The Baltimore Ravens were not expected to do much to control the Washington Redskins offense on Sunday, and thus were not pegged to pull off the win. Though the Ravens ultimately did fall to the Redskins, 31-28 in overtime, it wasn't the bloodbath many had expected.
Yes, the Ravens had their struggles to contain Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris, but they also didn't crumble when faced with a first-half shootout, and it very nearly led to a win. A few fewer errors and the victory could have been theirs without need for an overtime period.
In the first half, there were signs both good and bad for the Ravens. They ended the first 30 minutes of play with a 21-14 lead, but had the ball for just 12:32 to Washington's 17:28 and gave up 12 first downs to their opponents. Offensively, however, the Ravens held their own, even if they held the ball for five fewer minutes.
All three of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's passing touchdowns came in the first half, and both of wide receiver Anquan Boldin's first-half receptions were for scores. Tight end Dennis Pitta added the third touchdown, as the Ravens executed their passing game as well as they have all season. Baltimore attacked Washington's weak secondary without taking too many risky deep shots and augmented it with good running—Ray Rice had 71 yards on his seven first-half carries, while Bernard Pierce added 13 more yards on his four runs.
It was necessary that the Ravens offense carry so much weight. With Baltimore's defense depleted by injury—it entered the day without the services of linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Terrell Suggs, and Ray Lewis is still at least a week away from returning to action—it needed its offense to match what its Washington counterparts were likely to do, and it did.
The Redskins had 259 total yards of offense in the first half, with Griffin completing 10 of his 15 passes for 180 yards and a score and the team combining for 87 rushing yards. Of those 87, 74 (and a touchdown) belonged to Morris, and the turning point of the half was a Morris fumble, recovered by Paul Kruger, that led to Pitta's score.
The second half, however, was a far less dominant outing for the Ravens. The Redskins closed the deficit to one point with two third-quarter Kai Forbath field goals, while Baltimore's only second-half score was a fourth-quarter Rice touchdown. To the Ravens' credit, however, they featured Rice and the run more heavily, with Rice ultimately ending his day with 20 carries for 121 yards and a score and Pierce putting up a total of 53 yards on his eight carries. This helped offset the mistakes made by Flacco in the final half of the game.
Flacco threw an interception to Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, and a sack resulted in a fumble recovered by Rob Jackson. In total, Flacco had just eight completions for a mere 45 yards in the second half, as the Ravens attempted to protect their lead by running the ball and eating clock, but the turnovers gave the Redskins too many opportunities to drive down the field, and the Ravens' battered defense couldn't do everything necessary to stop them.
In the second half, Griffin added 66 passing yards to his total while the Redskins rushed for 85 more. Though it could have saved the Ravens' day that Griffin went out of the game late in the fourth quarter with a knee injury, it actually contributed to Baltimore's ultimate demise.
With only 45 seconds remaining in regulation, backup (and fellow rookie) Kirk Cousins had to take over for the injured Griffin, and he managed not only to connect with receiver Pierre Garçon for a touchdown, but also to run in the two-point conversion that tied the game and sent it into overtime. A 64-yard punt return by the Redskins' Richard Crawford then set up the Kai Forbath field goal that ultimately won Washington the game.
There were positives to be had for the Ravens this week—Flacco tried, not wholly unsuccessfully, to match the Redskins' offensive production point-for-point, and managed to throw three first-half touchdowns on the road. They also didn't abandon the run as they have in weeks past, ending the day with 35 total rushes for 186 yards. And the fact that the defense gave up only 172 yards on the ground and just one rushing touchdown isn't really that disappointing, considering they were up against the top rushing offense in the league.
But the goal of any game is to win, and that's where the Ravens ultimately fell short. The errors—the two Flacco turnovers, the inability to stop Cousins when he came in to replace Griffin—were what cost them this win, but it could have been much, much worse.
Though the Ravens will have to wait another week to clinch both (or either of) a playoff berth and the AFC North title, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals also both lost, which extends the Ravens' lead and buys them a week's worth of breathing room. However, it's cold comfort to know that their playoff hopes are still alive because the two other teams also lost.
Now the Ravens must wait another week, after putting up their first back-to-back losses since 2009. If just a few things had been different against the Redskins on Sunday, they'd not just be winners—they'd also be contenders.