Turnovers plaguing Ravens in December
The Ravens are sticking to the script: All they need is one win to clinch the AFC North. And with the Pittsburgh Steelers' overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, the Ravens have already earned a playoff berth.
But here’s reality: No matter who is the offensive coordinator, or whether they run the no-huddle offense or not, if Joe Flacco keeps committing turnovers at such an alarming rate none of it will matter.
The Ravens (9-5) lost their third game in a row Sunday, falling 34-17 at M&T Bank Stadium. Flacco had an interception and turnover that directly led to 10 of those points for Denver (11-3).
"The most important thing is to understand is that … every goal we have, starting with our first goal which is to win the AFC North, is in front of us," said coach John Harbaugh, who lost consecutive home games for the first time since he took over in 2008. "It’s still there."
But the focus of Flacco isn't. The Flacco who showed elite form earlier in the season when he led a stirring comeback victory against the New England Patriots in Week 3 and or even in the second half vs. the San Diego Chargers in Week 12 -- the Ravens' last win -- is gone. They're 0-3 in December.
In last week’s 31-28 overtime loss at the Washington Redskins, Flacco had a fumble and interception during drives into their territory that led to a pair of field goals and allowed his lead to be trimmed to 21-20.
Two weeks ago against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Flacco fumbled in his own territory late in the fourth quarter. That allowed the Steelers to tie the score at 20 and win on a field goal as time expired.
Flacco’s interception to Denver's Chris Harris came at the goal line with less than 30 seconds left in the half and the Ravens trailing 10-0. Harris took it 98 yards as Flacco chased him down but just missed on the tackle as he crossed into the end zone.
Flacco took a moment to remain motionless, undoubtedly from the near 100-yard chase but also from the realization that he let his team down yet again.
"I just made a mistake. There’s no other way to put that. I made a mistake," Flacco said of his pass attempt to Anquan Boldin, who ran a flat route. "I wanted to (throw) the fade and I came down to the flat and the guy undercut it."
On the Ravens’ first drive they advanced to the Broncos’ 47 but Flacco fumbled on a 3rd-and-1 sneak. Justin Bannan didn't even try to go for the strip, but he caused the fumble that was recovered by Rahim Moore. The Ravens' defense held, however, holding Matt Prater to a 27-yard field goal.
The Ravens, however, were out of sync after that. They didn’t get a first down until 21 minutes had elapsed in the game. They failed on all of their first nine third-down attempts. With the exception of the failed sneak by Flacco, all of them were from distances of 8, 10, 8, 8, 17, 10, 11 and 6 yards.
Playing from a 17-0 deficit to start the third quarter, the Ravens finally got on the board with a 45-yard field goal from Justin Tucker but Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning quickly engineered two TD drives that lasted less than 4 minutes combined for a 31-3 lead.
Ravens running back Ray Rice didn’t get much work after halftime. He went past the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth consecutive season, but he had just 38 yards on 12 carries.
Boldin was held without a catch for the first time since 2005. Torrey Smith, who left the game in the third quarter with a concussion, had only 1 catch for 14 yards.
At home, where Flacco has been stellar most of the season, he fell flat under new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who was promoted to the role after Cam Cameron was fired last week.
Tight end Dennis Pitta had 7 catches for a career-high 125 yards and 2 TDs, but the Ravens already were out of reach. His 61-yard scoring run was the Ravens’ longest play of the season.
Rice tried to stay positive, though he acknowledged the mounting injuries are becoming a problem. The Ravens' defense already are without linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain and safety Bernard Pollard. Linebacker Terrell Suggs played with a torn biceps.
The offense lost Smith and running back Bernard Pierce in the second half to concusssions.
"We're trying to find our way healthy back right now. All we need to do is get one win. There's no sugar-coating it, we're a banged up bunch, it's late in the year and it's not getting any easier. We either put it on our shoulders, get it fixed, or we'll weed ourselves out like other teams in the league."