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 Anquan Boldin's ice-breaking catch in the fourth quarter Sunday.
For a span of about two quarters Sunday, the Ravens offense, which had started the game with two efficient touchdown drives on their first two possessions, went ice cold. In five straight possessions, the Ravens failed to pick up a first down. Not so suddenly, in the fourth quarter, they trailed the Cleveland Browns by a point.
There was plenty of blame to spread around at that point. Quarterback Joe Flacco was overthrowing wide receivers after completing his first 10 passes. Running back Ray Rice was meeting resistance after averaging more than five yards per carry in the first quarter. The play-calling remained balanced, which benefited both the offense and the defense, but the plays that Cam Cameron barked into Flacco's headset weren't working.
"I think all of us were probably frustrated a little bit there," Flacco said after the game. "We weren't able to move the ball, we weren't converting on third down, and so I think you have got to deal with it."
After falling behind, 15-14, with just under nine minutes left to play at Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Ravens stood 81 yards away from the Cleveland end zone, though it probably felt like about 81 miles away to them at that point. An incomplete pass toward wide receiver Torrey Smith on the first play of the drive put the Ravens behind the down-and-distance eight ball again. But on 2nd-and-10, the Ravens offense finally started to heat up before it was too late.
And of course it was Anquan Boldin who provided the spark.
At the snap of the ball, Flacco faked a handoff to Rice -- that's part of the reason why sticking with the run paid off -- and the running back ran to his right to deny Browns defensive end Frostee Rucker a straight line to the quarterback. The offensive line allowed some penetration, but held their blocks long enough to allow Flacco, who completed 15 of 24 passes for 152 yards, to step into his throw.
The Ravens, who were in max protection on the play-action pass, only had two receivers running routes. Smith ran a deep skinny post on the left, drawing the attention of both safeties. Meanwhile, Boldin, who always seems to victimize the Browns, ran 20 yards then made a sharp left turn into the middle of the field. Flacco drove the ball to him into a window between three defenders, including cornerback Joe Haden, who was running underneath the route.
"We just didn't execute well enough to convert a first down to get ourselves going," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday of their struggles after the first quarter. "As soon as we hit the play-action pass to Anquan, we were off and running again."
The Ravens mixed in runs with more passes, and were aided by a personal foul on free safety T.J. Ward, while driving 81 yards on nine plays. Flacco and Smith teamed up for the team's only touchdown pass of the game and Boldin added the two-point conversion on another well-designed play to put the Ravens up, 22-15. The Ravens went on to win by 10 points, but the outcome might have been different if not for Boldin's big catch.
"We just needed one play to break the ice and that was it," fullback Vonta Leach said of the 21-yard gain.