Five Things We Learned from the Ravens' 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos
Baltimore Sun reporter/blogger Matt Vensel analyzes the Ravens' big loss to Denver.
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It is too soon to say either way if Cam Cameron was holding Joe Flacco back or vice versa, but Flacco didn't get off to a good start in his first game without the coordinator.
In Joe Flacco's first game without offensive coordinator Cam Cameron calling the plays and breathing down his neck, the fifth-year Ravens quarterback literally fell on his face. Late in the second quarter, with the Ravens trailing the red-hot Denver Broncos, 10-0, their offense had finally started to come to life. Flacco connected with wide receiver Jacoby Jones for a 43-yard passing play and moved the Ravens inside the 10-yard line with a mix of passes and running plays. But the quarterback carelessly tossed the ball to wide receiver Anquan Boldin at the goal line, a predictable pass that Broncos cornerback Chris Harris stepped in front of and returned 98 yards down the Denver sideline. Flacco chased him the whole way and then stretched out his 6-foot-6 frame in a failed attempt at a diving tackle before his own goal line.
Flacco laid there for a few seconds, though it felt like a few minutes. As he counted little black FieldTurf specks on the goal line, I couldn't help but wonder where his thoughts went after one of the worst plays in what has become a very disappointing season for the no-longer-young quarterback. Three months ago, Flacco was the talk of the NFL after backing up his offseason bravado with the best four-game offensive start in franchise history. Pay the man, I said in chorus along with many others, including Ravens coach John Harbaugh. But then came the inconsistent play on the road, which then started to happen at home, too. The offense screeched to a halt, and after Harbaugh and Cameron butted heads, according to my colleague Mike Preston, during another string of three-and-outs in the overtime loss to the Washington Redskins, the decision was made to relieve Cameron of his duties. At first it might have felt like a weight off Flacco's shoulders, but that weight was quickly replaced by one that is 100 times heavier. Whether he liked him or not, something Flacco declined to talk about last week, Cameron was his shield, his built-in excuse. Whenever Flacco struggled, Cameron usually took the hit for not taking the shackles off Flacco or handing the ball to Ray Rice enough or getting too cute with plays the offense didn't execute. Now the blame falls squarely on the slouched shoulders of the unassuming quarterback, who is running out of time this season to convince the Ravens to give him the pricy contract he desires.
His first chance to show that Cameron was the problem couldn't have gone much worse. In the first half, Flacco had as many turnovers (two) as passes for a first down. And the Broncos had more interception return yards (98) than he had passing yards (78). His struggles -- in which he was not alone, though his stood out most -- allowed Peyton Manning and the Broncos to build a 17-0 halftime lead that the Ravens had little chance of overcoming. He threw a pair of touchdown passes to tight end Dennis Pitta in the fourth quarter to salvage his stat line for all the fantasy football players out there, but the reality is that he failed his teammates in a game in which they really need him to play quality, consistent football for four quarters. Can you think of the last time he did that? You might have to go back a couple of months.
I don't envy the Ravens. They have to sort through all these uneven performances and decide how to proceed with the 27-year-old quarterback, who will be a free agent at season's end. They pretty much have to slap the franchise tag on Flacco if they can't agree to an extension, though doing so doesn't feel like a formality anymore. His development has flat-lined, which is very concerning, but they must do their due diligence to find out if Flacco or Cameron is to blame. One game, albeit an ugly one, won't give them a conclusive answer. But it's impossible to ignore that in Flacco's first NFL game without Cameron, who was presumably cackling on a couch somewhere, the quarterback crashed face-first into the turf.