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Ravens Focused On Fixing 'Painful' Special Teams Miscues

Posted Jan 13, 2013

The Ravens were able to overcome their first special teams touchdowns of the season.

As the Ravens come down from the excitement of Saturday’s thrilling double-overtime victory over the Denver Broncos, they will quickly get back to work to fix their mistakes before next week’s AFC championship.

At the top of the priority list will be the play of the special-teams coverage units, which allowed kickoff and punt return touchdowns to Broncos speedy return man Trindon Holliday.

“It was painful,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said about the coverage miscues.

The Ravens were able to overcome the return touchdowns and still pull off a 38-35 victory, but the miscues were a wake-up call to a special-teams unit that has been solid all season.

Those returns were the only special teams touchdowns the Ravens have allowed this year. The play of the coverage units has been a strength this season, as the Ravens allowed 7.8 yards per punt return (7th in NFL) and 23.4 yards per kickoff return (12th) in the regular season.

In last week’s game against the Colts, the Ravens didn’t allow a single return yard on seven combined kickoff and punt returns.

“We’ve played solid all year and for that to happen now is really a blow to our egos, but it’s also a wake-up call and it’s a chance for us to get better,” said veteran Brendon Ayanbadejo, one of the leaders of the group.

The scores put the Ravens in a hole early in the game and at the start of the second half, but Harbaugh credited his team for bouncing back from the mistakes and still being able to pull off the win.

“A punt return to start the game; a kickoff return to start the second half; enumerable plays back and forth in a battle,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys did not crack.”

Holliday’s 90-yard punt return came on the Ravens’ first punt less than three minutes into the game. Holliday then struck again, by returning the opening kickoff of the third quarter 104 yards to give the Broncos a 28-21 lead.

The two returns made Holliday the first player in NFL history to have punt and kickoff return touchdowns in the same playoff game. They were the longest punt and kickoff returns for touchdown in NFL postseason history.

“This guy Trindon Holliday, he’s a really great player,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

The breakdowns on the returns both came after kicks that that the Ravens didn’t want.

On the first return, punter Sam Koch booted a long punt, but it sailed left away from the direction of the coverage. Holliday, who ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash time (4.34 seconds) of any player at the 2010 NFL combine, only had to run past a diving Ayanbadejo and Koch for the score.

“We were punting the ball right, it gets caught in a bad rotation and pushes all the way to the left away from our coverage,” Harbaugh said. “He catches it on the run and he’s a human jet, and he was gone, just like that. It was shocking because we didn’t expect the ball to be there and then it was gone.”

On the kickoff return, Justin Tucker put the ball into the left side of the [add] end zone, but he still left some room for Holliday to bring it out. Holliday went untouched to about the 30-yard line then broke a pair of tackles by Tucker and Chykie Brown and cut across the middle of the field to go in for the score.

“It wasn’t the kick we were looking for,” Harbaugh said. “It’s tough to kick in these conditions on that ground, but we just didn’t cover very well and they just blocked it really well.”

As the Ravens prepare for next week’s AFC championship against the Patriots or the Texans, the mentality of the coverage units is to put the breakdowns behind them, and make sure they don’t happen again.

“I can’t foresee a team being able to come back from giving Peyton Manning 14 points,” Ayanbadejo said. “Everyone who is left in the playoffs is so lethal. If you give Tom Brady 14 points, it’s a wrap. You can’t do it."

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