Every Tuesday, blogger Matt Vensel breaks down a critical play, sometimes with the help of Ravens players, from that week's game. Today he looks at Joe Flacco's mad scramble on third down late in Sunday's victory.
The Ravens struggled to move the ball throughout Sunday's 9-6 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. But late in the game, all they needed was a pair of first downs to wind down the clock and escape Arrowhead Stadium with a win. At the start of that final drive, they had converted just once on third down. But as we know, they were able to do it twice when it mattered, including quarterback Joe Flacco's long scramble on a broken play.
After a sack by Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali put the Ravens in a third-and-15 situation at their 15-yard line, the Ravens figured they would have to pass to get the first of the two first downs they needed. They put Flacco in the shotgun with running back Ray Rice standing to his right. Wideout Torrey Smith was isolated on the right and wide receivers Jacoby Jones and Anquan Boldin along with tight end Dennis Pitta were lined up to his left.
The Chiefs responded by putting their dime package on the field. Their defensive backs backed off the line of scrimmage and linebacker Derrick Johnson moved up to the line, showing blitz.
At the snap, all three wide receivers and Pitta ran vertical routes down the field and Rice slipped out of the backfield right away. The Chiefs quickly collapsed the pocket with Hali and their four-man rush. The quick pressure prevented the fifth-year quarterback from scanning the field long enough for one of his receivers to break open, and Johnson ran stride for stride with Rice, his safety valve, as the back broke toward the right sideline.
But Flacco saw a lot of green grass ahead of him, and with massive nose tackle Dontari Poe, Kansas City's first-round pick in April's NFL draft, closing in on him from the left, he scrambled from the pocket and sprinted toward the marker.
"When I saw it, I was like, 'I'm going to get it.' And I started to feel this guy [to my left] and I kind of put my left arm out to keep him off me for another half step," he recalled at the post-game news conference. "I could see the marker kind of far away. ... I saw it open up pretty good and I was pretty confident I could get it."
With Kansas City's downfield defenders in man coverage, their backs turned to Flacco as he ran, he closed in on the 30-yard line, lunging across it as Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey dragged him down to the grass. He got the first down and an extra yard.
"How about Joe making the scramble, which was a huge play?" coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "Everybody was covered, and he gets out. It's Cover 5, it's man under. They cover everybody. Joe finds a crease in the rush lane, and he gets 16 yards."
It wasn't a pretty game for Flacco and his teammates, but when the Ravens needed a play, Flacco was able to provide it with his legs, not his rocket right arm. Plays like that have earned him that "winner" reputation. Three plays later, Rice dove one yard for more of your garden-variety third-down conversion. Game over.
"That was just part of what we had to do to win the game," Flacco said. "They're not always pretty around here, [but] we do what we have to do to win the football game. I've been saying that for a long time, whether that's throwing for 400 yards or having a [bad] day and throwing for 100 yards. We do what we have to do to win the game, and we were able to do that."