Ravens, Lions in trouble despite big wins

Posted Oct. 15, 2012 @ 3:34 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Do we measure heart disproportionally sometimes? Shouldn't we be praising the performance of the Ravens and Lions in Week Six? Perhaps not in their cases.

Fans in Baltimore and Detroit no doubt are happy about their teams’ victories Sunday, and they are precious commodities in this league.

But neither team showed the discipline required to last in this league. Their mistakes might have been glossed over, but they won’t continue to get this fortunate.

The Ravens might win the AFC North by default. It’s suddenly a muddled — and certainly middling — division, even with Baltimore at 5-1.

"I don’t know if we necessarily deserve to win this game, but we’ll take it," QB Joe Flacco said

The Lions got the win they so badly needed in a trying week plagued further by PFW’s scalding report from an anonymous general manager. Some will say — wrongly — it fueled them to victory. They could be right on this day, but past Sunday the Lions have serious soul-searching to do at 2-3 with two ugly wins.

We won’t even get into the teams they beat, the Rams and Eagles, right now.

The Ravens’ run defense is at near-epidemic level right now, having allowed more than 200 yards on the ground each of the past two games and losing both NT Haloti Ngata and CB Lardarius Webb in the game. Ngata is believed to have a sprained MCL and could miss a few weeks, but the Webb injury is much more serious. It's being reported that he has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season.

In addition, the linebackers were a mess. Ray Lewis might have made 14 tackles, including a big hit on Phillip Tanner, but he looked like he was on skates much of the day and he could have suffered a triceps injury, the extent of which is not yet known.

The Cowboys were still gashing the Ravens with the run even when their top two backs were out of the game. The losses of Jarrett Johnson (free agency) and Terrell Suggs (injury) have changed this defense in a major way.

The Ravens will try to stop the Texans in Houston next week. Good luck storming the castle …

The Lions were their own worst enemies most of the game and only were able to win because the Eagles gifted them chances time and time again. Sixteen accepted penalties for the Lions — not only did they cost the team 132 yards, but they also gave the Eagles an additional four first downs.

Many of you probably read the previoulsy mentioned report by PFW this week from an anonymous general manager, and the Lions answered some of those questions with a heart-filled victory. But it was ugly execution. In an NFC North that is populated with a lot of tough, smart teams, it’s going to take a lot cleaner games to get it done going forward.

The Ravens and Lions won big games, both tense games in tough circumstances, on Sunday. Now they have to find out how to get better in order to win more going forward.

Garrett, Bryant might never change

Now, about those Cowboys …

Sunday’s loss to the Ravens was a crusher because they certainly had the chance to win it there at the end, against nearly all odds. But that was before some old demons came back to haunt them again.

Dez Bryant made enough catches Sunday — a career-high 13 for 95 yards — to make you think, “Why can’t he do this every week?” His touchdown reception with :32 left (his second of the game) was a beautiful display of strength, balance and body control. Tony Romo wasn’t looking anywhere else but Bryant’s direction on the drive — the Ravens knew it and yet had no chance of stopping it.

At that point, it was his best game ever. But then he dropped the two-point conversion, the one that would have tied the game at 31, letting the ball go right through his hands. Bryant turned around to look for the flag for pass interference, but a replay soon confirmed what appeared to be the case live: there was no contact.

But the Cowboys had life. They executed the onside kick and got a huge break when the ball went right through the typically reliable hands of Brendon Ayanbadejo and into the Cowboys’ possession.

Cue the final drive. After a pass-interference call against Ravens CB Chykie Brown put the ball on the Ravens’ 34-yard line, there were 26 seconds remaining and the Cowboys had a timeout left. Tony Romo threw quickly to Bryant, who only gained a yard, but when the play was over, there were still a good 19 seconds left on the play.

