An Allegany Radio Corporation Sports Column by Mike Burke

Ravens again find there is nothing regular about the playoffs


Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

There is no secret answer. There is no mystery or analytical equation, although some of us would like to stick some of John Harbaugh’s analytics in a place where the sun don’t shine. Nor, in this instance, are there criminal conspiracies.

The answer to what happened Saturday night at M&T Bank Stadium in  Baltimore is, as the great Paul Simon once told me, “easy if you take it logically:”

The Baltimore Ravens got beat at football. Pure and simple. Straight and sassy. The Tennessee Titans lined up and beat the Ravens toe-to-toe, mano a mano. They put eight defenders in the box, went straight man coverage on the back and dared the Ravens to beat them through the air outside the numbers.

Then on offense, as everybody understood they would do, they shoved Derrick Henry right back at the Ravens in another place the sun don’t shine in a textbook case of old-school football the way old-school football was meant to be played.

In fact, it was a match-up of two teams that got themselves this far by playing old-school football, albeit in different styles. But Tennessee did its style far better than Baltimore did, in part, because Baltimore was too quick to abandon its established ways and, in much larger part, there hasn’t been a running back who’s been as on-fire in the playoffs as Henry is since John Riggins personally carried the Washington Redskins to the title in Super Bowl XVII. And that was XXXVII Super Bowls ago.

As for the waste in the punch bowl ending to the Baltimore season, there is a very fine line between winning and losing, between a 12-game winning streak and 6-6, or even 3-9. That line not only collapsed on the Ravens on Saturday night, it vanished.

It began to deteriorate after the Ravens made a stop on the first Titans possession and began marching down the field on cue. But a slightly high Lamar Jackson pass bounced off the hands of tight end Mark Andrews for the first of two interceptions by Tennessee, and eight plays later, the Titans had a 7-0 lead.

The Ravens were plagued by dropped passes in the game, including one by receiver Seth Roberts on a perfectly thrown ball that would have provided a first down deep in Titans territory in the second quarter.

Yet prior to that, the separation point of the game took place when the Ravens once more went for a fourth-and-one on their 45 and were stuffed. One play later, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill found wide receiver Kalif Raymond off play-action for a 45-yard touchdown reception to put the Ravens in a 14-0 hole.

The Ravens would get the score to within eight points at the half, but, in truth, would not recover from Coach John Harbaugh’s poor decision to go for it on fourth.

As he had in the Ravens’ first loss of the season in Kansas City, Harbaugh elected to go on fourth down on his end of the field, and just as it had against the Chiefs, it failed miserably against the Titans, and it cost the Ravens an immediate score they would never make up.

Yes, the Ravens had success converting fourth downs this season, based on Harbaugh’s new-found analytics. Nobody is questioning that. The willingness to go for it and the success they had became part of the personality of this team and the success it enjoyed. But sometimes, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em; know when to walk away, and know when to punt.

The playoffs are different than the regular season, obviously. The finality of a one-game playoff made this a time to punt, and not give away over half the field to the hottest team in the tournament when you’re already on your heels and down one score.

Harbaugh’s bravado worked against him and his team in this instance. What he and offensive coordinator Greg Roman signed off on next would be the wooden stake.

Down 14-0, the Ravens decided to open up the offense and play comeback. Only problem is, their offense is not built for that kind of play, and Jackson is not built to throw 59 times. Very few teams and quarterbacks are, after all.

The Ravens seemed to panic and abandoned their running game. Of course, there is no guarantee they would have ever been able to regain it with the way the Titans controlled the Baltimore offensive line all night.

It was a great season for the Ravens and for Baltimore; a great regular season, that is, one that will be remembered as the coming out of Lamar Jackson, who, no doubt, will be named Most Valuable Player of the league, but who, for the second straight year, will have to stew over falling woefully short in a playoff game.

Is that fair? Far from it. Peyton Manning, after all, did not win a playoff game until his fifth season. But given the expectations and the hopes this Ravens team and their second-year quarterback produced with a stunning record-breaking regular season, this one is going to leave a bigger stink around the Castle than even last year’s one-and-done did. Because in the NFL, the regular season is just that — regular.

In other words, as they say on the wireless commercials, “Just OK is not OK.”

The Ravens made huge strides this year. They were a joy to watch all season. Until last Saturday night, that is, when the season really mattered.

Mike Burke writes about sports for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s County Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984. He was the sports editor of the Times-News for nearly 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT