Feeling the heat

Harbaugh left explaining decisions after first loss as Ravens coach

October 01, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Before his first prime-time game as Ravens coach, John Harbaugh told an ESPN national television audience that he expected to win multiple championships.

"We're going to be a dynasty," he said boldly. "If you're not willing to say it out loud, how do you expect to get there?"

Less than 24 hours later, Harbaugh had to address decisions, not dynasties. The rookie coach explained some conservative choices that played a factor in his first loss, a 23-20 overtime defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football.

The most criticized call came in the final minute of the first quarter, when Derrick Mason's catch in the end zone was ruled incomplete.

Replays showed Mason got his toes inbounds and had control of the ball, but the Ravens decided not to challenge.

"I didn't feel strongly about it from where I was standing," said Harbaugh, who was on the opposite side of the field. "Our people in the box didn't feel strongly about it. Then, you saw the TV copy later and you felt like you should have challenged it."

Mason also never tried to persuade the Ravens to challenge the ruling, although Harbaugh said he probably wouldn't have taken the player's biased view into consideration.

So, instead of taking a 7-3 lead, the Ravens settled for a short field goal to tie the score at 3. The risk for challenging the call was losing a timeout in the first half.

"If you need that timeout at the end of the half, you're going to get blistered for wasting a timeout on a challenge that wasn't even close," Harbaugh said. "It's always a second-guessing, after-the-fact type of thing."

The Ravens again left the red zone with a field goal instead of a touchdown because of a decision in the second quarter.

On third-and-goal from the Pittsburgh 8-yard line, the Ravens surprisingly ran the ball up the middle instead of throwing it.

"We were just trying to catch them off guard," Harbaugh said. "We thought we had a front that we could pop it through there. We felt like we could score on that play. Sometimes, you break a tendency and you sneak something in there and you get one that might be unusual."

On the play, running back Willis McGahee, who had injured his ribs four plays earlier, gained 6 yards and was stopped 2 yards short of the end zone.

"Obviously, it's easy to say third-and-eight, you're not going to run the ball in," Harbaugh said. "But it's been done before. And that's kind of our mind-set in all three phases. We break tendencies, and we try to be unpredictable."

The other talked-about strategy was the Ravens' decision to head into overtime rather than take a chance to win the game in regulation.

With the score tied at 20, the Ravens got the ball at their 13 with 1:40 left in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens chose to run twice and picked up the first down. The problem was running back Le'Ron McClain got injured, which forced the Ravens to use their final timeout.

Backed up in their own territory with no ability to stop the clock, the Ravens ran out the final 46 seconds.

"We felt like, 'Let's get to overtime and give ourselves a chance to win it because we don't have a good field position setup,' " Harbaugh said.

He considered it too risky to throw the ball in that situation because too many problems can occur when a team is one-dimensional.

"When they know you are pushing it forward and they come after you, you can get a sack or fumble and give the game away at the end of regulation," Harbaugh said. "It wouldn't have been worth it."

Besides the coaching decisions, two other factors why the Ravens didn't improve to 3-0:

* Pass protection: : In their first two games, the Ravens allowed one sack and three hits on rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. On Monday, Flacco was sacked five times and hit on six other occasions.

The pressure mainly came off the edges from Steelers outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. The Ravens' blockers got spun around so frequently that it looked more like Dancing with the Stars than Monday Night Football.

Harbaugh said the problems in pass protection were more physical errors than mental ones.

"We didn't have assignment errors," he said. "We can just block better."

* Penalties: : Harbaugh said the Ravens didn't lose their cool, but they were flagged for three personal fouls (two were offsetting) and an unnecessary roughness penalty.

As a result, the Ravens finished with a season-high eight penalties for 72 yards.

The biggest miscue came in the third quarter when the Ravens were ahead 13-3. After an 8-yard catch by Steelers wide receiver Nate Washington, Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he shoved wide receiver Hines Ward.

Three plays later, Ben Roethlisberger completed a pass to wide receiver Santonio Holmes, which started Pittsburgh's comeback.

Under former coach Brian Billick, critics pointed to Ravens personal fouls as a lack of discipline.

"The personal foul out of bounds was in a gray area in my mind," Harbaugh said. "That's a guy playing hard, and you'd like a better decision made. But that's a heat-of-battle penalty."

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