The Ravens have found a way to do the impossible. They had the easiest road to the playoff of any AFC wild card team, and the least ways to miss the playoffs. The Ravens found a way to come up short.
On the final day of 2017, the Ravens played a game that wrapped up the season so perfectly. With the stakes of this game, it seemed obvious that the Ravens would be ready to go. Playing on Saturday last week, the Ravens had extra day to prepare for this critical game against a team that entered the game at 6-9.
This is the exact opposite of the Ravens. They entered the game completely unprepared. The Bengals took the front foot early, and dominated the Ravens with their running game. On the other side of the ball, the Ravens offense picked the worst time to revert to its early season form. The Ravens had one first down in the first half. ONE FIRST DOWN. Frankly, the Ravens made their performance against the Jaguars look not too bad.
Whether it was the brutal playcalling or execution, the Ravens offense in the first half was an absolute mess. On three different third downs, Flacco underthrew Mike Wallace on a deep ball. Mike Wallace was also awful in the first half, doing his best Breshad Perriman impression dropping catchable passes.
The Ravens stayed away from the running game against the Bengals second worst rush defense. However, even when they did use it, it wasn’t productive.
Baltimore did find some momentum at the end of the first half with the Chris Moore long kick return, but promptly lost it as Moore bobbled a pass into the hands of a Bengals defender, who returned it for a touchdown.
The Ravens fought to stay in the game, and eventually came back to take a 27-24 lead. The Ravens looked like they would be able to escape with a win, and enter the playoffs.
Then everything fell apart.
The Bengals got the ball with just over two minutes to play. Baltimore certainly had chances to get a stop. Whether it was a penalty on Brandon Carr or on Marlon Humphrey (which nullified an Eric Weddle interception), or missed opportunities, like a failed sack attempt on Dalton (the same play with the Humphrey penalty), the Ravnes were unable to get off the field. The Bengals got to a fourth down and 12. The Ravens needed just one more stop.
A theme for the Ravens all season has been “finish”. However, in the biggest moments this season, finish was exactly what the team failed to do. The Ravens have been built on the defense, but the defense proved to be far from elite, failing to make a play when the team needed it most. In Pittsburgh, the defense needed one stop to win the game. The didn’t get it. In Baltimore in Week 17, the defense needed one more stop to win the game. They didn’t get it.
The Bengals took advantage of a busted Ravens coverage, as Andy Dalton hit Tyler Boyd for a catch a run touchdown. The air in M&T Bank Stadium was drained, as the defense failed to show up in the moments where the team needed it most.
The Ravens had time on offense, but didn’t do anything. The Ravens threw a check down on fourth down to a player not named Ray Rice, and it didn’t work.
This loss capped a Ravens season that can only go down as exasperating. The Ravens were totally adverse to change, despite the obvious need for it, and in the end, it cost them. Whether it be the dink and dunk Marty Mornhinweg offense, or the Dean Pees defense that had no sense of time and score, the coaching staff was beyond ignorant in its failure to address problems that appeared in every single game.
The coaching staff were not the only ones at fault though. This is an organizational wide failure, from the players all the way up through the front office.
The front office spent so much money and draft picks on defense in the offseason. It left the Ravens with an anemic offense with no talent at wide receiver. The offense had no game changer anywhere on the field. On the defense, the headline signee, Tony Jefferson turned out to be a bust. In addition, Brandon Carr was a liability at for the Ravens defense. This unit just was not the same after losing Jimmy Smith. The money spent on defense turned out to mean nothing as, despite Eric Weddle once saying the offense would bail the team out, it was the defense that kept putting the team in trouble in big games.
The only good decision the front office made this season was bringing in Alex Collins, the lone bright spot on the offense.
The players also failed to execute. Joe Flacco didn’t have much to work with, but he made his fair share of mistakes. The wide receiver play around him was beyond awful. Breshad Perriman cemented his legacy as a bust, Jeremy Maclin was also a bust signing, and Mike Wallace was awfully inconsistent.
The most reliable players the Ravens had were its kicker and its punter.
After this failure, there needs to be a change in Baltimore. We already knew Dean Pees will not be back, but the question is who will join him? Baltimore needs to get rid of Marty Mornhinweg as well. The Ravens must find a different offensive mind, one that understands down and distance, and one that can roll out an offense with actual ability. Monrhinweg certainly wasn’t given the most talented group, but his play calling was terrible.
There certainly will be calls to fire John Harbaugh. The Ravens have only made the playoffs once since winning Super Bowl 47. There are some legitimate reasons for making a change at the top. The problem is, who could the Ravens hire that is an upgrade? I can’t say I’m opposed to the idea of hiring a younger mind, like what the Rams did with Sean McVay, but that has risk involved. Harbaugh has managed the locker room well during his time in Baltimore. Rarely are the Ravens in the news for off the field issues. There is a lot of blame this season that can be put on Harbaugh, but not all of it. The Ravens need to make a change, but Harbaugh shouldn’t be on his way out.
The Ravens also need to take a different approach to the offseason. Priority #1: find a playmaker. The Ravens have put themselves in a brutal cap situation, but they must find a way to bring in a real wide receiver. It could be a Jarvis Landry in free agency, or a Christian Kirk in the draft. Whoever it is, the Ravens must revamp.
The Ravens defense has the pieces, but it must find better coaching. With better coaching than Dean Pees, the team may not have these types of collapses.
The Ravens are about to enter a long offseason, and in painful fashion. This hurts, a lot, but the team still has some pieces in place. Making some changes on the coaching staff may give the Ravens what they need. The staff they had this year but the team in position to fail time and time again, and fail they did. What just happened? The Ravens blew an opportunity, the theme of the whole season. That’s what happened.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over. Will the Ravens make a change, or are they truly insane?