John Harbaugh believes that the single biggest play in the Ravens’ 34-28 win over the Texans last night didn’t involve a pass being thrown, a handoff, or a kick.
It didn’t even feature a snap.
As silly as that might sound, it’s hard to argue with the Ravens’ head coach here.
Harbaugh’s take is that, because of how tired his defense was at the end of regulation, the single most important play last night was the Ravens winning the coin toss to start the overtime period.
“I thought it was really important that we won the toss,” Harbaugh told reporters after the game. “The play of the game might have been the toss. Our defense had been out there so much in the second half and we were tired. They were probably in a position to take advantage of that because their defense was fresh. That makes a big difference in overtime.”
The Texans had controlled the ball for nearly 20 minutes in the second half (including all but 2:55 of the third quarter), and it was obvious that the Baltimore defense was utterly exhausted. You can’t really blame ‘em; they had to defend 53 Houston plays in the second half.
The defensive linemen were getting zero pass rush, the linebackers weren’t getting good depth on their drops, and because Texans quarterback Matt Schaub had all day to throw, the guys in the secondary were forced to hang with the Houston receivers for much longer than they would’ve liked.
Over the course of the final 11 minutes, Schaub led the Texans on a 99-yard drive and a 95-yard drive, wearing the Ravens’ defense down and picking them apart. He found holes in the secondary down the field, hit his running backs on checkdowns, and even made plays with his own feet.
When Schaub outran linebacker Jarret Johnson to the sideline, as he did on a second down play which gained eight yards and a first down, you knew the members of the Ravens’ D had nothing left in the tank.
That’s why it was vital that the Ravens win the toss at the start of overtime and get the ball first, to, if nothing else, give their defense a rest.
Defensive end Cory Redding, a Houston native, went out for the toss, and went with a schoolyard strategy.
“I called tails at the beginning of the game and we lost it,” Redding told reporters. “But I said tails never fails so we have to come back with it. I called tails again and we got it, so it was awesome.”
The Ravens’ offense got a first down on the opening possession of overtime, and despite the fact that they couldn’t get past their own 41-yard line and had to punt the ball back to the Texans, they milked nearly three minutes off the game clock, and gave their defense a breather.
Josh Wilson’s game-winning pick-six might have made all the postgame highlight reels, but Redding’s big win on the coin toss might have been the pay that saved the Ravens a crushing defeat.