The Baltimore Ravens were in the midst of finalizing the third of three straight losses yesterday. The Denver Broncos would end up winning the game, 34-17, but the game was over long before the final whistle. For many, the turning point was the98-yard interception return for a game-changing TD just seconds before the end of the first half.
However, the team battled until the end,but let their emotions and frustration get the better of them. Both Anquan Boldin and Cary Williams were flagged for unsportsmanlike penalties, costing the team 15 yards each time. The replays showed that neither was a questionable penalty, but rather a release of emotions on an unsuspecting member of the soon-to-be-winning team.
These ridiculous and unprofessional penalties may be signaling a loss of control by head coach John Harbaugh. The Ravens defense has always had a swagger of its own, known as much for its hard hits which has attracted the referees attention over the years. Many football purists along with fans, coaches and a few outspoken Ravens players (Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard) see this as part of the game, but there is a huge difference between questionable hits on a defenseless player and an all out unnecessary hit after a play is either over or nowhere near the actual play itself.
This was an issue under Brian Billick, who had as tough a time controlling his defensive coordinator Rex Ryan as he did Ryan's defensive players. Many of the same players on the defense remain, along with that same attitude of on-field freedom. However, does that freedom extend to taking the law into their own hands and costing the team?
While realizing that the coaches are on the sidelines and not on the gridiron, they still have the abilities to control their players and instill the fear of respect and paying the price for their individual vigilante actions. The Ravens players, just like their fans, are spoiled by their string of success over the past five years. They are not used to losing and are not liking the feeling, much less three weeks in a row.
The previous two weeks were losses on the last play of the game, drawing feelings of frustrations to the surface. The street beating that Baltimore received in front of their own fans brought out the uncontrollable anger in a few players that shouldn't set the tone for the rest of the team.
However, these two specific incidents are not uncommon on the team, which seems to be watched a bit more closely for these types of transgressions than perhaps other teams in the league. The Ravens are not a dirty team, they are a hard-hitting team and respected for this play throughout the league, if not by other team's fans, definitely by the opposing players.
These unsportsmanlike penalties cannot continue if John Harbaugh wants to keep control of the team and players. Repeat performances in a losing cause is tacky. Repeated incidents will be a reflection on the leadership of the team and has to start with the head coach.