Murphy’s Law has already made up its mind and Baltimore is going to be its home for the 2015 NFL season.
John Harbaugh was right after Monday night’s game between his struggling Ravens and the Arizona Cardinals, Chris Johnson’s game-changing a 62-yard run should have been an inconsequential four-yard gain after powerful Baltimore nose tackle Brandon Williams snatched the speedy back and pulled him toward the field.
It’s also true Johnson never hit the turf, landing squarely on the 340-pound run stuffer before pausing and then finishing the play by jetting down the field.
After the game Harbaugh seemed like a guy who just got clubbed over the head by a Bill Belichick formation scheme, but this time the Ravens coach turned all of his anger toward the zebras who allowed Johnson’s X-play to develop.
“The forward progress was stopped,” Harbaugh said. “If you hit him in that situation, then you’re going to get fined and penalized.”
Both sides in this latest refereeing controversy have sound arguments here. By pausing Johnson did stop his forward progress and the whistle should have been blown. On the other hand, rightly or wrongly, the officials remained silent and players are taught, or at least should be taught, to play until the whistle.
“When I popped up, I kind of paused a little bit and looked around waiting for the whistle to blow,” Johnson said. “It never blew. I just ran.”
Harbaugh countered with this: “The whistle doesn’t matter in that situation. We’re clearly told that when the play is dead, they’re supposed to stop. There have been plenty of times when guys have been fined and penalized. They don’t blow the whistle half the time. That’s just the way it works, I know it sounds crazy, but the whistle is not used that often.”
Defensive players are in a tough spot in today’s safety-first environment, and there is little doubt that if a Baltimore linebacker cleaned things up on the play there would have been yellow on the field Monday and a FedEx waiting for them in the locker room later in the week.
But, that’s the cost of doing business of the defensive side of the ball in this league and in a football sense 19 yards (four plus the 15-yard personal foul) is the lesser of two evils when measured against a 62-yard momentum changer.
The margin for error is incredibly thin in this league.
The Ravens have had a chance to tie or take the lead in the final two minutes of every game this season. They are just the third team over the last 15 years to have each of its first seven games of a season decided by eight points or less and they may be the best 1-6 team in league history.
Perhaps if the left side of the offensive line was able to finish against the Cards on Monday or if the team had any kind of complement for the 36-year-old Steve Smith at wide receiver things would be different.
But Murphy evidently enjoys his crab cakes and the inner harbor, and his law is hovering over the Ravens like a dark cloud.
“You keep your poise and you fight like crazy to overcome it,” a frustrated Harbaugh vented. “The one thing I know is, those guys in the locker room right there, they are fighting with everything that they got to win a football game. The games in this league are going to be close. They’re going to come down to plays just like that and they’re going to turn on calls like that many times.
“You expect them to be consistent and fair. That’s what you ask for. Our guys are just going to have to overcome it. It’s not the first time this year, but that’s OK. We’ve got to be good enough to overcome those things. That’s how we look at it.”
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.
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