Winning close games used to be John Harbaugh’s forte. In 2008, his first season as head coach, the Baltimore Ravens punched their ticket to the AFC Championship game with two fourth quarter field goals from Matt Stover in Tennessee. The winning formula was cemented - rugged defense, clutch special teams and an offense capable of seizing late game opportunities.
In 2009, Baltimore pulled off a three point win in overtime against the Steelers. The 2010 Ravens recorded a one point win over the Jets, a three point win over the Steelers, and overtime victories against both the Bills and Texans. A come-from-behind three point win over the Cardinals followed by another three point come-from-behind victory in Pittsburgh the next week were among the highlights of the 2011 regular season.
The trend continued in 2012 with a last minute one point win over the Patriots, a two point win over the Cowboys, another field goal win over the Steelers and an overtime victory in San Diego. The Ravens 2012 postseason run included prime examples of the Ravens close game prowess, especially a double overtime thriller in Denver and a Super Bowl victory that came down to the final seconds.
Despite a veteran exodus following the championship, the Ravens retained most of their tight game magic in 2013. Namely, a three point win in Miami, overtime win against Cincinnati, two point win over Pittsburgh, three point win over Minnesota and two point win in Detroit. It has gone mostly downhill from there.
2014 saw a regression, as the Ravens lost five of seven games decided by a touchdown or less. The 2015 Ravens started the season with a dozen straight one-score games, losing eight of twelve. Last season, Baltimore dropped five one-score games, including a December loss to Pittsburgh that essentially knocked them out of playoff contention.
Franchise quarterback Joe Flacco has posted 19 fourth quarter comebacks and 26 game winning drives as a professional. The distribution of these heroic performances has been relatively consistent, with eight from 2008-2010, eleven from 2011-2013 and seven from 2014-2016. However, Flacco has not engineered a fourth quarter comeback since Week 3 of 2016 against Jacksonville. The drought has now lasted 21 games, the longest of his entire career.
The results this season display the Ravens troubles when the ball does not bounce their way early. In their four comfortable wins, the Ravens have outscored their opponents by a combined margin of 82 to 17 in the first half. In their four losses, Baltimore’s offense has appeared completely incapable of mounting a comeback after facing adversity.
The upcoming Week 9 matchup against Tennessee is likely to be a grind-it-out type of game. The Titans enter this contest off a bye week, after defeating Cleveland by a field goal in Week 7. They will use a smash mouth gameplan, which is often a script the Ravens are content to follow.
If the Ravens are going to earn a trip to the playoffs this season, John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco will need to rediscover their late game proficiency.