As he watched his team struggle mightily in the second half at Houston, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh knew his team was in danger of letting Houston draw even.
"They were closing the gap," Harbaugh said of the Texans, who outgained his team 301-71 in the final 30 minutes of regulation. "I was concerned they were going to tie it up, and they did."
In overtime, the Ravens were able to prevail, with CB Josh Wilson intercepting Texans QB Matt Schaub and returning it 12 yards for a touchdown for a 34-28 victory. The win left the Ravens at 9-4 and holding the top wild-card spot in the AFC with three games left to play, but it was a victory that more raised skepticism about the Ravens' chances of competing in January.
Acknowledging that his team had to improve, Harbaugh still took a bottom-line view on the result, which still beat the alternative.
"Do we have things we are worried about? Do we have things we need to work on? Absolutely," Harbaugh said.
At this point in time in the season, you've got to find a way to win."
The PFW spin
First things first: this was an important win for Baltimore, which is two games up on the field for a wild-card spot with three games left to play and remains just one game back of Pittsburgh in the AFC North.
Now that we've said that, nothing can be sugar-coated about the problems the Ravens endured vs. Houston, with their play after halftime of particular concern. Let's run them down:
— The pass defense faltered. Time-and-again, QB Matt Schaub found open receivers in key situations in the second half.
— The pass rush wore down. The Ravens did not sack Schaub in the second half. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison preferred to have the majority of Baltimore's defenders into coverage, which generally blunted Houston's ability to make big plays in the passing game. However, Schaub usually had the time he needed to find open receivers. Save for OLB Terrell Suggs, the Ravens don't have a consistent edge-rushing threat.
— The Ravens' pass protection was poor. QB Joe Flacco was sacked five times, thrice after halftime. Baltimore continues to struggle picking up the blitz off the edge. S Bernard Pollard had 1½ sacks of Flacco, who's been brought down 32 times for a loss in 13 games and is on pace to be sacked more than he ever has been in his career.
— The running game got little going. RB Ray Rice was held to 54 yards on 19 carries. Facing a 3rd-and-2 with less than three minutes left and holding an eight-point lead, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron elected to spread the field and attempt a pass rather than hand the ball to Rice.
"We had a conversation about that and Cam felt strongly," Harbaugh explained afterward. "I wanted a first down there. It wasn't so much about the clock. It was about getting the first down and our offensive coaches felt that that was the play. You know what, we had a chance and we just didn't get it done."
On the season, the Ravens are averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, tied for second-worst in the NFL. The Ravens are willing to frequently run the ball — they have attempted 383 rushes in 13 games — but they are simply not getting much going in this area of their offense.
— Once again, the Ravens couldn't hold a fourth-quarter lead. They have blown final-quarter advantages in defeats to Atlanta, New England and Pittsburgh — all elite teams.
The Ravens aren't the first team to have a world of problems stopping a Texans offense loaded with talent and exceptionally strong in the second halves of games. Few teams adjust on the fly like Houston.
Now, it's time for Baltimore to adjust, and quickly.