CLEVELAND — Through the first quarter of the season, the Baltimore Ravens were historically perfect in the red zone and putting up points more consistently than any other team in the NFL.
Then, something strange happened when the Ravens hit the road: They lost their way to the end zone.
Baltimore’s 12-9 overtime loss to the Cleveland Browns extended the Ravens’ touchdown drought to 123 minutes, 3 seconds. It’s a rut that has included poor throws from Joe Flacco, debatable play-calling, ill-timed turnovers and a dozen punts.
The last time Baltimore crossed the goal line was midway through the first quarter of the Sept. 30 game in Pittsburgh. Since that Alex Collins 3-yard touchdown catch, the Ravens have gone seven quarters and one overtime period without reaching the end zone.
How has this happened?
“I’ll take a look at it and figure it out,” coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s a big, giant huge question that can’t be answered that simple.”
On Sunday, Flacco forced too many passes, wide receiver Michael Crabtree dropped too many throws and the team failed too often to commit to what had been a productive running game.
This is the same Ravens offense that became the first in NFL history to score a touchdown on its first 13 trips in the red zone. This is the same Ravens team that had scored at least 20 points in 13 straight games, the NFL’s longest active streak.
Now, Baltimore has the NFL’s longest active streak without a touchdown.
“We’ll look at the film, and we’ll find exactly why,” Flacco said. “We obviously did what we had to do last game [in Pittsburgh]. This game, we came up against a team that’s playing well and feeling good, and we just weren’t able to get the ball in the end zone. There are a lot of things that go into that. We’ll have to go in and really grind to see exactly what it was.”
Baltimore began the season by scoring touchdowns on 14 of its first 41 drives, a 34 percent success rate.
The Ravens have since gone without a touchdown in their past 25 drives. During that drought, here’s how those drives ended: 12 punts, seven field goals, three end of half/regulation/game situations, two fumbles and one interception.
“[The Browns] were stopping us, and our offense is too good to be stopped,” wide receiver Chris Moore said. “So, we need to come out there and keep making more plays and keep trying to get that ball in the end zone. We let them have that game.”
The only Ravens player to accept responsibility for the offensive struggles was Crabtree. He dropped passes in each of the first two drives and had a potential winning touchdown pass bounce off his hands in the final minute of regulation.
“Put this game one me,” Crabtree said.
There was plenty of blame to pass around after Baltimore’s first loss in Cleveland since 2013. The Ravens handed the ball off to their running backs on 24 percent of their plays (20 of 84 plays) despite Collins and Buck Allen averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
Allen fumbled for the first time since his 2015 rookie season. He had gone over 300 touches without putting the ball on the ground.
Flacco threw an interception in the red zone for the first time since the end of the 2016 season, an unfortunate play that epitomized how badly things have gone for Baltimore. At the Browns’ 2-yard line, Flacco was trying to move to the next play and intended to throw the ball at the feet of tight end Nick Boyle. Instead, the pass got tipped and picked off.
“We’ve got to play Ravens football,” Allen said. “I feel like we can’t play down to nobody’s level.”
This drought is no where close to the longest in team history. In their 2000 Super Bowl season, the Ravens went five games without breaking the goal line.
Baltimore will look to end this current end zone dilemma Sunday against the Titans and Dean Pees, Tennessee’s defensive coordinator who served in that same role with the Ravens from 2012-2017. The Titans have allowed the third-fewest touchdowns (seven) through the first five games of the season.
“I don’t think it’s frustrating,” Allen said of the touchdown-less stretch. “We’ve got too many weapons on our team not to score.”