The Ravens played a football game on Saturday night in Buffalo, looking to advance to the AFC Championship for the first time since 2012. Unfortunately, said game did not go in their favor and for the second straight year, the Ravens exited the divisional round in defeat.
Plagued by costly mistakes and struggles on the offensive side of the ball, the Ravens fell to the Bills by a score of 17-3 — which was far off from what most people expected from this matchup. Before we close the book on this season, let’s debrief one final time with some painful takeaways from the Ravens playoff defeat.
1) What could go wrong, did go wrong
The first few minutes of this game were promising for the Ravens. After receiving the ball first, they ran the ball three straight times to begin the drive and gained over 30 yards, which immediately put them across midfield.
However, once they settled for a field goal attempt and Justin Tucker’s 41-yard attempt misfired off the post, you got the sense that it was just going to be one of those nights. Unfortunately it was, as the miscues continued to accumulate.
On the next drive, J.K. Dobbins dropped a crucial pass on third down and Sam Koch’s punt on the following play traveled only 37 yards. Tucker’s second field goal attempt on the next drive again was off-target, which is almost impossible to fathom.
Botched snaps, careless penalties (some on consecutive plays), costly turnovers, and just simply poor execution in multiple facets were too much to overcome. The 14-point disadvantage in the box score does not indicate the nature of this game, either.
The Ravens could have and should have been leading after two quarters of play, but were fortunate to be tied at halftime after playing about as putrid of a first half as you could possibly script. They had a chance to flip the switch and figure it out, but it never happened.
2) The offensive line struggled mightily
Entering this game, it was thought that the Ravens should have an advantage in the trenches. Baltimore was the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL this season and have been nothing short of unstoppable for several weeks in a row now, while the Bills were average defensively in stopping the run this season.
Buffalo’s defensive front has notable talent like Ed Oliver, Mario Addison, and Jerry Hughes, but it was far from the strength of their team this year and certainly not the strength of their defense — which is the secondary.
However, the Bills front seven and linebackers had their way with the Ravens offensive line for most of this game. They sniffed out a handful of rushing attempts, including designed QB keepers, and got consistent pressure on Lamar Jackson. Overall, Jackson was sacked four times and on the receiving end of eight QB hits.
The Ravens still ran the ball effectively in a vacuum, totaling 150 yards on the ground and averaging 4.7 yards per carry. However, the big play factor from previous weeks was not there. Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins tied for the team-lead in rushing yards with 42 while Jackson gained 34 yards on nine carries, a far cry from what this trio had done recently. Baltimore’s longest run of the night belonged to backup QB Tyler Huntley, who gained 19 yards on a scramble in the fourth quarter.
In summary, what was expected to be a strength for the Ravens in this matchup wound up being a notable reason for their defeat.
3) Oh, snap . . .
One of the most important tasks for a starting center in the NFL is to snap the ball to the quarterback. It’s paramount that the snap from center-to-quarterback be placed in a manner in which the quarterback can cleanly receive or catch the ball. This is a universal truth and not one that needs much explaining.
However, the Ravens may need a refresher on this after Saturday night. Patrick Mekari has been a serviceable option for the Ravens at the center position for most of the year, but his performance against the Bills was . . . less than desirable.
Mekari botched a handful of snaps throughout the night. One never got off the ground, one was way off-target to one side, and another soared over the head of Jackson and went about 15 yards backwards. The latter of which resulted in Jackson throwing the ball away just outside of the Ravens own end zone and suffering a head injury, which forced him into concussion protocol and ended his night before the fourth quarter.
Need you be reminded that Mekari did not begin the year as the starter. That title belonged to Matt Skura through the first half of the season until Week 10, when Skura was benched following a similarly disastrously outing against the Patriots. In that game, Skura too struggled to cleanly snap the ball and arguably cost the Ravens a potential victory.
Needless to say that the Ravens addressing the center position may be of emphasis for the Ravens in the future. Neither Mekari nor Skura are good enough blockers to compensate for their snapping issues. The inability to snap the ball effectively simply cannot be a recurring issue, especially not in a playoff game on the road.
