Ravens lose season finale to Bengals 27-10

CINCINNATI, OH –  For the fifth straight year, the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium, this time wining 27-10 on New Year’s Day.

“We did not play well,” head coach John Harbaugh said after the game. “Our emotional level was not where it has been in the past, and I think it has to do with what it happens last week. … It was definitely our worst game of the year.”

The Ravens finish the season 8-8 and will miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons since winning Super Bowl 47. The Bengals go 6-9-1 and will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The Pittsburgh Steelers officially win the AFC North at 10-6, and will be the AFC’s #3 seed in the playoffs. The Browns will finish in last place in the division with a record of 1-15.

Even without star wide receiver A.J. Green and running back Jeremy Hill, the Bengals had no trouble getting their offense going in the first quarter. Quarterback Andy Dalton completed his first 10 passes of the game, one of those being a touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah. Running back Rex Burkhead scored on Cincinnati’s first offensive possession on a 5-yard run, and at the end of the first quarter the Bengals had jumped out to a 14-3 lead. Burkhead finished the game with 119 rushing yards, making it the third game in a row that the Ravens defense allowed a 100-yard rusher.

The Ravens’ run defense simply collapsed in the final quarter of the season after being so stellar the first 12 games.

After the Bengals kicked a field goal on their first possession of the second quarter, the Ravens had an opportunity to make it a one-score game. The Ravens had a first-and-goal on Cincinnati’s 2-yard line, but when Joe Flacco tired to throw a pass to tight end Dennis Pitta, he was intercepted by Bengals safety Shawn Williams. That turnover lead to a Bengals field goal before the half, and the Ravens had dug themselves into a 20-3 hole.

Not much occurred in the third quarter, but the Ravens finally got into the end zone early in the fourth quarter. Flacco found receiver Breshad Perriman, who raced down the left sideline and scored what appeared to be a 40-yard touchdown. However, upon reviewing the play, the call was reversed when replay showed that Perriman’s right elbow touched the ground before he reached over the goal line with the ball. After the review, The Ravens got the ball on the Bengals’ 1-yard line, and got rookie running back Kenneth Dixon marched into the end zone to score his second rushing touchdown of the season.

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Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon ran for 44 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Credit: Baltimore Ravens.

On Baltimore’s next drive, the Ravens could not convert a fourth down play and gave the Bengals the ball back on the Baltimore 25-yard line. The Bengals answered with a six-play drive that ended with a five-yard run from Burkhead, which would be the final nail in the coffin for the Ravens. After this score, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh started pulling some of the offensive starters, including Flacco and receiver Steve Smith Sr., who was playing in his final career game.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Smith Sr. said to a CBS reporter after the game upon being asked if Sunday was indeed his final game. “At some point, it comes to an end. I have a beautiful wife, and four kids that need their dad. I need my kids, so I’m going home to Charlotte to be with my family.”

Smith Sr. finished the game with just three receptions for 34 yards. He finishes his 16-year career with 1,031 receptions (12th in NFL history), 14,731 yards (seventh in NFL history) and 81 touchdowns.

Smith’s absence next season will be one of several holes the Ravens will be looking to fill as the offseason begins. The Ravens did improve from last season, winning three more games. However, the Ravens came up short of their goal of making the playoffs. They finished 2-6 on the road, losing their final six road games. They switched offensive coordinators five games into the season, and the play-calling did not improve. Not only are there changes on the roster looming, but perhaps on the coaching staff as well with there already being rumblings that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg could be fired.

As mentioned, the Steelers will represent the AFC North in the playoffs as the #3 seed. They will host the #6 seeded Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field next weekend. Earlier this season, the Dolphins defeated the Steelers 30-15 in Miami. Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi ran for 204 yards in that game.

As for the Ravens, the offseason begins this week, with the annual “State of the Ravens” press conference taking place in the coming days. With not making the playoffs three out of the past four seasons, it will be interesting to hear what Harbaugh, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti have to say about the future of the Baltimore Ravens.

 

A Note to my Followers – Big Changes Coming Soon

Ever since I was a child, I always wanted to have my own sports blog. I made that dream a reality two years ago after changing my major from accounting to mass communications at Bloomsburg University. Since then, I have been writing and “podcasting” as often as possible to build up this blog with content.

