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John Harbaugh Loses Another Gamble On 2-Point Play. Reason He Was Wrong This Time

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It’s hard enough to beat the Green Bay Packers when they have Aaron Rodgers and you have Tyler Huntley — with all respect to the Baltimore Ravens backup quarterback.

It’s hard enough when their receiver corps is healthy and your entire roster, especially the defensive secondary, is ravaged by injured reserve and Covid-19 reserve list deletions.

But it’s impossible to win this matchup when you opt for a lower percentage play to tie the game late and end up beating yourself.

It’s wrong when you don’t force Rodgers and his team to beat you.

That’s what John Harbaugh did late Sunday afternoon when he passed on kicking an extra point that would have tied the game with under a minute to play in order to go for a two-point conversion.

The two-point try failed as Huntley rolled right and fired a pass that was slightly tipped and never reached the well-covered Mark Andrews at the goal line.

The failed attempt sealed the Packers’ victory in Baltimore.

Packers 31.

Ravens. 30.

This is not second-guessing, by the way. This before the decision:

But Harbs, who’s won a Super Bowl and is one of the NFL’s best head coaches, elected to go for the two.

Why?

“Yeah, just go try to get the win right there,” Harbaugh said afterward. “I think our chances of winning right there were a little bit higher than they were in overtime maybe if you calculate it out. Felt good about it. Thought we had a good play. Again, they made a really good play, got to give their safety credit for getting out there and tipping that ball.”

The play the Ravens called was indeed designed to go to Andrews., who finished the game with 10 catches for 136 yards and 2 TDs.

“It was designed for Mark with routes coming back,” Harbaugh said. “I thought he made a good decision and I think that safety got out and got a finger tip on it.”

The Ravens have lost three consecutive games by a grand total of four points. But two of those losses — this one and one against the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago — came on failed two-point conversions at the end.

If we didn’t know better, those decisions would paint Harbaugh as something of a slave to analytics.

That’s not him at all.

“It’s mostly gut,” the coach said. “The numbers are the numbers but the numbers aren’t perfect. I can tell you this, I’ve shot a lot of holes in the numbers and with the numbers guys. The numbers are never going to be perfect. They don’t take everything into account. So you just make a decision. The numbers are part of it but the numbers aren’t the main decision.”

So what is the driving force behind these decisions with Harbaugh? He discussed addressed this one and the one versus the Steelers.

“It goes situation by situation,” he said. “I think in those two situations you want to talk about, — we can go back and rehash the season, I’d be happy to do it. To me, in both of those cases it gave us the best chance to win.

“Because we didn’t win doesn’t make it, you know, not true. It’s still true now, just as it was then. It just didn’t work out.”

Here’s the problem with that thinking: Harbaugh has preached and has all his players believing they can beat anyone, anywhere no matter who is playing or who is injured.

Granted that philosophy begs wisdom because against the Steelers, the Ravens were basically out of cornerbacks and had no way to defend in overtime had the game been extended that long.

So that reach for the two-point conversion was the correct one.

But that wasn’t the case against Green Bay. The Ravens had the same personnel they started the game with. No, those were generally not starters, but they were all available.

So, suddenly, in the final minute the coach who trusts his players for 60 minutes no matter if they’re starters or reserves, changes his mind about those guys going into an overtime?

Harbaugh rides and dies with his guys in regulation but doesn’t believe they can finish in overtime?

The Baltimore roster, obviously, is not going to think that deeply about all this.

If at all.

“We’re going to keep being aggressive,” Andrews said. “Obviously you want to make that play, complete that, but that’s football, man. We went for it. I’m over that. I’m over it. We’re on to Bengals already.”

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

6 Comments

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  1. Odd column….I think you got the right answer with the wrong formula. The reason he should not have gone for it was because there was 41 seconds on the clock and the Packers still had a timeout. If you go for it and make it, you put the Packers in a situation where they HAVE to kick a field goal. If you kick the PAT, the Packers will try to kick the field goal if a bunch of things go right for them.

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