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Close Games Are The Difference

Posted Oct 22, 2013

The Ravens’ last three losses have each been by three points or less. Last year, they won them.

When Head Coach John Harbaugh looks back at his team’s four losses, he feels like the Ravens should have won all of them.

Granted, Harbaugh admits he always feels that way. But it’s legitimate.

The Ravens were leading at halftime in Denver. Their other three losses in Buffalo, against Green Bay and in Pittsburgh have each been by three points or less.

While the Ravens’ 3-4 mark is tough to swallow at the bye, it should be remembered that an alternate ending – which usually comes down to a handful of plays – could have resulted in a much different record.

“The biggest difference between last year and this year right now is that we’ve lost the close games, [and] last year we won the close games,” Harbaugh said. “So, we’ve got to get hot a little bit and win some close games.”

At this point last year, the Ravens had three wins of three points or less. They beat New England on a field goal at the buzzer, 31-30. They outlasted Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium, 9-6. They held off Dallas, 31-29, when the Cowboys missed a last-second long field goal.

It wasn’t always pretty, and provided lots of frayed nerves around Baltimore, but at least they were wins. The Ravens had a 5-2 record through their first seven games before going into the bye in Week 8.

This year, the Ravens have similarly played close games. But they’ve lost them.

“It’s not a lot different than it was last year at this time,” Harbaugh said.

The difference this year is evident when looking at the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals, who now have a two-game lead on the Ravens.

The Ravens are just ahead of the Bengals in points scored per game, 21.4 to 21.1. Baltimore’s defense is allowing just 1.8 more points per game and ranks 11th to the Bengals’ seventh in the NFL.

The disparity is the Bengals have been victorious in the close ones, including two in a row on game-winning field goals. They beat Buffalo in overtime, 27-24, on a 43-yard kick by Mike Nugent. A shanked punt by the Lions allowed Nugent to get off a game-winning 54-yard field goal as time expired.

Cincinnati also came back to beat the Packers, 34-30, and held on for a 13-6 victory over the New England Patriots.

“The team that is No. 1 in our division has won some really tough games, some close games; late-game field goals and things like that,” Harbaugh said. “That’s really been the difference; it always is the difference in this league.”

So how do the Ravens do it?

There’s no magic potion that a team can take that makes them better late in games. There’s no specific game plan for close contests. It simply comes down to clutch execution.

The Ravens got that from quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense in Pittsburgh. Flacco took the unit on a 17-play, game-tying drive with one minute, 58 seconds left against the Steelers.

But Baltimore’s defense hasn’t gotten the job done in the end. The Ravens allowed the Packers to run out the clock with a long completion to tight end Jermichael Finley. The defense surrendered three completions for a collective 31 yards on the final drive in Pittsburgh.

To win the close games, Harbaugh said the Ravens simply need to improve overall.

“We’re capable of winning all these games,” Harbaugh said of the remaining nine on the schedule.

“We’ve just got to find a way to those [close] games. But, not just find a way to win them, find a way to be good enough to win them. [We need to] find a way to do all the little things to put us in position to win them. We’ll work hard on that.”

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