Lessons Learned:Worst Losses In Baltimore Ravens Franchise History (Part 2)
May 29, 2013 in Ravens Greatest Games
I know-I know, making you wait for the final eight Greatest Games in Ravens history is becoming excruciating. However, there are still five games remaining in the 10 Greatest losses in Ravens football history. With that said, no excruciating loss list would complete if it did not include at least three games between the Ravens and Steelers in the top five—- but ironically enough, the Steelers did not factor into the top two. No peeking please
A Little Ravens-Steelers By The Numbers Before We Move Forward:
Baltimore, while closing the gap on their hated rivals in terms of wins and losses all time, is still just 15-19 vs. Pittsburgh during the regular season—And 0-3 in the playoffs. I could have done a top 20 list and put 15 of the 22 losses (including playoffs) to the Steelers on the list and not one Ravens fan would have disagreed.
Excruciating is the only way to describe many of losses the Ravens have suffered at the hands of the black and gold, especially within the last five seasons. Including the playoffs, the Ravens are 5-7 vs. the Steelers during the Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh era (2008). It has been during this time that this rivalry has become the best in all of sports.
Yes, even better than Yankees-Red Sox and Duke-North Carolina.
This rivalry is the best because every game played between the teams always means something. Each game always feels like a playoff game and it almost certainly has playoff implications. The intensity on the field and in the stands is the best of its kind—And this game means something to the NFL each time it is played.
Since the 2000 season, the Ravens and Steelers have appeared in five Super Bowls, winning four of them. They have played in eight of the AFC Title games, including one in which they faced each other in 2009. That game did not make this list simply because of the fact that Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh were rookies and the Steelers were expected to win.
Simply put, no other rivalry in the NFL delivers as much as this one does with the consistency it brings year in and year out.
What makes this rivalry even more intense and many of the losses so tough to swallow is the margin of defeat. It is bad enough to lose to the Steelers but when it is by a combined 16 points in five regular season games since the o8 season, it is no longer tough to swallow, it’s downright torturous.
Now factor in that during each contest, the Ravens either were ahead or tied with Pittsburgh during the fourth quarter and as a Ravens fans, on certain Monday mornings (and one Tuesday in 08) you start looking for a ledge from which to leap.
We will start with one from the good ol days. A contest that if you were at Memorial Stadium that afternoon, you wish were not by the time it ended.
No.5 October 5, 1997: Thank God For the other Birds in Town:
The Ravens managed to split with the Steelers when they arrived in Baltimore in 1996. The Ravens were blown out 31-17 and then the 3-9 Ravens defeated the 9-3 Steelers by the same score on a warm rainy day to kick off the month of December.
On an unseasonably warm October Sunday the following season, Baltimore sports fans were in frenzy. The Ravens finished the month of September 3-2 and were returning home from a three game road trip in which they went 2-1, to host the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pittsburgh and their yellow towel flying faithful entered Memorial Stadium with a 2-2 record, one-half game behind the Ravens. Baltimore sports fans were partying hard on this day, as the Ravens-Steelers game was just the prelude to the other Birds in town, who were looking to close out the Seattle Mariners later that afternoon in the A.L.D.S. at Camden Yards.
The Ravens came out of the tunnel crazed and ready for war, which is exactly how their fans were in the seats. As kickoff approached, the momentum carried over into the game. The Ravens led 21-0 early in the second quarter, thanks to two Vinny Testaverde touchdown passes. He connected with RB Eric Green and TE Brian Kinchen while former Steeler and current Ravens RB Bam Morris, scored on a one yard run in between.
Thanks to a three-touchdown lead and of course, the opponent, Memorial Stadium was once again the world’s largest outdoor insane asylum, as it was known during the days of Unitas and company. The frenzied crowd did not even notice that Steelers QB, Kordell Stewart scored on a one-yard run and by halftime; the Ravens led 24-7 following a Matt Stover 37-yard field goal.
