A concerning trend has emerged for the Ravens over the last three weeks.
The defense has failed to get opponents off the field late in games to give Joe Flacco and the offense opportunities to mount fourth-quarter comebacks.
The issue showed up again Sunday, as the Browns ate up 6 minutes, 30 seconds at the end of fourth quarter to seal the Ravens' fate in a 24-18 loss at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"You've got to get off the field," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "We've played good defense the whole game for the most part – we had some mistakes and some errors – but we're good enough to get that stop there, and we have to get that stop. And we haven't done it for two or three games in a row."
Sunday's loss was the third in a row for the Ravens, and in each game the defense was unable to get late stops to put the ball back in the offense's hands.
The Browns went on a 15-play drive to set up a 22-yard Billy Cundiff field goal that virtually put the game out of reach. At the start of the drive, the Ravens trailed by just three points and the defense wanted to get Flacco another opportunity to at least send the game to overtime.
Instead the Browns converted four first downs – once on third down and another time on fourth down – to move the chains and run down the clock.
Quarterback Jason Campbell scrambled for a 12-yard gain to pick up the first down on third-and-3. Later in the drive, the Browns went for it on fourth-and-1, and Campbell scrambled out of the pocket to find wide receiver Davone Bess for a three-yard gain.
Defensive lineman Art Jones said every man in the huddle knew how big of an impact the play would have on the game, but his unit didn't halt the drive.
"We stop this and our offense will be in good field-goal position," Jones said. "But hats off to them. They had a great play call and Campbell scrambled, which he usually doesn't do to that side and he made a big play.
"We just got to find a way to get off the field in critical third-down and fourth-down situations," defensive end Chris Canty added. "We've got to a find a way to be able to convert those. Championship defenses are able to do that. We weren't able to do that today."
The late drive by the Browns had a striking resemblance to recent losses to the Packers and Steelers.
In the Week 7 loss to Green Bay, the Packers went on an eight-play drive and converted twice on third down to eat up the final 2:04 in the fourth quarter. The Steelers went on an eight-play drive to set up a game-winning field goal as time expired in the Week 8 loss.
"We want to rise up to the challenge, and as of late, we haven't been able to rise up to that challenge," Canty said. "We haven't been able to meet that challenge and be successful. We've got to find a way to be able to do that."* *
The late-game struggles for the defense have all come after the defense has played well for much of the game. The Ravens had allowed just 265 yards before Cleveland's final drive, and had forced punts on their last two possessions.
But when the Ravens needed one more stop at the end of the game, the defense could not come up with one.
"We couldn't get off the field," Canty said. "We've got to find a way to shore up some of the mistakes that we've made, some of the opportunities that we gave them. We've got to fix it."