- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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In a matter of months, the Baltimore Ravens' John Harbaugh has gone from a Super Bowl-winning coach to one being second-guessed almost on a weekly basis.
Harbaugh has taken the most heat from local reporters and fans for two decisions that backfired in Sunday's 19-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers. He chose to go for the touchdown instead of the field goal on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line and opted to throw the ball at the end of the half instead of taking a knee, which resulted in a Joe Flacco fumble.
Both instances cost the Ravens three points, and those decisions became magnified when they lost by two points. But Harbaugh stood by his actions a day after the loss, saying he wants his team to be aggressive, especially on the offensive side of the ball. He believes this mentality was a factor in the Ravens winning their first title in 12 years, and it's tough to argue with him when he uses this line of thinking.
The problem is, Harbaugh was gambling both times. He was going against the odds in both scenarios.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, teams were 3-for-10 when going for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line this season before the Ravens got stonewalled by the Packers. When looking at the past five seasons, it's about a 41 percent success rate (46-of-110) when going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
After the game, Flacco and several other teammates backed Harbaugh's decision to try for the touchdown. On Monday, Harbaugh said he wouldn't do anything differently.
"I feel pretty good about our chances of scoring from the 1-yard line," Harbaugh said. "When you look at the percentages, leaving a team on the 1-inch line is never a bad thing. I'd rather have seven [points] than three there. I'd rather have three than none. When you back a team up to the goal line, you've got a pretty good chance of forcing a punt and getting that three right back and maybe a seven. So, that's the thinking there."
Harbaugh was also looking for more points when he chose to throw the ball with the Ravens starting their drive at their 34-yard line and 20 seconds remaining before halftime. Left tackle Eugene Monroe was beaten badly by the Packers' Nick Perry, who stripped Flacco from behind. The fumble led to a Packers field goal with two seconds left, increasing Green Bay's lead to 6-0.
According to ESPN's Mike Sando, it was more likely the Ravens would turn the ball over than score points in that situation. Since 2001, 38 teams have attempted at least one pass after taking possession inside their own 35-yard line with 15-20 seconds left before halftime. Those 38 possessions produced zero touchdowns, one field goal and eight turnovers. That's a 2 percent success rate for scoring points.
"Hey, can you put a knee on the ground right there? Absolutely, you can," Harbaugh said. "And there will be times where that’ll be the right thing to do. I believed that we could make a play right there. They were pushing the coverage deep, we had three timeouts, and I felt like we could do it. Same thing for the fourth-and-1, I felt like we would score there. Generally speaking, we’re going to be aggressive."
This represents the latest round of second-guessing of Harbaugh. In the season opener, many wondered why Harbaugh didn't challenge Wes Welker's key third-down catch when replays showed it was a drop. In Buffalo, he was questioned why the Ravens ran the ball only two times in the second half. In Miami, he took criticism for throwing the ball late (which resulted in an interception returned for a touchdown) instead of running down the clock and punting.
To Harbaugh's credit, he's taken responsibility for these decisions and even acknowledged he was wrong on some of them, which doesn't happen often with NFL head coaches. Harbaugh also said he re-evaluates his decisions like every facet of the team's game plan and preparation.
"Those strategic or tactical decisions that you’re talking about, you look at really hard," Harbaugh said. "Just answering [the fourth-and-goal] question over here, that was the right decision to do at that point. I believe that. We’d do it the same way. You have to stand strong.”