He got it right and wrong

The Baltimore Sun

A head coach is always second-guessed more after a close loss than the outcome of any other game, and the Ravens' John Harbaugh had his share of critics yesterday after the Ravens' 23-20 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Overall, it was a strong showing by the Ravens (2-1). They gained some national respect and showed they have a legitimate shot at winning the AFC North title. More important for local fans, rookie Joe Flacco continued to show that he might be the answer to the team's historical problems at quarterback.

There are complaints, however, but none here about the Ravens not throwing the ball all over the field with 1:40 left in regulation and the score tied at 20.

The Ravens took possession at their 13-yard line and had one timeout remaining. If they broke a long run and got in better field position, then you take a shot.

That's pretty standard thinking throughout the NFL.

But if Flacco is slightly behind on one pass - as he was several times Monday night - and the Steelers intercept it, the game is virtually over. Also, the Ravens were playing against the No. 2 defense in the league and were on the road.

Harbaugh made the right call just running out the clock. He left it up to a coin toss and the best defense in the NFL. And if the Ravens didn't have two holding penalties that negated a decent return by Yamon Figurs on the opening kickoff of overtime, we would not be talking about the situation.

But I was unhappy with the draw call to running back Willis McGahee on a third-and-goal from the 8 late in the second quarter.

A draw?

"Obviously, it's easy to say, 'Third-and-eight, you're not going to run the ball in,' " Harbaugh said, "but it's been done before, and I think that's kind of our mind-set in all three phases. We break tendencies, and we try to be unpredictable and be as attack-oriented as we can."

That might work against the Cincinnati Bengals or Cleveland Browns, but not a fast team like the Steelers. The Ravens gained 6 yards and had to settle for a field goal.

Now, if they started from the 5 or 6, the call would have made more sense.

It's a pattern

Jarret Johnson's unnecessary roughness penalty late in the third quarter was the turning point in the Ravens' loss to Pittsburgh. But Johnson doesn't deserve all of the blame.

Harbaugh could have nipped that kind of reaction in training camp when Johnson had a lot of fights with teammates. It's one thing to fight early in training camp to set a tone, but Harbaugh let it go further than needed. And the Ravens paid for it Monday night as they were penalized eight times for 72 yards.

Harbaugh has talked about changing the culture of this team. Sometimes that takes years, and right now, we're still waiting.

Cheap-shot artist

Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is a great player, but he should end those vicious blocking shots he takes at defensive players when they aren't looking.

He got a good lick on safety Ed Reed on Monday night, but then he started flexing at the crowd as if he were Hulk Hogan. Some of those blocks are borderline cheap, and some player is going to have his career cut short.

Sorry Ward, you're now in the same class with New England safety Rodney Harrison, one of the cheapest players in the game.

Where's Heap?

When Cam Cameron became offensive coordinator, there were visions of tight end Todd Heap becoming the main threat in the Ravens' passing game, much like Antonio Gates was when Cameron was running the offense in San Diego.

But Heap, a Pro Bowl performer, didn't have a catch against the Steelers. He has three this season for 37 yards.

What gives?

There have been times Heap has stayed in to pass block with the tackles.

But he has also dropped at least two passes this season, including one in the season opener in the back of the end zone for what should have been a touchdown.

Heap has a lot of pride, and he is still the top deep threat on a team that lacks a legitimate vertical threat. But his entire body posture is different from a season ago.

Maybe he hasn't recovered from when Harbaugh talked to him earlier in the season about missing practices.

Oh, while on the subject of receivers, we're still looking for Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams.

Rice missing

The Ravens were supposed to use the running back-by-committee approach, but rookie Ray Rice got only one carry for zero yards, and that came in the team's final possession in regulation because McGahee and Le'Ron McClain were slowed by injuries.

It would have been nice to get Rice's fresh legs in the game earlier in the fourth quarter, especially against a defense as fast as Pittsburgh's.

Take the challenge

Harbaugh said he didn't have a good enough angle of Derrick Mason's possible touchdown catch in the first quarter to challenge it, and from where he was standing, it appeared as if Mason was out of bounds.

His assistants apparently didn't get a look at the replay up in the booth fast enough to relay the information to Harbaugh.

I just think the Ravens messed it up, and Harbaugh should have challenged it anyway because it was close, the Ravens were on the road and they needed to score early.

Harbaugh said that after reviewing the play later, he thought it was a good catch and a touchdown.

Hmmm ...

Listen to Mike Preston on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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