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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Doug Farrar

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh explains bizarre clock management in wild-card loss

Not to be a backseat driver for Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh… but it’s hard not to in this case. Down 24-17, Baltimore starred their final drive of the game at the Cincinnati 46-yard line with 3:14 left in the fourth quarter. Things were actually going well for the Ravens — with 1:20 left in the game, quarterback Tyler Huntley completed an eight-yard pass to receiver Demarcus Robinson, which, accentuated by an illegal use of hands penalty on Bengals cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, put the ball at the Cincinnati 28-yard line. Then, Huntley completed an 11-yard pass to running back J.K. Dobbins, which put the ball at the Cincinnati 17-yard line.

And then… well, and then, the Ravens let 33 seconds tick off the clock before running their next play. Huntley threw an incomplete pass to tight end Mark Andrews with 34 seconds left. Then, guard Kevin Zeitler was busted for a holding penalty, which took the ball back to the 27-yard line. Huntley then threw incomplete to Andrews, followed by a Cincinnati time out, followed by another Huntley incompletion to Andrews, and finally, Harbaugh taking the first of Baltimore’s two remaining timeouts. The Bengals called their second timeout right after that, and with eight seconds left in the game, Huntley could only heave s desperation pass into the end zone, hoping for the best.

It very nearly worked out, as receiver James Proche came very close to catching the Hail Mary.

But in the end, the Ravens’ seemingly execrable clock management doomed them to a highly frustrating postseason loss.

Not that their coach was convinced of this fact. If you listed to how Harbaugh explained it… well, it almost makes sense.


“We wanted to save the timeouts for the red zone,” he said right after the game. “The thing that killed is was the holding penalty. That knocked us back. The idea was, we wanted to keep those timeouts to throw the ball. So, we tried to pop a run there, we were gonna call a timeout after that, and we would still have a run/pass option. We wanted to score without giving the ball back. We think we’re going to get in the red zone, we think it’s going to be a certain number of plays, and we’re going to work right down to the end of the game. Rather than score with 30, 35 seconds left, you give them a chance to go kick a field goal at the end.

“So, I think we played it right. Didn’t work out in the sense that after that, we had incomplete passes. If you complete the passes, you get the ball in the red zone, you call the timeouts. So, I think that at an elementary level, you can say, ‘Ah — they should have used the timeouts.’ But we had the timeouts worked right.”

There’s a lot of wishful thinking there. The Ravens were in a place where Huntley couldn’t complete a pass, and there was no sensible option for running plays if you weren’t going to use your timeouts. Saving them for a red zone trip you may never make (and the Ravens never did) seems more like folly and hubris than the right kind of coaching decision. Maybe a timeout for Huntley to come to the sideline and talk things over with his head coach would have settled him down, or given him a second to contemplate how to best deal with a Bengals defense that had him on lock in the most crucial part of the game.

In the end, Harbaugh will have those decisions, and the one timeout he never used, to consider through the entire long offseason.

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