After being flagged just 11 times for 88 yards through the first 10 quarters of the season, the Ravens returned to their old habits in the second half yesterday against the Browns.
The Ravens were whistled for seven second half penalties against Cleveland, costing them 55 yards and making their comeback attempts significantly more difficult.
Three of the seven flags stand out - wide receiver Derrick Mason's third quarter delay of game penalty, and unnecessary roughness penalties on safety Tom Zbikowski and left tackle Michael Oher.
"The personal foul penalties in the second half are not okay," head coach John Harbaugh said. "You know, sometimes in the heat of battle, tempers flare, but you have to understand what gets called and what doesn't. It doesn't matter if you get pushed. It doesn't matter if you're not emotional about a play, those kinds of things we have to do better than that."
With the Ravens up four in the third quarter, Mason was flagged for delay of game for tossing the football high into the air after a Joe Flacco pass came in low and fell incomplete.
The penalty pushed the Ravens from a manageable third-and-six into a much tougher third-and-11, and after another Flacco incompletion, Baltimore had to punt a play later.
Harbaugh insisted that Mason's actions weren't out of frustration, and said that the veteran wide receiver immediately asked for Harbaugh to pull him from the game after he saw the flag hit the turf.
"He and I looked at each other, and he said, 'Take me out for a play,'" Harbaugh said. "Then he said, 'Coach, I'm good. I can't believe [the officials] threw [the flag], but I have to know better than that.' And that's what [the officials] do. It's a delay of game situation when you throw the ball or kick the ball or anything like that."
Zbikowski's penalty was for a late hit out of bounds after he flung Browns running back Peyton Hillis to the turf following a long run. The flag moved Cleveland from the Baltimore 38-yard-line to the 23, setting up their go-ahead score.
As for the flag on Oher, it came as a result of a fourth quarter scuffle between the Ravens' offensive lineman and Browns defensive end Robaire Smith. Tight end Todd Heap moved early, and was whistled for a false start, but Smith took that opportunity to push Heap backward a handful of steps.
Oher retaliated, giving Smith an open-handed smack to the head, which drew the flag for unnecessary roughness and backed the Ravens up into a tough second-and-18. Luckily for the Ravens (and Oher), two consecutive Heap receptions moved the chains and led to the eventual game-winning touchdown.
The flag set the Ravens back, but Oher's intentions on the play were probably appreciated by many of those in the Ravens' locker room.
"That's my teammate," Oher said. "I thought he was being out of line a little bit with what he was doing. You have to [stand up for your teammate].
"I could've controlled myself a little bit better," Oher added. "Just got to know better."
The Ravens led the league in penalty yardage last season, and were often whistled for penalties at inopportune moments. Harbaugh has to hope that the second half of yesterday's game was an aberration, and his squad has actually turned the corner when it comes to limiting the yellow laundry on the turf.
"I just think we have to understand how the rules are called, never put our team in jeopardy with a penalty, and that's where the line is drawn," Harbaugh said. "I need our guys to be smart enough to do that."