Five thoughts on the Ravens' 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Ravens Didn't Find Way To Win, Dallas Blew ItWell, now we know there's a difference between finding a way to win and watching your opponent find a way not to win. The Ravens have been adept this year at enduring some rough times, especially on defense, yet making just enough plays to prevail, even when outplayed. On this Sunday, they not only were completely dominated, but also made the kinds of mistakes that usually lose games, i.e., letting the other team recover a crucial onside kick after driving the length of the field for a late touchdown. In many respects, it was the Cowboys who found a way to win with those plays. But they simply couldn't capitalize. Dez Bryant played a spectacular game, but walked away as the goat after dropping a two-point conversion that would have tied the game in the final minute. The ball was right in his hands, a perfect feed from Tony Romo. And after a stunning onside kick recovery gave the Cowboys yet another chance, their kicker, Dan Bailey, pushed a 51-yard attempt wide at the gun. The Ravens didn't find a way to win. They just watched the charitable Cowboys find a way not to win.
Secondary Will Survive Loss Of Webb, But Run Defense Another Story
If cornerback Lardarius Webb really suffered a torn ACL, as Head Coach John Harbaugh intimated might be the case, it's obviously a devastating blow to the pass defense. But I'm still more worried about the run defense going forward. The only solace about Webb's going down is there's quality depth at his position. Jimmy Smith becomes the starter, with a mix of others such as Corey Graham and Chykie Brown likely filling the nickel slot and other roles. Provided Smith is ready, and he played well Sunday before suffering a minor injury, the secondary will survive. But the run defense is another story. It has been obliterated for two straight weeks. The Cowboys' 227 yards on the ground was an all-time high against the Ravens, who were manhandled at the point of attack. What can they do to improve? Well, this isn't baseball, where you can make a midseason trade for help. You either have to improve your technique or simply accept the fact that your personnel isn't up to the task and concoct some other way to try to stop the run, a tough thing to do.
Why Hasn't Jones Been Returning All Along?
The Ravens special teams were difference-makers. Jacoby Jones ran a kickoff back for a touchdown early in the third quarter, a huge play that forced the Cowboys to play from behind throughout the second half. Watching Jones run back kicks all day, gaining 26 and 25 yards on two others, my only question is why wasn't he doing it before? He's explosive. And of course, the Cowboys' Bailey missed the game-winning kick from 51 yards on the final play. Should he be castigated? I'd go easy on him. The wind was swirling pretty hard. He had a .500 career batting average from 50 yards and beyond, having made two of four last year. Yes, it was the kind of kick that more and more NFL kickers are making. But to expect him to make it is going a little far. I'd blame the Dallas sideline. The Cowboys had time to make Bailey's job easier by picking up 10 more yards or so, but inexplicably, they elected just to run the clock down rather than attempt another play, even though they had a timeout. Terrible decision-making there, and as a result, Bailey was left with a longer kick … a little too long. It takes a village to blow a game.
Ravens Get Touchdowns, Not Just Field Goals
How did the Ravens overcome such a glaring time of possession shortage, basically their 20 minutes to Dallas' 40? By making the most of the times they did have the ball. The difference in this game was the fact that the Ravens punched the ball over the goal line rather than settle for field goals, as Dallas did on three occasions. Leading by one point in the fourth quarter, the Ravens drove into the red zone, threatening to expand their lead. My thought was they would probably win the game if they scored a touchdown in that situation, giving them an eight-point lead, and they probably would lose the game if they settled for a field goal, leaving them just four points ahead, with the Cowboys moving on their defense. They scored the touchdown and "it was a completely difference scenario at the end as a result," Ray Rice said.
Karma On Ravens' Side
Let's talk karma. It is on the Ravens' side so far this season, no question. Although they're not playing anywhere near the high caliber they expected of themselves this season, they've won enough (or had enough opponents find ways not to win) to build a two-game lead in the AFC North. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers are teetering, having lost three of five games while experiencing a rash of injuries, and the Cincinnati Bengals have lost two in a row to teams with losing records, raising all sorts of doubts about their legitimacy as playoff contenders. You might think the Ravens have issues, and they do, plenty of them. But it sure is nice to have this early cushion, widening their margin of error. Let's say they lose to unbeaten Houston on the road next week. They're still 5-2 and solidly in first place heading into the bye. Do you take that? I do.