The Ravens have trailed for just 14 seconds of the 120 minutes they’ve played in Baltimore this season, but from that portrait of apparent superiority there emerges only stark realities: a historic collapse in their home opener, a second-half flop Sunday against the Super Bowl favorites, two would-be wins spoiled by defensive miscommunications and offensive breakdowns and generally bad vibes.
The Ravens never trailed in their 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills, not until kicker Tyler Bass knocked a 21-yard field goal through the uprights as time expired, but by the end of Sunday’s rain-soaked slopfest, Week 4 felt a lot like Week 2, a car crash in slow motion. Against the Miami Dolphins, the Ravens had squandered a 21-point fourth-quarter lead and lost in the final minute. Against the Bills, a 17-point first-half lead turned into mush, wasted at last by a late fourth-and-goal interception and a failed defensive stand.
As the Bills counted down the seconds Sunday until Bass could take his gimme kick just yards from the goal line, the Ravens’ implosion manifested in another blow-up. Cornerback Marcus Peters, who seemed to disagree openly with coach John Harbaugh’s decision to go for a goal-line touchdown on fourth-and-2 four minutes earlier, had to be restrained by pass game coordinator and secondary coach Chris Hewitt as he argued with Harbaugh coming off the field.
It was a confrontation that only highlighted the Ravens’ surprising struggles at home, where they have now lost a franchise-record five straight games dating to last season. An offense that can’t put away a game. A defense that’s struggling to communicate. A team that should probably be 4-0 but is instead 2-2, with the defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals coming to Baltimore next.
“I think it’s very disappointing to us,” safety Chuck Clark said. “We were preaching at halftime, ‘We’ve been in this situation before, and we have to finish it out.’ So I think we know what we did and didn’t do. We have to finish.”
Lamar Jackson came close. Midway through the fourth quarter, the 20-3 lead that the Ravens’ opportunistic offense and suddenly sturdy defense had created was gone. But on the Ravens’ final drive of the game, their quarterback had them on the brink of another lead.
A 9-yard completion to wide receiver Devin Duvernay moved the Ravens to the Bills’ 1. A busted run play, a 3-yard loss by running back J.K. Dobbins, bumped them back to the 4. After a short third-down scramble by Jackson to Buffalo’s 2, the Ravens kept kicker Justin Tucker on the sideline. As Harbaugh moved deeper and deeper into the red zone before the snap, Peters followed not far behind, gesturing. (Peters was not available to comment postgame, but Harbaugh said they were “on the same page.”)
The Ravens, whose fourth-down and late-game aggressiveness often backfired last season, didn’t change their plans. Two weeks after Miami stonewalled a crucial fourth-down run in the fourth quarter, Jackson dropped back to pass.
Devin Duvernay — by then the team’s top wide receiver, with Rashod Bateman relegated to the sideline after some drops and an apparent lower-body injury suffered in the third quarter — got open in the corner of the end zone. Jackson didn’t see him initially, only “a tall defensive lineman with his hands up,” he said later.
Jackson backpedaled and backpedaled until finally he threw off his back foot to Duvernay, still open behind tight end Mark Andrews. But the pass hung as it traveled 20-plus yards in the air, wobbling in the steady afternoon rain. It arrived a split-second too late. Safety Jordan Poyer beat Duvernay to the ball for his second interception of the game.
“If I would have seen him right off the bat, that would have been a touchdown,” said Jackson, who finished with 11 carries for 73 yards but struggled to pick apart a banged-up Bills secondary, finishing 20-for-29 for 144 yards and a touchdown.
Asked about the Ravens’ meek finish, best summed up by their scoreless second half, he said: “I feel like we just have to execute. I felt like we had some chances to keep drives alive on the field, but we just have to execute. We just have to do a better job, and that way, we will have success.”
Harbaugh said the decision to go for the touchdown was not about the defense’s ability to stop Bills quarterback Josh Allen and an explosive but inconsistent offense. “I felt like it gave us the best chance to win the game,” he said. One of the NFL’s most analytically inclined coaches, Harbaugh said he felt a field goal would encourage the Bills to go for it on fourth down on the following drive, which would give them “a chance to again score seven, and then you lose the game on a touchdown.”
Buffalo’s game-winning drive further exposed the cracks that began to show in Week 2. Needing a stop, the Ravens held off the Bills’ advance only twice — when left tackle Dion Dawins was called for a false-start penalty, and when inside linebacker Patrick Queen dropped running back Devin Singletary for a loss once Buffalo (3-1) was already inside Ravens territory.
Self-inflicted damage had undercut the Ravens’ strong start Sunday — overthrown passes, dropped catches and interceptions, untimely penalties — and it doomed them late. Buffalo moved into field-goal range after cornerback Brandon Stephens was penalized for roughing the passer because of what referee Jerome Boger said was “forcible contact” to the head and neck area.
With 1:50 remaining, the Bills called a first-down run for Singletary, who found a relatively light path from the 11-yard line to the end zone. Here, the communication miscues that plagued the Ravens against Miami resurfaced.
Harbaugh said the entire defense was told to let the Bills score, which would’ve given the Ravens’ offense time to respond. Oweh said the call was to either “strip the ball or let him score”; he went for the forced fumble, having gotten one earlier. But Singletary was tackled 8 yards downfield, costing the Ravens their last timeout.
After a short run by Allen (19-for-36 for 213 yards, one touchdown and an interception, plus 11 carries for 70 yards and a score), the Bills had another first down and the ball at the 1. After two kneel-downs, just three seconds remained, enough time for just one play: Bass’ game-winning kick. The Ravens, heads down, walked off the field with their second blown 17-point lead of the season. Over their previous 26 seasons, they’d won all but three games with such an advantage.
“It’s only Week 4,” Jackson said. “We’ve been in this situation before. I remember we got blown out by the [Cleveland] Browns in 2019 and we started the season the same way. I’m not peaking on this too soon. I’m not looking at this like we have had a disappointing season. Guys are just coming back healthy now, and I feel like we are going to hit our peak at the right time.”
A month into their season, the Ravens are still searching for something approaching a complete performance. They looked like world-beaters for stretches Sunday, their run game humming, their passing attack on time, their defense forcing turnovers, their home crowd buzzing.
Their eventual undoing was a reminder not only of whom they are missing — key starters like left tackle Ronnie Stanley and outside linebacker Tyus Bowser — but what they are striving for. They hadn’t trailed until the clock hit zero Sunday. Still, they’d left themselves too thin a margin for error. Now they would have to reckon with the consequences. Again.
“Obviously, we put ourselves in a great position to win that game,” Andrews said. “It’s unfortunate that it didn’t play out the way we wanted it to. As a team, all you can ask for is to be in those situations and have that opportunity. That’s what we had today. We didn’t get it done. We’ll be better.”
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