The Breakdown: Playoffs? Ravens Shouldn't Utter P-Word


Five thoughts on the Ravens' 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:

Playoffs? Ravens Shouldn't Utter P-Word
After a performance safety Ed Reed correctly labeled "an embarrassment," the Ravens stood by their lockers parroting what Head Coach John Harbaugh obviously had just told them, that all of their goals were still attainable, including a run in the playoffs. That certainly is true. And I don't fault Harbaugh or the players for going down that psychological road. They're trying to keep a sense of panic from setting in. But for some reason, I found myself thinking of former NFL coach Jim Mora's classic post-game rant from the 1990s. Playoffs? Playoffs?? After three straight defeats, culminating with this startling dud, the Ravens shouldn't even be uttering the p-word. They're in no shape to go far as things stand now. Denver is a playoff-bound team, typical of the caliber you see in January, and the Ravens couldn't run the ball, couldn't pass protect, let opposing receivers run free, yielded 163 yards on the ground, converted one of 12 third downs into firsts … I could go on. That's a lot of problems, and the Ravens just aren't going to be a factor in the playoff unless they fix a majority of them. It can happen in a league where things often change drastically from week to week, but with just two games left in the regular season, the clock is ticking.

Too Soon To Grade Caldwell
It's far too soon to assign the team's change in offensive coordinators a grade. It obviously wouldn't be a good one after this, but one game isn't enough of a sample size. In any case, the change from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell certainly didn't provide the jolt the organization desired. A fumble by quarterback Joe Flacco on the team's third snap sent Caldwell's unit into such a tailspin that its initial first down didn't come until midway through the second quarter. The receivers couldn't get open, Flacco overthrew a couple who were open, the backs had no holes to run through and the unit displayed no urgency. Sound familiar? Even if Caldwell had sent in breathtakingly brilliant calls, the offense's execution was so poor that it didn't matter. "It's not really about the play calling; it's about the players on the field," receiver Anquan Boldin said. That is so true, and if anything, it illustrates that while the Ravens may have had their rationale for dismissing Cameron, there is no magic bullet. The solution isn't nearly as easy as some believe.

Turnovers And Losses Are No Coincidence
My column that ran a day before the game suggested the Ravens should focus on avoiding the turnover bug that cropped up in the last two games under Cameron, leading to defeats. Well, you occasionally get one right. Flacco lost that early fumble while lunging for a first down, quelling some encouraging early momentum the Ravens had built. Then, with the offense in position to make it a three-point game at halftime (a minor miracle considering how poorly they'd played), Flacco threw a devastating pick six, effectively deciding the outcome. The Ravens didn't play well enough on either side of the ball to say those turnovers were what cost them the game, but it's no coincidence they're suddenly giving things away every week and also on a three-game losing streak, after limiting their turnovers and finding ways to win earlier in the season.

McKinnie's Doghouse Must Be Deep And Dark
It's hard to believe Flacco was only sacked three times in this game, as he was under heavy pressure from the outset. Denver's edge rushers continually crashed in on him, giving him little time to throw. It's become a consistent problem. Flacco has already been sacked more time this season (34) than all of last season (31) and things are getting worse (13 in the past four games). But while Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele struggle to contain speed rushers, veteran tackle Bryant McKinnie, a starter and one of the team's best pass blockers a year ago, watches from the sideline. Whatever doghouse the mountainous McKinnie is in, it must be a deep, dark place.

Flacco's Impressive Moment At End Of Long Day
One of the time-tested commandments of sports journalism is it's time to start paying close attention when things are going badly. You learn a lot at such moments. It's easy for players and a team when things are going well and the wins are stacking up, but what happens when the losses roll in? Who stands up and leads? Who keeps their poise? Who doesn't? Who grabs the trouble with both hands and looks for a way out? Who capitulates to the mounting pressure? Flacco didn't have a good game on the field, but I thought he was impressive in the locker room afterward, acknowledging that he made mistakes and honestly conceding that the untimely losing streak "is going to test all of us." He kept his poise. "We (all) have to go home and look in the mirror," he said, adding that he thinks the locker room contains the requisite "toughness" to endure. It was a stand-up moment at the end of a long and difficult day. Make of it what you wish. He still believes.

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