Well that was tough to watch. Week 14 saw the red-hot Baltimore Ravens travel to Foxborough to take on the AFC-leading New England Patriots. Baltimore came in winning four-out-five games. Not mention the fact that they were coming off of their most impressive performance to date against Miami. In a battle of what looked like two potential AFC juggernauts, a roller coaster of sloppiness ensued.
Two special-teams mishaps early by Baltimore allowed New England to take a 9-0 lead before the first quarter concluded. Another Ravens turnover and an ensuing Patriot red zone trip later and the game appeared all but over. Then, on a third-and-goal play, star quarterback Tom Brady did something very un-Bradylike, throwing an interception into the hands of Baltimore safety Eric Weddle. two field goals and two incredible special-teams blunders by the Patriots later and the game was now just 23-20. Unfortunately, Baltimore blew a coverage on the following drive and could not overcome a 30-20 deficit with 6:18 left. After the hard-fought, initially disastrous game, the Ravens now sit at 7-6, one game behind rival Pittsburgh in the AFC North standings. A lot can be made out of this game, here are the Baltimore Ravens Week 14 Takeaways.
Baltimore Ravens Week 14 Takeaways
Devin Hester Was A Liability
This is something that few people thought would be said coming into this season. Devin Hester is perhaps the most accomplished return man in NFL history. Now, he has clearly lost a step over his career and is currently in his 11th season at age 34. Thus, expectations were certainly kept in check before the season. But what has transpired this season has not even lived up to tempered expectations. While Hester helped the Ravens to a sixth-ranked kick return unit, his punt return skills have been abysmal.
Baltimore ranks 26th in the NFL in average yards per punt return. If he was at least reliable then maybe that could be overlooked. However, he had been anything but reliable. Hester had five fumbles this season, though he miraculously only lost one of them. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Hester’s game this year was his timidness.
Too often this season Hester refused to stand his ground and try to field a punt and it has left the Ravens in disastrous situations, none more evident than Monday night when he did not field a punt allowing it to be downed at the one-yard line, leading to a safety. Actually, while writing this, Hester just got cut so Baltimore was well aware of his struggles. Baltimore now needs to call up Michael Campanaro and activate him to return punts this Sunday, assuming he is healthy enough to do so.
Defense In Trouble If Jimmy Smith’s Injury is Significant
Entering Monday Night’s game, the Ravens had the first and second ranked defense in yards and points allowed per game. A schedule that was maybe not as daunting as some others might have helped with that ranking. But the Ravens are widely considered to have one of the top defenses in the league. After the game, the Ravens now rank fourth in the NFL in each category. What is most alarming going forward however, is what materialized on a second down play in the first quarter.
Star cornerback Jimmy Smith lined up across rookie wide-receiver Malcolm Mitchell and made a phenomenal play to stop the former Georgia Bulldog from crossing the plane. After what looked like a great play, Ravens players’ and fans’ hearts collectively skipped a beat. There was Smith, perhaps the most indispensable player on the Ravens top defense, slamming his fists against the ground in angst and pain as his ankle rolled under him. Smith was unable to put any weight on his hurt ankle and had to be carted into the locker-room. John Harbaugh, the Ravens head coach alerted the media after the game that the ankle was sprained. At the point of this writing there is no timetable for his return so there is still hope for the Ravens. But if he misses an extended period of time the Ravens are in trouble.
The former Colorado Buffalo has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career but when healthy he has been a force. Smith has played at a Pro-Bowl caliber level this season when he has played. The Ravens also do not have the depth to overcome losing him. The Ravens really missed him against the Dallas Cowboys in week 11 as Dez Bryant dominated. Rookie fourth-round pick Tavon Young has been a revelation this season, but his size best equips him to face number two/slot wide receivers. Ex-starter Shareece Wright who has struggled in coverage this season, looks next in line to start if Smith misses time. That is certainly not ideal for Baltimore.
This Ravens Team Will Not Roll Over And Give Up
Down 16-0 and facing a 3rd-and-goal at the two-yard line, a touchdown allowed would have all but been the nail in the coffin. Instead, the Ravens fought and got to Brady, forcing him to throw an errant pass in the end zone right into the hands of Weddle. After a short drive and a great three-and-out forced, the Ravens finally mounted their first truly successful drive of the game kicking a 50-yard field-goal to end the half. The Ravens did not give up.
Then, after yet another three-and-out by the offense, the Patriots scored what looked like a back-breaking game-ending touchdown on an incredible catch by tight end Martellus Bennett to take a 23-3 lead. The Ravens still did not give up. On the proceeding punt after another failed drive, the Ravens recovered a muffed punt and scored a touchdown two plays later. At 23-10 the Ravens continued to fight and forced and recovered another fumble on the following kickoff. Four plays later and the game is now 23-17. The Ravens were not going to give up. Even after allowing a deflating 79-yard touchdown to Chris Hogan one play after getting within three, the Ravens STILL did not give up. They drove down the field and kicking a field goal to give themselves one last chance. Unfortunately, they could not recover the ensuing onside kick of get a stop. Ballgame.
The Ravens may not have played their best game of the year. One might even argue this was one of their worst games of the year. One cannot argue however, the confidence and resilience shown by this team Monday Night against the class of the NFL.
Bonus Takeaway: Kenneth Dixon Is Going to Be A Star In This League
Many people in the Ravens organization and community have been saying this, and we are still waiting to see a true monstrous game, but Kenneth Dixon finally has taken over the lead-back duties from incumbent Terrance West. After out-gaining West in each of the previous two games, Dixon had his breakout performance, and looked fantastic doing it. The numbers do not tell the whole story as Dixon consistently made people miss and perhaps most notably of all, showed incredible heart as he fought through every single play. His quick feet, diminutive stature, and natural hands (eight catches!) are reminding Ravens fans of another back they used to have. Dixon looks like Ray Rice out there.
On To The Next One
While this was not the outcome the Ravens were looking for, not all hope is lost in Baltimore. The Ravens are certainly past moral victories, but a sense of pride in how they fought has to be felt in the locker room. More importantly, the Ravens are still in control of their own destiny. In the grand scheme of things this game really did not mean much in terms of playoff standings. A win would have given the Ravens a little more room for error sure. But the season likely still comes down to Christmas Day. On December 25th the Ravens play the Pittsburgh Steelers for what very well could be the AFC North title. If the Ravens win that game, and avoid disaster against the Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens will finish with ten wins, an AFC North title, and a home playoff game.
A win sure would have been nice and a true “notice us” statement to the rest of the NFL. But chalk this one up as just a blip on the radar of what still looks like a promising season. It would be foolish to write off this Ravens team. On to Philadelphia.