The same mistakes come on a weekly basis, piling up in the wreckage of a once-promising season.
The Ravens vow to fix them, yet seven days later, there they are again for all to see — turnovers, dropped touchdown passes, dropped interceptions, blown coverages, costly penalties, missed field-goal attempts. It’s a cycle that these Ravens can’t escape.
Thirty-two months after beating the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens put on a crash course on how to lose a football game against an opponent that clearly needed the help. And amazingly, their fate wasn’t sealed until quarterback Joe Flacco’s final desperation heave to the end zone was knocked to the turf with no time on the clock.
The 49ers’ 25-20 victory over the Ravens in front of an announced 70,799 at Levi’s Stadium, was neither a show of force nor a thing of beauty. It was more a statement to how far both teams have fallen since meeting in New Orleans to play for a Lombardi Trophy.
It is the Ravens, though, who can’t seem to break their fall. They are 1-5 on the season with a road Monday night game against the Arizona Cardinals on deck, and are 19-19 in regular-season games since winning the Super Bowl.
“We’ve got to get it done. It starts with me,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “… We’ve got to execute, you know? We’ve got to execute — offense, defense and special teams. We find the stuff that we do well and we’ve got to go out there and make sure they do it. That’s on coaches. That’s how I see it. I’m not making excuses for injuries, or for the players we might have or don’t have, you know? You always have good enough players. That’s how I look at it.”
The Ravens have no shortage of players and coaches who are willing to put the loss on their shoulders. What they seemingly don’t have is somebody who has an answer as to why the same mistakes keep happening, and why they can’t execute well enough to win close games. The Ravens’ five losses have come by a total of 22 points, but that was no solace to all of the players who lined up to take the blame for the latest loss.
“It’s tough, and it’s agonizing,” wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. said. “We feel like we just run our heads into a brick wall, but nobody’s going to come save us. We can’t make any excuses.”
Smith, who played valiantly and caught seven passes for 137 yards and a touchdown less than two weeks after suffering microfractures in his back, lamented his two drops in the end zone in the first half. Even though he slipped on a piece of sod that lifted off the turf, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker declined to use it as an excuse for his missed 45-yard field-goal attempt early in the fourth quarter. That contributed to the Ravens needing a touchdown and not a field goal after getting the ball back at their own 20 with just over a minute to play and no timeouts.
Newly-acquired cornerback Shareece Wright, who asked for his release from the 49ers this month, didn’t hide after he allowed two touchdowns: the first on a double move by Torrey Smith that went for a 76-yard score early in the second quarter, and the second a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick to Quinton Patton early in the fourth quarter on a play in which Wright fell down.
Wright said later that “I didn’t get it done,” and he got no argument from a ticked-off Harbaugh, who is getting used to watching weekly breakdowns in the secondary.
“I don’t care if you’ve been here for four days, you put your eyes on your coverage in the right spot,” Harbaugh said. “... You’ve got to do that or you can’t play.”
Then, there was Flacco, who threw for 343 yards and two touchdown passes but made two brutal mistakes, both of which led to field goals for the 49ers. In the second quarter, he thought he could sneak a third-down pass into Kamar Aiken. Instead, he threw it right into the chest of 49ers linebacker Michael Wilhoite.
Then, with the Ravens driving early in the third quarter and looking to cut into San Francisco’s 16-6 lead, Flacco, off his back foot, threw the ball up for grabs, “a really dumb play,” he said later. Cornerback Kenneth Acker hovered under the ball and had so much time that he could have called for a fair catch. Instead, he caught it and returned it 45 yards into Ravens territory.
“We had a lot of room out there to make plays and I felt we should have had 600 yards,” said Flacco, who had three potential touchdown passes in the first half dropped, two by Smith and one by running back Buck Allen. “We should have put up a lot of points because we had so much room. We had two stupid mistakes by myself and the one gave them three points and took points off the board for us. It all starts with me, not making those mistakes. We can’t afford to do that right now. We have to go out there and play fundamental football, take care of the football, and when the plays present themselves, we’ve got to make them.”
The same can be said for the Ravens defense. Twice in the first half on San Francisco scoring drives, defenders — first cornerback Jimmy Smith and then linebacker Albert McClellan — had interceptions in their hands and dropped them as the team failed to create a turnover for the third straight week. The Ravens defense also continued its trend of making every opposing quarterback look like a Pro Bowl pick, with Kaepernick playing the role this week.
Entering the game, the 49ers were averaging 178.2 passing yards per game, and Kaepernick had more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four). Against the Ravens, he threw for 340 yards and two scores.
“We’re giving up plays when we can’t afford them,” Jimmy Smith said.
And still, the Ravens made it a 19-13 game when Steve Smith Sr. caught a 34-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter. It was 25-20 with about five minutes to go when Flacco found Aiken for an acrobatic 2-yard score on fourth-and-goal. But the Ravens were out of comebacks, and poor clock management in the fourth quarter certainly added to the visitors’ issues.
“If you’re 1-5, that’s not an easy fix,” Steve Smith Sr. said. “Maybe 1-2, 1-3, but when you’re 1-5, it’s going to require some people, including myself, to examine ourselves, look in a mirror and see what we can get better at.”