Ravens fans felt good about what they just witnessed during the first 30 minutes, but the phrase “a tale of two halves” had to be invented for this particular game because that is exactly what the Memorial Stadium crowd witnessed over the game’s final 30 minutes.
Pittsburgh’s Will Blackwell returned the second half kickoff 97-yards for a quick Steelers TD and just like that— the Steelers were within 10-points. In fact, the Steelers would reel off 28 unanswered points, including three touchdown passes by Kordell Stewart, before Testaverde found Derrick Alexander to cut the Steelers lead to 35-32.
Kordell Stewart sealed the Ravens fate by dashing 74-yards down the left sideline for Pittsburgh’s final gut wrenching touchdown of the day. The Steelers took a safety on a punt to make the final score 42-34 sending the Ravens fans home more than sick to their stomach.
On the day, Stewart threw three TD’s to match his three int’s and for 246-yards. He also rushed for 78-yards and two more touchdowns. In all, Stewart factored into five of the Steelers six touchdowns on the afternoon.
Thankfully, the other Birds in town handled their business later in the day as Mike Mussina outdueled Randy Johnson and the Orioles eliminated the Seattle Mariners in four games in the ALDS to advance to the ALCS.
The Ravens never recovered. Baltimore lost five of their next seven games, including playing to a lethargic 10-10 tie with the Eagles. Vinny Testaverde and company finished the 97 season 6-9-1 and were battered a month later in Pittsburgh as the Steelers embarrassed the Ravens 37-0.
No.4 December 5 2010: Strip-Sack-Fumble—Game Over
Which games to pick to make this list was not very hard. I knew the exact date of this particular game by heart and almost did not have to look up the stats.
The Ravens and Steelers entered this nationally televised Sunday night contest with, as usual, the AFC North division title on the line. The winner of this game would likely enjoy a bye week to start the playoffs and have to visit the other in order to make it to the Super Bowl. On a night where the Ravens were in perfect position to take control of the AFC North, they just could not take the Steelers down, literally.
This game, more than any other in the series before it and since, typified this rivalry.
The two teams share the color black as one their primary colors, on game day they add the color blue. As is usually the case when the Steelers and Ravens meet, the trainers were busy tending to injured players throughout this contest and it began in each team’s first offensive series. Haloti Ngata broke Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger’s nose following a sack and Ravens tight end Todd Heap strained a hamstring on the first play from scrimmage and did not return.
It certainly did not stop there. Pittsburgh's Heath Miller suffered a concussion in the third quarter in a collision with Ravens cornerback Chris Carr and the Steelers lost right tackle Flozell Adams, who sprained his ankle in the third quarter. The hitting was so hard that even Pittsburgh's punter was injured. Daniel Sepulveda tore his right ACL in the second quarter, and placekicker Shaun Suisham was called upon to punt for the remainder of the game.
Players play hurt in this game. Roethlisberger, who now had a broken nose, was also playing on a broken bone in his right plant foot, which he suffered during an overtime win against Buffalo the week before. Who said kickers and punters are not tough, Sepulveda, even with his tore his right anterior cruciate ligament managed to hold for kicker Shaun Suisham’s field goals of 45 and 19 yards.
The Ravens defense dominated the game, as the team appeared ready to sweep the Steelers after beating them in Pittsburgh two months before on a Joe Flacco last minute TD pass to TJ Houshmandzadeh.
They shut out the Steelers offense in the first half but Pittsburgh got a field goal on the opening drive of the third quarter to close to 7-3. However, the Ravens responded with a 60-yard march that ended with a 24-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.
Pittsburgh then closed to 10-6 with a 16-play, 79-yard drive that consumed more than 9 minutes and was extended by two pivotal penalties against Baltimore. But the Steelers had to settle for a field goal with 12:46 left after a 28-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Wallace set up a first-and-goal from the 2.
