The Ravens’ collapse Sunday was so swift, so decisive, so all-consuming that it felt inevitable even before it was complete. The Ravens were up big, and then they weren’t. They had a field-goal lead with just over two minutes remaining, and then their backs were to their goal line. They had Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa double-clutching, and then their lead was gone.
By the end of the Ravens’ 42-38 loss inside M&T Bank Stadium, so much had gone wrong that it was hard to remember just how much had gone right for three quarters. A nightmarish fourth quarter seemed to unfold in slow motion, descending deeper into chaos with every drive, every play fraught with the possibility of worse coming to worst.
It takes a special kind of struggle to blow a three-touchdown lead, to waste a historic afternoon from quarterback Lamar Jackson, and the Ravens obliged. Their short-yardage rushing attack and late-game offense fizzled. Their pass rush never materialized. Their secondary took on even more injuries, blew coverages and made a middling quarterback look like Dan Marino.
Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle’s 7-yard touchdown catch with 14 seconds remaining turned the Ravens’ early dominance into dust, just a haunting memory of one of the worst losses in franchise history. Only once before, in 1997, had the Ravens blown a 21-point lead.
“It’s going to be one of the biggest comebacks probably in the history of the National Football League, and we’ll give them credit for it,” coach John Harbaugh said after the Ravens became the first NFL team in 12 years to lose a game in which they led by at least 21 points. “We have to own it, every single person. I told the guys in the locker room, ‘How we respond to this, that will be the story.’ …
“We have a 17-game season; this is the second week of the season. What we do from here on out, everyone taking a hard look at what we did — coaches, players, everyone, calls that we made, plays that we made, plays that we didn’t make — and let’s come out of here a better football team for it.”
They were the better team for 45 minutes. They certainly had the better quarterback for 45 minutes. Jackson entered the fourth quarter with a perfect passer rating and the game’s defining highlight, a career-long 79-yard touchdown run that extended the Ravens’ lead to 35-14. Jackson finished with 437 yards of total offense and four scores, becoming the first player in NFL history to run and pass for a touchdown of at least 75 yards in the same game.
With Miami’s heavy-pressure looks finally figured out, Jackson and the offense had cruised for much of the afternoon, redeeming a forgettable night and stunning upset in Miami Gardens, Florida, a year ago. The Ravens scored a touchdown on six of their first eight possessions, and one of those drives came within a yard of making it seven scores. When Miami crossed midfield as the third quarter ended, the Dolphins had just a 1.3% win probability, according to ESPN.
“We were moving the ball, putting points up,” said Jackson, whose 11th career 100-yard rushing game (nine carries for 119 yards) broke a tie with Michael Vick for the NFL record. “We’ve just got to finish. It came down to the fourth quarter.”
And in those final 15 minutes, the 2022 Ravens turned into the end-of-2021 Ravens. The defense was already short-handed by that point in the late afternoon, having lost cornerback Kyle Fuller in Week 1 to a season-ending knee injury, cornerback Brandon Stephens in practice to a minor quadriceps injury and outside linebacker Steven Means to a second-quarter ankle injury.
Worse yet, the cornerbacks who were available were either limited (Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, making his season debut) or rookies (Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion “Pepe” Williams) or practice squad signings (Daryl Worley). The secondary’s saving grace through three quarters had been safety Marcus Williams’ two highlight-reel interceptions.
But with the Ravens’ pass rush (one sack, two quarterback hits) unable to trouble Tagovailoa, Miami’s offense had enough time to lay sticks of dynamite. Wide receiver River Cracraft’s 2-yard touchdown catch less than three minutes into the fourth quarter lit the fuse.
The Ravens’ short-yardage offense could’ve doused it. But after a fourth-and-goal fumble from the 1-yard line cost the Ravens a shot at a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter, a fourth-and-1 stop of Jackson just past midfield ceded a short field to Miami with over nine minutes to go. With running back J.K. Dobbins (knee) sidelined again, the Ravens’ running backs struggled early and faded from view late, combining for 28 yards on 14 carries.
Not even four minutes later, the score was even. On third-and-10, wide receiver Tyreek Hill (11 catches for 190 yards), a frequent thorn in the Ravens’ side when he was in Kansas City Chiefs colors, ran by Peters and safety Kyle Hamilton for a 48-yard touchdown. After a Ravens three-and-out, he ran by Armour-Davis on third-and-6 for a 60-yard, game-tying touchdown catch. Miami’s 21-0 run took just under seven minutes.
The culprit on both bombs appeared to be the same: miscommuncation, which had dogged the Ravens in their upset loss to Miami last season. Hill’s second score was especially egregious; Hamilton and Marcus Williams, who lined up near the line of scrimmage before the snap, both dropped in zone coverage after the snap. As the play unfolded, Damarion Williams shaded over to one half of the field, leaving Hill’s side completely uncovered beyond Armour-Davis.
“There was a miscommunication,” Hamilton said of the second score. “It’s something that we preach, and we practice every day, but we’ve just got to be about it in the game, and I think that showed towards the end.”
“We’ll watch the film,” said Humphrey, whose lingering groin injury, along with Peters’ ramp-up from last year’s knee injury, forced the Ravens into a cornerback rotation. “We obviously know it’s really bad, but we’ll watch the film, and then we’ve got to go from there, figure out what went wrong.”
The Ravens mustered one last punch, setting up kicker Justin Tucker for a go-ahead 51-yard field goal with 2:23 remaining. That was plenty of time for Tagovailoa (36-for-50 for 469 yards and six touchdowns) and the Dolphins.
Their final 68 yards came easily, as if they were back in seven-on-seven work at training camp: 3-yard pass to Waddle, 21-yard pass to Hill, 9-yard pass to Hill, 28-yard run by running back Chase Edmonds. Even the Ravens’ one stop was bittersweet, as Damarion Williams left the game with an ankle injury after forcing an end-zone incompletion.
With 19 seconds remaining, Tagovailoa dropped back, started to wind up, gathered himself, stepped up in the pocket and looked for Waddle (11 catches for 171 yards), who’d started toward the corner of the end zone before curling back inside, Armour-Davis a step behind. His leaping grab gave the Dolphins their first lead all game. He celebrated with his arms splayed above his head, as if to show just much ground the Ravens had lost.
“We have a lot of corrections to make, but you have to give them the respect,” Harbuagh said. “They made the plays. They kept fighting. A lot of times, you get a big lead like that, and you know teams just try to get out of the game without stopping the bleeding, but they just kept fighting.”
After Jackson’s Hail Mary attempt to wide receiver Rashod Bateman (four catches for 108 yards and a score, including a 75-yard catch-and-run) fell incomplete, the Ravens were left to consider the consequences of their collapse and the sum of their shortcomings.
They’d allowed 547 yards of total offense, third most in franchise history. They’d stopped just four of Miami’s 11 third-down opportunities — and given up four touchdowns on late downs. They’d gone just 1-for-3 on fourth down. They’d squandered the momentum they’d built over their season’s first seven solid-to-impressive quarters. Next would come an unpleasant film review. Seven long days separated them from their next game, a road trip to face the New England Patriots.
“We have to wear that one,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “It sucks, but they beat us.”
Next Sunday, 1 p.m.
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