4) Interceptions are bad, especially pick-sixes
Lamar Jackson will likely bare the brunt of blame for the Ravens loss from national outlets and social media once again. We can go back and forth forever on dishing out percentages of blame for what happened on Saturday night.
Is Jackson the sole reason for the Ravens defeat? No, he’s not. There were a handful of factors that played into the final result.
However, Jackson certainly deserves to be criticized when he doesn’t play well or peform to his standards. Self-inflicted wounds are usually difficult to overcome in the playoffs, especially on the road against a 13-win team like the Bills. Maybe the most crushing miscue of all is throwing a pick-six in the red zone, which unfortunately is what Jackson did.
Simply put: it was a poor decision and greatly decreased the Ravens chances of winning this football game. Before throwing the interception, Jackson and the Ravens offense had put together a pretty strong drive and moved the ball into the red zone. They had an opportunity to immediately respond to a Bills touchdown and tie the game at 10-10.
Instead, they abruptly found themselves trailing by 14 points in the blink of an eye.
Jackson has been one of, if not the best quarterback in the red zone over the past two seasons, throwing nearly 50 touchdowns and no interceptions for his career in the red zone entering this game. The first interception could not have come at a worse moment.
5) “Wink” and the defense deserve to be commended
If you had been told prior to kickoff that the Ravens defense would hold the Bills offense to 10 points, 220 total yards, and allow only four third down conversions in 13 attempts, you’d be very confident in a Ravens victory.
That’s exactly what they did, but unfortunately it did not manifest in Baltimore’s favor. Still, the Ravens defense played about as a strong of a game as you could ask for against one of the NFL’s most potent and high-powered offenses.
Aside from one long touchdown drive to begin the third quarter, the Bills did not do much offensively all night. Excluding kneel downs at the end of the first half and end of the game, Buffalo punted four times and scored only twice. Yes, they missed two field goals, but they were also gifted good starting field position on a number of drives.
Stefon Diggs and John Brown had several impactful gains in the passing game, but neither player caught a pass for more than 21 yards. Aside from them, no other Bills pass-catcher had more than three receptions or 18 receiving yards. The Ravens did not allow the Bills to beat them overtop and got off the field often on third down.
The Bills all but punted on any opportunity to establish the run game but their 16 rushing attempts on the night resulted in only 32 yards. Josh Allen’s scrambling ability was a non-factor and Devin Singletary had almost no impact aside from one or two runs.
In conjunction with last week’s performance against the Titans, the Ravens defense wound up giving up only 23 combined points and just a shade over 400 total yards in the two playoff games.
6) Is a change in offensive direction needed?
This is a big picture question and a possible overreaction in light of last night. However, it’s worth thinking about as the Ravens now shift into the offseason.
Over the past 2.5 years, the Ravens have developed a dominant, unique, and historically-successful rushing attack. It obviously began with Lamar Jackson becoming the starting quarterback and progressed even further with Greg Roman taking over as offensive coordinator prior to the start of the 2019 season.
The Ravens broke the NFL record for most rushing yards in a single season last year and rushed for over 3,000 yards as a team again this season. Jackson, Ingram, Edwards, and Dobbins have all had successful individual moments and stints. Simply put, there is no rushing attack as potent and diverse in the league today as Baltimore’s.
However, this unprecedented success in the regular season has not necessarily carried over into postseason success, too. Dating back to 2018, the Ravens past four playoff games have seen them go 1-3 and score 17, 12, 20, and three points, respectively.
There a handful of factors that play into this and it’s not worth digging into each individual matchup right now. But still, it may be worthwhile to start questioning what threshold the Ravens can reach with their current offensively philosophy and identity in place.
The Bills just beat the Ravens and were one of the most dynamic passing offenses in the league this season. The Chiefs obviously won the Super Bowl last year on the strength of their success through the air offensively, which is also a big reason why they’ve owned the Ravens individually over the past few seasons.
In order to be the best, you have to beat the best. That means getting past the cream of the crop in the AFC. If the Ravens hope to do so, significant strides in the passing game may be necessary for them to reach the next level as a team.