The Baltimore Ravens suffered the first setback in their 2023 quest for a championship with a 22-19 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Their short-handed offense struggled to hold onto the ball in the first half, stay on the field for most of the game, and capitalize on numerous opportunities the defense gave them to put up more points and win the game.
Here are some of the top takeaways from the Ravens’ Week 3 defeat in which players in all three phases had up-and-down performances.
Sloppy offense was worse than horrible officiating
The game couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for the Ravens on the offensive side of the ball as they marched 80 yards in 13 plays on their first possession of the game and capped it off with a touchdown.
It seemed like a sign of what to expect from the unit for the rest of the day but an untimely fumble by recently re-signed veteran running back Kenyan Drake on their next drive began a downward spiral that they would not recover from before halftime. Lamar Jackson fumbled on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter, falling on the first and losing the second, and backup center Sam Mustipher was credited with a fumble on an aborted snap that killed their third drive of the period.
Baltimore Banner’s Jonas Shaffer pointed out that on Jackson’s first fumble, it looked like the play was supposed to be a quarterback draw play and he didn’t follow his blockers who were leaking out and picking up defenders downfield.
Looks like Todd Monken had a designed QB draw for Lamar Jackson on this sack. Sam Mustipher was leaking out, and all the routes went toward the sideline. pic.twitter.com/aCVpFpJ5Fc— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) September 24, 2023
While that was the beginning of their struggles on that side of the ball, it was unfortunately far from last. The Ravens’ inability to stay on the field and salt the game away, even after their defense kept the Colts out of the end zone and forced four long field goal attempts of over 50 yards in the second half, cost them more dearly than the two penalties that weren’t called late in the game and overtime.
That being said, the officiating in the fourth quarter and overtime with the game hanging in the balance was absolutely horrendous. The most egregious and ultimately most costly was the blatant defensive pass interference that Colts linebacker E.J. Speed committed on Ravens rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers that resulted in a turnover on downs late into the overtime period.
Refs missed a big pass interference call on the Colts defense.— Arye Pulli (@AryePulli) September 24, 2023
Zay Flowers was upset. pic.twitter.com/iOTBOiECSs
Had it been called, the Ravens’ would’ve had a fresh set of downs and been in confident field goal range for six-time Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker. On the other hand, had second-year tight end Isaiah Likely not dropped an accurate pass from Jackson on third and short that would’ve moved the chains and potentially put them in a position to win the game.
Injuries are beginning to take a toll
The Ravens came into this game missing seven starters and before it ended in disappointing defeat, they lost a few more to injuries on both sides of the ball.
Ravens reported injuries today: RB Gus Edwards (concussion); WR Rashod Bateman (hamstring); WR Tylan Wallace (hamstring); OLB David Ojabo (ankle); S Geno Stone (ribs).— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiec) September 25, 2023
A few others limped off. Ravens badly need some guys back. It's untenable w/how many guys they lose every wk
Starting running back Gus Edwards left the game early in the fourth quarter and did not return after entering concussion protocol. Third-year wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace sustained hamstring injuries in the second half, leaving the Ravens with just three healthy receivers in overtime.
Second-year outside linebacker David Ojabo suffered an ankle injury in the first half and did not return although he remained in uniform and on the sideline. Fourth-year safety Geno Stone briefly left the game in overtime after suffering a rib injury defending a long pass but he returned to the game in the next drive.
Edwards is one of the best closers in the league at the running back position who can pick up the hard necessary yards with the game on the line. He proved as much last week against the Cincinnati Bengals but without him for most of the fourth quarter, they were forced to turn to Drake and fellow veteran Melvin Gordon who rushed for just nine yards on four attempts in the final 15 minutes of regulation and only four rushing yards on two attempts in overtime when the Ravens only needed a just a few extra yards on two separate occasions to get in comfortable field goal range considering the wet conditions.
Third-year outside linebacker Odafe Oweh’s absence was felt in more ways than one. In addition to being the defense’s most disruptive pass rusher through their first two games, he’s also a great edge-setter against the run. The Colts were able to get around the edge multiple times for chunk plays on the ground as running back Zack Moss gashed the Ravens’ usually extremely stingy run defense on his way to setting new career highs in both carries and rushing yards with 30 for 122 yards, both were game-highs for either team.
