In a discouraging 23-20 defeat to the Buffalo Bills in front of an announced 68,296 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Ravens could neither run the football nor stop the run. They dropped passes, missed tackles, blew blocking and coverage assignments, committed eight penalties, attempted just nine running plays and were just 3 for 16 on third down. They also dug themselves a 13-point halftime hole.
And the way their sixth-year quarterback saw it, none of that would have mattered if he had just stopped throwing the ball to the guys in the blue jerseys. Flacco was intercepted a career-high five times, the last one coming with under a minute to play as the Ravens (2-2) drove to midfield looking for either the game-tying or go-ahead points.
Instead, Flacco watched his pass intended for tight end Dallas Clark get deflected and end up in the hands of diving Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso. The play perfectly summed up a lost afternoon in Western New York for the Ravens, who had numerous opportunities to win a game they probably had no business being in.
“We are definitely going to get better. We have to get better,” Flacco said. “A lot of that falls on me, just throwing the ball to the wrong team. If we don’t do that, this game probably goes a little bit different.”
Flacco finished the game 25 for 50 for 347 yards and two touchdowns. His 10-yard score to rookie Marlon Brown gave the Ravens a short-lived lead in the second quarter, and a 26-yard strike to Torrey Smith midway through the third quarter pulled the Ravens to 20-14.
Even with all of Flacco’s mistakes and an inability to run the ball — Flacco dropped back to pass on 31 consecutive offensive plays at one point, and the Ravens ran the ball just twice in the second half — the Ravens twice had the ball in Bills’ territory late in the fourth quarter with a chance to win and the confidence their quarterback would pull it off.
“We all felt that way at the end,” Harbaugh said. “I felt like we were going to win the game.”
Trailing 23-17 after a 74-yard completion to Torrey Smith set up Justin Tucker’s 35-yard field goal, the Ravens drove the ball to the Buffalo 11. Facing fourth and five from the 6-yard line, Harbaugh opted to kick the field goal, and Tucker made it a 23-20 game with 4 minutes 4 seconds to play.
Then on their next drive, they advanced to the Buffalo 48 with 1:04 remaining before Alonso made the diving interception.
“We don’t point fingers around here, but the last person I’m worried about is Joe Flacco,” said Ravens running back Ray Rice, who made his return after missing one game with a hip injury and gained just 17 yards on five carries. “He’s a Super Bowl MVP. As long as Joe goes, we go. As bad as we played, Joe Flacco still let us march down the field.”
The Bills (2-2) turned Flacco’s five turnovers into 13 points, but his most damaging interception — at least given the final score — may have been the one he threw in the end zone to Aaron Williams on third and eight from the Buffalo 14 early in the third quarter. Flacco was trying to hit Smith in the back of the end zone, but he overthrew him while getting rushed by two Buffalo defenders. It cost Tucker an attempt at cutting into the Bills’ 20-7 halftime lead.
“It’s frustrating simply because we’re not a team that does that and Joe’s not a quarterback that typically makes picks,” said Smith, who had 166 receiving yards. “Joe didn’t flinch at all.”