Five thoughts on the Ravens' 31-27 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
This Loss Is Not Easily Rationalized
If you think you had a hard time getting over how last season ended, wait until you try getting over this one. A year ago, at least the Ravens were in Pittsburgh, where the going is tough. A year ago, they were done in by a great play from the best receiver in pro football. This defeat – as abrupt, bitter and disappointing as a loss can be – is not so easily rationalized. The Ravens were at home, needing to make just one more stop, on a fourth-and-12 play, to make the playoffs for the first time in three years. One stop on fourth-and-long, at home, against a losing team, but the Ravens faltered. Didn't make the play. Couldn't make the play. A Bengals receiver named Tyler Boyd, who is not Antonio Brown, broke wide open, reeled in a pass and ran to the end zone, turning what was about to be a celebration into a nightmare as brutal as any the Ravens have experienced in their 22 seasons. They had started miserably, fought back, suffered what could have been a season-ending pick-6, overcame that, too. Their work was just about done. A trip to the playoffs loomed. But in an instant, they let it all slip away. At home. To the Bengals. Yes, this is worse. Honestly, I'm not sure when the sting from this will stop.
Hard to Believe Tyler Boyd Was So Wide Open
What happened on the decisive play? After playing man-to-man coverage on the first three downs of what was a midfield series with less than 90 seconds to play, the Ravens went with zone coverage, a "two deep" alignment, on fourth-and-12. "We were debating on the call. We wanted to give them a different look," safety Eric Weddle said. He continued: "We didn't play it correctly. The safety to that side drops; they made a play." The other safety, Tony Jefferson, added, "I honestly don't know what happened." Boyd found a seam, reeled in a strike from Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, then broke free to reach the end zone. For what it's worth, several Bengals assistant coaches were on my elevator ride from the press box to the locker room after the game, and they were incredulous – first, that Boyd was so open, and then, that he was able to go all the way once he caught the ball.
Ravens Offense Shares in the Blame
The defense will get the brunt of the blame, and that's fair after it allowed the Bengals to drive 90 yards to the winning touchdown in the final minutes. But the offense was also a major factor in the calculus of this defeat. I'm not sure I have the words to describe what went down on that side of the ball in the first half. With the season on the line, the Ravens came out and generated one first down on eight possessions in the first two quarters. It was a total meltdown. Joe Flacco was way off target, like a baseball pitcher unable to throw a strike. His receivers dropped a handful of passes. With less than a minute left in the half, the Ravens trailed, 17-3, and Flacco was 4-of-18 in the air. Then Chris Moore returned a kickoff 87 yards to set up a touchdown just before halftime, and everything changed. The offense woke up and played well for the rest of the game, moved the ball steadily and gave the Ravens the lead in the fourth quarter. But with a chance to close out the game late, it was unable to move the chains at midfield, giving the Bengals one final shot, which proved fatal. Between that misfire and the miserable start, the offense deserves its share of the blame, too.
We'd Be Talking Chris Moore and Alex Collins Had Baltimore Won
If the Ravens had hung on to win, we would be talking about a pair of plays that saved the season – Moore's kickoff return just before halftime, and then, an amazing touchdown run by Alex Collins in the third quarter. The latter came when Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh elected to go for it on fourth-and-3 at the Cincinnati 17 with the Ravens down by 14 points. Collins headed left with a pitchout, which the Bengals sniffed out, leaving Collins nowhere to run. He reversed his field, started cutting back and forth between tacklers, reached the edge and wound up going all the way, finishing with a dive across the goal line. Collins' 2017 season began with him getting cut by the Seattle Seahawks, but it ended with him giving a spot-on Barry Sanders impression on a touchdown run, as he fell just short of a thousand yards rushing for the season. No one wants to think about what lies ahead after such a galling loss, but if there's any caveat to entertain going forward,* *it's that the Ravens have certainly found themselves an explosive running back.
Although it was the pass defense that faltered late, the Ravens' interior defense also had a rough day, allowing the Bengals to rush for 146 yards and a healthy 4.9-yard average on 30 attempts. Cincinnati entered the game ranked No. 31 in the league in rushing. The Ravens' pass rush also wasn't much of a factor for most of the game … The Bengals' final drive was aided by two penalties on the Ravens, one for holding and one for pass interference, but the Ravens weren't squawking. "We didn't make enough plays. That's why we lost the game," receiver Mike Wallace said … The Ravens did an excellent job of overcoming a freakish pick-6, which could have squelched their second-half momentum. It left them down by two touchdowns with 25 minutes to play, but they still came back to take the lead. "We did a great job of fighting. They just made one more play at the end," Wallace said. Those words won't make this offseason any easier.
Check out all the photos from M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens host the Bengals in week 17 of the 2017 season!