The offensive line performed very well in terms of run blocking for most of the game as the Ravens rushed for over 170 yards and at least one rushing score for the second week in a row. However, they missed All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley and second-year pro Tyler Linderbaum in pass protection as they gave up some sacks and pressures on multiple drives.
Defense did more than enough to win
Despite missing their top pass rusher in Oweh, All-Pro cornerback in Marlon Humphrey, ball-hawking safety in Marcus Williams, and starting nickel corner in Ar’Darius Washington, the Ravens had plenty of clutch plays on the defensive side of the ball to emerge victorious on Sunday. The unit racked up five sacks for the second time this season with three coming from second-year defensive back Kyle Hamilton in the first half alone, the last of which resulted in a forced fumble that should’ve been recovered by one of his teammates.
They relentlessly pressured Colts backup quarterback Gardner Minshew all game long and only gave up two plays of 20 or more yards in five quarters. On the day, they only gave up one touchdown and forced seven punts, four long field goal attempts from 50-plus, a safety, and a turnover on downs near midfield in overtime.
Hamilton was all over the field and in the backfield making plays, adding nine total tackles, two tackles for loss, a pass deflection, and three quarterback hits to his final stat line. Inside linebackers, Patrick Queen and Roquan Smith tied for the team lead in total tackles with a dozen each.
Brandon Stephens stepped up big as the No. 1 cornerback and finished with the second-most tackles on the team with 11, a tackle for loss, and two impressive pass breakups. Outside linebacker, Jadeveon Clowney split a sack with Smith and logged two quarterback hits as well.
Their more than valiant efforts were squandered by an offense that couldn’t seize the golden opportunities they gave them but after the game, several defenders still refused to absolve themselves of guilt for the deflating loss.
"Never get too high. Never get too low." pic.twitter.com/abjNg783xX— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 24, 2023
“We’ve just got to get better,” Queen said. “There’s no excuse for what we put out on the field today. They had too many rush yards [and] too many big plays that we didn’t capitalize on – just simply not doing our job.
Special teams shined but still had crucial shortcomings
None of the three phases are exempt from blame in this loss although an argument can be made that special teams also did enough to win. However, they fell short in some key moments as well including at the end of regulation where six-time Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker wasn’t able to successfully convert a 61-yard attempt which resulted in the game going to overtime.
“I got my plant [foot] in the ground. [I] struck the ball in my sweet spot,” Tucker said. “Sometimes, the nature of this game is the ball does not go through, or you fall short sometimes. I’m going to choose to take on a positive mindset and look at the things that we can improve upon. I’m going to look at the things I can improve upon, and I’ll just leave it at that.”
While that missed kick was Tucker’s only shortcoming of the game, the same can’t be said for some of his fellow special teams compatriots. Punter Jordan Stout had a strong day overall including the perfectly placed 52-yarder that set up the eventual safety but his next punt which was his last of regulation only traveled 34 yards. It only took seven seconds off the clock and set the Colts up with decent field position already almost to midfield trailing by just a field goal on a day where their kicker, Matt Gay, was 3-for-3 from 50-plus and would go on to set an NFL record seven plays later on a game-tying attempt from 53 yards out.
The punt return game also had a costly gaffe near the end of regulation but also provided one of the biggest plays of the game in overtime that put the offense in position to win the game yet again.
On the free kick following the safety, Flowers fair caught the punt and took no time off the clock before the two-minute warning after the official put more time back on. That mistake essentially gave the Colts an extra time out as their defense was able to get off the field in five plays after the Ravens only managed to take 22 seconds off the clock as they failed to stay on the field and hold onto their lead.
After the game, Head Coach John Harbaugh said that they weren’t able to communicate with Flowers that the plan had changed after time was added and that they wanted him to field and return it under two minutes. However, he had two timeouts at his disposal at the time and could’ve used one of them to do exactly that.
Two-time Pro Bowl return specialist Devin Duvernay nearly made up for it in overtime after he ripped off a 31-yard return on his lone opportunity of the extended period. The clutch play set the Ravens’ offense up past midfield at the Indianapolis 48-yard line but they would go on to only pick up four more yards and punt the ball back to the Colts instead of risk missing another kick from 60-plus.