John Harbaugh’s decision to attempt a 2-point conversion to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers rather than settle for a Justin Tucker extra point to go into overtime will be the subject of much debate this week.
But not to his players, many of whom defended their head coach’s line of thinking that resulted in a 20-19 loss at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
“If we would have converted that 2-point conversion, we would be having a different conversation now,” inside linebacker Josh Bynes said. “Let’s just be real. We’d be talking about all of these ways we find a way to win and all of the other stuff. At the end of the day, they found a way to make the one play, and we didn’t. That’s what it came down to, and that’s what these games are all about, especially this late in the season. They made that one extra play, and that’s all that matters.”
The final two minutes represented a roller coaster ride of emotions for Ravens fans. After the defense gave up a lone field goal to Pittsburgh through three quarters, the unit wilted in the final quarter, surrendering 17 points.
Included in that spurt was the eventual game-winning touchdown, a 5-yard pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to wide receiver Diontae Johnson. When Roethlisberger found tight end Pat Freiermuth for the 2-point attempt, that gave the Steelers a 20-13 advantage with 1:48 remaining.
But quarterback Lamar Jackson and the offense responded quickly, marching 60 yards in eight plays and 1:36 to cap the drive with Jackson hitting wide receiver Sammy Watkins in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard score.
With 12 seconds left in regulation though, Harbaugh opted to go for two points rather than send Tucker out to kick the extra point that would have tied the score at 20. The decision appeared fortuitous when Jackson delivered the ball to tight end Mark Andrews, who was wide open in the right flat.
But with outside linebacker T.J. Watt (3 ½ sacks) jumping into the path, Jackson said he had to throw around him, and his ball bounced off the fingers on Andrews’ left hand and fell to the turf, dooming the Ravens to their fourth loss in 12 games.
“Coach trusts in us,” running back Devonta Freeman said. “Coach trusts in us to go out and do our job. We converted a lot this season. It’s just another play for us. We get four downs, and we try to execute on every play. Whenever Coach decides to call it and go for it, we want to execute. We’re competing, we’re fighting, we’re battling, we’re just trying to get better. It sucks, but we move on and try to get better.”
After the game, Harbaugh said he elected to risk the 2-point play because the defense would not have had enough cornerbacks to play in overtime after Marlon Humphrey appeared to injure his right shoulder/arm while trying to prevent Johnson from diving into the end zone on Pittsburgh’s last touchdown.
“We tried to win the game right there,” he said. “We were pretty much out of corners at that point in time. So it was an opportunity to try to win the game right there.”
Jackson credited offensive coordinator Greg Roman with coming up with “the perfect play call.” The quarterback also agreed with Harbaugh’s aggression.
“I want to win,” he said. “I didn’t want to go to overtime anyway.”
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who is out for the season because of lingering issues related to the broken ankle he suffered in 2020, applauded the choice on Twitter. “I love the call ... go fo the dub !!!” he wrote.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Harbaugh’s tactic didn’t surprise him.
“They aggressively play analytics,” he said. “So from that standpoint, they’re predictable.”
While a Tucker extra point is seemingly automatic — he’s 372-for-376 in his NFL career, a conversion rate of 98.9% — the four-time All-Pro missed the Ravens’ only “game-tying extra-point attempt” situation in the past 20 years, as pointed out by The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman.
Bynes pointed out that the critics might be singing a different tune if the Ravens had converted that 2-point attempt.
“I appreciate Coach for everything and then some,” he said. “He wanted to be aggressive. He knew it was such a big game in the AFC North and [he wanted] to come out victorious. He was aggressive, and if we converted it, we’d be having a different conversation about how Coach was brilliant and all of these other things you guys say. And then we didn’t convert it and now it’s all crap or whatever. In the end, we’ve just got to find a way to win games so that we wouldn’t be in that situation from the get-go. That’s what it’s all about.”
Nose tackle Brandon Williams summed up his teammates’ mindsets.
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“We believe in our players, we believe in our team, we believe in [No.] 8,” he said, referring to Jackson’s jersey. “We had trust and belief in them. We would do it a thousand more times. We do that play a thousand more times. We call on him any time, every time. We still believe in the Ravens. We still believe in our offense, we still believe in our defense all the way around.”