The Ravens had the lead, the ball and control of the game with less than four minutes to play. Flacco appeared to be on the cusp on ending Ben Roethlisberger’s five game winning streak versus his team. Looks can be deceiving in this series. With a four-point lead and following a Steelers punt, the Ravens took over with 4:43 to play in the contest. The offense began the drive the right way by running the football but then inexplicably, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron went with a different strategy.
On second and eight, Flacco threw a pass to Derrick Mason, which luckily for the Ravens drew a pass interference penalty on CB Bryant McFadden. On the next play following the penalty, Ray Rice gave the Ravens a very manageable second and five on their own 43-yard line and that’s where the wheels fell off.
Instead of running Rice again to set up a third and short and killing more time off the clock, Flacco dropped back to pass——but he never had time to set up, Troy Polamalu was standing on the right edge of the Steelers defensive line showing blitz during the entire presnap and delivered the rush as shown.
"Everybody watching TV at home, everybody in the stadium, you all know it you see 43 at the line, four-minute offense, he's coming," said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had 1½ sacks. "It was just like, I hope we have a plan. It just didn't feel good when I saw that hair at the line."
Once Flacco received the snap, No.43 was there and within a split second, the ball was on the ground where Linebacker LaMarr Woodley picked up Polamalu's strip sack of the Ravens quarterback and three plays later the Steelers led the game. The winning touchdown came on a catch by RB Isaac Redman, who ran through Ravens safety Dawan Landry for a nine-yard touchdown with just under three minutes remaining.
The Ravens still had one more shot and in fact ran 10 more plays getting to the Pittsburgh 34 yard line but instead of trying a 48 yard field goal to tie the game, head coach John Harbaugh, play caller Cam Cameron and QB Joe Flacco felt they could repeat the finish from the October game. Instead, on fourth and two with 37 seconds to play, Flacco threw an incomplete pass at rookie tight end Ed Dickson's feet.
The win gave the Steelers a one game lead in the division and left the Ravens and their fans with many questions. Several questions haunted Harbaugh during the post-game press conference.
Why were the Ravens throwing the ball on second-and-5 when they had a four-point lead with 3:22 remaining? And did the Ravens consider challenging the fumble? Flacco had his arm cocked back when Polamalu slapped the ball away.
Why did the Ravens go on fourth down instead of attempting a 48-yard field goal? Harbaugh’s response was quick and decisive, “It was a tough wind up there," Harbaugh said. "It was really outside our range that we designated going in. We felt like we had a better chance to get the first down than we had to kick that field goal at that time."
When a reporter pointed out that Cundiff had made three kicks from that distance or beyond, Harbaugh snapped back, "Were you down there on the field? Did you see the way those balls were tracking in the field goal pre-game? It was a tough kick. I'm pretty good at that. I have been doing it for a long time. I understand what those guys can do and what they can't do. It would have been a very low percentage kick."
The loss was even tougher to swallow when you consider it was the reason the Ravens had to travel to play the Steelers a few weeks later in the playoffs, which oh by the way, brings us to No.3 on our list.
No.3 January 15, 2011: The Same Old Song and Dance:
The Ravens entered this contest feeling as if they had given the Steelers the opportunity to play their AFC Divisional playoff game (SEE ABOVE GAME) at home. The banged up Steelers won the division and earned a first round bye while the Ravens were feeling good themselves after thumping the Chiefs in KC, 30-7 the week before in the Wild Card round.
The Ravens' fifth game at Heinz in three seasons began as many had ended at the big ketchup bottle, with the team trailing. The Ravens, who had given up one touchdown in each of their previous two games, gave up one on the opening drive. A questionable 37-yard pass interference penalty on the Ravens' Josh Wilson helped Pittsburgh sustain a drive that saw Rashard Mendenhall score from 1-yard out to put the Ravens in an early hole.
But the resilient Ravens proved again why they have the best road winning percentage in the playoffs since 1960 and responded with 21 straight points.
