For a team run by a former special teams coordinator in head coach John Harbaugh and assisted by special teams coordinator/associate head coach Jerry Rosburg, the Ravens’ gaffes on special teams in Sunday’s 27-14 win against the Denver Broncos must have been especially grating.
From a poor blocking assignment that led to a blocked punt to an offside penalty on a kickoff to a blocked field-goal attempt that nearly resulted in a touchdown, the special teams unit endured a rough showing. The unit’s errors did not derail the team’s bounce-back effort after a 34-23 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, but that only partially placated punter Sam Koch.
“We’ve got to look at it and make sure that we adjust right now and make sure we get those fixed so that later in the season, they don’t bite us in the butt,” he said. “We take pride in special teams, and in situations like that, we don’t accept them.”
The unit’s troubles began on the fourth play of the game, when Koch’s punt was blocked by Denver linebacker Joseph Jones and the loose ball was recovered at the 6-yard line and promptly converted into a 6-yard touchdown run by rookie running back Royce Freeman. Replays showed that Jones pushed aside linebacker Tyus Bowser to get to Koch.
“Just made a mistake. Just didn’t work out,” Bowser said. “It’s good to know that my teammates have my back just when everything’s going wrong. I’ve just got to bounce back.”
After Ravens running back Alex Collins scored on a 6-yard run of his own to tie the score at 7, cornerback Robertson Daniel — who had been promoted from the practice squad Saturday for injured rookie Anthony Averett (hamstring) — went offside on the ensuing kickoff.
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In the second quarter, kicker Justin Tucker’s 43-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by safety Justin Simmons, and the loose ball was picked up by cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who returned it 58 yards to the end zone. But Broncos guard Billy Turner was flagged for an illegal block in the back that wiped out the touchdown.
Replays showed that Simmons leaped over long snapper Morgan Cox without touching him. That should have drawn a flag because NFL rules prohibit players from running toward and jumping over the line of scrimmage to block a kick.
“We didn’t think you could jump over the line there,” Harbaugh said. “The official had an explanation for it. It’s a new one. I hadn’t heard it. I understood what he was saying. So we’ll just check that out and see what the rule is on that. Maybe we’ll learn something on it.”
The encouraging signs on special teams were Tucker making his eighth consecutive field goal and 36th overall from at least 50 yards, which leads the NFL since he joined the organization in 2012. Tim White also did not fumble a punt as former undrafted rookie Janarion Grant — who was released Saturday in favor of White — had done in each of the team’s first two games.
The Ravens can breathe a sigh of relief that they overcame the mistakes on special teams, but they also understand that similar blunders against the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday night mighty not be as easy to stomach.
“Next week, Sunday night against a division rival, we need to be at our best,” Cox said. “Coach Harbaugh always says, ‘Be your best when your best is required.’ That’s what we work for each week, and we’ll go to work this week to be our best.”