OAKLAND - Since late last season, the Ravens haven’t been able to count on their defense in late-game situations.
Simply put, the Ravens haven’t protected leads like they used to. It started last season, even before they lost linebacker Terrell Suggs to his season-ending Achilles injury. Dating back to 2014, the Ravens have lost their last four games that were decided by six points or less, and the fourth-quarter defense in all of those losses was suspect.
Watching the Ravens give up killer drives late in games has become a familiar sight. It happened again Sunday during their 37-33 loss to the Raiders.
After the Ravens took a 33-30 lead with 2:44 left, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr methodically led a game-winning touchdown drive – nine plays, 80 yards, in just one minute, 44 seconds.
Had they at least held the Raiders to a field goal, perhaps the Ravens would have won in overtime. But the Ravens’ defense couldn’t contain Carr all day - 30 of 46, 351 yards, three touchdowns, one interception. Now the Ravens are 0-2, in as much September trouble as they have ever been under coach John Harbaugh.
Consider this snapshot of the Ravens’ recent late-game defense:
- Against the Broncos in Week 1, Denver milked 10:56 off the clock in the fourth quarter with a 17-play, 81-yard drive. The Broncos settled for a field goal. But burning almost 11 minutes off the clock left the Ravens with just one more possession. That final drive ended with Joe Flacco throwing an interception, and the Ravens lost 19-13.
- In last season’s playoff loss to the Patriots, the Ravens twice led by 14 points, but couldn’t hold either lead. The Ravens led, 28-14, in the third quarter, but the Patriots outscored the Ravens 21-3 from that point and escaped with a 35-31 win that ended the Ravens’ season.
- Last November 30th against the Chargers, the Ravens led 33-20 with just over six minutes left. But Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers engineered two late scoring drives and the Chargers won, 34-33, at M&T Bank Stadium. That loss may have cost the Ravens a division title.
Last year, the Ravens’ secondary was ravaged by injuries. But with corners Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb healthy, Carr still picked apart the Ravens’ secondary, and there was plenty of blame to go around.
“Our secondary, we got some miscommunication, and they got too many big plays,” Webb said following Sunday’s game. “If we didn’t give them a big play, we gave them a penalty. You can’t do both.
“Right now, everybody’s sad, everybody’s down. We’re 0-2. I don’t know what this feeling feels like. But I know I’m coming back on Monday and Tuesday, ready to get my boys ready…We will be back.”
The motto “Play like a Raven” is supposed to include playing stellar defense in clutch situations. But unless the Ravens’ defense improves in late-game situations, recovering from a 0-2 start will be extremely difficult.
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