The first quarter closed with two touchdowns by the Ravens in 27 seconds. Ray Rice scored on a great rivalry type 14-yard run, bouncing off Troy Polamalu to reach the end zone. But that was trumped by one of the strangest plays in Ravens' history — and perhaps NFL playoff history.
After Terrell Suggs hit the ball out of Roethlisberger's cocked arm, it flew forward and lay at the 13-yard line for 5 seconds with four players standing around it. Noticing no whistle had blown, defensive end Cory Redding picked it up and ran into the end zone. Watching at home you may have thought the play to be one where a player picks up a ball and runs down the field hoping it was a turnover but ultimately the play is blown dead. However, on this occasion the official signaled touchdown and the Ravens led 14-7 following the extra point with 53 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Ravens would add another touchdown following another Pittsburgh turnover. The Steelers , which had turned the ball over 18 times in 16 games that season (tied for the third-fewest in the AFC), fumbled again in the second quarter. In a pile, the Ravens' Dannell Ellberbe knocked the ball from Mendenhall and Ed Reed recovered it at the Steelers' 16.
The Ravens converted another turnover into a touchdown on a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Todd Heap from Joe Flacco. Getting a pick from T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Heap was wide open in the end zone to increase the Ravens' lead to 21-7.
All of the momentum and good fortune seemed to be real when Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham was wide left on a 43-yard field goal to essentially end the half. But as I said once already when talking about this rivalry, things aren’t always what they appear to be and what happened next could only have ever been forgotten by Ravens fans with a Super Bowl victory.
In a season where the Ravens coughed up nine fourth quarter leads and lived dangerously with games on the line, they chose the third quarter to do so on this night. The Ravens, who had not allowed a touchdown in the third quarter all season, gave up two at Pittsburgh because of turnovers.
The first fumble of the season by Ray Rice (first of the year), an interception by Flacco and a fumble by Flacco (center Matt Birk snapped the ball too early) — all in Ravens' territory – turned a 14-point lead (21-7) into a three-point deficit (24-21) in a matter of 12 minutes.
Still, the Ravens did not roll and over die but maybe they should have because that may have been easier than watching how Pittsburgh eventually won this game.
Playing the field position game, Baltimore forced Pittsburgh to punt from their 10-yard line with 6:09 to play in the contest. Cornerback Lardarius Webb returned the punt 55-yards for an apparent touchdown but Marcus Smith was called for holding and the Ravens took over on the Steelers 29-yard line. This was only a prelude to what was going to happen next.
On the first play, Flacco completed a 21-yard pass to Todd Heap setting up first and goal at the Steelers eight but Pittsburgh’s defense tightened and the Ravens were forced to kick a game tying field goal.
With 3:24 on the clock, Big Ben took over at his own 35-yard line and managed to convert two third downs, the first a 12-ard completion to Hines Ward giving the Steelers a new set of downs with 3:34 to play. The second third down conversion was the killer. It came on third and 19 and was the last play before the two minute warning.
The Ravens brought little pressure on the play instead opting to sit back but they didn’t sit back quite far enough. Roethlisberger heaved a 58-yard pass down the right sideline to rarely used Antonio Brown, the Steelers' eighth-leading receiver inexcusably got a couple of steps behind cornerback Lardarius Webb to make the catch and deliver the second to last dagger of the game.
The Ravens broke the cardinal rule in football. Never get beat deep late in the game with the score close. The last dagger would be inflicted by Rashard Mendenhall, who capped the devastating drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to put Pittsburgh ahead, 31-24, with 1:33 left in the game. On the Ravens' final possession, Flacco threw two incompletions and was sacked. Their last play — on fourth-and-18 — was an incomplete pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who just dropped the ball.
The Steelers would defeat the New York Jets the following week to advance to Super Bowl XLV, where they would lose to the Green Bay Packers. The Ravens were left to pick up the pieces once again following another devastating loss to the Steelers.