While I think that I have done a great job of being Mr. sports reporter for two years, I have come to the realization that just having a blog named after me is simply not enough to build a decent, loyal following. Yes, its great to have my friends and family reading my posts and supporting me (and to those who have followed my work ever since I started this blog, thank you – you know who you are), but what I am trying to do ultimately is reach an entire fan-base. To do that, I am not sure that having a website simply titled “The Jake McDonnell Sports blog” is going to be enough.

Unless you are an established sports reporter that has hundreds of thousands of followers, it is difficult to gain a following with a generic name. You need creativity; you need a brand. So, ever since I got home from Bloomsburg two weeks ago, I have been thinking of a new name for my sports blog & podcast that will be more than just a name, but a brand.

With all of this being said, in the coming weeks there will be significant changes coming to this sports blog. These changes include and are not limited to:

  • A new title, with a new webpage address
  • A new logo
  • A team of writers other than myself who will be writing and producing content as they please, with me being the editor-in-chief (Don’t worry, I will still be posting as often as possible along with everyone else).
  • New social media accounts (Also don’t worry, I am keeping mine – there will be new accounts for the blog under a new name)

I know that I am throwing a lot at you right now, but just bear with me. I am in the process of getting everything set up for the re-launch, and it is my hope to have everything “done” before I go back to Bloomsburg in three weeks. What my followers need to do in the mean time is stay up-to-date with my social media accounts, where the links to the everything will be provided.

Once again, I want to thank all of you who have been keeping up with my content. You have no idea how much I appreciate it. It does not go unnoticed. At the same time, I cannot tell you how excited I am to get the ball rolling with this re-launch. Here’s to everything this blog & podcast has accomplished so far, and here’s to building and expanding as 2017 begins.

-Jake

If Ravens want to make playoffs, coaching staff, Flacco must stay out of their own way

BALTIMORE, MD – The Ravens may have won their game against the Eagles on Sunday, but they made it extremely difficult on themselves. Up 10 points with six minutes left to go in the game, the Ravens had the ball on Philadelphia’s 11-yard line. Instead of running the ball and letting the clock run down, the Ravens decided to throw the ball. Quarterback Joe Flacco just needed to complete a pass and keep the clock running, so he threw the ball to his most reliable receiver, Steve Smith Sr.

The pass was intercepted by Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks.

Philadelphia answered the turnover by kicking a field goal to make it a seven-point game with 2:22 on the clock. How did the Ravens offense answer, you ask? By going three-and-out and punting the ball back to Philadelphia, who had 1:50 left on the clock and a timeout to work with. Quarterback Carson Wentz led the Eagles right down the field, and the Eagles scored a touchdown with four seconds left in the game.

With nothing to lose, and no realistic shot of making the playoffs, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson elected to go for the two-point conversion in an attempt to win the game. The attempt was unsuccessful, giving the Ravens the 27-26 win. By a thread.

I don’t even want to call the margin that Baltimore won by a thread. I have too much respect for threads. More like a hair. A leg hair.

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The Ravens coaching staff on the sideline, including head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Credit: WNSTr

The funny thing is, the entire heart-stopping six minutes of the game could have all been avoided. When the Ravens had the ball in the red-zone, they could have easily run the ball three times in a row. There is a good chance that they could have picked up a first down just by handing the ball off three times. In the case that they do not pick up a first down, then okay, they kick a field goal and go up 13 points with roughly four minutes left in the game. Even if Philadelphia is able to score a touchdown on their next drive, the Ravens would still get the ball back and would likely have enough time to run out the clock.

As we all know, that is not how it played out. Instead, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and head coach John Harbaugh allowed Flacco to run the pass play, and Flacco ended up throwing a terrible pass that was intercepted.

“I didn’t see the guy,” Flacco said after the game.

Wow Joe, you didn’t? Hello, captain obvious.

As soon as Flacco got that play call, he should have changed the play at the line of scrimmage. Flacco admitted that he was a little selfish, trying to throw his third touchdown pass of the afternoon. Come on Joe. You’re a ninth-year veteran quarterback. Put the team above yourself and try to win the game instead of trying to put up points for your very few fantasy owners. If your offensive coordinator gives you a stupid play call, you’re allowed to say “screw you” and change it.

