Carroll County Times

Commentary: Ravens win despite poor offensive performance

Having done virtually nothing all afternoon, the Ravens offense hung out on the home sideline as the final seconds of the fourth quarter were ticking away, not entirely pleased with their performance but glad at least to have done enough to beat the Bengals.
And then that happened.
A Hail Mary pass, thrown short of the end zone, that somehow wound up in the hands of Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green.
Tie game. Overtime. Seriously?
"It tipped once, tipped twice and there was nobody over there but A.J.- I was like, man, somebody ain't living right around here," Ravens receiver Torrey Smith said.
Smith was watching with quarterback Joe Flacco at the time.
"Real quickly you kind of say to yourself, 'You've got to be kidding. It is not going right,'" Flacco said.
It wasn't going right. Very little has gone right this season for the reigning Super Bowl champions.
And yet, a half-hour later, after a big defensive stand and a short drive by the offense, they were celebrating at midfield thanks to Justin Tucker's overtime field goal that gave Baltimore a 20-17 win to halt an ugly three-game losing streak.
The question now becomes, did Sunday's win turn the season around, or was it just another step toward 8-8?
"Where this leads us, we will find out," coach John Harbaugh said. "We have to get better in a whole lot of areas."
Very true.
Make no mistake, even if they had finished Sunday off with a ho-hum, 17-10 win in regulation, they did not play particularly well. Especially on offense.
"We struggled, man," Flacco said. "We've got to get better."
Some will talk about the two touchdowns the Ravens scored in the first half as they went ahead 17-0, but both of those TDs were courtesy of the Bengals. The first capped a 53-yard drive, 48 of which came on a pass interference penalty. The second came after an interception and a personal foul gave them the ball at the Bengals' 11-yard-line.
In truth, it was a pretty brutal performance by the offense. Flacco was 20-for-36 for a meager 140 yards. Baltimore rarely threw downfield, a concession to both a blustery day and the fact that the Ravens' offensive line doesn't give Flacco any time to throw. Still, when you average 7.0 yards per completion, that's a pretty unproductive showing. And the wind had nothing to do with bad decision-making that caused one of Flacco's two interceptions and his fumble.
Yet the passing game somehow outperformed the running game, which was every bit as bad as it has been all season.
Baltimore rushed for just 85 yards, getting 2.8 yards per carry. Both of those numbers were inflated by a fancy trick play to backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor that went for 18 yards, the team's only rush for 10 or more yards all afternoon.
For the season the Ravens are averaging that same 2.8 yards per carry, worst in the league. Ray Rice says he's 100 percent physically, but the team's fans had better hope he's actually still hurting because the only player on the field who looked like the Ray Rice of 2008-12 was Cincy's Giovani Bernard.
Certainly, the offensive line continues to struggle, but Rice wasn't hitting the holes, wasn't making anyone miss, wasn't breaking tackles. He finished with 30 yards on 18 carries. The same player who averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2009, who made a habit of breaking off long runs, is picking up only 2.5 yards per carry this season. And he hasn't been dangerous as a receiver, either, averaging a paltry 4.9 yards per catch.
The Ravens could've won Sunday in a nice, relaxing manner if they had been able to gain one first down late in regulation. They ran it three times, but couldn't make the necessary 10 yards to wrap things up. And why would anyone have thought that given that they ran for exactly one first down all afternoon.
Looking at the numbers - three conversions on 16 third down plays, three turnovers, 189 total yards on 71 plays - it's amazing the Ravens won. It's a testament to how poorly the Bengals played.
Or, for those who look at these things with more optimistic eyes, it's a testament to the perseverence of the players.
Who would've bet on the Ravens after that Hail Mary? Yet they came out and stopped Cincinnati and then made a couple of first downs to get Tucker into position to win it.
"You have to be ready for the worst-case scenario," guard Marshal Yanda said. "We thought we had it, then all of a sudden a freak play and then you've got to get locked back in.
"It's tough. We did a good job of answering the bell when we absolutely had to."
Said Harbaugh: "I feel like they showed the heart of champions today."
No one questions their heart. Their legs, arms, feet, and hands, maybe, but not their heart.
Clearly, Baltimore is right back in the division and wild-card races, but for Sunday's game to have meant something, the Ravens have got to improve on offense. In the midst of the highest-scoring year in NFL history, this team has exceeded 20 points just three times in nine games. That just won't cut it.
Harbaugh knows that. The players know that. Knowing that and doing something about it, however, are two different things.
"There's no secret formula. There's not some magic scheme change you can make," Smith said. "You just have to go out and do it."