The Ravens fell to the Packers 31-30 on Sunday night after failing to convert a two-point try with 42 seconds left. Fans and media alike went into an instant uproar over coach John Harbaugh’s decision-making that sealed the game — both his call to go for two and the play selection for the crucial go-ahead attempt. But simple math suggests Harbaugh’s real error came earlier in the fourth quarter, when Tyler Huntley scored his first rushing touchdown to pull the Ravens within one score.
Before Huntley scored with 4:47 left, the Ravens trailed 31-17. The quarterback’s rushing TD brought Baltimore within one score — specifically, eight points. At that moment, Harbaugh elected to kick the extra point, and Justin Tucker converted, making it a seven-point ballgame. Reasonable enough, right? Not if Harbaugh was always planning to go for two with the game on the line.
Former Eagles coach Doug Pederson, another aggressive decision-maker of the Andy Reid coaching tree, made it a habit during his stint in Philadelphia to rationalize going for two when trailing by two scores late in a game: that way, if down by 14 you fail to convert, you can still try a two-pointer to tie later in the contest. Put it this way: had the Ravens gone for two after Huntley’s first rushing TD and failed, they would’ve been down 31-23, with the opportunity to tie things up with a future score and two-pointer.
Had they gone for two and made it, they would’ve been down 31-25 with an opportunity to win the game with just a future score and extra point. Instead, by saving the two-point try for later, they boxed themselves in: one more TD drive was never going to win them the game in regulation unless it included a successful two-point try.
Harbaugh still deserves credit — and will get plenty of internal support — for his aggression in the final minute; what player doesn’t love a coach who will put the game in his own team’s hands? The Ravens surely had a better chance of winning on the two-point try than by stopping Aaron Rodgers in overtime. But by kicking the extra point to ensure they’d trail by eight points earlier in the fourth, the Ravens basically guaranteed they’d be in a pressure situation, when in reality, they might not have needed to be.
“I thought our chances of winning there was better than overtime,” the veteran coach explained during a postgame news conference.