Ravens pick bad time to play worst game, Flacco's knee a factor and more from Sunday's loss

RUNNING IT BACK

December 23, 2013|By Matt Vensel | The Baltimore Sun

It was all right there for the Ravens -- a chance to take a stranglehold of a playoff spot, a chance to set up a winner-take-all brouhaha for the AFC North with the rival Cincinnati Bengals next weekend, a chance to make a statement against another powerful New England Patriots team in a high-profile game.

Then Justin Tucker kicked the ball off to begin the game.

From the start, they looked overmatched and uninspired as the Patriots pushed them around. In the end, they were left looking for silver linings when reporters asked them whether anything went right in the 41-7 loss, the most lopsided of the John Harbaugh era.

Given how the Ravens had risen to every challenge over the past month while winning four straight games in four totally different ways, I have to say that I’m stunned with how they performed. They picked the worst possible time to play their worst game -- at least the first half in Denver was competitive -- and are now in trouble heading into the season finale.

The Patriots got on the board first after a questionable pass-interference penalty on Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith gave New England first-and-goal at the 1-yard line.

Quarterback Joe Flacco, who was playing with a bulky brace protecting the sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, looked out of sorts in the early going and threw an ugly interception on the second drive of the game.

The Patriots pounded the Ravens defense with running backs LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley while jumping out to a 17-point lead early in the second quarter. The Patriots only needed Tom Brady, one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, to hand the ball off. When he did throw, he went 14-for-26 for 172 yards and a touchdown.

After getting shut out in the first half, the Ravens finally showed signs of life offensively in the second half. They advanced the ball into Patriots territory three times. But whether it was an errant pass on fourth down, a running back getting stuffed near the goal line or a missed field-goal attempt, they could not get onto the scoreboard.

Finally, early in the fourth quarter, Flacco plunged into the end zone from 1 yard out to make the score 20-7. But the Ravens would not threaten the rest of the evening.

The game, already ugly, became a laugher in the final minutes when the Patriots scored twice on defense to make it the most lopsided home loss in Ravens history.

The Patriots dominated the game in all phases, particularly up front on both sides of the ball, and it didn’t help matters that every bounce seemingly went their way.

After the embarrassing blowout loss, the Ravens are no longer in control of their future as it relates to the playoffs. In their only likely path to the postseason, not only do they need to beat the Bengals, who are hot at home and have something left to play for, in Cincinnati this Sunday, but they also need either the Miami Dolphins or San Diego Chargers to lose to get in.

Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have never gone into Week 17 needing another team to lose to make the playoffs, something that can’t sit well with Harbaugh and his players.

Flacco said the team can only worry about what it can control, but it had better leave no doubt and respond with one of its best performances of 2013. The Ravens might not make it into the playoffs either way, but at least they will know that they went down fighting, unlike Sunday, when they never showed up for the opening kickoff.

One thing that I learned

Flacco’s knee injury was a bigger deal than we first thought. The quarterback got off to a sluggish start, with as many completions (one) as interceptions in the first quarter. He did not look comfortable throwing the ball, and it didn’t help that the offensive line was caving in around him. On that interception, he tentatively tossed the ball instead of driving the throw downfield. He also awkwardly fell untouched for a sack. Flacco was just 5-for-10 for 52 yards at halftime, though he did look better in the second half, getting out of the pocket and making some throws on the run. Flacco finished for 260 passing yards with two interceptions. He said his knee was not a factor in his uneven performance. His play, at least in the first half, suggested otherwise. Unfortunately, the Ravens don’t let us watch anything substantial at practice other than a few minutes of special teams, so it was hard to gauge the injury’s impact.

Handing out game balls

After this loss, I think I’m just going to hang on to the game balls this week, if that’s cool with you guys.

This week’s head-scratcher

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