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Everybody watching this primetime Thursday night battle was out of breath by the end of the Atlanta Falcons' 26-21 win over the Ravens at the Georgia Dome.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco nearly engineered his second comeback with under two minutes left this season, throwing a dart to tight end Todd Heap at the 1:05 mark to seize a brief lead, but Matt Ryan simply had too much time on the clock.
Ryan, who completed 32 of 50 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns, saved his best for the final drive. With 20 seconds on the clock, Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson and Falcons wideout Roddy White made contact. Wilson tumbled to the turf, and Ryan threaded a perfect 33-yard touchdown pass to White for the game-winner.
After the play, Wilson slammed his fists on the turf and pled his case to the officials.
"I'm not going to give an opinion on it," said Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh. "I think you guys saw it and everybody can have their own opinion on it. We were fighting like crazy to cover him and fighting like crazy to get him stopped."
The Ravens just couldn't stop the Falcons when it mattered most.
For the third time during the 2010 campaign, the Ravens held a fourth-quarter lead, only to watch their opponent claw back.
While it was a full-team effort, Baltimore's defense put much of Thursday's loss on its shoulders.
"In the second half, we were playing well," said linebacker Jarret Johnson. "The offense gets it rolling and is making plays. We had a chance to win it and just didn't. That's what's disappointing. You ask for those opportunities as a defense, but we didn't get it done."
That defense certainly got a full workload.
Atlanta converted 12 of 20 third-down attempts to consistently move the chains. Their success in sustaining drives led to the Falcons' dominating time of possession for 21:14 to Baltimore's 8:46 in the first half.
Meanwhile, the Ravens converted a respectable six of 11 third downs, but only one of them came in the first half.
"Look at how we started," said running back Ray Rice, who averaged 4.9 yards per carry on a 12 attempt, 59-yard performance. "We only had one drive in the second quarter and we were still in the game. When we look at the film, yeah, we got what we wanted against them. We just didn't execute, and that's us.
"I don't want to take nothing from that team, they played hard, they hit, they're fast, they made plays. At the same time, we have to keep our defense off the field."
The Ravens' other phases had their hiccups, too.
Flacco, who went 29-of-32 for 191 yards and three touchdowns, was harassed for much of the game and tossed a key interception in the third quarter. On special teams, cornerback Lardarius Webb fumbled away a punt return in the second.
But each turnover led to a Falcons field goal – not a touchdown.
In front of a national audience and a good amount of purple-clad fans amongst the Falcons faithful, the Ravens hung around until the bitter end.
Down 10-0 coming out of halftime, Flacco threw his first interception in 137 passes on the third play of the quarter. Under-throwing wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Flacco's ball landed in cornerback Brent Grimes' hands.
Taking over on Baltimore's 39-yard line, the Falcons needed only three snaps to convert a 51-yard field goal.
The Ravens answered with their first major spark of the game, as rookie David Reed took the ensuing kickoff 31 yards to the 35-yard line. Flacco then engineered a 10-play, 65-yard march that ended in a 5-yard jump ball to Anquan Boldin in the end zone, pulling the Ravens within six, 13-7.
Atlanta lengthened the margin with an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that culminated in Ryan's 4-yard strike to Roddy White, but Flacco again came back with an 11-play, 75-yard series of his own.
This time, Flacco completed six of seven passes and hit Derrick Mason for a 6-yard touchdown.
Flacco even got the Ravens a brief 21-20 lead at the end of the game with the pass to Heap, but Ryan was aided by a 24-yard connection to Michael Jenkins and a key pass interference penalty on Tavares Gooden to set up White's clinching score.
"With our defense and 50 seconds left, you figure we're going to stop them," said cornerback Chris Carr. "I thought our guys did an excellent job and fought hard, we just came up short."
The Ravens have held a fourth-quarter advantage in all three of their losses this year, but as was the case in Cincinnati and New England, late drives got the better of their defense.
With the loss, Baltimore slipped a half-game behind the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens will have an opportunity to right their ship with a Week 11 meeting with the Carolina Panthers on 10 days of rest.
"It was a devastating one," tight end Todd Heap simply said. "But, it's not going to affect the morale of this team."