John Harbaugh’s bid to win every coach’s challenge this season ended in the Ravens’ 24-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. But the circumstances regarding his second challenge left the coach grousing about the NFL’s system for reviewing plays.
Under current NFL rules, coaches are permitted two challenges per game with a third awarded if the first two challenges are successful. Harbaugh’s decision to challenge the officials’ ruling that New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara was down by contact after an 8-yard rush instead of awarding the ball to middle linebacker C.J. Mosley for wrestling it away from Kamara was denied. And because that was his second challenge of the game, Harbaugh was out of challenges for the final 53 minutes of the game.
Harbaugh unloaded on the policy during his Monday news conference.
“First of all, we’ve talked about that rule. The rule should be changed,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to win both challenges to get another challenge back. That’s been talked about, and that’s been just dismissed by the powers that be. Who knows why? Maybe they could explain it to you in some way that makes sense. But the other thing is, we never challenge unless we think we’re going to win it clearly.
“When we looked at the replay, both points of the ball were moving. It wasn’t like one point was moving. It doesn’t have to be the ball just moving to lose control. But when both points of the ball were moving, that’s loss of control. We still feel strongly that we were right in challenging that, and that would have given us another challenge back.”
Harbaugh said he would have used a third challenge when officials awarded the Saints a first down after quarterback Drew Brees leaped over the offensive line for a 1-yard gain on fourth-and-1 at the Ravens’ 18-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. (New Orleans eventually scored a touchdown on that drive to go up 21-17.)
“I mean, you've got to at least get close to the line of scrimmage,” he said. “And you know, it's not like you put the ball across the plane or goal line. You can't put the ball across the plane for the first-down marker; it’s got to be forward progress. And absolutely we’d challenge that one. ... But you know, another thing, you’d like for them to get it right the first time. That would be the ideal thing.”
Justin Tucker’s first missed extra-point attempt after making 222 consecutive tries in the first seven years of his NFL career has inspired armchair quarterbacks to question why the Ravens did not go for a 2-point conversion and win the game in regulation rather than settle for overtime.
For his part, Harbaugh left no room for doubt that sending Tucker out for the extra-point try was the right course of action.
“The numbers say to put it in overtime,” he said. “That’s what the analytics say. It’s a clear choice. That's something we talk about before the game. We have a Saturday morning meeting where we go through all those factors, and we had decided we would put it in overtime if it came to that. But you know, I had thoughts about going for 2. I was asked that, I thought about it. Your gut sometimes talks to you, and you make a decision at the end based on that. At the end, I decided to go with what we talked about doing. That's what we did.”
Not in the mood
As suddenly as the team announced Saturday that right tackle James Hurst was questionable for Sunday’s game because of a back injury, Harbaugh declined to clarify the timeline for Hurst’s injury, saying, “I don’t think there was any reason to do that.”
When asked a follow-up question about whether he had considered promoting an offensive lineman from the practice squad to bolster an offensive line that had only one backup in center Hroniss Grasu, Harbaugh dismissed the query.
“We didn’t have time to,” he said. “But what would have been the benefit of that? Just look at the numbers, what would have been the benefit of that? And who would we have cut to do that, and how would it have helped us in the game? So, even in hindsight, it’s kind of … it’s not a smart question. It wouldn’t have been a consideration because we didn’t need the extra guy in the game. If we’d needed the extra guy in the game — if we’d have been stuck with four linemen — then it would’ve been a valid question. Sometimes you take a little bit of a risk, but you would’ve had to release somebody on your team that you probably would’ve lost off your roster. So I think we did the right thing either way.”
» A day after cornerback Jimmy Smith pointed to his surprisingly poor performance as a factor in the Ravens’ loss, Harbaugh expressed his appreciation for the eight-year pro’s candor.
“It gives me a lot of optimism and excitement for the future because I just think we have guys that take responsibility,” he said. “Every one of us, including myself, and every coach and every player, the first thing that all of our guys do, they look at themselves and say, ‘What can I do better?’ Yeah, Jimmy could have done plenty of things better. That’s the guy you asked me about. If you could have put any other name in there, they would have said the same thing and they could have played better.”
» Harbaugh praised the play of rookies Orlando Brown Jr. and Bradley Bozeman, who started for Hurst and left guard Alex Lewis (pinched nerve in neck), respectively.
“For a couple of freshmen going in there, I thought they acquitted themselves very well,” Harbaugh said. “Boze even played through a little calf deal again and gutted it out. He showed a lot of courage there, too. I thought Orlando played solid football. Both of them can be better. Both of them will learn from it. I think they’ll get a lot better because of the game experience they had and the speed of the game and all that.”