As lopsided as the first half of Sunday’s 26-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was, Baltimore still had a chance in the fourth quarter to win.
But then Joe Flacco threw two interceptions.
Flacco tossed a pair of picks on back-to-back drives, sealing the Ravens’ fate. In the process, he extended his league-leading streak of games with at least one interception thrown to 10.
“I sucked,” Flacco said. “We’ve got to be better early in games. That’s the type of game that’s going to benefit us right now.”
Coming off the worst statistical game of Flacco’s career in London vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Ravens offense put up just 69 total yards in the first half Sunday against the Steelers.
The Ravens had four consecutive three-play drives in the first half, including a fumble by running back Alex Collins. The first half ended with the Ravens scoreless when Justin Tucker came up short on a 62-yard field-goal try.
Baltimore moved the ball better in the second half, and got within striking distance at 19-9 after a 50-yard scamper by Collins and 16-yard touchdown strike from Flacco to wide receiver Mike Wallace. But just when the offense looked to be gaining momentum, it shot itself in the foot.
Flacco’s first interception came with about 11 minutes left in the game when he tried to hit tight end Benjamin Watson on a bootleg misdirection pass near midfield. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier sniffed out the play and turned back in time to undercut Watson and make the play.
The next interception came with about six minutes remaining. This time, Flacco tried to loop a pass in zone coverage to Michael Campanaro, but Shazier tipped the pass and reserve cornerback Mike Hilton came up with the pick.
“[It] starts with me,” Flacco said. “I wasn’t good enough to get us back in the game.”
The Ravens notched wins in their first two games by building early leads behind an efficient offense and dominant, turnover-rich defense, then were able to run the ball a lot in the second half. After falling behind, the Ravens were in a game they aren’t built for.
“Everything we do on offense is a little bit aided, either by turnovers, good field position, stuff like that,” Flacco said. “We’re not creating a lot for ourselves right now. We’re just going the hard way.”
Once again, Flacco found next to no success down the field. Part of that was Flacco’s receivers’ fault.
Wallace dropped a long early pass down the sideline, right in front of the Steelers bench. Then Flacco threw too high for Breshad Perriman on what should have been a touchdown following a defensive turnover. The Ravens ended up settling for a field goal.
Flacco was asked if he was kicking himself after the overthrown ball to Perriman.
“Of course. I mean, come on, look at it,” he said. “He was wide open and I was just trying to put it on him. I put it too high and we missed on an opportunity to really make a dent and put us back in the game.”
Flacco mostly settled for short to intermediate throws once again. He completed 31 passes and they went for just 235 yards. Of those yards, 71 came on the Ravens’ final drive of the game when the winner was already clear.
The question in the locker room was what the Ravens can do to improve the offense. Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda isn’t coming back, and neither are many other injured players.
The Ravens opted not to take a bye after their game in London last week, but players weren’t blaming their poor play on the long trip back.
“I don’t care if we played on Mars … Everybody travels. This is the NFL, everybody gets on airplanes,” tight end Benjamin Watson said. “You have to look at everything: run game, pass game, coaching, playing, how it goes together. You have to look at everything, every aspect of the offense.”
Each player and Head Coach John Harbaugh simply said it comes down to better execution by everyone involved.
“We just have to improve,” Harbaugh said. “You’re not going to make a bunch of changes; you just have to improve. There were some flashes in there, and we have to build on those things. It’s a process.”