EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — At some point Sunday afternoon, not long after recent history had repeated itself inside MetLife Stadium — another late lead, another collapse, another loss — the Ravens seemed to tire of repeating themselves.
They’d heard the same questions after their Week 2 loss to the Miami Dolphins, after their Week 4 loss to the Buffalo Bills, and now, after a 24-20 loss to the New York Giants, they were being bludgeoned by a familiar line of inquiry. What did they make of throwing away a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead? Was there a silver lining to being 3-3 despite having trailed for less than two minutes over their losses? What was the next step after another muted postgame team talk?
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey arrived at his news conference with earbuds in his ears, as if he wanted to blot out the noise. He said, “We’ll watch the film and then we’ll figure it out all Tuesday,” to one question, and he said, “We’ll watch the film and then we’ll figure out what we’re doing wrong,” to another, and then, after a beat of silence, he thanked reporters and left.
In the locker room, tight end Mark Andrews was asked the key to finishing. “Just finish,” he said, a phrasing he repeated in some way four times in a short media session. “We hurt ourselves today. We’ve just got to finish,” he said later, before grabbing his bag, the media scrum over, and heading for the team bus.
Even defensive lineman Calais Campbell, almost zenlike in his postgame ruminations, acknowledged his frustrations. “We’re emotional,” he said. “You pour a lot into it to be out there and be at your best and feel like you have the game won, and you give it away late in the game. It’s the story we’ve seen too much this year.”
It is the story of their season so far. On Sunday, the Ravens trailed for just 1 minute, 43 seconds — the final 1:43, as it turned out — and still lost. Two weeks earlier, they never trailed but still lost to Buffalo on a last-second field goal. Two weeks before that, they led Miami by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, trailed for 14 seconds total and still lost.
In a postgame tweet, Humphrey quoted Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” But it didn’t take a genius to see the Ravens were well on their way to a 4-2 start, to another week alone atop the AFC North, to a less ominous quote from one of their top players. After a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Lamar Jackson to tight end Mark Andrews, they led 20-10 early in the fourth quarter. The Ravens had been the better team all afternoon.
Then, well, they suddenly weren’t. A week after closing out the Cincinnati Bengals in an imperfect but stirring home win, the Ravens played as if they hadn’t learned their late-game lessons. The specifics of their collapse changed; their methods did not.
On offense, there were turnovers. Against Miami, the Ravens had failed on a crucial fourth-and-short in the decisive period. Against Buffalo, Jackson had thrown two fourth-quarter interceptions. Against the Giants and coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, calling the shots against Greg Roman’s offense for the first time, the damage arrived on back-to-back drives.
The Giants’ first takeaway was nearly avoided. On third-and-1, with the Ravens clinging to a 20-17 lead, Jackson pushed forward on a sneak for a first down. Only, there was a flag on the field: an illegal-formation penalty. The Ravens, penalized 10 times for 74 yards, had to start over at third-and-6.
Good turned to bad, and bad gave way to worse. Center Tyler Linderbaum’s shotgun snap arrived earlier than Jackson expected, and the ball skipped off his midsection and behind him. Jackson gathered the ball, turned upfield and, in a frantic decision, targeted fullback Patrick Ricard short of the sticks. He was better off not even trying. Safety Julian Love stepped in front of the pass for an easy pick, Jackson’s fifth interception in the past four games and the Giants’ first interception all season.
After running back Saquon Barkley’s 1-yard leap ended a 13-yard touchdown drive, the Ravens got another chance. Trailing 24-20, they needed a touchdown, not a field goal, as they had against Cincinnati. But they had Jackson, three timeouts and a Giants defense that had allowed about 7 yards per play all game.
That wasn’t enough. On Jackson’s first drop-back, he saw wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, playing an increased role with Rashod Bateman (foot) again sidelined, drop a catchable pass. On his second drop-back, he didn’t see Giants rookie outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux shed right tackle Patrick Mekari, playing a new role with Morgan Moses (heel) sidelined, and reach out to Jackson’s exposed right hand.
The ball was knocked loose, and left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s dive for it knocked it to Giants defensive end Leonard Williams. Five plays later, the game was over.
“We’re just messing up ourselves,” said Jackson, who finished 17-for-32 for 210 yards, a touchdown and an interception, along with seven carries for 77 yards. “We can’t let that happen. The mistakes happen in practice and shouldn’t happen in the game. But it’s a part of NFL football. We try to overcome it, [but] sometimes it happens.”
The defense saved its worst for last as well. At halftime, the Giants had 90 yards of offense. They finished with just 238 total, and just 3.8 per play. But timely stops eluded the Ravens, just as they had against Miami, just as they had against Buffalo.
On the Giants’ first touchdown drive, quarterback Daniel Jones (19-for-27 for 173 yards and two touchdowns) converted two third-and-longs, then turned a third-and-5 into a 6-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson.
The Giants’ second touchdown drive was a 12-play, 75-yard march that squashed whatever momentum the Ravens had earned from Andrews’ fourth-quarter touchdown.
“We knew where we were at right there,” safety Chuck Clark said. “We knew we had to go out and get a stop on defense, plus [the offense] got a score for us. We didn’t do that.”
The defense was always just a play away, especially in the fourth quarter. Just before Barkley scored the Giants’ go-ahead third touchdown, cornerback Marcus Peters had a third-down red-zone interception negated by a pass-interference penalty.
Even after Jackson’s second turnover in as many possessions, the Ravens still had a pulse. Barkley, bottled up all afternoon (22 carries for 83 yards), was stuck behind the line of scrimmage on a second-and-5 run — until he somehow spun free of Clark and eased himself down at the 1-yard line. Three kneel-downs later, and the game was over.
“That’s the biggest story for us, is winning the game at the end of the game” coach John Harbaugh said. “Making the plays that need to be made, and not making the errors that cost you an opportunity to win the game. So, we’ll regroup, we’ll go to work, and we’re going to find ourselves as a football team. That’s what we have to do right now — find ourselves as a football team.”
They have a week to get right. Sunday’s loss, like the other two this season, offered silver linings, from running back Kenyan Drake (10 carries for 119 yards) powering a ground game that amassed 211 yards (8.8 per carry), to a third straight sound defensive performance, to Moses avoiding a significant injury.
But momentum hasn’t yielded much this season, not with the Ravens undercutting every impressive win with a frustrating loss. They know they can be better. They’ve shown they can be better. But they haven’t been better for more than one Sunday in a row. Until they are, the questions will continue, and so will the frustration.
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“We know how good we can be and we know that a lot of these issues are self-inflicted,” Stanley said. “When you are your own biggest enemy, that’s really something that can frustrate anyone. We know how much talent we have on this team. We’re going to pull it together. That’s kind of the frustration that everybody has.”
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Chs. 13, 9
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 6