Winning an NFL game is hard, and you shouldn’t question what anyone earns on the football field — especially on a game decided by a 53-yard overtime field goal. So congratulations to the Indianapolis Colts, who beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
But considering the evidence, it’s worth pointing out: The Ravens also beat the Ravens.
What else can you say about squandering so many opportunities? Given that the Ravens fumbled four times, that they ran only 22 seconds off the clock on a critical fourth-quarter drive, that they had a 61-yard field goal fall just short … and they still could have won? You might more aptly say they found a way to lose.
The only thing worse than winning ugly is losing ugly. And with respect to the Colts’ Matt Gay — not the kicker we’re used to seeing thread the uprights for the win at M&T Bank Stadium — the Ravens deserve their share of the blame for dropping what could have been a W.
“It feels definitely like we screwed ourselves out of this one,” guard Kevin Zeitler said. “We did a lot of things that you can’t do when you want to be a winning football team. And everybody had a part in some way shape or form, and obviously it’ll all add up and you let the game get away.”
It was a game that kept making you say oof. But Baltimore still, somehow, played well enough to win.
Aside from one wheel route by Zack Moss for a touchdown, the Ravens defense — banged up and all — kept the lid on the Colts. Indianapolis averaged just 3.9 yards per play, was only 8-for-22 on third down and was turned over on a safety and on downs in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The last turnover on downs, when the Ravens got the ball at the Indy 46 with 4:10 remaining in OT, was the one Jadeveon Clowney thought would finally turn the tide for Baltimore.
“I thought when we turned the ball over and then gave it back, I felt like the game was over,” he said. “But you can’t say the game’s over ’til the clock says zero-zero-zero.”
And while this game ended at 1:09, his point stands: The Ravens needed to finish, and they didn’t.
The Ravens never got so much as a first down in overtime, despite being gifted excellent field goal position twice. The first was an uninspiring run-run-pass possession that the Ravens punted from the Colts 44.
When the defense got its turnover on downs, Jackson completed only one of four attempts. Under pressure, he threw behind Kenyan Drake, tight end Isaiah Likely dropped a pass, and Zay Flowers could not reach a pass over the middle. There’s a compelling case to be made that he was interfered with, but no flag was thrown.
It’s vexing, especially knowing the Ravens have a competent attack that they showed several times Sunday. The first drive of the game was clinically efficient. Jackson was 5-for-5, then patiently waited behind a blocker on a red zone run before dashing into the end zone for the first score of the day. The fast start promised another businesslike day for the offense, fresh off an impressive performance in Cincinnati.
Yes, fumbles played a huge part in turning the momentum for the Colts in the first half. But once the Ravens managed 81- and 43-yard scoring drives in the second half, they finished with: punt, punt, missed 61-yard field goal, punt and a turnover on downs. They got only 65 yards, four first downs and no points on those final five possessions.
Zeitler said he had “no idea” what happened to the offense after it had been flowing thanks in large part to designed runs for Jackson, who scored twice on the ground. It pained Jackson that he and the offense couldn’t find an answer given their many chances.
“That ticked me off,” he said “That ticked all of us off. We like to finish the job. The defense did great today.”
At least one late mishap had a partial explanation. The Ravens managed only to run off 22 seconds after getting the ball with 2:03 left after the defense forced an impressive safety. The first mistake came when Flowers fair caught the punt, giving the Colts a de facto extra timeout with the two-minute warning. Coach John Harbaugh said the clock was originally under 2 minutes, but officials reset it once special teams were already on the field: “We were unable to get it communicated to [Flowers].”
Justin Tucker’s 61-yard attempt that could have won it with a second left had all the hallmarks of a good kick, the veteran said after. He had good balance, hit the ball in the sweet spot, and it was perfectly on line. But, “Sometimes the nature of this game is [that] the ball does not go through.”
Other issues don’t have easy answers: The late running back handoffs, when Jackson’s designed runs had kept the Colts offense off kilter, seemed especially conservative. Jackson was under fire in pass protection, sacked four times, as the offensive line seemed to finally show signs of wear from missing two very good starters. Although Jackson hit his first nine pass attempts, he threw behind Flowers and Drake late in the game when the Ravens were scrounging for any kind of spark.
What’s more concerning is that this loss could keep resounding for a while. The Ravens’ schedule is especially backloaded, culminating in late-December games against San Francisco and Miami — two early Super Bowl contenders.
How much is a loss like this one, against a Colts team missing its starting quarterback, going to keep the Ravens on pins and needles in the standings late in the season? There are more chances to stockpile wins in the coming weeks with games against Tennessee and Arizona, but this was definitely one that, as much as any game on the schedule, was a W the Ravens were probably counting on.
This early in the season, it’s easy to chalk the whole thing up as a costly lesson — take it and simply move on.
But, if there was any lesson to absorb here, it was something the Ravens already knew: It’s hard to win when you’re beating yourself.