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A day later Harbaugh stands by fourth down decision '100 percent'

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh's choice to go for touchdown instead of field goal late in loss to Bills proved to backfire
John Harbaugh
Posted at 5:42 PM, Oct 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-03 17:42:54-04

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It is the single biggest coaching decision so far this Ravens season: John Harbaugh’s choice to go for the touchdown instead of kicking a field goal and taking the points late in Sunday’s loss to the Bills.

The situation: just over four minutes to go. Game tied at 20. Fourth-and-goal at the two yard line. Harbaugh elected to put the ball in Lamar Jackson’s hands and roll the dice trying to take a seven-point lead, rather than use Justin Tucker’s boot to go up by three. The result was a Jordan Poyer interception in the end zone and ensuing game-winning drive by the Bills punctuated by a 21-yard field goal as time expired.

A day removed from the wreckage, Harbaugh defended his fourth-down choice.

"I feel the same way as I felt during the game and after the game. I trust our players implicitly in everything. As a coach, I trust our offense to make plays and extend leads and all that; and I trust our defense to get stops; and I trust our special teams to make plays and flip field position. So, you start with that. That’s what you always do. I think with that goes the obligation that the players trust me, too. They trust the coach, they trust the coaches to put them in the best possible position to win the game, whatever that might be. It’s not about a coach making a quote-unquote ‘safe decision.’ It’s easy to make a safe decision that just puts it on the players, ‘You didn’t score from the one-[yard line] or you didn’t get them stopped, and we have to get better in that area.’ You can do that; that’s easy. I just have never been one to take that route," he said during his normal day-after-game press conference. "So, when you step back and you look at that decision, it’s the same decision that we made last night when we were looking at it. We had basic choices; one choice is to kick the field goal. You kick the field goal, you go up by three [points], four minutes left in the game, they get the ball back at the 25-yard line. They’re down, and they have an opportunity to go down the field and tie you, or to beat you with no time constraints, and they have an opportunity to extend every drive until they get in field goal range with four downs. There’s nothing less safe in the National Football League than a three-point lead, a four-point lead, a five-point lead or a six-point lead. That’s kind of been proven, and I trust our defense to get a stop with three points; I trust our defense to get a stop with three, seven or a tie game. Any one of those scenarios, I trust our defense to get the job done, and we were close to getting off the field, especially on that third down. So, we can do it that way, but the options were, now we’re in a situation where, if we score – and we’re right down there to score, we’re moving the football – now it’s a seven-point lead. Instead of putting them on the 25-yard line in a four-possession game with a field goal 75 yards away from the end zone, it’s a seven-point lead. I think we have a better chance of defending that; it’s better for our defense to have a seven-point lead in that situation. Or, if it doesn’t work, the downside of that is that it’s a tie game, they’re at the two-yard line, and they’re only going to be looking at three downs because offenses who are behind are way more aggressive. They’ve got nothing to lose; they’re going to go for it. Just like against the Patriots, when you’re behind you throw the ball up, you have chances to get interceptions. But when you’re tied, you throw the ball up, you get an interception down there, you turn the ball over … we’re kicking a field goal, running the clock out and winning the game. Or, I think we have a great chance, and I completely trust our defense with the ball at the two-yard line to get a stop there. They punt us to the 50-[yard line], we run it down into field goal range, we run the time out, and we kick the game-winning field goal, and that was the thinking. So, rather than put them in a situation for a field goal in that situation at the 25-yard line, with four minutes left, I’m thinking either seven, or I’m thinking the ball is at the two-yard line, and I really stand by that decision, 100 percent."

As for the play-call that had Devin Duvernay wide open in the end zone before the Bills picked it off:

"The play wasn’t exactly perfect," said Harbaugh. "It popped open but sometimes you get shielded. That’s the disappointing thing about it with football. I don’t feel bad about the play call. There are a lot of options down there at the two yard line. You can run it. You can do shovel passes. You can run bootlegs. You can do sprint outs. You can do a lot of type of stuff. But, that’s the play they had worked out. It executed well in practice. Ultimately it came open. It just didn’t work out."

One of the players not available on that fourth-down play was Rashod Bateman. Harbaugh said the receiver has a mid-foot injury. He doesn’t think it’s serious. Bateman tells him he is day-to-day.

Harbaugh also said running back Justice Hill’s hamstring injury isn’t serious and won’t keep him out long-term.

Follow Shawn Stepner on Twitter @StepnerWMAR and Facebook