Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh handled Sunday's officiating error like an adult in his Monday press conference – an adult who coaches a 2-7 team.
He didn't blast the officials or the league for missing a call that turned a win into a loss for the Ravens. He didn't call out those (blush) who wrote after the game that the refs got it right. (Not the first time I've thought I might need new glasses.) Though he described the turn of events as "disappointing" and "gut wrenching," he pretty much took it in stride, saying that's "just the way it goes."
Probably the last thing Harbaugh needs is for me to try to translate, but here goes:
Obviously, it's a shame, a sporting crime, that the officials decided the game and kept the Ravens from a win they could have used. That should never, ever happen. But since the game also included the Ravens losing four turnovers, setting a season-high in penalty yardage and dropping multiple passes and picks, including one that would have clinched the game moments before the non-penalty, they're hardly absolved from the calculus of defeat. So (I'm guessing he'll tell the players) as annoying as this is, let's not get carried away with blaming the refs.
If that's what he means, I agree wholeheartedly.
Sure, the loss hurts in that it means the Ravens now have no shot at going on that late-season playoff chase they talked about last week. But after watching Sunday's game, I'm not sure that run was happening, anyway.
Oh, I admit, before they lost, I could almost see what they were getting excited about, even if it was pie-in-the-sky talk.
A home win over Jacksonville certainly seemed attainable, as did a home win over the St. Louis Rams this Sunday; neither of those opponents is going anywhere. Next up was a Monday nighter in Cleveland, certainly winnable, followed by a trip to Miami, where the Ravens always do well.
A playoff chase, that was a bit much, but I didn't think it was a stretch for the Ravens to at least make things more interesting heading into their home matchup against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 13.
But … never mind. When you fall to 2-7 with a home loss to the lowly Jaguars, who hadn't won on the road in nearly two years, it's official that you're going nowhere.
However they got there, the Ravens are now tied for the lowest win total in the NFL as Thanksgiving nears. They've lost to the Jaguars, Browns and Oakland Raiders, all residents of the league's lowest echelon. That's their neighborhood this year.
The Ravens just aren't good enough to go on that late-season roll, and frankly, I thought that was apparent Sunday long before the game's jaw-dropping final sequence. The first quarter said it all.
If you missed it, the Ravens came out of their bye-week break with palpable energy, forced a three-and-out to start the game and put the ball in quarterback Joe Flacco's hands. He hit a long pass to tight end Nick Boyle, then hit wide receiver Kamar Aiken in stride on a deep crossing route. You could feel the momentum building. But Aiken dropped the pass and the Ravens punted.
After the defense forced another three-and-out, the Ravens forfeited great field position when they were flagged for not one but two penalties on the punt return. Their offense still moved into Jacksonville territory, but on third-and-9 at the 42, Flacco meekly threw to a receiver well short of the first-down marker, guaranteeing the drive ended.
The Jaguars then took over and drove to a touchdown to take the early lead, helped by a pair of penalties on Baltimore pass defenders that moved the chains.
The first quarter soon ended, but ominously, the same catalogue of self-defeating mistakes that plagued the Ravens before the bye had all immediately reappeared – penalties, drops, head-scratching play calls, etc. So much for that post-bye "fresh start."
The Ravens also did some nice things Sunday, but they continually set themselves back with more mistakes, which included another failure to throw to the first-down marker late in the game when all they needed to lock up the win was one more first down.
Now that the league has admitted an error occurred, the final sequence is all anyone is going to talk about. Hey, maybe the players can use it as motivation. You know, get mad and make someone pay.
But I think it's more important that they keep working to clean up the recurring mistakes that also cost them Sunday's game.
Actually, when I wrote after the game that the refs got it right, I had viewed a replay in which the Jaguars were, indeed, set at the snap, however briefly. But it turns out they have to be set for a full second "inside of one minute remaining of either half, with the game clock running," according to NFL spokesman Michael Signora, and tackle Luke Joeckl didn't make the full second.
I should know better. In today's NFL, there's always a rule.