Hard to fault John Harbaugh for deciding against field goal vs. Steelers

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 28: Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens cheers on his team during the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at M&T Bank Stadium on November 28, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Buccaneers 17-10. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

Monday morning quarterbacks will bemoan John Harbaugh’s decision not to kick a potential game-tying field goal with less than a minute to play Sunday night in Baltimore. But given the situation, it’s hard to argue with his rationale.

With less than a minute remaining in the game, the Ravens trailed the Steelers 13-10 and faced a fourth-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 31-yard line. Instead of attempting a 48-yard field goal, Harbaugh decided to go for it in order to give Billy Cundiff an easier attempt.

But the decision backfired as Joe Flacco short-armed a pass to Ed Dickson along the sidelines and the Ravens were forced to turn the ball over on downs. Flacco had Dickson open, but he threw the ball off his back foot and didn’t get enough on the pass, which fell at the tight end’s feet.

Following the game, this is what Harbaugh had to say about the decision:

“It was just a tough wind up there,” Harbaugh said. “It was really outside of our range, as we designated going in. We felt like we had a better chance to get the first down.”

Fourth-and-2 is a very manageable down-and-distance, so it’s hard to blame Harbaugh for deciding to go for it. In that instance, he felt as though converting the fourth down was a higher percentage play than Cundiff making a 48-yard field goal with swirling winds. And had Flacco not Chuck Knoblauch’d the throw, Harbaugh would have been right.

The real crime for the Ravens came on a second-and-5 from their own 38-yard line when they were up 10-6 with roughly three minutes remaining in the game. On that play, Flacco either didn’t see or didn’t adjust the play to account for a blitzing Troy Polamalu, who stripped the Baltimore quarterback to help set up the Steelers’ go-ahead touchdown a few plays later.

Some will argue that the Ravens shouldn’t have been throwing in that situation, but there’s nothing wrong with staying/being aggressive late in the game. But Flacco has to make an adjustment at the line so that Polamalu doesn’t get a free release. He came in unblocked and the outcome was disastrous for the Ravens, who missed a golden opportunity to sweep the Steelers and take sole possession in the AFC North.

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