Fri, 04 Dec 2020

Eisenberg: The Value of a Too-Close-for-Comfort Win

Baltimore Ravens
21 Oct 2020, 04:25 GMT+10

John Eisenberg

OK, raise a hand and wiggle it if you exhaled when Matthew Judon and L.J. Fort wrapped up Carson Wentz on that last two-point conversion Sunday, allowing the Ravens to escape Philadelphia with a narrow win after their 18-point lead had all but evaporated.

Yes, as I suspected ... a sea of wiggling hands.

It was a tense situation, no doubt. And imagine if the Eagles had converted that two-pointer, leading to more drama and the possibility of overtime. Upset stomachs would have prevailed.

But strangely, the Ravens might have benefitted in the long run.

No, I'm not suggesting they would have been better off if the Eagles had tied them at 30-30 with two minutes to play. Please. That's silly talk. However they got it done, the Ravens needed to win to stay on the undefeated Steelers' heels in the AFC North.

But there could've been value in having the Ravens experience a tense situation in which they absorbed blows, found themselves tied and/or trailing and had to respond.

That's daily life in the NFL, especially in the playoffs, but the Ravens haven't experienced it much recently for the simple reason that they've often been so far ahead. They've outscored their opponents by an astounding 324 points while going 19-3 in their last 22 regular-season games.

It's a nice problem to have - being so dominant that you aren't accustomed to being behind or in close games.

But there is evidence suggesting the Ravens could use some experience in those situations.

They didn't punch back sufficiently hard when they fell behind early in last season's playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans. This season's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs had a similar vibe. A playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018 was another example of a disappointing response to early adversity.

Then there's this: Although they're 25-4 with Lamar Jackson starting at quarterback, the Ravens haven't won a regular-season game in which they trailed at halftime since 2016.

With all that in mind, it might not hurt for them to experience jarring situations, the football equivalent of getting shoved up against a wall and forced to respond. Presumably, the more they experienced it, the more comfortable they'd feel with it.

After being dominated for most of Sunday's game, the Eagles did a lot to box the Ravens into a tough spot, generating a sudden and shocking rally. (A dubious pass interference call on the Ravens' Marcus Peters helped on Philadelphia's last scoring drive.)

But the Ravens had been so far ahead earlier that their offense never had to respond with big plays and points. And after Judon and Fort stopped the two-point conversion, the offense only had to run out the clock. Which it did.

A 30-30 tie would have called for an entirely different response, i.e., throwing a punch after absorbing a flurry of them. Suddenly, the need to score would've been urgent.

The Ravens are likely to find themselves in such back-and-forth situations in the coming weeks when they face the Steelers, Titans, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. Opponents are better prepared for the Ravens' special sauce this season, making back-and-forth contests more likely than blowouts.

And of course, looming in the distance is the possibility of a playoff rematch with Kansas City, in which, no doubt, the Ravens would need to respond better to the many blows the Chiefs deliver.

Basically, the skill is holding steady and coming up with game-changing plays when things are going against you. That's what Judon and Fort did.

"These are the kind of games that build character. This is a championship character that's built in moments like this," veteran Calais Campbell said Sunday.

Jackson agreed. "Usually when you go out there and beat teams by a lot, sometimes teams get cocky. The Eagles put up a fight with us. Honestly, we needed that," the quarterback said.

They're liable to experience more of it in the coming weeks, but as unsettling as it is in real time, it might pay dividends in the end.

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