Life is about rolling with the punches and learning the most from one’s greatest defeats. The same concept can be applied to football as the Baltimore Ravens suffered their worst home loss in franchise history after the New England Patriots ran them out of the gym 41-7 at M&T Bank Stadium.
If it wasn’t for a Joe Flacco quarterback sneak that resulted in Baltimore’s only score of the game, it would have been the first time that the Ravens had been shut out at home since Sept. 15, 2002 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rolled into Charm City — at what when then called PSINet Stadium — and blanked the Chris Redman-led Ravens 25-0.
So what did the team learn from this drubbing?
First, Flacco isn’t the same quarterback when playing with an injury. As durable as the 28-year-old has been, Flacco’s mobility, ability to escape the rush and the capability of that front leg to step into throws were all noticeably diminished Sunday. The guy who has been talked about as having one of the strongest arms in the NFL was under-throwing receivers and at times overthrowing them for what was a largely unproductive day between the white lines.
His stat sheet looked like this: 22-of-38, 260 passing yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions, 6.8 yards per completion, 10.8 QBR and a 56.9 passer rating. Flacco was also sacked four times and while there are other external factors that go into the team’s lackluster performance, Joe probably played his worst game of 2013. It just so happens this is the game his team needed most.
However, the loss can’t entirely be put on Flacco. The defensive effort of the first half was porous to say the least. While the group responded and responded well in the second half, limiting Tom Brady and company to just 10 points offensively in the second half, they let the Patriots bully them in the ground game and had no answer for Julian Edelman as New England’s go-to receiver.
Brady wasn’t that good — 14-of-26, 172 yards and a touchdown — but the offense was efficient enough to keep the Ravens’ defense on the field longer than their offense, and that’s always a recipe for disaster when playing a Bill Belichick-coached team.
Another disaster to speak of was the running game. While the Ravens did total 121 yards on the ground, just 21 less than the Patriots’ total, Baltimore saw 39 of those yards come in garbage time with Tyrod Taylor under center as Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce once again were ineffective in generating any sort of consistent push or burst.
The offensive line was miserable as well and if the line nor the runners can find a way to make it work, the running game will be stuck in a quagmire as it has been for most of the campaign.
Rice has 931 total yards this season, with 645 of them on the ground. He had 1621 total yards last season, with 1,143 on the ground. He has touched the ball 259 times in 2013 and averages 3.6 yards per touch. He touched the ball 318 times in 2012 and averaged 5.1 yards per touch. That loss of 1.5 yards is the difference between the Ravens this season and last. They don’t get the meaningful yards when they need to.
Yesterday’s failure to convert on fourth-and-short was the epitome of what the Ravens have been this season: a team whose lack of offensive identity has forced them to win ugly at all costs. When they play a serious contender, they crumble as the level of play from the opposition far outweighs what Baltimore’s inconsistent nature has done for them in terms of wins and losses. The No. 1 seed Denver Broncos and No. 2 seed Patriots beat the Ravens by a combined 56 points in their two matchups.
So now, Baltimore can’t just win and hope to get into the playoffs. Anytime a team has to start saying, “Well, if this team does this and we do this…” is the team really deserving of the opportunity to play for a championship? The Ravens need to win against the Cincinnati Bengals and need one or both the Miami Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers to lose in order to make the playoffs.
They can also clinch a playoff berth with a loss if the Dolphins, Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers all lose on Sunday.