Regardless of coach John Harbaugh’s success rate in using analytics or being aggressive in crucial situations, he still should have sent out kicker Justin Tucker to attempt the extra point instead of gambling and failing on a 2-point conversion pass in the final seconds of the Ravens’ 20-19 loss to the Steelers on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
It’s great that the Ravens want to be aggressive, and Harbaugh has won more than he has lost in these situations. But in this case, his decision-making was poor and cost the Ravens sole possession of the top seed in the AFC.
After cutting the deficit to 20-19 on a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Lamar Jackson to receiver Sammy Watkins with 12 seconds left, Harbaugh immediately signaled to go for two. My immediate reaction was to laugh.
Harbaugh might be the riverboat gambling type, but certainly should not have been in this situation, not after the Ravens had given up 17 fourth-quarter points. It made no sense.
On the next play, Jackson overthrew a wide-open tight end Mark Andrews in the right flat. If Jackson had taken a little steam off the ball and possibly floated it a little more, the Ravens would have won.
Was it a good play call? Absolutely.
Was it the right call? Nope.
“You saw the play. It’s that close. It’s a game of inches,” Harbaugh said. “You saw the Al Pacino speech in ‘Any Given Sunday,’ right? It’s football. It’s just that close.”
Regardless, the Ravens should have sent out Tucker to kick the extra point to send the game into overtime. After all, he is the best kicker in NFL history, having made 98.9% of his extra-point attempts in his career. And one day he will be wearing a gold jacket after being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
To me, it’s a no-brainer.
The Ravens had just gotten some momentum after being slapped around for a lot of the second half, and the last-second touchdown might have been the adrenaline rush needed. Instead, they lost.
There is good logic in Harbaugh going for two. Injuries had depleted the players available at cornerback and the Ravens were fatigued. Maybe he thought they couldn’t have survived losing a coin flip.
Plus, ever since the Ravens made Jackson the starter, they have gambled on fourth-and-short situations because of his athletic ability and elusiveness, especially on options or plays off the perimeter. But besides having Tucker, Jackson was the other reason I would have sent Tucker out to kick the extra point.
Jackson finished 23-for-37 for 253 yards but was awful as far as reading the defense and making sound decisions. His one interception halted the Ravens’ opening drive at the Pittsburgh 10-yard line and he was sacked seven times. He never looked comfortable in the pocket. Granted, he led the Ravens on an eight-play, 60-yard drive at the end of the game, but on Sunday he was erratic.
In this game, the motto should have been “In Tucker, We Trust.”
But it’s not just in this game where Jackson has played poorly. He has struggled in the past six ever since the Cincinnati Bengals beat up the Ravens, 41-17, on Oct. 24.
And, who cares if the Ravens didn’t have enough cornerbacks? Well, Harbaugh does.
“[We’re] trying to win the game right there,” he said. “We were pretty much out of corners at that point in time. It was an opportunity to try to win the game right there.”
The Ravens had enough safeties on the roster who have played cornerback at some time during their careers. They couldn’t have looked more lost than starting cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Anthony Averett when Pittsburgh receiver Diontae Johnson scored on a 29-yard touchdown pass across the middle early in the fourth quarter.
The key was to get to overtime. Maybe the Ravens would have gotten a sack, recovered a fumble or intercepted a pass that could have put Tucker in field-goal range. He has been Mr. Automatic in regulation and overtime games throughout his career. Shoot, Pittsburgh kicker Chris Boswell missed an extra-point attempt Sunday, which affected the game.
There will be other times this season where these situations will occur. Harbaugh will have the backing of most of his team because they are used to his gambling and no player will say anything different, regardless — not publicly, at least.
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But this time he was wrong. You kick the extra point and live to fight in overtime.