Skip to main content

John Harbaugh Explains Onside Kick Decision

John Harbaugh said coming into Sunday's game against Pittsburgh that he would more often side with aggressive play calling.

And that's exactly what he did at Heinz Field against the Steelers.

Harbaugh called an onside kick early in the fourth quarter, with the Ravens trailing 13-9. Kicker Justin Tucker tried the onside attempt up the middle of the field with nine minutes, 59 seconds left in regulation, but the Ravens came up empty on the gutsy call as the Steelers came up with the ball, and ultimately got three points out of it.

"The idea there was to grab another possession," Harbaugh said. "They had some long drives and we were kind of struggling to get possessions and to get our offense on the field."

The Steelers ended up recovering the onside kick, but that did not even matter because the Ravens were flagged for two penalties on the play – offsides by safety Jeromy Miles and illegal touching by Tucker.

"We had a guy offsides, and that's the unforgiveable part of the whole thing," Harbaugh said. "I don't want to see a guy offsides when we do this in practice. We talk about it every time we do it. So it's all moot. If you're offsides then you're not going to get it. That's the part that ticks me off more than anything."

The Steelers took over possession at the Ravens' 38-yard line and six plays later they added a field goal to give them a 16-9 lead.

Part of the reason the Ravens opted to go for the onside kick was that they had seen tendencies on film they thought they could exploit. The play was called a "bunt," where Tucker would kick the ball up the middle of the field and then try to go recover it himself.

Steelers linebacker Stevenson Sylvester stormed upfield to avoid potential blockers and put a hit a Tucker, allowing linebacker Vince Williams to recover the ball.

"We thought we could get it," Harbaugh said. "We're going to try it because we think we could get it. We thought we had a nice shot at getting it. Their guy made a nice play there, made a great play. He covered a lot of ground very quickly to get to that ball."

While the onside kick did not work out, Tucker emphasized that he liked the decision from Harbaugh.

"We have a lot of tricks up our sleeves," Tucker said. "We have a lot of guns in the arsenal. It's just a matter of when we are going to use them.  It's not an 'if' thing for us.  It's a 'when' thing. At the end of the day, the result isn't what we would have wanted.

"Nobody is going to question our [guts] and whether we're going to make those calls. That's important to set the tone like that."

Tucker took a big hit from Sylvester trying to make the recovery, and had to get examined by the training staff after the play.  He came back into the game with blood on his ear, but said that he was fine. 

"Turns out kickers are football players too and we take hits, and sometimes we give them out," Tucker said.  "It is what it is. I got a little bit of blood on my uniform, and that's not too uncommon when you're playing the AFC North."

The onside kick was not the only aggressive call for the Ravens.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, Harbaugh elected to go for a first down on fourth-and-1 from the Steelers 19-yard line, rather than kicking a field goal. The Ravens ran a quarterback sneak with Joe Flacco and picked up the first down, but ended up still having to kick a field goal after the drive stalled.

The aggressive play calls Sunday came after Harbaugh made similar calls in last week's game against the Green Bay Packers. In that matchup, the Ravens went for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line and also tried to get points at the end of the first half by throwing from their own 34-yard line with 12 seconds left. The Ravens did not get the results they wanted in either of those situations.

After those plays, Harbaugh stressed during the week that the Ravens would stick with an aggressive mindset.

"We're going to be an attacking, aggressive type of group," he said. "It's been good to us up until this point, so let's build our team into that."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content