Ravens vs. Titans
A historic season, a likely MVP quarterback, a twelve game win streak, came crashing down Saturday night. The Titans came into M&T Bank Stadium after beating Tom Brady in Foxborough by leaning on their star running back Derrick Henry, who led the NFL in rushing yards this season. The Titans were huge underdogs against the Ravens, but they waltzed out of Baltimore after beating the Ravens 28-12.
Injuries, rest, horrific execution, and bad coaching, led to the Ravens' loss. Mark Ingram, the Ravens All-Pro running back, was dealing with a calf issue throughout the game, and while he did play, he didn't look the same. Nick Boyle went down in the second half, and Seth Roberts crawled off the field. Injuries held the Ravens back a little, but they weren't the reason the Ravens lost. Ironically the Ravens had just come off a bye week where everyone had gotten extra rest, and yet there were injuries.
Rest versus rust. It has been a debate that resurfaces at the end of every pro sports season. Play your players and risk injuries, or rest them and risk your players having a drop off in their game. John Harbaugh chose to rest his stars, and it cost him. The Ravens came out flat on offense, and Lamar Jackson didn't throw good spirals, despite the 68-degree beautiful night. The Ravens dropped many passes from Jackson, one leading to an interception. It wasn't just one person dropping passes, pro bowler Mark Andrews, sure-handed Seth Roberts, and rookie Hollywood Brown were some of the guilty parties. Hayden Hurst had a touchdown pass hit him in his chest when his head wasn't turned, and the Ravens dropped multiple touchdowns throughout the game.
The Ravens also struggled in the trenches. Jackson was pressured from a three-man pass rush multiple times, and on both sides of the ball, the Titans had their way up the middle of the line. Derrick Henry had over 180 rushing yards. The Ravens ran the ball decently when they ran. The Ravens couldn't run inside but they were having success outside, even without Mark Ingram. Greg Roman chose to abandon the run even when it was a one-score game. The Ravens didn't try to use wide receivers in the run game, and rarely brought players in motion. The Ravens opted to let Lamar Jackson throw fifty-nine times to targets who weren't physical down the field as well as targets who didn't catch the ball.
The Ravens have been aggressive all season. For the most part, it had worked, and the Ravens continued their aggressive coaching decisions against the Titans. The Ravens went for it twice on fourth down and failed both times after calling the same play. Coming into the game the Ravens had been 8/8 on fourth and one, but the Titans knew exactly what the Ravens wanted to do. The Ravens also failed to convert a two-point conversion in the second half. The Ravens could have chosen to take the easy points, but instead, they wanted more and they ultimately came up empty. Whether the Ravens should be aggressive is another discussion. But the play calls and the execution were suspect, and the Ravens executed themselves.
In 2016 the Ravens lost in the playoffs in the game to the Steelers on the immaculate extension. 2017 was the fourth and twelve heart wrencher. Last year the Ravens' interior offensive line fell asleep during the playoff game against the Chargers. Saturday, the Ravens couldn't play catch. The Ravens have set a trend of finding a way to lose at the end of the season. The Ravens aren't repeating the same mistakes, they're finding new ones. This year was particularly tough because of how impressive the regular season had been. This was the best regular season in franchise history, and it was arguably the worst playoff loss. Lamar Jackson will be back in the playoffs next year. Maybe John Harbaugh will learn his lesson about rest versus rust. This is a Ravens team that isn't yet at its peak and there are sunny skies ahead for Baltimore. But this season is over not because the Titans won, but because the Ravens lost.