The Ravens would go onto sweep the Steelers the following season and opened the year by trouncing Pittsburgh, 35-7 in Baltimore. However, none of those wins could totally hide the pain Ravens fans were feeling from having lost the last two games to the Steelers, losses that cost the Ravens the division title and a likely shot at the Super Bowl.
No.2 January 22, 2012 AFC Championship game: “He Missed it” “He dropped it”
I’ll bet many of you had this one pegged for the top spot. However, the fact that the game was in New England and the Ravens were not really given much of a chance to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots drops it to No.2 for this list.
This may have been the most heartbreaking loss of all time but in order to be No.1 the game had to be heartbreaking, disappointing and unexpected in a sense. While our hearts were broken, as Ravens fans, you couldn’t hang your head after this contest. You had to be proud of how the Ravens played and most notably, QB Joe Flacco, who clearly outplayed the Patriots Tom Brady.
In fact, Brady admitted after the game that he was bad——"Well, I sucked pretty bad today, but our defense saved us," Brady said after throwing for 239 yards, with two interceptions and, for the first time in 36 games, no TD passes. "I'm going to try to go out and do a better job in a couple of weeks, but I'm proud of this team, my teammates."
The shocking part of this game was how good New England’s 31st ranked defense played. The Ravens defense was awesome and the Ravens offense did more than enough to win their second trip to the title game in four years but a dropped touchdown and a missed field goal proved to be the Ravens undoing.
A 16-10 deficit early in the third quarter became a 20-16 Ravens lead by the start of the fourth. That is because Flacco hit Torrey Smith for a 29-yard touchdown pass with 3:48 left in the third quarter, and then the Ravens converted Danny Woodhead's fumble on the ensuing kickoff into a 39-yard field goal.
Brady may not have been great (22-for-36 for 239 yards and two interceptions) but he consistently moved his team down the field and did so on the ensuing drive following the Ravens field goal. Behind short passes and the running of BenJarvis Green-Ellis, the Pats offense answered with an 11-play, 63-yard drive. It ended with Brady plunging in on fourth-and-goal from the one yard line.
The two quarterbacks traded interceptions during the rest of the final frame and following an Ed Reed pass breakup while covering Aaron Hernandez on third and four with 1:56 to play in the game, the Ravens got the ball back with one last shot.
Flacco trotted onto the field and promptly led his team down the field. He would get them as far as the New England 14-yard line but that was it. Facing second and one, Flacco threw a perfect back shoulder pass to Ravens WR Lee Evans in the end zone. Evans appeared to catch the ball and in fact, thinking it was a touchdown, Flacco threw his hands up and started running toward Evans. The Ravens' sideline erupted and the play was announced as a touchdown on Ravens radio as well as the CBS national telecast by Jim Nantz but Patriots DB Sterling Moore swiped at Evans’ hands and at the last possible second, forced the ball from Evans’ hands and onto the New England turf.
The pass was ruled incomplete. Heartbreak for sure, but the Ravens still had a few chances and at the very least had Mr. Automatic, Billy Cundiff, who had not missed a fourth quarter field goal kick all season. Following an incomplete pass to TE Dennis Pitta, who was again covered by Sterling Moore, Cundiff strode onto the field to send his team to overtime.
Except this time— Cundiff pushed the ball wide left and following a Brady kneel down, the Patriots were off to the Super Bowl. This game is also No.2 because the Ravens returned to the scene of the heartbreak last January and dismantled the Patriots to advance to and eventually win– the Super Bowl. As the article is titled, LESSON LEARNED!
No.1 January 13, 2007: Peyton’s Place?
The 2006 Baltimore Ravens had what many believed to be the team to beat heading into the playoffs. At 13-3, they had just finished the season with the best record in franchise history. They rolled into the playoffs winning nine of their final 10 games with the best defense in the league (nothing new) and finally had their savvy veteran quarterback in Steve McNair, who led the team to 353 points, 12th in the NFL that season.
