BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Ravens are squarely on the playoff bubble after doubling down on controversial and gut-wrenching defeats this month.
For the second time in three weeks, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh aggressively opted to go for a two-point conversion in the final minute of regulation to win the game. And, for the second time in three weeks, Harbaugh defended his decision after the Ravens came up short once again.
With 42 seconds left, Tyler Huntley’s incompletion to tight end Mark Andrews on the two-point try led to the Ravens’ 31-30 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. The Ravens’ third straight loss dropped them to 8-6 and out of sole possession in first place in the AFC North for the first time since Oct. 31.
“We were just trying to get the win right there,” Harbaugh said. “I think our chances of winning right there were a little bit higher than overtime, maybe if you calculate it out. I felt good about it.”
Harbaugh said his decisions are based on “mostly gut” over analytics.
“The numbers are the numbers, but the numbers aren’t perfect,” Harbaugh said. “I can tell you this; I’ve shot a lot of holes in the numbers with the numbers guys. They don’t take everything into account, so you just make a decision. The numbers are part of it, but the numbers aren’t the main decision.”
The Ravens became the first team to try multiple 2-point attempts when down by one point in the fourth quarter, according to research from the Elias Sports Bureau.
On Dec. 5, Harbaugh chose to go for two points after Baltimore had pulled to within one point of the Pittsburgh Steelers with 12 seconds remaining. But Lamar Jackson’s pass bounced off Andrews’ outstretched hands in a 20-19 loss in Pittsburgh.
With Jackson sidelined Sunday with a right ankle injury, Huntley faced a similar scenario and looked to Andrews as well. But, after rolling to his right, Huntley watched his pass get tipped by Packers safety Darnell Savage at the goal line.
Each time, the Ravens could’ve tied the game with an extra point by Justin Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history. Harbaugh chose to end the game with a 2-point attempt, which was publicly supported by his players.
“That was ‘the’ decision. I don’t think there is anything else,” said Ravens tight end Mark Andrews, who had 136 yards receiving and two touchdowns. “I told Coach that I wouldn’t have it any other way. People that second-guess that are wrong. I think that was the right thing to do.”
Packers coach Matt LaFleur said he would have made the same decision as Harbaugh.
“If I were on that sideline, absolutely. I absolutely would have,” LaFleur said. “That’s what I anticipated.”
ESPN’s Win Probability slightly favored going for the point-after kick (51% win probability) but it was essentially a toss up because of factors such as injuries.
The more debatable decision was Harbaugh’s decision not to go for two points after Baltimore had closed to 31-23 with 4:47 left in the game. If the Ravens successfully made the 2-point conversion, they only needed an extra point at the end to win the game. If Baltimore had failed, it still had a shot to tie the game with a 2-point try at the end.
The Ravens are the first team in NFL history to lose three straight game in a single season by a combined four points or fewer.
Asked if the two failed conversions would affect whether he would go for it in the future, Harbaugh said: “It goes by situation to situation. To me, in both of those cases, that gave us the best chance to win. Because we didn’t win doesn’t make it not true. It’s still true now, just as true as it was then. So, it doesn’t always work out.”
The Ravens have failed on six 2-point tries this season, which are tied with the Minnesota Vikings for the most in the NFL.
On Sunday, Baltimore would’ve converted the 2-point attempt at the end of the game if Huntley had thrown the ball to an open Marquise Brown running in the back of the end zone. Brown had 4.41 yards of separation from the nearest defender, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Asked if he saw Brown, Huntley said: “No, I didn’t.”
The loss ruined an admirable effort by the short-handed Ravens, who were 9.5-point underdogs playing with a depleted offensive line and secondary. In his second career start, Huntley became the first player in Ravens history to throw two touchdown passes and run for two touchdowns.
Baltimore fell one spot outside the seven-team AFC playoff race and now has a 54% chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
The Ravens play in Cincinnati with first place in the division on the line next week. Baltimore could also see the return of Jackson, who missed a game due to injury for the first time in his four-year career.
“We’ll anticipate him being back next week,” Harbaugh said. “But if he’s not able to be fully ready, then we’ll go with Tyler. So, we’ll be ready to go either way.”