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Ravens’ toughest opponent continues staring them in mirror after latest fourth-quarter collapse

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Luke Jones
Luke Jones
Luke Jones is the Ravens and Orioles beat reporter for WNST BaltimorePositive.com and is a PFWA member. His mind is consumed with useless sports knowledge, pro wrestler promos, and movie quotes, but he struggles to remember where he put his phone. Luke's favorite sports memories include being one of the thousands of kids who waited to get Cal Ripken's autograph after Orioles games in the summer of 1995, attending the Super Bowl XXXV victory parade with his father in the pouring rain, and watching the Terps advance to the Final Four at the Carrier Dome in 2002. Follow him on Twitter @BaltimoreLuke or email him at Luke@wnst.net.

John Harbaugh said the Ravens are “a really good football team” and “plan on becoming a great football team” the day after their 24-20 loss to the New York Giants. 

And though Marlon Humphrey’s cryptic postgame tweet referencing the insanity quote attributed to Albert Einstein — incorrectly, I might add — was brought to his attention by the public relations staff, Harbaugh downplayed any significance, saying if the veteran cornerback “wants me to understand it, he will.” We only assume Humphrey — who’s hardly the most serious individual on Twitter anyway — was referencing the Ravens blowing another double-digit lead to fall to 3-3, their slowest start after six games since 2017.  

Yes, Baltimore remains in first place in the AFC North and could be a perfect 6-0 with a handful of plays in three defeats going the other way.  

The Ravens rank third overall in DVOA, the Football Outsiders efficiency metric respected in league circles and often cited in this space. 

Sunday’s postgame notes distributed to media mentioned how Baltimore is the only team in the league to score first in each of its first six games and to not face a deficit at the end of the first, second, and third quarter in any game this season. 

But none of that matters for a team that’s sorely lacking in the fourth quarter with opponents outscoring the Ravens by a 64-22 margin. That same DVOA metric ranks Baltimore 21st in offense and 26th in defense in the final period. 

As Ray Lewis always exclaimed, it’s a 60-minute ballgame, and the Ravens haven’t shown the consistent ability to finish on either side of the ball. They could just as easily be 2-4 — credit them for pulling one out against Cincinnati — as 6-0 if we insist on playing this “coulda, woulda, shoulda” game instead of facing the problem. 

“Finishing is a habit. The idea is that you finish everything — finish everything all the time — and that’s kind of the way the program is built,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the way we built the whole operation. You finish your workout. You finish your film study. In practice, you finish the play. You finish the communication. You finish the call. You finish lunch — that applies. 

“You just have to finish. You have to make it a habit to finish.”

Why isn’t that carrying over to Sundays? That’s the responsibility of a 15th-year head coach who should have no shortage of experience to figure it out before the problem threatens to derail the 2022 season. 

Few would deny this team’s strong performance for extended periods of games, which is what made the loss to the Giants that much more frustrating. Blowing a 21-point lead to Miami was awful, but such a collapse hadn’t happened to the Ravens in a quarter-century and they were missing their top two cornerbacks for much of the fourth quarter against arguably the NFL’s best wide receiver duo. Losing a 17-point lead to Buffalo was incredibly disappointing, but the Bills are the consensus best team in the AFC. The loss to New York carried a different feeling, however, and not just because the 5-1 Giants weren’t supposed to be any good under new head coach Brian Daboll and former Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. 

Once is a mistake, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern — or something like that.  

What made this loss different was how the mistakes that have plagued the Ravens in the fourth quarter began popping up long before Lamar Jackson’s horrendous interception to Giants safety Julian Love with under three minutes to go. No one expects a perfect performance, of course, but Baltimore had moved the ball in a way that should have made the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium inconsequential with the Ravens enjoying a 256-90 edge in first-half yardage. Still, they managed only a 10-7 lead at intermission and tacked on just three more points in the third quarter, leaving the Giants in the ballgame before the Ravens completely self-destructed in the final minutes with an unforgivable illegal formation penalty, Tyler Linderbaum’s premature snap and the aforementioned pick on a critical third-and-5, and the final Jackson fumble to all but end the game. 

Consider the 6-yard loss on a third down from the New York 36 that took the Ravens out of field-goal range on the game’s opening drive. 

What about another false start penalty and then Jackson’s poor throw to Kenyan Drake on third-and-16 that cost valuable yardage before Justin Tucker’s 56-yard miss on the second drive? 

Surrendering a 47-yard kick return after the first touchdown sure gave the New York offense life after its uninspiring early drives. 

The Ravens failed to score a touchdown despite having first-and-goal from the 5 on their first drive of the second half. 

And Odafe Oweh’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty turned what would have been a tough fourth-and-1 decision from the Baltimore 40 into an automatic first down and an eventual easy field goal for Graham Gano. 

That’s not even getting into any number of other plays that could have been made and the big questions about why Greg Roman shied away from running the ball inside the red zone when the Ravens gained a season-high 211 yards on the ground or why Mike Macdonald’s defense couldn’t get off the field on several key third downs. 

Even with Mark Andrews catching a 12-yard touchdown to give Baltimore a 20-10 lead with 13 minutes to play, the Giants seemingly had the Ravens right where they wanted them as Harbaugh’s team ultimately lived up to its new fourth-quarter identity the rest of the way. 

Frustration was palpable in the postgame locker room as players answered similar questions to the ones posed after the Miami and Buffalo losses. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley said it best acknowledging the Ravens are their “own biggest enemy” at the moment.

Until showing otherwise more consistently, this is a pretty good team — it’s the parity-driven NFL after all — carrying a vibe of not being good enough or smart enough in crunch time. That’s a tough feeling to shake, especially when its origin dates back to the six-game losing streak — five of those coming by one score — to conclude last season. And yes, it’s growing more difficult to chalk up that 2021 finish solely to Jackson’s absence and other injuries when the star quarterback is also struggling in the fourth quarter this season

Harbaugh and the veteran leaders in the locker room must find a way to lift the Ravens out of this late-game funk. And with the roster clearly lacking at a few positions, it certainly wouldn’t hurt for general manager Eric DeCosta to make an impactful trade deadline addition in the same vein of cornerback Marcus Peters three years ago.

No, the Ravens’ biggest threat at the moment isn’t the Bills or Kansas City in the AFC or even Cincinnati in the division. 

Their toughest opponent continues to stare them in the mirror, and it’s growing more intimidating with each fourth-quarter collapse. 

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