Time and again late Sunday afternoon, all the Ravens had to get was just enough. Just enough yardage, just enough luck, just enough communication, just enough of something, anything.

They have become one of the NFL’s model franchises by winning on the margins, and here, in the late stages of an eminently winnable home game against a rebuilding Indianapolis Colts team starting its backup quarterback, were their chances. Take one, and the game would be over, their first 3-0 start since 2016 secured.

But, at a buffet of golden opportunities, the Ravens waited for a next bite that never came. They left M&T Bank Stadium with a 22-19 overtime loss, sealed by Colts kicker Matt Gay’s 53-yard field goal, and a bitter taste in their mouths. Plenty had gone right for the Ravens over 69 minutes of back-and-forth football — just not enough to outweigh all that had gone wrong.

“We knew we had it,” inside linebacker Patrick Queen said. “It was sitting there. We could have been 3-0, and we’re not. So there’s nothing we can do about it now. We’ve just got to capitalize next time. [We can’t] let this one turn into two.”

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Indianapolis Colts place kicker Matt Gay (7) drills a 53 yd. Field goal in OT to seal a 22-19 victory over the Ravens.
The Colts' Matt Gay drills the game-winning 53-yard field goal in overtime. Gay made five field goals, four of them 50 yards or longer. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

After solid wins over the Houston Texans and defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens entered Sunday’s game as seven-point favorites. On Wednesday, coach John Harbaugh had bristled at the notion of broaching a “letdown” discussion with his team. “I’ve never used that word,” he said.

It will be unavoidable in Baltimore on Monday, and Tuesday, and maybe every day thereafter until the Ravens kick off in Cleveland next Sunday. Every chance for a nail-in-the-coffin drive ended in disappointment, and every disappointment brought the Ravens closer to the brink. There were countless steps to disaster, but here are eight.

Step No. 1: After a communication error leads Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers to fair-catch a free kick instead of returning the ball under the two-minute warning, the Ravens take over with a 19-16 lead and 2:03 remaining.

“We were trying, but we couldn’t communicate to [Flowers],” said Harbaugh, whose normal punt returner, Devin Duvernay, was aligned as if the Ravens were expecting an onside kick. “They were winding [the clock]. That was unfortunate.”

After one Colts timeout, one two-minute warning, three Ravens plays and the passage of just 15 seconds in game time, the Ravens’ win probability drops from 88.5% to 80.5%, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats.

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Step No. 2: Punter Jordan Stout, up and down all day, boots a 33-yard kick; their win probability drops to 68.6%. The Colts’ favorable field position leaves them needing to gain just 28 yards to get Gay in range for a game-tying 53-yard field goal. He connects.

Step No. 3: Quarterback Lamar Jackson, having moved the Ravens to their 49-yard line with 23 seconds remaining, takes a sack for a 10-yard loss on first-and-10. (He’ll go on to finish the game just 7-for-12 for 57 yards against the Colts’ blitz, with two sacks taken.) The Ravens’ win probability drops from 66.8% to 55%.

“We just have to lock in more, stay focused more, take what the defense gives us, try to move the ball the fastest we could, but conservatively,” Jackson said.

Step No. 4: Kicker Justin Tucker’s 61-yard field goal attempt with five seconds remaining comes up short, his second long-range miss of the season. The Ravens are still favored to win the game.

“Struck the ball in my sweet spot,” Tucker said. “Sometimes, the nature of this game is, the ball does not go through, or you fall short sometimes. I’m going to choose to take on a positive mindset and look at the things that we can improve upon. I’m going to look at the things I can improve upon, and I’ll just leave it at that.”

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Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (24) gats away with a face mask against Indianapolis Colts running back Zack Moss (21) in a 22-19 loos to the colts.
The Ravens' Jadeveon Clowney tugs on the face mask of the Colts' Zack Moss. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Step No. 5: After a three-and-out by the Colts to start overtime, and a long punt return by Duvernay, the Ravens take over at Indianapolis’ 48. They need one first down to get into field goal range. They don’t get it. Their win probability drops from 73.2% — after Duvernay’s return — to 52.2% after Stout’s 33-yard punt.

Step No. 6: The Ravens take over at their 46-yard line after a fourth-and-1 stop by the Ravens’ defense, which will finish the game with two takeaways and a meager 327 yards (3.9 per play) allowed. Jackson misses running back Kenyan Drake on a short attempt, hits tight end Mark Andrews and watches tight end Isaiah Likely drop a would-be first down. Their win probability is down to 43.4%.

Step No. 7: Rather than punting with three-plus minutes remaining, the Ravens go for it on fourth-and-3. Jackson’s pass to Flowers over the middle is incomplete despite contact and protests for pass interference. Harbaugh does not get an explanation from the officials. The Ravens’ odds settle at 43.8%.

“We had plenty of opportunities to put the game away, especially when our defense did a great job at stopping those guys,” said Jackson, who finished 22-for-31 for 202 yards and added 14 carries for 101 yards and two touchdowns. “Great field position, [and] we didn’t move the ball at all. That ticked me off. It ticked all of us. We like to finish the job.”

Step No. 8: The Colts run four straight times for 18 yards and one first down. On fourth-and-5 from the Ravens’ 35, with 1:14 remaining, Gay comes on for his fifth field goal of the afternoon. His 53-yard attempt, which has coin-flip odds according to NGS, is perfect, laced down the middle, with plenty to spare. The game is over.

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“What is there to talk about?” defensive lineman Justin Madubuike said. “We took a loss. We have to play better both offensively and defensively. For them to come into our house and beat us, that just shouldn’t happen. There were so many mistakes that we made. We just have to clean that stuff up.”

The Ravens’ postgame diagnostic will go beyond late-game failures. Mistakes abounded, from players big and small, old and new.

There was the fumble lost by running back Kenyan Drake that derailed the Ravens’ smooth early-game offense. There was the Kyle Hamilton-induced strip-sack on Colts backup quarterback Gardner Minshew (27-for-44 for 227 yards and a touchdown) that the Ravens couldn’t jump on late in the first half, costing themselves primo field position. There was another lapse in punt coverage. There were the ball security issues with Jackson, who lost one in Ravens territory, and center Sam Mustipher. There was confusion in the blitz pickup. There were holes in the run defense (35 carries for 139 yards).

There was enough for the Ravens to lose a game they should’ve won. There was enough for a letdown.

Injury report

Ravens outside linebacker David Ojabo (ankle) left the game in the first quarter and did not return. Wide receiver Tylan Wallace (hamstring) exited in the third quarter and running back Gus Edwards (concussion) in the fourth quarter. Safety Geno Stone (ribs) briefly left in overtime before returning.

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Snap count surprises

With injuries taking their toll, the Ravens turned to unproven players to fill in the gaps. According to NGS, running backs Melvin Gordon III and Kenyan Drake, promoted Saturday from the practice squad, combined for 40 offensive snaps. Outside linebackers Tavius Robinson, a rookie, and Jeremiah Moon, newly signed to the 53-man roster, combined for 101 defensive snaps. Safety Daryl Worley got 76 on defense, plus 26 on special teams.

Schematic tweak

The last time Jackson faced a Gus Bradley-led defense — during the Ravens’ 2021 opener against the Las Vegas Raiders — Bradley hardly deviated from his preferred Cover 3 structure, a three-deep zone coverage.

On Sunday, Jackson faced Cover 3 looks on a majority of his drop-backs (57.1%) and largely handled them with ease: 16-for-20 for 143 yards, with no sacks. But he went just 6-for-11 for 59 yards and was sacked four times against the Colts’ other coverages.

jonas.shaffer@thebaltimorebanner.com

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring. 

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