Five thoughts on the Ravens' 28-27 loss to the Oakland Raiders Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
A Strange Day
A strange day. There's no other way to put it. The Ravens had big edges in first downs, total yards and time of possession, which would suggest they were in control, but in fact, they trailed all day until the final minutes, and as Terrell Suggs said, "we got flat-out outplayed." See? Strange, but true. The Raiders led all day and probably deserved to win, but when the Ravens rallied to take the lead for the first time with three minutes, 36 seconds to play, they were on the verge of pulling out a fourth straight close game. That's when they faltered on both sides of the ball, finding a way to lose for the first time in 2016. Their defense, which had held up well against a high-powered offense, yielded easily on a 66-yard Oakland touchdown drive. Then their offense failed to score on two final possessions, including one with a seemingly low degree-of-difficulty. The offense just needed to gain 10 or so yards to give Justin Tucker a shot at a game-winning field goal. "I think everyone thought we were going to pull it out like we have been," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. Instead, quarterback Joe Flacco threw four straight incompletions, including a drop and an underthrow, leaving the Ravens stunned.
Scrutiny Shifts From Running Game To Passing Game
Coming into the game, the Ravens' running game was the aspect of their offense most under scrutiny. Not surprisingly, a shakeup ensued, with Justin Forsett deactivated, Terrance West elevated to the No. 1 running back role and Javorius Allen getting to play for the first time in 2016. "We were just looking for a spark," Harbaugh explained. He got one, as West made the most of his opportunity, gaining 113 yards on 21 carries. He's got the job now and will look to build on this. Coming out of the game, though, another aspect of the offense will now be under scrutiny: the passing game. Although Flacco completed 32 of 52 attempts for 298 yards, many of his completions were on check-downs and short routes. Part of that was attributable to the fact that the Raiders were in his face all day, totaling two sacks and six quarterback hits against Baltimore's struggling pass protection. But whatever the explanation, the Ravens didn't really challenge the Raiders downfield, and Flacco seemed frustrated after the game that he almost never threw deep. Should be an interesting week in the offensive meeting rooms.
Blame Loss On 'Sloppiness Trifecta'
When you lose by a point, there are little things that loom large in the end. Harbaugh admitted he wished he had let the Raiders kick a field goal in the third quarter instead of accepting a third-down penalty that extended a drive that ultimately resulted in an Oakland touchdown. "Looking back, it wasn't the right decision," he said. His decision to go for two after the Ravens' first touchdown also came back to bite him when the try failed and the Ravens eventually lost by a point. But I'd identify other little things as the real reasons why the Ravens fell short. Let's call it the sloppiness trifecta: penalties, fumbles and drops. Their receivers dropped at least three balls, including one by rookie Chris Moore on the fateful final series. The Ravens also coughed up three fumbles in a 20-minute span in the second half, fortunately falling on two before Flacco lost one. Worst of all, the Ravens drew 10 penalties that totaled 105 yards. Yes, the Raiders were just as sloppy with 12 penalties for 93 yards and a key lost fumble in the fourth quarter, but as the flags flew, the Ravens continually set themselves back on offense. "We kept the pressure on ourselves too much," Harbaugh said. That's how you lose close games.
Defense Held Up Well Against No. 2 Offense, But Lacked Pass Rush
The day before the game, I wrote that we were about to find out whether the Ravens' No 2-ranked defense was for real. Well, it held up well for the most part against Oakland's high-powered offense, limiting the Raiders to well under their season averages for rushing yards and passing yards per game. Yes, the Raiders did score four touchdowns, but two came on drives of six and 29 yards after a long punt return and a turnover. Generally, the defense was effective, holding Oakland to 62 yards rushing and 3-of-12 on third down attempts. The unit's biggest shortcoming was a tepid pass rush, which didn't register a quarterback hit, much less a sack. That failing was especially problematic when Oakland rolled 66 yards to what proved to be the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. That drive is the reason you can't really say the defense played well enough to win, as Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley gamely noted, "We feel like we gave up the game," Mosley said. "The stats say we did well, but … we don't want to give up those kind of plays."
The Ravens' normally tight punt return defense had one of its roughest days, allowing 90 yards on four returns, including 47 on a return that set up the game's first touchdown … Ravens returner Devin Hester was productive, totaling 165 yards on seven combined punt and kickoff returns. But he also fumbled for a second straight week. He did recover this one, unlike a week ago in Jacksonville … The Ravens tried a slew of gadget plays. A flea-flicker didn't really fool the Raiders and resulted in an incompletion. An end-around with Mike Wallace gained 3 yards. A trick formation (a three-man interior line and the tackles spread wide) produced a 6-yard gain that was nullified by a holding penalty. Defensive tackle Michael Pierce lined up at fullback on a goal-line rushing play, but the back didn't score on the play … Quote of the day is from Ravens guard Marshal Yanda: "We're all just sick we couldn't get 10 more yards for Justin."
Check out the best photos from M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens take on the Raiders in week 4!