The Real Playoff Contender?
Gary Kubiak's offense completely exposed, but Ravens downplay "ass kicking" amid playoff visions
Maybe this is the byproduct of championship resolve, the residue of levelheadedness that remains after postseason runs have been gloriously competed and Lombardi trophies have been lifted triumphantly.
With their postseason fate firmly in their grasps the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday squandered an opportunity so golden that lament and woe seemed inevitable reactions in the visiting locker room at NRG Stadium. Their offense delivered a performance so inept that rampant frustration was the expectation in the aftermath of their 25-13 loss to the Houston Texans, but the Ravens were anything but despondent.
Almost cavalierly the Ravens acknowledged their flaccid display, respectfully deferred to the dominance of the Texans defense, and refused to belabor any analysis of their obvious shortcomings. There was no self-flagellation but rather an acceptance of their faults and a shift to what remained: One final shot to win this regular season with the hope that good fortune will befall them and a playoff berth will be theirs to clutch.
"We just got whooped, no (other) way about it," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "Defense played well, special teams played well, and we didn't do a single thing on offense. We just got beat up and whooped.
"It's part of being an NFL football player, is being able to take this sometimes and move on and go worry about you."
Undeniably, the Texans dismantled Baltimore. The Ravens amassed just 211 yards and averaged only 3.1 yards per play.
That the Ravens were so thoroughly outwitted by the game plan of Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel came as a surprise, a fact that in no manner disparages Crennel or how the Texans performed previously defensively. Baltimore entered Week 16 ranked inside the Top 10 in total offense (10th with 372.0 yards per game) and scoring offense (eighth at 26.9 points per game), yards per play (eighth with 5.86) and first downs (seventh with 22.0 per game), average rushing yards (fifth with 132.6 per game) and rushing yards per play (sixth at 4.60).
Baltimore had won four of five games to surge into contention in the AFC North thanks in large part to Flacco, who passed for 1,127 yards and seven touchdowns (against just one interception) during that five-game stretch, posting a 104.0 passer rating and showcasing a clear understanding of how Ravens offensive coordinator (and former Texans head coach) Gary Kubiak aims for his signal callers to execute.
Flacco struck an effective balance in the passing game between receivers Steve Smith Sr., and Torrey Smith and tight end Owen Daniels (another Texans castoff). Running back Justin Forsett unexpectedly emerged from the carnage of the Ray Rice controversy to rank fifth in the NFL with 1,128 rushing yards. The Ravens' run-pass balance is familiar to Texans fans as a Kubiak hallmark, and there was little indication that Baltimore would crumble so completely under the pressure applied by the Texans' defensive front and the coverage of their secondary.
Undeniably, the Texans dismantled Baltimore. The Ravens amassed just 211 yards and averaged only 3.1 yards per play. They managed a measly 2.1 yards on 16 rushing attempts and eventually had to abandon their vaunted ground game — and desired offensive balance — in an attempt to erase a 19-6 deficit entering the fourth quarter. With the game on his shoulders Flacco wilted, tossing three interceptions (two to Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson) and absorbing 10 hits (six combined for rampaging defensive ends J.J. Watt and Jared Crick). He posted a 0.0 passer rating in the first half and completed the game with a season-low 3.9 yards per attempt. Flacco was at the fulcrum of a demolition.
"Sputtered is an understatement," Daniels said of the offensive display. "We really couldn't do anything. We turned the ball over obviously in our own territory a couple of times and that didn't help. We just couldn't get in sync doing anything like throwing the ball and running the ball.
"The Texans have a really good defense. We knew that coming in. We just didn't make any plays down the field or do anything to keep drives alive."
"Bottom line is offensively we just got our ass kicked. Hate to say it that way but that's what happened."
Flacco and Daniels praised Kubiak for characteristically downplaying his return to Houston, a decision that proved prescient given the results. But after having failed so resoundingly with so much at stake, the fact that the Ravens took their drubbing in stride was commendable. Their locker room remains pockmarked with veterans who anchored the run to victory in Super Bowl XLVII, and their collective poise in the face of self-induced adversity was unmistakable.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh laid thick the metaphorical coachspeak when he spoke of leaving in Houston any baggage that would prevent efficient preparation for the Cleveland Browns next Sunday, but his words resonated nevertheless.
Late Sunday afternoon was not the time for self-pity and sorrow. The Ravens had a stated goal, prepared accordingly yet fell short. Their willingness and capability to move on from what had transpired seems to bode well for the challenge ahead. Wallowing in the misery the Texans pressed upon them would be as counterproductive as failing to embrace what had happened in the hours preceding their flight home.
"Bottom line is offensively we just got our ass kicked," Smith Sr. said. "Hate to say it that way but that's what happened. That's what the score looks like and that's what it looks like when you just lose. That is the consequence of losing.
"We expect and understand the negative feedback, all the fat, lazy, sorry couch quarterbacks that are going to come out. We expect that, understand that and we're not going to pay attention to it."