The pass from quarterback Joe Flacco sailed over the outstretched hands of running back Ray Rice on fourth down, the Ravens' final short-yardage failure Sunday.
During a 24-23 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Ravens converted none of their six short-yardage opportunities on third and fourth downs. In each situation, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called for a pass instead of running Rice behind All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda.
Cameron remains convinced it was the proper strategy, albeit not the best execution. He emphasized that the last sequence was longer than the 4th-and-1 listed in the official stat book, perhaps as long as two-and-half yards to gain the first down.
"I really felt good about the calls that we made," Cameron said. "If that was a legit third-and-1, we probably would have run the football or had the chance to. I like the idea of our quarterback having the ball in his hands, five potential receivers and the possibility of him to scramble and improvise versus running the football into two unblocked guys. That was the plan, we didn't execute it. I think that's probably the issue."
Flacco completed only 8 of 25 second-half passes with an interception on a third-and-short, a throw he forced into triple coverage. Other than Jacoby Jones, wide receivers rarely created separation.
So, why not run the football?
"There is some truth to what you are saying, but it wouldn't affect the call," Cameron said. "I'm going to have a ton of confidence in Joe. It has nothing to do with lack of confidence in anyone else. Will we do that all the time? No, but in critical situations you are going to see that a lot."
Rice rushed for 99 yards on 16 carries, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He has no carries on third or fourth down this season.
"When we looked at the film, they were great calls," Rice said. "It was just a little off in execution. The time when [tight end] Dennis Pitta was open in the flat, if we complete that pass, we're not even having this discussion."
The Ravens made minimal use of Leach, a devastating lead blocker. The All-Pro played just 19 percent of the offensive snaps — 13, including eight runs.
"I really don't count 'em," Leach said. "If I play five plays or 50 plays, I want to be effective. You can't ever second-guess the play-calling."
Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Merril Hoge thought the Ravens should have run the ball behind Leach.
"He's a power guy, one of the best in football," said Hoge, an ESPN analyst. "Leach and Rice should be well-rested. It's always a mistake to surrender and say, 'We can't run.' You got to try to the run the ball."
Emotional game for Pees
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees used to huddle with the New England Patriots, plotting defensive strategies as part of coach Bill Belichick's inner circle.
Now, Pees is preparing for quarterback Tom Brady as the Ravens take on his old team Sunday night.
Promoted from linebackers coach to run the defense in January, Pees acknowledged this game holds something extra for him.
"It’s always an emotional day," said Pees, the Patriots' defensive coordinator from 2006 to 2009. "I’m not going to lie about that and act like it’s just another game. It’s a big game for me. I think I mentioned it once before, it’s kind of like when you go out and you play golf against somebody and you want to win, but when you play your brothers, you really want to win.
"There’s a lot of friends over there on the other sideline, a lot of old colleagues, a lot of players that I coached. So, yeah, sure it’s an emotional game. It always is.”
Pees left New England following a 33-14 loss to the Ravens in an AFC wild-card game where Rice gained 159 yards.
When asked why he left New England to join the Ravens' staff three years ago, Pees shed no light Thursday, saying: "Personal reasons."
Pees has consistently denied that he was fired or that he left because of a medical condition that flared up when he had a bad reaction to asthma medicine, which had been speculated.
“I decided not to go back there,” Pees said in January when he was introduced as defensive coordinator. “My contract was up. I didn’t renew my contract. I was not fired, and I decided to explore other avenues. And this was a great avenue to explore.”
Pees said he has maintained a strong rapport with Belichick.
"My relationship with him is great," Pees said. "We still speak on occasions when we’re playing a team that’s a common opponent and we aren’t playing each other. In certain years, we’ll discuss things. It’s a great relationship."
Strong safety Bernard Pollard returned to practice Thursday and reiterated that he will play Sunday despite a rib contusion.
"I'm ready to go," Pollard said. "I'm excited to be playing. Is my pain gone? Yeah, man, I'm ready to go. When my mind is made up that I'm going, I'm not going to hold anything back and I will not.
"Nobody really cares. Once I'm in uniform, everybody expects plays to be made and they expect you to win. I'm playing. It's going to be all good."
Defensive end Pernell McPhee (knee), cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee) and inside linebacker Jameel McClain (knee) also returned to practice on a limited basis. McPhee underwent arthroscopic surgery in the spring, but has started the first two games without incident.
McPhee said his knee is sturdy enough to hold up for the entire season.
"I'm a soldier," McPhee said. "I don't think anything is really wrong with my knee. We're just being cautious with it. I'm going to go out there and fight."
McClain downplayed the severity of the ailment.
"My knee is good," McClain said. "It's working like always."
Outside linebacker Paul Kruger (back) and offensive tackle Michael Oher (ankle) were upgraded to full participation.
Offensive tackle Jah Reid (strained right calf) didn't practice.
Dickson not angry
Although he's been supplanted on the depth chart by Dennis Pitta, tight end Ed Dickson isn't upset about the change in status after starting the season opener.
Pitta leads the Ravens with 13 receptions for 138 yards and a touchdown while being targeted a team-high 24 times.
Pitta played 44 snaps and caught eight passes for 65 yards while Dickson played 36 snaps against the Eagles, catching one pass for 23 yards.
"I'm not going to get upset about it," said Dickson, who has three catches for 45 yards. "I'll get a lot of playing time like Dennis. We both get opportunities to make plays. If they see me with a guy that can't guard me, they're going to go to me. If they see Dennis with a guy who can't guard him, they're going to go to him."
Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg lamented a lost chance on a fake punt run where Sean Considine tripped and came up a yard short. "We thought it was there," Rosburg said. "It looked good at the start, it didn’t look very good at the end. I didn’t coach the timing of that play well enough. If we had the timing down, it wouldn’t have mattered what happened. He probably would have stopped somewhere out there by General Washington’s encampment." ... Making a joking reference to NFL Network's "A Football Life: Ray Lewis," McClain said Lewis, "wouldn't cheat me in Monopoly." Lewis' sons accused him of cheating during a family board game. ... For the Patriots, defensive tackle Justin Francis (ankle) and tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) didn't practice. The following players were limited: center Dan Connolly (concussion), defensive end Brandon Deaderick (ankle), cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring), tight end Daniel Fells (shin), wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (thigh), offensive guard Logan Mankins (hip), center Nick McDonald (shoulder), cornerback Sterling Moore (knee) running back Shane Vereen (foot) and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back). Safety Patrick Chung (shoulder) participated fully.