The Breakdown: Refs Didn't Decide Game, But Change Needed


Five thoughts on the Ravens' 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field:

Refs Blew Calls, But Didn't Decide Game
A lot of elements contributed to the Ravens' inability to win a game in which they led most of the way. Some of those elements – i.e., the questionable calls of the replacement officials – can't be controlled. And hey, while the refs did blow a lot of calls, they didn't decide the game. "It went both ways," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said in the midst of a post-game plea to get the regular refs back on the field as soon as possible. But there were issues the Ravens could control that cost them dearly, even more than the calls. One was the way they forgot about the running game in the second half, especially in short-yardage situations. The play-calling definitely became too pass-happy there. Passes in those situations are fine from time to time, but when you need one or two yards, as Ray Rice said after the game, "We have the best fullback in the league." I say use him. The Ravens also failed to close the door on the Eagles when they had a chance, like being up 10 and driving in the third quarter. A touchdown there could have practically sealed the win, but Joe Flacco threw into coverage and was intercepted. "When you're on the road and have someone down and don't finish them off, you're just asking for trouble, for what happened in the end," Lewis said.

Still, Lewis Is Right About Need For Officiating Change

Having given the replacement refs a pass of sorts in the above paragraph as far as determining the outcome of this game, let me state that I agree with Lewis that the NFL has to do something to get them off the field and get the regular refs back. When a lowkey non-complainer like Flacco says the integrity of the game is being threatened, as he did after this game, the time to act has arrived. Please understand: While the Ravens were barking about the officials and the calls after the game, they weren't blaming them for the defeat, as they shouldn't. They were just stating the obvious, that this game was a borderline abomination between the dubious calls and hesitant game management. It lasted long enough for autumn's leaves to turn and drop. And two two-minute warnings in the fourth quarter? Failure to keep proper track of timeouts? Come on. The fans deserve better, as do the players. But the league's see-no-evil approach is only going to cause more problems if this continues.

Tucker Over Cundiff Was Right Call
This might be obvious but it needs to be stated: The Ravens made the right call in going with rookie kicker Justin Tucker over Billy Cundiff. Tucker still needs to prove himself over the long haul, but his stronger leg was a key aspect of the decision because it potentially extended the Ravens' field goal range, and that change almost won this game by itself. Until the Eagles' final game-winning drive, the difference on the scoreboard was the pair of 50-plus yard field goals that Tucker booted, including a 56-yarder just before halftime. Cundiff is a solid pro kicker and could have done what the Ravens wanted, but he was just 1-for-6 from 50 yards and beyond in 2011. The Ravens only needed to get to the Philly 40 on their final drive to be in reasonable range for Tucker. They didn't get there, but what a change.

Defense Hanging On For Dear LifeFeel free to focus on the overturned fumble call that preceded Michael Vick's winning touchdown run. It did have a major impact, needless to say, and Ray Lewis, for one, thought it was wrong. (Confession: I thought it was an incompletion and the refs got that one right, unlike the offensive pass interference call on Jacoby Jones that brought back a touchdown.) But focusing on the calls obscures the fact that the Eagles' offense opened the game by breezing down the field (until Vick threw a pick) and then also closed the game by breezing down the field. Basically, the Eagles moved the ball all day and stopped themselves about as often as the Ravens did. Yes, the Ravens defense was bound to have its hands full on the road against the Eagles' assortment of fleet playmakers, and there were positive aspects to the unit's performance, such as the run defense in general and the play of rookie Courtney Upshaw. But let's face it, in both games so far (yes, even the blowout win), the defense was kind of hanging on for dear life. A new day is indeed dawning.

Up-Tempo Offense Still Best Approach
Even though they lost a game with offensive malfunctions playing a key role, the Ravens shouldn't lose their gall and start drifting away from the up-tempo approach they have adopted. Sunday notwithstanding, going with the style offers so much of a higher ceiling on that side of the ball. It's the best decision they've made on offense in awhile because Flacco is comfortable in the system and the unit is less predictable and more dangerous. Things broke down in the second half Sunday largely because the line didn't protect Flacco well enough; that needs to change. Also, when the running game is working, use it. But those mistakes and hiccups don't mean it's not a good idea anymore. It still is.

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