It appeared the Ravens reached rock bottom four weeks ago when they allowed four fourth-quarter touchdowns to blow a 21-point lead and lose to the Miami Dolphins.
And then came Sunday, a 24-20 loss to the New York Giants.
This setback isn’t at the bottom of the barrel, but underneath it. The Ravens managed a new trick Sunday: they out-uglied the Giants.
It was embarrassing, even pitiful at times, because the Ravens controlled the game for more than three quarters. Then, after Lamar Jackson’s 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mark Andrews gave them a 20-10 lead early in the fourth, they allowed New York to score 14 straight points.
It was reminiscent of the Miami game, but at least the Dolphins have wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. It was reminiscent of the Bills game — which the Ravens lost when they allowed 20 unanswered points — but at least Buffalo has quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
But the Giants? They have a quarterback named Daniel Boone, or Daniel Jones, or something like that. And he led them on a 12-play, 75-yard drive that pulled New York within three points with 6:01 remaining.
And then it got really ugly. Jackson got an early snap from rookie center Tyler Linderbaum, one he had no chance of handling, and made a bigger mistake by rolling to his right and throwing back to the middle of the field to fullback Patrick Ricard.
The pass was picked off by safety Julian Love and returned 27 yards to the Ravens’ 13. Four plays later, Barkley scored to put the Giants ahead, 24-20, with 1:43 remaining.
Two plays later, Jackson failed to secure the ball while dropping back to pass and was stripped by rookie outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux. The Giants recovered it at the 13-yard line.
“Yes, we stopped ourselves a lot — a lot of missed opportunities out there, especially in the red zone,” Jackson said. “I feel like we should’ve put more points up. Little hiccups here and there. We’ve got to fix those because that’s making the difference in our game.
“We’re just messing up ourselves. We can’t let that happen. The mistakes happen in practice and shouldn’t happen in the game. But it’s a part of NFL football. We try to overcome it, sometimes it happens.”
This loss will be hard to overcome. I’ve seen Jackson after playoff losses before, but this was different. Never has he seemed so mentally drained.
And then there was left tackle Ronnie Stanley viciously slamming his helmet into the bench soon after Jackson fumbled. He’s had his own share of disappointments, but he’s never been so demonstrative.
This should be a low point for Jackson. The fumble was somewhat understandable, but the interception, thrown back across his body with a lead to protect, was just a boneheaded play, one that he has gotten away with several times this season.
He should know better. Jackson is in his fifth season and he’s trying to get a new contract that would make him the highest paid player in the NFL. That play is unforgivable.
It would be OK to blame Jackson if it weren’t for the ugliness exhibited by the Ravens. They had 10 penalties for 74 yards, including four false starts. They had an illegal formation penalty that nullified a first down with 3:09 left and made it third-and-6. Jackson threw the interception on the next play. Those penalties are blamed on the coach.
“That shouldn’t happen. [The Giants] were shifting with a move call of some kind; there’s no reason [for that]. We practice that all the time; we practice that constantly. Our defense does it. It shouldn’t happen,” coach John Harbaugh said.
“That’s the biggest story for us, is winning the game at the end of the game. Making the plays that need to be made, and not making the errors that cost you an opportunity to win the game.”
Harbaugh tried to give credit to the Giants, but let’s not go overboard. New York has a new coach in Brian Daboll, and their players are on a mission to show that former coach Joe Judge was the problem, not them. The Giants are a tough bunch, but they entered the game with the No. 23 ranked offense and the No. 26 ranked run defense, allowing 131.1 rushing yards per game.
The Ravens’ offense pushed them around, finishing with 406 total yards and 211 rushing. But they lost because Jackson, who hasn’t played well in three weeks, overthrew wide receiver Devin Duvernay on two possible touchdown passes in the second and third quarters and missed Andrews on a long pass into the end zone in the second.
They lost because they have two cornerbacks, Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, who aren’t fast and have to maul receivers. The result is what we saw Sunday in crunch time, when Peters’ interception in the end zone was called back because he grabbed wide receiver Darius Slayton and was flagged for pass interference. Barkley scored the go-ahead touchdown on the next play.
At this point, there are a lot of questions to be asked about this team. Are they in good physical shape after faltering down the stretch in three second-half collapses? Why can’t they cover, and why do teams find so many holes between the linebackers and secondary in crunch time? Playoffs? Let’s not mention that word for a while.
After the game, the Ravens said the usual right stuff about winning and losing as a team and putting this loss behind them as they prepare for Cleveland.
But they might not beat the Browns either. They have a good offensive line, a strong running game and a very athletic defensive front. They have some players who easily could star on other teams.
Because of the storied tradition of playing great defense in Baltimore, the Ravens have a history of winning ugly.
This losing ugly won’t stand.