Drew Butler kicked to return man Jeremy Ross, who was promptly stripped of the ball by Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel. Arizona recovered the fumble on the Baltimore 25-yard line, and replay upheld the ruling on the field.
An unnecessary roughness penalty by Asa Jackson on the punt and pass interference penalties by Lardarius Webb and Brynden Trawick pushed Arizona even closer to the end zone before quarterback Carson Palmer connected with receiver Michael Floyd for a 3-yard touchdown to give the Cardinals a 14-10 lead just before halftime.
The Ravens wouldn’t lead again as neither the offense nor the defense would play as well the rest of the way.
Rinse and repeat.
The “Groundhog Day” narrative intact.
Of course, the fumble wasn’t without controversy as Ross claimed that his knee was down before the ball was jarred lose. It was a close call — one that likely wouldn’t have been overturned by replay had he originally been ruled down by contact — but it’s just the latest example of the Ravens failing to make their own breaks.
We wouldn’t have been discussing the play had Ross simply done his job by securing the ball, something he’s failed to do at previous stops in his NFL career. If we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that teams leaving plays in the hands of officiating are going to get burned and they rarely have anyone to blame but themselves.
Yes, there were many other variables factoring into Monday’s game, ranging from suspect officiating and faulty headsets to shoddy tackling and Joe Flacco’s underthrow on what should have been a touchdown to Chris Givens early in the second quarter. But Ross’ fumble completely changed the momentum of the game and the Ravens never recovered despite Flacco and the Ravens nearly pulling off a comeback before an end-zone pass intended for Crockett Gillmore was intercepted in the final seconds.
Because of mounting injuries and a severe lack of playmakers, the Ravens simply don’t have the margin for error that they create on a weekly basis. You can complain about officiating all you want — there was plenty to gripe about on Monday night — but the Ravens were still their own worst enemy in the end.
Was the offense able to make the game-changing play — or just move the ball with any consistency at all — in the second half? The Ravens punted on their first four possessions after intermission before a blocked punt by Asa Jackson set them up on the 1-yard line, the first time the offense had been in Arizona territory in the second half.
Did the defense coax Palmer and the Cardinals offense into a critical mistake? The unit is still looking for its first takeaway since Week 3.
After the Ravens looked like their old selves for a sizable portion of the first half, the Ross fumble merely pushed John Harbaugh’s team back into an all-too-familiar pattern that resulted in another loss by a single possession. Perhaps the most sobering part of Monday’s loss was that you felt like the Ravens had played better than they have in recent weeks — they were facing one of the better teams in the NFC on the road, after all — but it still wasn’t enough to overcome their deficiencies.
Yes, the Ravens compete to make games interesting, but they continue doing just enough to keep losing every week.
And their 2015 season has spiraled out of control as a result.