Thursday, September 29, 2022

How will the Ravens respond to such a jarring defeat at hands of Tua and Dolphins?

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As meltdowns go, this one might never be topped. The Baltimore Ravens blew a 21-point lead and slept walk through the fourth quarter against a capable Miami Dolphins team and now will have a long week preparing for a trip to New England to see old Coach Bill.

It will, indeed, be all about how this suddenly beleaguered team, still trying to get healthy and find some semblance of a running game, responds to such a devastating turn of events on Sunday afternoon.

It was a hard lesson taught in the Baltimore heat.

In the postgame, John Harbaugh had no answers for the rarest of rarities in his 15 seasons coaching the Ravens – a historic loss that required lots of bad calls, bad plays, bad decisions and poor football that turned a 35-14 walkover into a stunning 42-38 loss.

Lamar Jackson (21-29, 319 yards) had a perfect passer rating in the first half and even got loose for a signature run through the Dolphins pasture for a “one of one” 79-yard touchdown but in the end it was the other side of the ball and a wayward defense that tanked under the constant monotony of Tua Tagovailoa completing passes all over the field to the tune of a whopping 469 yards. In the end, as our WNST reporter Luke Jones first asked Harbaugh about in the postgame, it was the secondary and the flurry and fury of the Fish attack that the depleted backside had no answers – and plenty of questions and confusion – and the Head Coach admitted: “That just can’t happen. That’s not OK.”

The Ravens snatched defeat from the jaws of victory Sunday afternoon and it’ll be a long week behind the Purple Wall in Owings Mills as Coach Hardass might be bringing the private boot after such an embarrassment in front of the local fans in the home opener.

To be fair, the credit would’ve been a’plenty if the game stopped after three quarters. The Ravens were ahead by 21 points because they were that much better than the Dolphins most of the day. Devin Duvernay started the fireworks and Rashod Bateman and Mark Andrews continued the party. Justin Houston was a Tua wrecker. Marcus Williams was flying to the ball in miraculous ways. It was a big purple party to start the season – an Inner Harbor Fish Fry.

Let’s give the Ravens some credit here: they had the game won at one point and had their way for the first 40 minutes of the game. It was the “Pay Lamar” Show as usual. Big throws, a big run, some nice plays and good tape despite some drops en route to a three-TD lead.

The first quarter of the game flew by and the Ravens were playing a successful brand of Ravens football. Burning the clock, chewing up the grass with an 18-play drive – even with the first of a couple of 4th down disasters on Sunday downtown with the Lamar fumble at the goal line. The kind of momentum that the Ravens were playing with most of the afternoon is usually “lights out” but when they needed that running game and an extra burst in the fourth quarter, that tank was empty. Across the roster, really.

When you blow a lead like that, it’s not “one little thing” it was more of everything. But possessing the ball was everything in the first quarter and didn’t produce a point of offense. In the fourth quarter, the defense collapsed under the weight of the offense’s inability to hose down a 3-touchdown lead against a team that should’ve been warming up the buses headed to BWI to get back to South Beach, the usual beaten Dolphins.

Greg Roman is getting roasted. Mike Macdonald is getting skewered. But I’m wondering if they have enough good, healthy players once again and we aren’t out of September.

But much like that lion heart that the Dolphins showed Lamar last November down in Miami Gardens, the men of Mike McDaniel never flinched. You have to tip your cap because you’ll never see that kind of comeback this side of the Houston Oilers in Buffalo ever again.

The Ravens pass rush died. Marlon Humphrey was off the field after Steven Means was carted off. Tua was locked in and the Dolphins have legitimate weapons, especially once Tyreek Hill got hydrated and back on the field to compliment Jaylen Waddle, who owned the purple backend. The Ravens secondary, already depleted, was gassed and confused.

They were gassed because the Ravens running game produced less than zero yards on five tries in the final quarter and the team couldn’t possess the ball long enough or well enough to ice a sure home win. The running game, circa 2022, only exists in the cosmos or the imagination of Eric DeCosta at this point. We’re two weeks in and waiting on the cavalry of J.K. Dobbins to be “in-season effective” right away – and that’s a lot to ask. We’ve wondered all offseason if the running game really existed and two weeks into this campaign we have to wonder if that’s a trend or a way of life for Lamar Jackson’s offense being maximized.

One thing is for sure, Lamar Jackson is throwing the ball better than he’s ever thrown it. And that, alone, gives the Baltimore Ravens a rare chance every week he’s healthy and leading the other 10 whatever-their-names-are.

Despite a phenomenal day, Lamar nearly threw the game-tying pick to an All Pro in Xavien Howard, who couldn’t make No. 8 the old-school “goat” (lower-case letters) but instead it was the offense’s inability to muster more than a 51-yard Justin Tucker field goal, allowing the defense to come back out for one final matador procedure.

This is the price you pay for not having a running game.

Hearing things like “We gotta own it” and “How we respond will be the story” are fine themes.

New England and Buffalo are next. The Ravens are 1-1.

Last week always tends to be a long time away if you win in Foxborough. And it certainly would be a Purple Reign 3 worthy episode for how not to start a Super Bowl season at home, if they dig out and stack a few wins.

Harbaugh said he was encouraged by a lot of things. They DID have a 21-point lead.

The Baltimore Ravens smelled pretty good to the football world at 3:30 on Sunday afternoon. (Not to mention some gamblers!)

It will be quite a teaching moment for the ballcoach in John Harbaugh – the time his team lost a 3-touchdown lead and making sure it never, ever happens again.

“They kept playing,” Jackson acknowledged about his opponent. And he’s right, it was a great win for the Dolphins.

But do the young guys learn from this? Certainly guys like Calais Campbell, Marcus Peters, Josh Bynes, Justin Houston – these are veterans that have seen some weird things. I saw some players in the aftermath on social media tweeting that they were still trying to process it. Ray Lewis always talked about the 24-hour rule but this one will be particularly rancid in breakdowns this week from room to room in Owings Mills.

There’s plenty of work to be done.

These are tough, tough weeks in NFL buildings. Harbaugh has weathered larger storms but this is the next challenge for the 1-1 but-still-promising Ravens.

That, and finding a running game and healthy bodies for a withering secondary.

That foghorn from the lighthouse starts right around 12:55 p.m. on Sunday afternoon and can be relentless in New England.

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