Ravens-Packers aftermath: Did those two first-half decisions affect the outcome of Sunday's 19-17 loss?

Joe Flacco and the offense couldn't produce a touchdown or move the ball down the field in an end-of-half situation. Who's to blame? - Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

John Harbaugh made two first half decisions that potentially affected the outcome of the Ravens-Packers game.

With the benefit of knowing what happened after Sunday's final whistle, it's easy to harp on Ravens coach John Harbaugh's two first-half decisions that seemed to have had a direct correlation to the outcome of the game.

Those upset at the decisions have a great point, too.

The first decision was to go for it on fourth down from the Packers 1-yard line. After three consecutive runs that couldn't get into the end zone, Harbaugh wanted to prove his unit could get a yard when it needed to. He took out Ray Rice and placed Bernard Pierce in to power the ball across the goal line.

However, Pierce's run up the middle was stuffed and the Ravens were forced to turn the ball over on downs without any points.

The second decision came near the end of the first half. After playing a horrendous first half on offense, the Ravens got the ball back with 20 seconds left in the first quarter after a missed field goal from Packers kicker Mason Crosby. It was all too fortunate for Baltimore, being down 3-0 to a team like the Packers when it could only muster 21 rushing yards on 13 carries.

But Harbaugh wanted to capitalize on Green Bay's miss and get some points of his own to turn the momentum. After an incomplete pass, Joe Flacco was sacked a play later by linebacker Nick Perry, which forced a fumble. The Packers recovered and added a field goal to go up 6-0 at the half.

Given we now know the outcomes, it's easy to say Harbaugh should — or needed — to make the opposite calls in those situations. But what would we be saying if the Ravens scored that touchdown and wound up getting down the field and kicking a late field goal?

(Before I delve into why either decision was right or wrong in the time, I think it's important for fans to separate the decision-making process from the execution on the field. Though they're linked together, they're separate. A good call can sometimes look bad on the field if it doesn't produce a first down, touchdown or big play due to mistakes or a better play from the opposition. Conversely, a bad call can be bailed out by a great play, a penalty or an opposing team's miscue.)

OK, so let's go back to the first decision, which was to forget the field goal and go for the touchdown.

From a coaching perspective, you're playing the Packers. You know Aaron Rodgers can go off at any moment. Points are at a premium and you have to make the most of your opportunities. You have a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. I see nothing wrong with going for it in that situation.

The only criticism I can offer is the decision to run the ball four consecutive plays. The Ravens' short-yardage running game as been garbage this year. The Packers' strength is defending the run. Play action on second or third down might have been something the Ravens could have added into that series to keep Green Bay honest if it wasn't able to convert.

The decision itself to go for it on fourth down? Can't disagree. How many times has a team punted or opted for a field goal when you'd prefer to them to go for it? Anyone saying the decision itself was flawed is looking at the final score and saying, "Woulda, coulda, shoulda."

On top of that, the Packers wound up on their own 1 and were ultimately forced to punt. If the Ravens do kick the field goal, it's uncertain what Green Bay's next possession would have been. The Packers wouldn't have been backed up and would've had more of the playbook to work with. Who knows — maybe the Ravens get a defensive stop or a turnover. Or maybe Rodgers leads the Packers down the field and score a touchdown of their own. Point is, without knowing the outcome of a hypothetical Packers drive, that decision doesn't become a singular moment that affected the outcome of the game.

On to the other decision, which was to press the ball downfield to get a late field goal before the half. This one deserves more critiquing because of where the Ravens were field position wise. They began with the ball on their own 34 and needed about 31 yards to set Justin Tucker up for a 50-yard field goal. There's also the chance that with it being an end-of-half situation, the Ravens could have traveled just 25 yards or so and let Tucker try a kick from the mid-50s range.

Of course, Flacco was sacked, fumbled and it set up a Green Bay kick to put the Packers up 6-0.

In that situation, with the offense playing the way it did, coaching philosophy generally dictates that you knee the ball and regroup at the half. The offense only managed four first downs in the first half (one due to a defensive holding call) and showed nothing that should have made a coach think the group could move the ball down to field goal range before the half's end in 20 seconds.

But in a way, you have to admire Harbaugh's confidence in his players. As bad as they played, he gave them a shot to give the Ravens a boost before the half. They didn't and the decision backfired.

There's a legitimate gripe with this decision. Based on the flow of the game, it was probably best — before knowing the outcome — to take a knee and head to the locker room. All things considered, the Ravens would have been down 3-0 at the half thanks to a stellar first half from the defense. With the offense playing as bad as it has since the team's inception, that's practically a win.

By the same notion, you could argue the offense let the coaches down by not pulling through when confidence was placed in them to produce a scoring chance before the half. But blame in this league always begins with the coach. Harbaugh often talks about the percentages in football. Kneeling the ball has a higher percentage of not surrendering a late score at the end of the half than trying to take deep shots for a late field goal try does.

You know how fans get mad and call coaches too conservative when their favorite team doesn't want to take a shot to score near the end of a half? This is why.

In conclusion, though, the Ravens didn't lose the game based on these two plays. There are plenty of other statistics or moments to point to (the running game, only picking up two of 10 third downs, not forcing a punt and then a field goal try near the end of the game, etc.)

These two plays do stand out a bit more because of the scoring implications they held.

Sure, hindsight's always right. But that doesn't make a particular call or decision wrong.


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