Sunday, November 17, 2013
Do Ravens even deserve to make playoffs?
By Jamison Hensley
CHICAGO -- The Baltimore Ravens are somehow still in the AFC playoff race despite their record dropping to 4-6. With a playoff picture as messy as Soldier Field was Sunday, the Ravens are one game back of the last playoff spot in the AFC.
But do the Ravens deserve to make the playoffs after losing to the Chicago Bears in overtime Sunday?
The Ravens fell to a backup quarterback for the second time in three games. The defending Super Bowl champions failed to hold a 10-point lead in the first quarter and a four-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. And the Ravens couldn't punch the ball into the end zone in the final minute of the fourth quarter despite having first-and-goal just 5 yards away from the goal line.
When the Ravens have needed big plays in the fourth quarter this season, Joe Flacco and the Ravens haven't been making them.
"There are going to be a lot of skeptics out there who don't want to believe it, but we will keep fighting," coach John Harbaugh said. "We'll come back home for a few weeks and will get ourselves back in this thing."
Count me among the skeptics. The only reason why the Ravens are in "this thing" is because the AFC is the Awful Football Conference. There are only five teams with winning records, which puts the Ravens one game behind the New York Jets (5-5) for the final playoff spot.
Yes, there's hope. The Ravens have three straight games at home, starting with an important showdown with the Jets on Sunday.
I just don't know why anyone should believe this is a playoff team. The Ravens dropped too many passes on offense. They missed too many tackles on defense, especially on the 14-yard touchdown by Matt Forte in the fourth quarter.
Most of all, last season's late-game magic has yet to materialize. The Ravens fell to 2-4 in games decided by three points or less because they didn't make plays in the end and the other team did.
On third-and-goal in the final minute of regulation, center Gino Gradkowski's shotgun snap went into the mud, throwing off a timing route to an open Torrey Smith in the end zone. Then, in overtime, Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb had good coverage on tight end Martellus Bennett, and he still couldn't stop a 43-yard pass that set up the winning field goal.
The signs point to this not being the Ravens' season.
"Regardless of this game or not, we got to win a lot of games to get in position anyways," safety James Ihedigbo said. "It sucks to let this one go, and it's been the Achilles heel all season that we get to close games and we got to make plays to win. It is what it is."
The marathon loss (it took 5 hours, 16 minutes to finish) delivers a big hit in the Ravens' hopes of winning the AFC North for a third straight year. Baltimore trails the Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) by 2 1/2 games with six weeks remaining.
The frustrating part for the Ravens is they turned a couple of weaknesses into strengths on a gusty and rainy afternoon. Baltimore got off to fast start but a 10-point lead disappeared after play resumed from a 1 hour, 53-minute weather delay. The Ravens finally discovered their running game, albeit against the NFL's second-worst run defense, and they still couldn't get the ball in the end zone for the winning touchdown despite two runs from inside the 5-yard line in the final minute of regulation.
"We can sit here and complain all day about how we lost or coulda, woulda, shoulda but it isn't going to get us anywhere," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "We might as well just go on and worry about things we can control and that's next week against the Jets."
The Ravens should've beaten a Bears team that was without four starters on defense and without starting quarterback Jay Cutler. Instead, Joe Flacco got outplayed by Josh McCown, just like he got outplayed by backup Jason Campbell in a loss in Cleveland earlier this month.
"It's tough to continue to tell yourself and convince everybody that we just have to keep going, keep going and move on to the next game. But that's what we're going to do," said Flacco, who was 17-of-31 for 162 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown). "You can't look too, too far ahead. It's kind of easy to do that and you don't want to fall into the trap. But we have to take care of business right now and it'll all play itself out."
The problem is, the Ravens would control their playoff fate if they took care of business in the first 11 weeks of the regular season. Now, it's more about hoping the Ravens can make the postseason instead of believing it.