Ravens Three-and-Out: Week 15 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
In a season where they have constantly played in close games, the Baltimore Ravens may have had their closest yet in Week 15. The 5-9 Philadelphia Eagles gave the Ravens all they had, driving 59 yards with less than two minutes remaining in the game and scoring a potential game-tying touchdown with four seconds. That touchdown came on a gutsy four-yard run by Carson Wentz, where he showed tremendous fight by warding off Eric Weddle's tackle attempt and falling into the endzone.
Though not mathematically eliminated for the playoffs at the beginning of Week 15, the Eagles faced absurdly long odds of finding a way to sneak in. So that may have played a role in coach Doug Pederson's surprising decision to go for a game-winning two point conversion attempt. The attempt failed as several Ravens batted Wentz's pass to the ground and thus, the Ravens were able to escape with a 27-26 win.
The win saves what otherwise would have been an epic late collapse by the Ravens. Joe Flacco threw an egregious interception deep in Eagles' territory halfway through the fourth quarter, where the Ravens were leading 27-17. Instead of the Ravens extending their lead to 13 or 17 points, Flacco's interception enabled the Eagles to drive down the field and convert a field goal. They now trailed 27-20 and merely needed a defensive stop to give their offense one final shot at tying the game.
The Ravens' offense came back on the field and promptly went three-and-out. Then came the Eagles' final offensive drive of the day, which was aided by an illegal contact penalty on CJ Mosely and a pass interference penalty on Tavon Young. Those two plays, as well as a 24-yard completion to Zach Ertz, were what got the Eagles deep into Ravens' territory with a chance to tie the game.
Even with the Ravens getting the win, there was not a whole lot to like about their performance in this game. The Ravens' offense started out fast with 20 first half points and then had just one touchdown the entirety of the second half. The stout Ravens' defense, ranked first in rushing yards allowed per game (75.7), gave up 128 rushing yards to Ryan Matthews and a total of 169 rushing yards.
Here's a look at some of the big takeaways from the Ravens' win, as well as some of the standout players from the game.
1. Joe Flacco's two turnovers and poor performance nearly cost team the game.
This was not a game that Flacco will remember fondly. He finished just over 50% in completion percentage, going 16-of-30 for 206 yards. What hurt even more than the low completion percentage were his two turnovers, both of which resulted in the Eagles scoring on their ensuing drive.
Flacco's fumble occurred on a third-and-seven play early in the second quarter. While looking to pass the ball, Flacco was both sacked and stripped of the ball by linebacker Nigel Bradham. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox came up with the recovery, which was a huge play for the Eagles as they now had the ball at the Ravens' six-yard line. A Terrell Suggs neutral zone infraction on the following play got the Eagles to the four-yard line and they cashed in instantly with a Matthews rushing touchdown.
Flacco's other turnover was equally costly, though it occurred on the other end of the field. Also on a third down, Flacco dropped back to pass and this time threw an interception straight to linebacker Jordan Hicks. This play hurt really bad as an incompletion or even a sack here would resulted in a Justin Tucker field goal attempt that could put the Ravens up 13. Instead, they give the ball over and the Eagles got a field goal on their next drive, making it into a one-score game.
In addition to his turnovers, Flacco was constantly pressured by the Eagles' pass rush. It was not a good day for the Ravens' offensive line, with them allowing three different sacks to the Eagles. A third quarter sack by Cox pushed the Ravens back five yards and proved extra costly as it dropped them to the Eagles' 29-yard line and just out of Tucker field goal range.
2. The Ravens' rush defense surprisingly struggles against the Eagles' running offense.
The Eagles have an average rushing offense, ranked 14th in rushing yards per game with 108.6. However they took a hit going into this game with third down back/change of pace player Darren Sproles missing this game due to a concussion he suffered last week. Without him playing, the Ravens were expected to easily handle Matthew and the Eagles' rushing offense, with the hope that they could instead force Wentz to win the game on his arm.
That was not how it worked out at all. Matthews became the third rusher to top 100 yards against the Ravens this season, gaining 128 yards on 20 carries and averaging 6.4 yards per carry. It wasn't just him gashing the Ravens, either. Rookie Byron Marshall managed 22 yards on nine carries, in his first NFL game.
With the weather being nasty and there being some heavy winds, this played in favor of the Eagles establishing their ground game. Wentz did still throw the ball 42 times, but it was not essential for him to carry the offense on his arm. He was helped out with 38 rushing attempts and two rushing touchdowns, one of which came from his own feet.
The Ravens would do well to look at the Eagles' pass/run balance and implement that into their own offensive gameplan. Though Wentz only threw for 170 yards, the Eagles totaled 328 offensive yards and were in position to tie a tough road game with just seconds left. The Ravens' defensive line will need to do a better job battling in the trenches if they are to get back to shutting down the opposition's run game.
3. Steve Smith Sr. and Justin Tucker have historically significant performances.
Two of the Ravens' best offensive players made their way into the NFL history books on Sunday. Steve Smith Sr. passed Marvin Harrison for seventh in all-time receiving yardage. Smith made the move to seventh place in style too, with a 34-yard touchdown reception that put him at 14,612 career receiving yards.
Though his touchdown proved to be a big play for the Ravens, Smith didn't do much other than that. He only had one other reception during the game and that one went for six yards, leaving Smith with a total of two catches for 40 yards and a touchdown. He is unlikely to pass Tim Brown for sixth place, since he still leads Smith by 322 yards. In addition to being seventh in career receiving yards, Smith is also 13th in career receptions (1,021) and he will likely catch Isaac Bruce for 12th all time in that category within the next two weeks.
Tucker also had a historically significant performance. With a 53-yard field goal converted in the first quarter, Tucker tied Blair Walsh for most kicks beyond 50 yards in a season. He now has 10 field goals of beyond 50 yards and still two weeks left for him to add another field goal and have the record all to himself.
It was another solid day for Tucker, as he added another field goal, this one from 47 yards. He is now 33-of-34 on field goals this season, which makes him the NFL's most accurate kicker at .969. And with his 33 kicks giving him the lead for most field goals this season, he is essentially a shoe-in to be named the AFC's kicker for the 2017 Pro Bowl.
The Ravens' entire 2016 season could come down to next Sunday's game. Their win against the Eagles this week moved them to 8-6 and kept them one game behind the AFC North-leading 9-5 Pittsburgh Steelers. In Week 16, the Ravens will travel to Heinz Field to play for the division lead.
A win would set both the Ravens and the Steelers at 9-6. The Ravens would then own the tiebreaker if the teams finish with identical records, since they would have a season sweep of the Steelers. A loss would eliminate the Ravens from AFC North contention and would instead leave them in a desperate position where they could possibly need multiple Week 17 games to break their way if they are to sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team at 9-7.
The Week 16 game will also take place on Christmas afternoon at 4:00 pm, making it the second time in franchise history the Ravens will play on Christmas. They played the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day in 2005, winning 30-23. This game should have way more significance though as the Ravens' last Christmas game came in a lost season where they finished 6-10 and the game had no playoff significance. This year's Christmas game will very likely determine if the Ravens win their first division title since 2012 or if they miss the playoffs entirely.
James Reagan writes for the Baltimore Ravens on Pro Football Spot and can be followed on Twitter @james__reagan.