At this point, one of two things must happen: Either the Cowboys have to hurry up to the line and run another play (which should have been called already) or, if there’s chaos (like there was), you burn the timeout immediately. The second scenario is not ideal, but it gives you a chance at running another play before attempting a game-winning field goal.

Bryant’s catch came on first down. Even with a throw in the field of play on second down, Romo could hurry up and down the ball on third and the Cowboys could win it with a field goal on fourth. But they never got to that point.

Instead, after Bryant’s catch, which put the ball on the Baltimore 33, the Cowboys lollygagged up to the line — Miles Austin strolled back like it was the second quarter, or maybe his hamstring was barking — and the coaches brain-froze. The clock ticked down to :06 before the final timeout was used.

That’s valuable time and real estate wasted for what would be a 51-yard FG attempt. Predictably, Dan Bailey’s kick missed. Head coach Jason Garrett explained his late-game clock-management thinking:

"What we were trying to do there is what we talked about before the play," Garrett said. "We had the one timeout, so we had the ability to throw the ball inside and Tony was going to get them on the ball as quickly as he could, knowing that we had that one (timeout) in our hip pocket and try and get a play run, knowing that we could throw the ball anywhere we want with the timeout.

“We just took too long for everybody to get un-piled, so it got down into the single digits (with the game clock), so we said, 'Take it down to four seconds and bang the timeout.'”

Garrett either was covering for Romo or for himself there. It’s just not plausible, the way he explained it. The words make sense, as in what he intended his Cowboys to do, but he had no reasoning for why it happened the way it did, other than the un-piling process — and that was not reality. Either Garrett didn’t get his team the right message (or Austin missed the memo) or Romo panicked.

I really think it’s the former, and I have no proof other than that Garrett has been notoriously shaky in late-game situations. Who could forget the loss to the Cardinals last season? It’s nearly identical to Sunday’s loss: Romo hit Bryant to the Arizona 31 with more than 20 seconds left on the clock, but the Cowboys inexplicably ran it down to :08 before stopping the clock. That game was even more egregious in that the Cowboys had more time and an extra timeout (two remaining), but that’s twice now that Garrett has put Bailey in a tougher-than-it-should-have-been situation.

Will Bryant and Garrett ever shed their skin? We have asked the question of Romo time and time again. But it’s becoming rote with Bryant’s concentration lapses and Garrett’s end-of-game brain cramps.

Are the Patriots clutch anymore?

Coming off a Super Bowl loss in which the Patriots led in the second half but went 26 minutes to finish the game without scoring, they now are facing a question seldom asked during the Bill Belichick era: Are the Patriots clutch?

They fell to 3-3 Sunday — in a four-way tie in the AFC East, maybe the strangest division in the NFL — after blowing yet another lead in the fourth quarter. In their three losses, they have:

Had a game-winning touchdown nullified by penalty and missed a game-winning field-goal attempt after bungling the clock and game management in the 20-18 loss to the Cardinals in Week Two.

Blew a nine-point lead at Baltimore, plagued by key penalties and a handful of shaky plays by Tom Brady in a 31-30 loss to the Ravens.

Gave away a 13-point lead with nine minutes left at Seattle in Week Six with some shaky pass defense and, again, Brady not coming up with some big conversions.

Even with the defensive lapses Sunday, the Patriots ran 30 more plays (85-55) and outgained the Seahawks by 107 yards (475-368). In each of the three losses, they have run more plays and collected more first downs than their opponent.

The problem has not been gaining yards — they have 350 or more in each of the past 15 games, the second-longest streak in NFL history since the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams. The problem for the Patriots has been putting away good teams, delivering the knockout blow.

Isn’t that a measure of clutch-ness, or lack of it? Bill Belichick’s teams typically are well prepared and have sound game plans most weeks. But they have tightened up in close games. That’s a terrible, inexcusable formula and one that won’t work in the postseason.

Their three victories were all by double digits, and two of those came on the road, so clearly there is top talent on this roster. But the Patriots right now are not a good fourth-quarter team.