Tale of the tape: the failed fourth-down conversion

Every Tuesday, blogger Matt Vensel breaks down a critical play, sometimes with input from Ravens players, from that week's game. Today, he looks at the final incomplete pass in the 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

With 54 seconds left in a chippy, emotional football game between the Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles, quarterback Joe Flacco stood in the shotgun near midfield. The Ravens were trailing by a point, in large part due to the struggles of the offense in the second half, and now Flacco needed 2 yards to keep the Ravens alive.


Wide receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin were lined up to his left. Tight end Dennis Pitta, who had already been targeted 15 times, was in the slot to the right. To Pitta's right was wide receiver Jacoby Jones. Riding shotgun with Flacco in the backfield was running back Ray Rice, an underused option that afternoon.

At the snap of the ball, Flacco looked to his left, but he was seeing the same thing he had been seeing all game. His wide receivers weren't open. As Smith ran down the field, Boldin ran a quick out from the slot. He was blanketed again. As Flacco's eyes scanned to the right, Pitta got stuck in a traffic jam over the middle.

"I looked at Anquan on the left. We tried to run a little quick out with him, and I looked at Ray," he later said, dissecting the four-second play. "I wish I would have just scrambled around a little bit."

But by the time he got to Rice, his third option, Eagles defensive end Jason Babin was bearing down on him. The Ravens had done a solid job neutralizing Babin and fellow defensive end Trent Cole for much of the afternoon with quick passes and pretty adequate blocking. But you can only keep those two talented speed rushers away from your quarterback for so long. It was just a four-man rush, but rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele had run out of time.

Rice, who had run a flare route into the right flat, was Flacco's final option, but Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks was closely trailing the running back. Flacco lobbed the ball over Kendricks' head, but he overthrew Rice, too, and the Ravens' last gasp sailed into the Eagles' bench area. Flacco threw his arms in the air in frustration.

"Maybe there was a little contact when the ball was in the air there," Flacco said. "I was just trying to get something crazy to happen. I didn't really think they did anything bad, I was just hoping."

After the 24-23 loss, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said it was fair to question the team's play-calling after the Ravens threw a pair of incomplete passes following Pitta's eight-yard reception on second down. On Monday, after watching tape of the game, he didn't waver too much. He said when things don't work out, you wonder if you should have done something else, like calling a run or a different passing play or using one of his two timeouts to reorganize and call a play with a pre-snap shift that could have caused confusion before the play. But Harbaugh felt like "we had them scrambling" and wanted to keep attacking at a higher tempo.

"Yeah, you go back, and you look at all of that and you certainly do second-guess yourself," he said at his weekly press conference.

Even if the coach hadn't second-guessed himself, plenty of people in Baltimore have since Sunday. But Flacco, who completed two of his eight throws on that final drive, wasn't one of them. "The bottom line is we have to execute and we weren't able to," Flacco said.