The knock on Brian Billick during his tenure in Baltimore was, why did the offense struggle under an "offensive genius"? Fair or not, head coaches are generally expected to field an above-average unit in their specialty. And this is why, despite the focus on what was undoubtedly a horrific offensive showing, my disappointment is directed at yet another sub-par special-teams showing.
Despite his strong background and emphasis, John Harbaugh's special teams squandered several chances to win in spite of the offense. From Paul Kruger's running-into-the-kicker penalty, which turned a punt into three Jacksonville points, to Billy Cundiff's missed field goal, to the botched onside kick, the Ravens had three very real chances to win last night's game, even without the offense on the field.
Cundiff's missed field goal may have been from 50-plus yards, but we all saw Josh Scobee make three such field goals to win the game for Jacksonville. Making that field goal would have most likely resulted in a 10-9 win for Baltimore.
Then there was Kruger's penalty, which frankly was a horrible call. Not in the sense that it shouldn't have been made, but that it should have been a roughing penalty that resulted in 15 yards and an automatic first down. Either way, Kruger's inexcusable mental error directly resulted in three points for the other team.
And then, of course, the onside kick with more than two minutes remaining and two timeouts and a defense that has completely dominated. While I think there is an argument to be made for either decision, onside or kick away, if the kick had been executed, no one would be saying a thing about it this morning besides what a gutsy call it was. (You only hear about Sean Payton's second-half onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV because Hank Baskett muffed it for Indy. If Mr. Kendra Wilkinson had recovered it, Payton would forever be the idiot that gave away the Super Bowl. Similarly, Harbaugh is only recognized for his gutsy call if the Ravens recover, score and win).
It was so tantalizingly close to hitting that line that the Ravens just had to pray that the referee gave them the benefit of the doubt (remember the Jags didn’t have any challenges and it was outside of two minutes, so a blown call would have resulted in Baltimore possession). But blown call or correct, the Ravens didn't get possession. The Jags kicked a field goal to push their lead to 5, and Joe Flacco's pass was intercepted to seal the loss.
Let's not jump off the bridge just yet. A win at home against Arizona and a win in Pittsburgh and the Ravens are right back in control of their own destiny. If the Ravens were going to have another Tennessee-esque performance, let's just be glad it was in Jacksonville and not Pittsburgh. The offense may or may not figure out how to turn it on, but if last night reminded us of anything, it's that Ravens football circa 2000 is alive and well. The Ravens could have and should have won that game in spite of the offense; they just needed the "Special Teams Genius" to come through.
Posted Oct. 25, 2011