Ok, let’s get all the perspective stuff out of the way right up front.
The Ravens are still in very good shape in the AFC and still are going to win the division title. They fell into a tie for the second-best record in the conference with the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, but hold the head-to-head tie-breaker with the Pats and gain the three-way tiebreaker (if necessary) with a victory over the Broncos in two weeks. The loss at home was their first in two years.
While we’re rationalizing, it is also important to point out that when the Ravens were looking ahead to playing the Pittsburgh Steelers twice in three weeks with a West Coast trip to San Diego in between, most fans – and probably the coaching staff – would have signed up to guarantee two wins in three games.
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Regardless of all the reasons why one loss to the banged-up Steelers isn’t the end of the world, the fact that the Ravens lost this particular game the way they did raised all kinds of red flags as they look ahead to a string of three games that – as it turns out – are likely to be tougher than the three they just played.
They’ll get to see tonight just what kind of challenge they are going to face at FedEx Field on Sunday. The Redskins are starting to look very dangerous, and they’ll put hot rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III on national display against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football. What was once considered one of the lighter games on the Ravens schedule now is going to have some significant implications, since every game the rest of the way could mean the difference between a playoff bye and a postseason spent largely on the road.
All they have to do after they chase Griffin around next week is play the division-leading Manning brothers back-to-back and finish up on the road against the resurgent Bengals.
My 10-second analysis of Sunday’s game: The Ravens, who have not been particularly good on third down this year, seemed stubbornly determined to put themselves in third-down situations by wasting first or second down on long vertical plays into coverage.
Quarterback Joe Flacco understandably wants to get the ball to big-play receiver Torrey Smith, but each one of those long incompletions dramatically raises the odds of going three-and-out on that particular series.
Much attention was focused on Flacco’s fumble, but the Ravens actually won the turnover battle, 3-2, and appeared to be in control of the game until the offense took another long nap late in the game.
Obviously, you have to give some credit to a very good Pittsburgh defense, but it’s not like that’s the first time Flacco and the offense has looked dazed and confused. Meanwhile, veteran Charlie Batch – who looked so helpless against the Browns a week earlier – found receivers when he had to and punctured the Ravens’ solid red zone defense twice in the second half.
Clearly, the Steelers needed the game more, which is a very real part of the motivational equation in the NFL, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the Ravens gave away the ball at a critical moment, wasted their second-half timeouts and regressed defensively after several weeks of improvement.
They looked like a team that’s very lucky to be 9-3 and has some work to do if they don’t want to be 9-6 three weeks from now.