Ravens HC John Harbaugh Questions Logic Of Passing Up Needed Touchdown After Loss To Steelers

Over the course of the past two days, there has been a lot of discussion, understandably, about the final minutes of the Christmas Day game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens likely thought that they had clinched the game with a go-ahead score that left just 78 seconds on the clock before the Steelers managed to come back with a game-winning touchdown with nine seconds to play.

There has been a lot of debate going on since then—especially in Baltimore—about that 78 seconds, and whether or not Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk should have gone down rather than scoring on the third-down and one play from the 10-yard line.

For context, the score at that point in the game was 24-20, so the Ravens were trailing by more than a field goal. They had to score a touchdown on that drive not just to take the lead, but even if they wanted to try to tie the game. A field goal would have been less than useless to Baltimore at that point.

Touchdowns, as much as it may not seem like it at times, are still a hard commodity to come by in the game of football, and at that point in the game, Baltimore had scored just one touchdown in four trips inside the Steelers’ red zone. They had a third and one when Juszczyk broke free and got through safety Mike Mitchell inside the 10-yard line, evading additional defenders to dive over the goal line and into the end zone for what was the first rushing touchdown of his career—though his sixth in total.

As you might figure, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh was asked about that score after the game, and how it left 78 seconds on the clock with the Steelers possessing two timeouts, and whether or not he considered advising his team not to score on that play so that they could take more time off the clock.

Yeah, it’s tough to balance that”, he said, adding, “we’re trying to score a touchdown. If you’re saying we should have sat on the ball and then kept our fingers crossed to score later, I would say that’s not a strategy I’ve seen attempted too often”.

It is a strategy that you see when a team is trailing by two or fewer points, not four points. When a touchdown is a necessity, then it is far more difficult to pass up the opportunity to take it. The Steelers were the victim of this in the game just before their six-game winning streak, when they left 42 seconds on the clock following a fake-spike touchdown to take the lead.

The Steelers have stopped an opposing offense on four of 13 occasions this season from scoring a touchdown when they have had a first and goal situation within the five-yard line. That may well have factored into the thinking as well, if there was any, as there was unlikely any expectation that the fullback carry would have been a scoring play. He simply made a quality play, even though it ended up costing them the season.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Xclewsive

    That’s a tough position to be in for a coach. The way the Steelers was playing I would of played the odds the same.

  • dany

    Definitely the steelers red zone defense had an impact, it was on display all game despite being shredded by Flacco and md Dixon for large parts of the game. They were stopped a lot inside the 20, as has been the case all year. You have to try and score and hope for the best, especially if your defense is as good as it is

  • Bruce

    I think this kind of discussion is crazy, scoring a touchdown in the NFL is hard enough but if anyone thinks a team is so good they can score a TD “at will” then why were they behind in the first place?

  • 20Stoney

    I agree. You can’t assume you can score later. Can you imagine the uproar in Baltimore if the guy gave himself up and then they don’t get in? You have to score and then it’s on the defense.

  • steelburg

    I’m right there with you. A team should never pass up on a touchdown especially when they are losing the game by 4 points and need one.

  • Steeler Miller

    Can’t blame the guy for scoring there. He made a great play to get in the end zone. It just happened to be a fortunate break for us. As I watched it live, I was rooting for him to keep his feet and get in. Regardless, the Ravens rely on their D to win most weeks. Making a team drive the length of the field and score a TD in a minute is a scenario they could handle most of the time. Just a great game with big timely plays throughout by both squads.

  • DirtDawg1964

    100%. No guarantee they get in. Ask the Seahawks and the Cardinals (SBs). And don’t forget the 49er stand against the Bengals in the SB. Many of us remember the Bus at the one against the Colts. That was almost a disaster.

    This wasn’t the play that lost them the game. It was the 75 yard march down the field, with Ben and the offence executing flawlessly. And even at that, the Ravens came within six inches of winning.

  • westcoasteeler

    Bud Dupree knew we only needed 69 of those 78 seconds so he hopped around allowing their fullback to crawl in.

  • Applebite

    What were Baltimore fans actually expecting theri team to do there? No self respecting player would attempt to do what they’re suggesting they should have tried doing. Players play to win, not to sit on the ball and then make magic happen to win the game. What if they didn’t get the score in trying that utopian idea?

    Life simply doesn’t work that way outside of cartoons and video games.

  • MDSteelerfan

    They had to grab 7 whenever possible, and ignore the clock there. Put faith in the D to hold. Sometimes that faith is compromised (insert Steelers / Dallas loss HERE).

