Calling an audible on the onside kick

The Ravens’ on-field offensive execution was horrific yesterday. But somehow, even with all that went wrong, Baltimore still had a shot at a victory in the closing minutes.

Here’s how it went down, if you needed a recap:

Joe Flacco engineered a late 90-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 5-yard scoring strike to Anquan Boldin with 2:02 left in the fourth quarter, cutting the Jaguars’ lead to 9-7.

The Ravens then had two options - kick the ball deep and count on their defense to make a stand, or try an onside kick.

Already possessing two timeouts, the Ravens could have gotten an extra clock-stoppage if kicker Billy Cundiff booted the ball deep and secured a touchback. Doing so would have kept 2:02 on the clock, and the two-minute warning would have essentially served as a third timeout for head coach John Harbaugh.

Instead of going that route, Harbaugh went with the onside kick, and when Cundiff’s high-bouncing kick came up just short of the required 10 yards, the Ravens handed Jacksonville possession at the Baltimore 37-yard line.

“I decided I wanted to go for the onside kick because I felt like we needed the short field and I felt we were going to get the onside kick,” Harbaugh told reporters after the game. “I think when you watch the way it was executed, we would have gotten it if it was kicked a little further. You’ve got to kick it 10 yards; Billy knows that.”

The Jaguars were able to add three more points after the botched onside kick on Josh Scobee’s 51-yard field goal, putting the Ravens down five and forcing them to score a touchdown to earn a comeback win. You know what happened from there - Flacco was intercepted two plays into Baltimore’s last-gasp drive, ending the game.

Had Cundiff come through with a touchback and the Ravens stopped Jacksonville on three straight running plays, Baltimore would have still been down just two with around 1:40 left in regulation. Following a Jaguars punt, they would have likely had solid field position as they attempted to drive for the winning score.

“If we could have gotten (the onside kick), we would been in good shape and it gave us the best possible chance to win,” Harbaugh explained. “That’s why we did it. But you can certainly make a case the other way.”

You can, and I will.

The Ravens have the No. 1 defense in the league, and that group had played well all night against the Jaguars. You’ve got to give those guys a chance to make a big play for you.

Even if you don’t get the touchback out of Cundiff, you still have two timeouts and can get the ball back with around a minute left and needing just a field goal to win the game.

The Ravens might have a lot of confidence in Cundiff’s onside kick abilities, but that’s a low-percentage play (the NFL average is typically around a 20-25 percent success rate). The odds of Baltimore’s defense making a stop and turning over solid field position to the offense seem a good bit higher than that.

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