KANSAS CITY, MO — Having a 24-17 lead with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Baltimore Ravens found themselves one play away from picking up one of the biggest road wins of the John Harbaugh era. But after Patrick Mahomes found Tyreek Hill for 48 yards on fourth down, the momentum shifted.
The Chiefs tied the game up with less than a minute left in regulation and got the ball back again when Justin Houston strip-sacked Lamar Jackson. Even though Harrison Butker‘s missed 43-yard field goal sent the game into overtime, the Chiefs won the overtime coin toss and Butker redeemed himself with a 35-yard field goal on the Chiefs’ first possession. That kick ended up being all the Chiefs needed, as the Ravens’ ensuing drive stalled on downs and the Chiefs walked away with a 27-24 comeback win.
Here’s three things we learned from Sunday’s valiant but disappointing overtime loss.
1. Once again, defense crumbles in crunch time
Yet again, the Ravens defense played one hell of a game on Sunday. The NFL’s #1 defense limited the league’s #1 offense, which averages over 35 points-per-game, to 27 points. With a lead in the fourth quarter, the pass rush got consistent pressure. But twice on fourth down when it mattered the most, the unit allowed two daggers – the 48-yard completion from Mahomes to Hill on 4th-and-9, and the five-yard touchdown pass from Mahomes to Damien Williams on 4th-and-3.
Before Kansas City’s 11-play, 75-yard drive the tied the game up at 24, the Chiefs had not scored in the second half. On their first possession of the third quarter, Chuck Clark snagged the Ravens’ first interception in nine weeks. The next two Chiefs drives before the touchdown drive resulted in punts. Containing the NFL’s top offense in the manner that the Ravens did is great, but when it mattered most the defense just couldn’t find the one stop they needed to seal the win.
To be fair, due to Houston stripping Jackson on the third play of Baltimore’s last possession of regulation, along with the Chiefs winning the overtime coin toss, the Ravens defense was on the field an awful lot at the end of the game. And it showed. It’s not the defense’s fault that the offensive line completely collapsed at the end of the game. With that said, not getting off the field twice on fourth down brought back the all-to-familiar memories of 4th-and-12 against Cincinnati from last season.
Hill is the most explosive receiver in the NFL and finished the game with 139 receiving yards on eight receptions despite playing through and injured ankle and wrist. The discouraging part of the 48-yard completion is seeing defensive leaders like C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle come up short of making the big play yet again.
After the game, Brandon Carr said that the Ravens need to find ways to close out games against tough opponents. It’s been a struggle for the Ravens for some time now. If they can’t figure that out against the Chargers or hypothetically in the playoffs, the 2018 season could end exactly like it has the last two years for Baltimore.
2. Kenneth Dixon: From afterthought to arguably the Ravens top option at running back
When Kenneth Dixon went down with yet another knee injury in week 1 against the Bills, many thought that would be the end for him. Since the Ravens drafted Dixon in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, Dixon has only played in 15 games due to injuries and suspension.
With Dixon went on injured reserve, Alex Collins and Buck Allen led the Ravens’ backfield. Then Baltimore worked a trade with the Packers for Ty Montgomery before the bye. But as Collins struggled with a foot injury and Allen’s snap count went down, an opportunity opened up for Dixon when he became eligible to return to the practice field. Now, the Ravens backfield looks completely different than it did at the start of the season with Dixon, Montgomery and Gus Edwards sharing the load.
Although Edwards received twice the amount of carries than Dixon did on Sunday, Dixon’s 7.4 yards-per-carry was just over three yards more than that of Edwards. The coaching staff might be limiting Dixon’s snap count due to his injury history, but Dixon has more powerful legs than Edwards or Montgomery. He has the ability to extend runs and can push defenders forward without much assistance. When Dixon is on the field and effective, it’s easy to see why the Ravens used a fourth-round pick on him.
Dixon still needs to prove his sustainability, but right now he’s making a case for the Ravens to hold onto him beyond 2018.
3. Harbaugh’s aggressiveness on fourth down was the right move
On the Ravens’ first drive of the second half, the Ravens faced a 4th-and-1 on the Chiefs’ 39-yard line. Trailing 17-10, Harbaugh elected to go for it instead of punting. When Edwards was handed the ball, he was stuffed at the line for no gain. Kansas City took over and three plays later Clark intercepted Mahomes before the Ravens scored a touchdown open a 14-play drive. That touchdown, a 10-yard completion to Maxx Williams, came on 4th-and-2.
Many were quick to judge Harbaugh’s decision to go for it on fourth down after failing to convert on Baltimore’s previous drive, but relying on field goals wasn’t going to cut it against the NFL’s number one offense. In games like these, coaches need to be aggressive and score as many points as possible. Against an opponent like the Falcons who couldn’t move the ball at all on the Ravens, settling for three points is okay. The Ravens trailed the Chiefs 17-10 at the time of the fourth-down conversion, and if they don’t score the touchdown they still would have trail Kansas City instead of tying the game up.
Rather than knock Harbaugh down for being aggressive in the red zone against the top seed in the AFC, celebrate the fact that the decision worked and that the Ravens ended up with seven points instead of three.
As deflating as yesterday’s loss was for the Ravens, coupled along with the Colts, Dolphins, and Titans all winning their games this week, the Steelers 24-21 loss to Oakland still has the Ravens just a half-game out of first place in the AFC North. While the Ravens still need to go on the road and play the Chargers, the Steelers have the Patriots at home next weekend before facing the Saints on the road in week 16. Don’t look now, but a home playoff game is still very well in reach for the Ravens with the Steelers losing three straight games.
Here’s the current NFL Playoff picture:
Image Credit: The Kansas City Star