What’s so concerning about this situation is that both Flacco and Harbaugh are in their ninth seasons; they should know better. Harbaugh even called it “the worst play call ever” after the game, and took responsibility for the miscue.

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Quarterback Joe Flacco must take better care of the football if the Ravens are to make the playoffs. Credit: USA Today

“I feel in that situation that we got a little greedy,” Harbaugh said. “We should have played it a little more conservatively.”

No matter who has been running the offense in 2016, the play-calling by both Marc Trestman and Mornhinweg has been a problem for the Ravens. This coaching staff has not utilized their run game all season, and they should have on that fourth quarter drive. It’s not like the Ravens weren’t having any success running the football on Sunday; Terrance West had 77 yards on 14 carries, averaging 5.9 yards-per-carry. With West having a game like that, there is no reason to not give him the ball in that situation. The coaching staff’s refusal of running the football has been a head-scratcher all season.

One could argue that the coaching has costed the Ravens games, particularly in October when the Ravens went through a four-game losing streak. The Ravens lost their week 4 game against the Raiders 28-27 after Harbaugh accepted a penalty that he should have declined. On an Oakland third down play,  a Raiders offensive guard was flagged for unnecessary roughness. If Harbaugh declined the penalty it would have been fourth down and the Raiders would have had to kick a field goal, meaning Baltimore would still have the lead. Instead, Harbaugh accepted the penalty, the Raiders immediately converted the third down, and then scored the winning touchdown.

The next week, the Ravens lost their game against the Redskins, 16-10. In that game, after running an unsuccessful draw play on 3rd-and-11, the Ravens lined up to kick a field goal. But something was fishy; Justin Tucker, a right-footed kicker, lined up on the left-hand side. The ball was snapped to Tucker, who threw an incomplete pass. The Ravens threw an easy three points in the garbage can there; no way to sugarcoat it.

Yes, the Ravens have won six of their last eight games, but the coaching issues have popped up here and there all season. This team is looking to win their final two games and win the AFC North. If the Ravens want to do that, they cannot get in their own way and make things harder on themselves. They may have been able to get away with their miscues against a team like the Eagles, but that won’t happen against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Christmas Day. It also won’t happen against teams they would face in the playoffs, like the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs or the Raiders.

This game on Christmas may very well decide whether or not the Ravens make the playoffs. The Steelers have won five straight games and lead the Ravens by a game in the division. Their offense is extremely high-powered, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown. It is still a possibility that the Ravens are going to be without shut-down corner-back Jimmy Smith, so the Steelers could have a big day on offense if the Ravens defense does not come to play.

I changed my focus to the defense in that last paragraph, but my point is that if the Ravens defense struggles on Sunday, the offense and the coaching staff will need to make minimal mistakes if they want to walk out of Pittsburgh with a win. At this point, I doubt that they can do that. Dating back to the 2014 playoffs, the Ravens have won four straight games against the Steelers. Getting that fifth straight win appears to be a daunting task, because the Ravens not only have to overcome the Steelers, but also themselves.

Are the Ravens capable of winning in Pittsburgh? Absolutely. They have won their last two games at Heinz Field and are not intimidated of playing there. But, Mornhinweg appears to be throwing darts when it comes to play-calling, and Flacco is prone to making crucial mistakes in big-time situations. The Ravens have the talent to beat Pittsburgh, but they need to get out of their own way if they are going to do that.

 

Podcast: Jack Fritz offers his take on the upcoming Eagles & Ravens match-up

Tomorrow marks the first time in four years that the Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Ravens square off in a regular season match-up. To break down the game, 2016 Bloomsburg University alum. Jack Fritz joined me. Fritz is a co-founder of Philly Fan Life, an Eagles writer for Philly Football Talk, and the host of the If I were a Gambling Man podcast.

Be sure to check out Jack’s work on all of these platforms and enjoy his take on what should be an interesting December match-up tomorrow at M&T Bank Stadium.

 

Smith’s absence, penalties haunt Ravens in 27-17 loss to Cowboys

ARLINGTON, TX – For the first time ever, the Dallas Cowboys have defeated the Baltimore Ravens. On Sunday “America’s Team” snapped Baltimore’s two-game winning streak, picking up a 27-17 win at Jerry World. The Ravens are now 5-5, while the Cowboys advance to an NFL-best 9-1 record.

