The 2011 Baltimore Ravens were arguably better than the 2012 Super Bowl-winning team. They swept the division for the first (and, as of December 2017, only) time in their history and won the AFC North with a 12-4 record. The 2012 team could only manage a 10-6 record, losing two division games and having to play in the wild card round of the playoffs.
Nobody can complain about how that 2012 team ended up, obviously, but the 2011 team deserved a better ending. Anyway, we’ll get to that. For now, let’s focus on week 8 of 2011.
The Ravens were 4-2 and on a short week after a frustrating Monday night game in Jacksonville. A late touchdown wasn’t enough as the 1-5 Jags kicked a field goal in every quarter to win 12-7. Now Baltimore faced another 1-5 team – the Arizona Cardinals – this time at home.
The game marked the return of Todd Heap, the Ravens legend. The team had hoped to re-sign him the off-season but he had proved too expensive. Instead, the 10-year veteran had gone to Arizona. Heap was injured for this game but still made the trip. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti greeted him on the field and asked the tight end to pick where he would like his placard to be when he went into the Ravens Ring of Honor.Embed from Getty Images
The game started slowly. It was 3-3 with 12.17 to play in the second quarter but then the Ravens began to implode. Joe Flacco fumbled at his own seven, leading to a Cardinals TD. The Ravens’ next drive ended in a punt, which rookie Patrick Peterson returned 82 yards for another touchdown. Then Flacco threw an interception, giving the Cardinals the ball at Baltimore’s 25. Four plays later it was 24-3.
Watching at home, I remember being close to turning the TV off in frustration. The Ravens seemed to have fallen apart. Why even bother watching a meaningless second half? Well, because I’m a fan, I guess, and that’s what we do. Also, the remote was on the other side of the room and I couldn’t be bothered to get up.
The Ravens added a field goal before halftime but that did little to ease my frustration. Still, Flacco was beginning to find a rhythm, working the ball to Todd Heap’s replacements at tight end, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, and finding former Cardinal Anquan Boldin.
The Ravens got the ball at the start of the second half and that rhythm continued. Flacco found Pitta, then Dickson, then rookie Torrey Smith and then Boldin for 37 yards. Flacco pass to Boldin in the end zone was incomplete but pass interference against AJ Jefferson gave the Ravens the ball at the one. Ray Rice scored the TD and the Ravens trailed 13-24.Embed from Getty Images
The teams exchanged punts before the Ravens got the ball back and Boldin began to take over. Flacco found him four times for 70 yards on one drive before looking for him in the end zone. Again, the Ravens got a DPI call, this time on Peterson. Rice, from a yard again, made it 24-20.
A Jameel Mclain interception gave the Ravens the ball right back on the Cardinals’ 22 yard line. Can you guess what happened next? Flacco looked for Boldin in the end zone; DPI flag; Ray Rice touchdown. The Ravens finally had the lead, 27-24, early in the fourth, and Ray Rice had tied the Ravens’ single-game record with three TDs.
The Cardinals briefly rallied to put together a six-minute drive that ended in a field goal. The game looked headed for overtime at that point, with each team punting on their next two drives. However, with 52 seconds left, the Ravens got the ball at the Cardinals’ 44 and a 36-yard pass to Torrey Smith set up the game-winning field goal as time expired.
The 21-point deficit that the Ravens overcame remains the largest comeback in team history and it’s one of the most memorable games I’ve ever seen. It was a great illustration of how an NFL game can change so quickly.Embed from Getty Images
Afterwards, John Harbaugh called Boldin the catalyst for the turnaround. Boldin said: “We woke up second half. We still had a bitter taste in our mouth from last week.”
Without that win, the Ravens probably would not have won the division. They were 12-4 but, astonishingly, so were the Steelers. Losing to the Cardinals could have left the Ravens second and sent them to Denver in the wild card round. Had they won that, they would have faced a divisional playoff in New England.
In reality, the 2011 Ravens played the AFC Championship Game in New England and came devastatingly close to winning. A dropped pass by Lee Evans lost them the chance to go ahead late and then Billy Cundiff missed the field goal that would have taken them to overtime.
That game against the Cardinals showed that the Ravens know how to come back. And that’s what they did. The 2012 Ravens would go all the way.
October 30, 2011
Arizona Cardinals 27
Baltimore Ravens 30