Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh defended his decision to attempt a potentially game-winning two-point conversion rather than go to overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 5, telling reporters, “We were pretty much out of corners at that point in time.”
The attempt came after the Ravens scored a touchdown with just 12 seconds left in the game to cut the Steelers’ lead to just one point. An extra point by Ravens kicker Justin Tucker would have almost certainly sent the game to overtime, but Harbaugh opted to go for the win after cornerback Marlon Humphrey left the game with an injury in the fourth quarter.
It was reported after the game by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that Humphrey suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in another brutal blow to Baltimore’s defense.
“It was an opportunity to try to win the game right there,” added Harbaugh, and the Ravens very nearly took the lead on the play. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s pass was just out of reach for tight end Mark Andrews, who got a hand on the ball but was unable to reel it in.
“It’s that close. It’s a game of inches,” said Harbaugh, per the Ravens’ Ryan Mink.
Harbaugh has developed a reputation for aggressive, analytics-driven play calls in high-leverage situations, as exemplified by a gutsy fourth-down attempt against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2.
But unlike that game, Harbaugh’s gamble did not pay off, with the Ravens falling to 8-4 with a difficult stretch of games to close out the season. They still have a one-game lead in the AFC North after the Cincinnati Bengals lost to the Los Angeles Chargers, but they have three divisional games remaining on their schedule, along with tough matchups against the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams.
Andrews & Jackson Weigh In
Jackson, who also likes to play aggressively, defended the decision as well after the game.
“I want to win. I don’t want to go to overtime anyways,” said Jackson, according to Sarah Ellison.
Jackson also noted that Andrews “was open,” a statement that is backed up by Next Gen Stats, who calculated that Andrews was 4.4 yards from the nearest defender on the play.
Andrews was also behind the decision to go for the win, telling ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, “[It] was a good play call. I came wide open.”
But the fourth-year tight end blamed himself for the failed attempt, adding, “Lamar threw a great ball; I just didn’t make the play.”
Analysts Back 2-Point Attempt
While plenty of Ravens fans were upset with the decision to keep Justin Tucker off the field, analysts almost universally backed Harbaugh’s decision to go for the win.
The Athletic’s Ted Nguyen mentioned the impact of Humphrey’s injury, among others, writing, “People act like the Ravens chances of winning in OT with all their injuries was dramatically better than converting a 2 point conversion.”
Starting right tackle Patrick Mekari also left the game with a hand injury, and backup Tyre Phillips struggled to contain Steelers star linebacker T.J. Watt in Mekari’s absence.
Without Humphrey, the Ravens defense may not have been able to prevent a game-winning touchdown in overtime, with ESPN’s Mina Kimes noting that the Steelers were averaging 7.38 yards per play in their 17-point fourth quarter.
ESPN’s Matt Bowen also praised the play call for the two-point attempt, despite its failure.
Harbaugh’s aggressiveness has repeatedly paid off for the Ravens in the past, so don’t expect one mishap to hold him back in the future.