Five thoughts on the Ravens' 31-28 loss to the Washington Redskins Sunday at FedEx Field:
Ravens On Wrong End of Close Replay Call
Here's part of life in today's NFL: While teams that lose close games (or at least the fans of those teams) focus on the calls and breaks that didn't go their way, the teams that win just shrug happily at their good fortune and move on. The Ravens certainly had a crucial break go against them Sunday when David Reed recovered a fumble on a kickoff return with four minutes to go, only to have the recovery overturned on replay. Had the play stood, the Ravens would have had the ball and an eight-point lead, and the game probably was over. But the overturn gave the Redskins life, and they made the most of it. The call came down to whether Reed controlled the loose ball before he went out of bounds. "I thought he had it, but we didn't get the call … you know how that goes," said linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who delivered the hit that forced the fumble. Yes, we know how that goes. Ask the San Diego Chargers (or their fans) about their loss to the Ravens three weeks ago and they will tell you Ray Rice didn't reach the first down marker on his fourth-and-29 scramble. The Ravens don't recall it that way. It's all in your point of view, and the Ravens were on the wrong end this time.
Still, Ravens Should Have Closed Deal
Having said that, the defeat didn't come down to the one close call that didn't go the Ravens' way. Sorry, but for the second week in a row, their defense yielded with the game on the line. Even after the Redskins were given the ball on the overturned fumble, they trailed by eight points with four minutes to go, and the end zone was 85 yards away. The Ravens are supposed to be able to close the deal in that situation, and they had chances to do it, but the Redskins made more plays. "I firmly believe we had that game won. They kept fighting. Credit to them," Rice said. Last week, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers controlling the ball for the last six minutes of regulation, setting up a game-winning field goal. This week, it was the Redskins clawing their way across the field to score not once but twice (including the two-point conversion) and send the game into overtime. The Ravens have no one to blame but themselves, and to their credit, that was their postgame stance. "We don't point to calls," Rice said.
Moral Of Story: Let Flacco Have No-Huddle
The Ravens offense gave one of its better road performances of the season in defeat. After quarterback Joe Flacco said publicly that he wanted to use more no-huddle, a tactic that seemingly had been abandoned lately because of so-so results on the road, Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron put it back in play, with good results. Flacco threw three touchdowns passes and had a 121.4 passer rating, while the running game was downright strong in support, with Rice and Bernard Pierce combining for 174 yards. This was probably a winning performance if not for a couple of turnovers resulting from poor pass protection. In fact, it was pretty close to the sweet spot for the offense, a nice blend of running and passing and enough yards and points to win most games. Moral of the story: If your quarterback likes the no-huddle, let him have it.
Redskins Comeback Not A Shock Against Patchwork Unit
Now that I've ripped the defense for giving up that late drive, let me offer a caveat. That was truly a patchwork unit out there trying to slow down rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris without top tacklers Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis or Dannell Ellerbe (none of whom dressed) or Jameel McClain (who went out with a neck injury). I don't know where the unit would be without Paul Kruger and Art Jones, both of whom have really stepped up. Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan, a pair of undrafted free agents, filled the inside linebacker spots. Given all that, it's not a shock that the Redskins' impressive offense had its way to a degree. But the defense pounded Griffin mercilessly until it finally knocked him out, and it had the better of things for most of the last three quarters, until it blinked at the end. Of course, this is a bottom-line business, so all that matters is the blink.
Division Race Goes On
Fact: The Ravens were one play away from winning the AFC North title. As they lined up to try to stop the Redskins' two-point conversion attempt in the final minute, the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals were losing, putting the Ravens in position to lock up the title with a stop on the play and a win. But they didn't make the stop, they lost, and the division race goes on. The Ravens are still in good shape even after two straight losses because they had built up such a cushion with their 9-2 start, but they're going to have to beat a winning team or two to close the deal, which won't be easy. And their hopes for a No. 2 seed and first-round bye? The back-to-back losses have really hurt there.