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Personally I think that this ‘scoring too early’ discussion is a pretty recent thing.
    ‘Back in the day’ this wasn’t a point of discussion because the run was the primary mode of moving down the field – and therefore teams were not equipped to pull this off as much.

    I don’t agree with it simply because:
    1. If a self-important ass like Harbaugh doesn’t think it can be done then the odds are against making it happen,
    2. Defenses ‘should’ be able to stop an O, even one like ours, from scoring a TD to win in 78 seconds, and
    3. Think of the s**tstorm that a coach would face if the clock zeroed and his team was on the one inch line!!

    Now, the INVERSE of this DOES have some merit. If our D is getting crushed and the other team scoring a touch looks inevitable, and a TD isn’t needed to regain the lead the other (Steelers) way, then letting them score a TD quickly (thereby providing more time for the Steelers O to move down and kick a FG) might make sense.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Any owner that would fire a coach because of this should be shot!!
    I understand the logic, but this is a REAL game, not some Madden 2016 video game!

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Exactly. This is another example of the tendency towards over-analysis, and the use of super slow motion in today’s game!!
    Overkill!!!

  • Douglas Andrews

    Great when we can have these conversations after the Ravens have been eliminated from the playoffs by the Steelers. Should of would of could of….

  • Nicholas Allen Cotner

    Will never get the concept of “scoring too soon”. One of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Remember when that was never thought about with the Steelers. Our Defense was so stout I wanted them on the field at the end of the game to seal the victory.

  • Steve Bozell

    Mitchell’s missed tackle might have won the game. If it took one or two more plays, we would have had to burn TO’s or get the ball back with no time.

  • Big White

    The Ravens should score when and how they can being down by four points. Where the Ravens really got hurt was after kickoff. The first few plays, Steeeler used the sidelines effectively for a few catches that took only 10 seconds off the clock. You can’t give up deep, but have to guard the outs and force your opponent to hit the middle and burn timeouts. AB got one and the other, perhaps Coby.

  • Tracy L Trent

    theres no doubt that they did the right thing…they needed a TD not a FG….and then trust your very good defense to make a stand…….especially since the steelers are pretty good in the red zone and may just as well have stopped them even if they did get a 1st down…. this is not even worth debating if you know football at all

  • nutty32

    Stuff like this is what makes me hate reporters. Pencil neck geeks think they’re so smart and the game is played on their computers after the final gun. This is why I never blame coaches and players for abusing the press – most of them have no clue and they never will because they’re more interested in clicks v. reporting.

  • Mister Wirez

    Harbaugh is right. His Defense failed against our superstars.

    Down 2 kill the clock, down 4, score.

  • ND_Steel

    I believe there are times when you want to “slow your roll”, but not down by 4…

  • Dave D

    This is precisely what I was thinking. We were at the game and simply couldn’t believe that the sidelines were available for those first few passes. I think they went for 3 yds (Cobi) and 8 yds (Antonio), with both managing to get OOB. And if I am not mistaken, Ayers had his first NFL catch and got out on the next play (or perhaps the one following that) as well. Couldn’t figure out why they didn’t take away the boundaries. But for us it was a quick 11 yds (and a first down) using only about 6-7 seconds or so. Take that all day. That stadium was ELECTRIC!

  • gentry_gee

    I thought it was a hell of an effort to get in by their fullback.

  • Sam Clonch

    Ayers was the other. Cobi had a catch, but believe he was tackled inbounds.

  • SilverSteel

    ANd it is not like they left us a ton of time. We barely had enough to do what we did. And especially with their D. He was sure – and honestly so was I – that they would hold.

  • SilverSteel

    We all said the same thing at the end of the Dallas game – too much time. In reality, you have to have faith in your D to get the stop at the end of the game. Can’t fault Harbaugh for that….

  • SilverSteel

    And the Steelers have had their share of goaline stops this season.

  • RickM

    Yes and it was a very short one where we seemed to have a few communication problems.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I look at it like dude don’t score often so why would he down it? If you can score, then score!

  • Chris

    Well said. You can’t play scared or too careful in that moment. Often, that is how mistakes are made. Especially when a Baltimore TD plays right in to the strength of thier team.

  • k33ger

    stupid question…

    i have to say i’m impressed harbaugh didn’t just say “that’s pretty stupid.” I would have.

    TD gives them 3 point lead. only way to lose is to give up a TD, figure 75 yards. 75 yards, 78 seconds, no coach is going to tempt fate by doing anything other than scoring.

    sports reporters are the new lawyers…