Every defense in the NFL wants an opportunity to make a stand and cement a victory, and the Ravens are no different.
But with a six-point advantage late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's home game against the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium, the defense wilted. Oakland needed just six plays to march 66 yards in 1 minute, 24 seconds — a series capped by a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Derek Carr to wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
In a classic matchup of strength-versus-strength in the No. 2 defense and the No. 2 offense in the league, the Ravens folded late and lost, 28-27.
"On defense, you want to be in a position to close it out," outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. "But we didn't."
Oakland's winning drive got off to a favorable start thanks to a taunting penalty on Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace for spiking the ball in the direction of a Raiders player after converting a two-point attempt that gave his team a 27-21 advantage with 3:36 left in the game.
Oakland gained first downs on its first two plays with Carr finding Crabtree for catches of 15 and 11 yards. After an incompletion, Carr connected with tight end Clive Walford for a 17-yard completion to the Ravens' 23-yard line.
On the ensuing play, safeties Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb broke up a potential touchdown pass from Carr to Walford. Webb and Walford were both injured on the play and went to the sideline.
Kendrick Lewis filled in for Webb, and Carr and Crabtree took advantage. Crabtree ran several yards upfield and feinted to his right. When cornerback Shareece Wright took the bait, Crabtree beat Lewis to the end zone, caught the ball, planted his right foot inbounds, and dragged his left toe to complete the score.
Carr said he noticed that the Ravens were in a Cover 4 alignment where four defenders were lined up deep to prevent a long completion and touchdown.
"That drive meant so much to us," he said. "Baltimore has had one of the best defenses in the NFL for, it seems, forever."
Said Crabtree: "The corners were playing me outside. I made up my mind I was going to execute, and I wasn't going to stop running."
Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said the secondary failed to stick to the defensive strategy on that series.
"We've got to stay deep," he said. "On the touchdown, we were in the right coverage. We've got to stay deep on that. That was on us as a defense."
Carr and Crabtree have been especially opportunistic against the Ravens. In the last two meetings, they have connected for 16 catches for 199 yards and four scores.
The Raiders took advantage of the Ravens' personnel. Wright has now surrendered four touchdowns in his last two starts, and Lewis was in the game because of the injury to Webb.
But Webb dismissed the notion that his absence and Lewis' insertion opened the door for the touchdown.
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"It's not going to impact anything," said Webb, who passed the concussion protocol. "We've got Kendrick Lewis coming in, and he's not any drop-off with him and Weddle. I didn't get to see the last play. I just heard about the last play. So I really don't know exactly what happened because I didn't get to see it. But it's no drop-off."
Another element is that Oakland went no-huddle four times on those six plays, including before the game-winning score. The offense had played quickly in the second quarter, too. Ravens outside linebacker Albert McClellan acknowledged that the no-huddle offense prevented the defense from getting the right grouping on the field.
"That kind of caught us off guard a little bit, as far as us putting the right personnel out there in the situations we wanted," he said. "It kind of caught us off guard a little bit, but we've still got to overcome it."
The defense must now wait a week before it can redeem itself against the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium. Until then, inside linebacker Zachary Orr said the players will take a critical look at themselves in meetings.
"Guys are always going to be upset, and that's a good thing because guys don't like to lose," Orr said. "That's what you want to see [in] everybody — guys that hate to lose, and we've got a bunch of guys on the team that hate to lose. So there's probably going to be some guys that are really upset in the meeting room once we watch the film and break it down."