At halftime, the game was tied at 10. In the second half, the Cowboys came alive. In Dallas’s three offensive drives in the second half, the Cowboys ran 36 plays for 252 yards, two touchdowns and a field goal. As for the Ravens, they opened up the second half by punting on their first two offensive series, and were unable to catch up with Dallas as the game progressed.

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Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant evades Baltimore corner-back Shareece Wright and safety Lardarius Webb. Credit: Newsday
The absence of corner-back Jimmy Smith spelled doom for the Ravens. Dez Bryant, Dallas’s top receiver, finished the game with 80 receiving yards and two touchdown catches off of six total receptions. Cole Beasley caught five passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. The Ravens kept star rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott to under 100 yards rushing (97 yards on 25 carries, with a long of 14 yards), but Dallas was more than successful in their attack through the air.

When the Ravens have been without Smith this season, the secondary has been blown away. Look no further than Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr’s eight catch, 222 yard, two touchdown performance against the Ravens. In that game, Smith suffered a concussion in the first half.

Penalties also kept the Ravens back in Sunday’s game. Baltimore was flagged 12 times in Sunday’s loss, and those penalties resulted in 136 lost yards. Center Jeremy Zuttah had a hand in killing several drives for the Ravens. Zuttah was flagged for two holding penalties in the first half: one occurring on second down, causing a third-and-14 that resulted in a Ravens punt; the other coming with two minutes left, when the Ravens converted a third -and-four on a pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace. But, Zuttah was flagged for holding, and the Ravens had to kick a field goal after failing to convert a third-and-14. In the second half, Zuttah was flagged for unnecessary roughness, which resulted in another Ravens punt.

Mistakes like that cannot happen. Sure, there were nine other Baltimore penalties, but those three penalties all by the same player were brutal to Baltimore’s momentum.

“[The Cowboys] didn’t make the mistakes that we did,” head coach John Harbaugh said after the game. “They made the plays down the stretch, both run and pass, that we didn’t make. That’s what it boiled down to at the end.”

The Ravens punted on their first drive, but in their second drive they put together a six-play, 90-yard drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown run by Terrance West. In that drive, Joe Flacco found Mike Wallace for a 27-yard gain, and rookie running back Kenneth Dixon had a nice 20-yard run.

Baltimore found the end zone again in the second half on a four-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Steve Smith Sr. That touchdown came at the tail end of a eight play, 75-yard drive. The score made it 24-17 Cowboys with 8:16 remaining in the game. However, Dallas responded by running six minutes off the clock and kicking a field goal at the end of a 13 play, 72-yard drive that left just 1:50 left on the clock and the Ravens trailing by 10.

During the game, Smith Sr. caught his 1000th career reception, a 22-yarder on the first play of the third quarter. Smith Sr. becomes the 14th player in NFL history to notch 1,000 career catches, joining the likes of Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, Larry Fitzgerald and former Raven Anquan Boldin.

Next week the Ravens will have their third divisional match-up in four games as the Cincinnati Bengals (3-6-1) make their annual trip to M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens are 3-0 in divisional games so far, but they have lost five straight games to the Bengals. However, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (A.K.A. The Raven Killer) left the Bengals’ game today against the Bills with what is believed to be a torn hamstring. If Jimmy Smith’s back injury lingers, the absence of Green might put a blanket on the Ravens’ secondary struggles. Kickoff is 1:00 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium.

 

 

Podcast: Tyler Feeser recaps a heartbreaking Ravens loss and the Orioles’ 2016 season coming to an end

On tonight’s edition of the Jake McDonnell podcast, Tyler Feeser calls in once again for another great conversation about Baltimore sports.

Topics covered:

  • Is it time for the Ravens to evaluate offensive coordinator Mark Trestman’s play-calling?
  • Is head coach John Harbaugh being too aggressive with his play-calling?
  • How concerned should the Ravens be about the numerous injuries suffered in today’s 16-10 loss to the Redskins?
  • Discussion on what needs to happen for the Ravens’ offense and special teams units to perform better, and praising the Ravens’ defensive performance.
  • Recapping the Orioles’ 5-2 wild card loss to the Blue Jays, including a discussion on the Orioles’ offense (or lack thereof) and the bullpen decisions manager Buck Showalter made that ended with Ubaldo Jimenez’s implosion.

Thanks for listening!