Preston: Crabtree loses concentration as winnable game slips through Ravens' hands in Cleveland

Wide receiver Michael Crabtree is known for getting a little testy a times, but he appeared humbled and driven after the Ravens’ stunning 12-9 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

That’s the right attitude. Now, just catch the damn ball.

Crabtree, a 10-year veteran, dropped three passes against the Browns, including the possible game-winner in the back of the end zone on a perfectly thrown pass by quarterback Joe Flacco with one minute left regulation.

Instead of possibly securing the win, the Ravens had to settle for a 32-yard field goal by Justin Tucker to tie the game before losing to one of the worst teams in the NFL during the past decade.

“Tough one. It started off slow, and I put that on me,” Crabtree said. “I had the game-winner and should have caught that one. I have got to finish it. I’ve been there and done that before.”

That’s why the Ravens signed Crabtree in March to a three-year, $21 million contract. The Ravens were looking to get from Crabtree what Antonio Brown gives the Pittsburgh Steelers and A.J. Green gives the Cincinnati Bengals.

Realistically, Crabtree is a step down from those two guys, but he did have 579 career receptions and 51 touchdowns during previous tenures with the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders. He was known for being clutch inside the red zone.

But in crunch time Sunday he didn’t deliver and hasn’t been the “go-to receiver” this season. He has dropped six passes and has looked like a complementary receiver for speedster John Brown.

Wasn’t that supposed to be the other way around?

At least after the game he was accountable and didn’t back away from questions.

“I’ve been there and done that [caught the game-winner],” Crabtree said. “This time around I came up short. I have to get back into the lab and work on this concentration. That’s just something football players do.

“That’s all it is. It is football. You have to see the ball to catch the ball. I need to see it all the way in. If that means that I have to catch 2,000 footballs a week in practice, then I am going to have to do that.”

Well, let’s get started. Baltimore has seen its share of receivers who can’t catch consistently, including last year’s duo of Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin.

And then there were first-round draft picks such as Travis Taylor and Mark Clayton. The biggest bust of all the No. 1 selections was Breshad Perriman, who was cut by the Ravens at the end of this year’s training camp after three years with the organization. Perriman, with great speed, frustrated his coaches, teammates and fans.

Crabtree, who has dropped 56 passes throughout his pro career, wants to avoid a similar situation.

“I’ve got to see the ball all the way in,” he said. “They were playing defense. That’s an NFL team. They were bracketing us. We saw them make a couple of plays coming down the end. If I had just made that catch, the game would have been over. I just need to work on what I can control.

“It’s frustrating for me and my teammates. I am a team player; letting them down kind of hurts me. I have got to go back to the drawing board and get my [stuff] together.”

The Ravens didn’t criticize Crabtree. There is still a lot of football left, and Crabtree is a proven receiver. But he has to make plays, especially inside the red zone.

“You guys are asking me questions that you know the answer to better than I do,” said Flacco of Crabtree’s drop. “I have to see the TV. I honestly think it was one of those tight plays. I’m sure it could have gone either way.”

Coach John Harbaugh said: “These guys are pros. These are the best players in the world, so they go to work on that [dropped passes] every day. Michael will work on that. All of our players will work on that.”

Crabtree is the leader of the receivers. He teaches because he has the most experience and has the desire to be the best. Flacco completed only one of his first seven passes Sunday, and two of those misses were dropped by Crabtree. But as he has done other times this season, he has come back strong in game.

Even during the series that included his drop he caught passes of 6 and 19 yards to start of the drive. He finished with six catches for 66 yards.

He just didn’t finish.

“And that’s what I do and have always done,” Crabtree said. “That’s why I have to go back to the lab.”

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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