The Ravens’ 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon will be remembered for many things. But Baltimore’s decision to forgo a chip-shot field goal that would’ve broken a 20-20 tie and instead go for it on fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line with 4:45 remaining left many at M&T Bank Stadium scratching their heads.
After having second-and-goal from the 1, and after Jackson’s scramble up the middle on third down came up 2 yards short, coach John Harbaugh elected to keep the offense on the field instead of sending kicker Justin Tucker out to attempt what would’ve been a 19-yard go-ahead field goal. The result? An interception, Jackson’s second of the day, in the corner of the end zone. Baltimore never had another possession, but Harbaugh said it was a decision he thought gave Baltimore “the best chance to win the game.”
“Because seven [points], the worst that happens is if they go down the field and score — and I think we’ll get them stopped — but if they go down the field and score a touchdown, the worst thing that can happen is you’re in overtime,” said Harbaugh, explaining his thought process on the Ravens trying to score a touchdown. “But [if] you kick a field goal there, it’s not a three-down game anymore, it’s a four-down game.”
Harbaugh said he didn’t want to put the defense at a disadvantage, adding: “[The Bills] got four downs to convert down the field and a chance to again score seven, and then you lose the game on a touchdown.”
Instead, Harbaugh’s plan backfired.
As a pair of Bills defenders closed in on Jackson, who had to escape the pocket while backpedaling to his right, he threw to wide receiver Devin Duvernay in the corner of the end zone, where the ball was intercepted by Buffalo safety Jordan Poyer.
Harbaugh was confident in the defense’s ability to stop the Bills near the goal line, but the interception gave Buffalo the ball at its 20-yard line, and it would go 77 yards on 12 plays to set up Tyler Bass’ game-winning 21-yard field goal as time expired.
“It didn’t turn out that way, unfortunately, and we lost the game,” Harbaugh said. “So, in hindsight, you could take the points, but if you look at it analytically, understand why we did it.”
Jackson said he was fine with going for it on fourth down, adding: “If we had executed on third down, there wouldn’t have even been that question. Nobody would be disappointed.”
The numbers agree, albeit only slightly. According to the fourth-down decision bot created by The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin, going for the touchdown instead of the field goal increased the Ravens’ chance to win by roughly 2 percentage points. A field goal in that situation gave the Ravens a 63% chance to win, but a touchdown gave them a 65% chance of victory. The Ravens had a 47% chance of scoring from the 2-yard line, according to the decision bot, while a field-goal by Tucker from that distance would be virtually automatic. However, if the Ravens had succeeded in scoring a touchdown, their chance to win would increase to 83% as opposed to 63% with a successful field goal.
Jackson said he had a hard time looking over Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson as the play was breaking down.
“I couldn’t see what was going on,” Jackson said. “I tried to get back some more but it was too late.”
The Ravens under Harbaugh have never had a problem taking risks. During last year’s matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs, Harbaugh asked Jackson whether he wanted to go for it on fourth down with 1:04 left. Jackson said, “Hell yeah,” before running up the middle for a first down to secure the Week 2 victory.
Still, those gutsy decisions from Baltimore didn’t always have happy endings. In a Week 13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last year, Jackson’s pass to tight end Mark Andrews on a 2-point conversion attempt with 16 seconds left fell incomplete in a 20-19 loss. Two weeks later, the Ravens again decided to pass up on the chance to tie the game and failed to convert a go-ahead 2-point conversion against the Green Bay Packers.
Andrews said the Ravens needed to be “a little bit sharper” on that fourth down play on Sunday, but he remains confident in their ability to execute in those situations moving forward.
“I love that Coach [Harbaugh] trusts us to do that,” Andrews said. “Hopefully, we get another opportunity like that, and we will be ready to go.”
CB Marcus Peters animated on sideline
As the Bills’ field goal unit came out to win the game in the final seconds, cornerback Marcus Peters was clearly upset and was seen screaming in frustration as he walked toward the sideline.
Peters began to take his anger out on Harbaugh. They exchanged words while getting in each other’s faces before the veteran cornerback was held back by passing game coordinator and secondary coach Chris Hewitt and went into the locker room.
“Emotions run high. We’re on the same page, he and I. We have a great relationship; we have an honest relationship. I love him, I hope he still loves me; we’ll see,” Harbaugh joked. “I’m a Marcus Peters guy.”
Veteran defensive end Calais Campbell said he doesn’t think the team’s frustrations after blowing another double-digit lead at home will impact them moving forward.
“We all just want to win,” Campbell said. “The goal is to win the ball game, and I think with the brotherhood we have, we’re going to challenge each other, we’re going to communicate with passion because it’s a passionate game. At the end of the day though, everybody here is on the same page.”