Mid-way through the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, with the Ravens trailing the Titans 23-10, John Harbaugh faced a tough call: kick a field goal, or go for the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 11.
Harbaugh opted to send kicker Billy Cundiff onto the field, and Cundiff’s 29-yard field goal cut Tennessee’s lead to 23-13.
It was a questionable decision, seeing as how the field goal still kept it a two-possession game, while a touchdown - the odds of which admittedly were slim - would have cut the Ravens’ deficit to seven.
Yesterday, Harbaugh explained his decision to kick the field goal as opposed to going for seven points.
“What’s the percentages on that?” Harbaugh asked, rhetorically. “We were at the 11-yard line, right? The percentages aren’t real good, so I figured, let’s get the three right here. We got about seven minutes left. We have all our timeouts. Kick it down there, try and get a stop and we’d have enough time. If it would have been fourth-and-sixth at the goal, you’re going for it right there.
“My thought was to go for it, but when it got to be fourth-and-11 (after a delay of game penalty), that was a little too desperate. You could probably make a case the other way, but I don’t know how good of a case it would be.”
I’ll go ahead and make that case the other way, just for the sake of discussion.
At the time of the fourth down decision, the Ravens had put up just 10 points in three and a half quarters against Tennessee.
They’d struggled offensively both through the air and on the ground, and while they’d moved 72 yards down the field on that drive, they had only put together one other drive longer than 28 yards all afternoon.
Defensively, the Ravens hadn’t done much to stop quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and the Titans’ offense. Tennessee had scored on five of their last six possessions at the time, and Baltimore had been having problems getting off the field on third downs all game.
Yes, going for it on fourth and goal from the 11-yard line is not a high percentage play, but kicking a field goal kept it a two-score game. By going for the three points, Harbaugh was asking his scuffling defense to force two punts/turnovers, and he was asking his scuffling offense to get him two more scores.
It’s always easy to sit back and second-guess a coaching decision after the fact, especially when it doesn’t work out in the team’s favor.
But this was one call which I questioned immediately, given the situation and the way Tennessee had dominated both sides of the ball to that point.