Expectations were high as the Ravens even enjoyed their first franchise playoff bye and the No.2 seed in the AFC.
With the Ravens resting during Wild Card Weekend, Baltimore football fans watched their old team, the Colts, dismantle the KC Chiefs to set up a date with Baltimore football destiny. Finally, the great football fans of the Charm City would have a real shot at closure. The Baltimore football faithful could finally put to rest the 1984 sneaking out in the middle of the night divorce that led to 12 years of dark Sundays in Baltimore.
Surely, the Ravens were primed to take down Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional round to advance and likely host the AFC Championship game for the time since 1970 when the Baltimore Colts beat the Oakland Raiders. After all, the Chargers were the No.1 seed and no one actually thought they were going to win a playoff game, which meant a win over Indy and the Ravens were hosted the game that determined who went to the Super Bowl.
The hype was off the charts. Every poster, tee shirt, billboard and even local commercials were all hyping the big game. Many still proclaimed this as a chance at revenge. Even Johnny Unitas tee-shirts popped up with him in a Ravens uniform pitting No.19 against No.18. Simply put, it was out of control craziness in Baltimore as game time approached. All anyone, even if you were not a football fan in Baltimore could think of was beating the Colts in the playoffs in Baltimore.
As crazy and unpredictable as the hype was, the game was worse. If you were told before the start of this contest that the Colts, with Peyton Manning at quarterback, would not score a touchdown, but instead kick five field goals, you would almost assuredly be making plans for where you were going to watch the AFC Title game the following week. That is exactly what happened.
The problem is the Ravens offense was worse. They managed just two Matt Stover field goals and signed during the offseason specifically for his playoff experience, Adam Vinatieri provided the Colts with all the offense they needed to advance to the AFC championship game. Vinatieri kicked the five field goals and put his name in the NFL record book to boot Indianapolis past the Ravens 15-6.
This was such an odd set of circumstances that it is still hard to imagine. The Colts won despite gaining only 261 yards on offense. Since Peyton Manning arrived in 1998 and up to this point, they had never won a postseason game in which they gained so few yards. If you are wondering about the regular season, they had won three games since 1998 with so few yards (although Manning only played a few plays in one of them, the 2005 regular-season finale). During the 2006 regular season, the Colts' lowest offensive output was 272 yards in a 21-14 win over the Jaguars back in September.
The Colts-Ravens game was only the fourth of the 422 postseason games played in NFL history (including the Eagles-Saints game) in which neither team scored a touchdown. But get a load of this: Since the NFL started keeping statistics in 1933, the Colts-Ravens contest was also the first game in either regular-season or postseason play in which each team had the same number of pass plays (31, a total that includes times sacked) and the same total of net passing yards (161). (Oh, yes, each team also was intercepted twice and, of course, had no touchdown passes.)
How many other times had we seen a 15-6 final score in the NFL? Never before in the postseason and just once in the regular season: a 15-6 win by the Brooklyn Dodgers over the Eagles at Ebbets Field in Nov. 1941.
All very strange and odd to say the least. The Ravens, as they were assembled, never recovered the following season, as the defense seemed to finally throw in the towel on the Brian Billick led offenses, which seemingly failed to produce when it mattered most during his career.
Due to injuries, Steve McNair would play in just six games the following season, as the Ravens went 5-11 and Billick was fired following the season.
Leaving the stadium that day, you could literally hear a pin drop, or it may have even been tears. This game was and still is the most heartbreaking and most disappointing loss in franchise history. There is no debate in my mind and even though it does not involve the Steelers, losing to the Colts at home when you are coming off your best season and a bye week in the playoffs stung as bad as any loss I can ever remember.
To make matters worse, the Colts would go onto to win Super Bowl XLI a few weeks later with an impressive 29-17 victory.
Check back periodically before the end of the month here on Fanspeak.com for the conclusion of the 20 Greatest Games in Ravens History.