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Ravens coach John Harbaugh explains much-maligned late clock management in playoff loss to Bengals – Twin Cities

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While the Ravens’ 24-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Sunday night’s AFC wild-card playoff game will forever be remembered for Sam Hubbard’s playoff-record 98-yard fumble return for a touchdown, the end of the game offered its own share of drama.

Much of it surrounds Ravens coach John Harbaugh’s much-maligned decision to save his timeouts as the final minutes ticked away.

On the first play after the two-minute warning, Huntley took a shotgun snap and ran around the right side of the line to convert a fourth-and-1 at the Bengals’ 37-yard line. The Ravens elected to huddle after the play and not use one of their two remaining timeouts, letting 35 seconds tick away before an incomplete pass stopped the clock. A 5-yard illegal contact penalty by Bengals cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt on the next play gave the Ravens a fresh set of downs at Cincinnati’s 28 with 1:17 to go.

After an 11-yard catch by running back J.K. Dobbins moved Baltimore to the Bengals’ 17, the Ravens once again huddled, letting 43 seconds expire before Huntley threw an incomplete pass over the middle. Running back Justice Hill took a delayed handoff for 4 yards on the next snap, but a holding penalty on right guard Kevin Zeitler moved the Ravens back 10 yards. On second-and-20 from the Cincinnati 27, Huntley threw another incomplete pass deep down the left sideline intended for tight end Mark Andrews.

With the clock stopped with 15 seconds left, the Bengals called their first timeout. After another incomplete pass by Huntley on third-and-20 left one last chance to tie the game, the Ravens called their second timeout. Cincinnati responded with its second timeout once it got a look at the Ravens’ personnel.

With eight seconds left, Huntley scrambled back near midfield before throwing the ball into the end zone, where it was tipped and nearly caught by wide receiver James Proche II before falling to the turf. The game ended with the Ravens still holding on to one more timeout.

From the two-minute warning to the end of the game, the Ravens ran nine plays, just two of which came inside the red zone (the opponents’ 20-yard line). Many of the passes had little chance of being completed, including a near-interception on a pass over the middle to Andrews with 34 seconds left. The curious clock management — and play-calling — elicited much criticism from fans and analysts watching the game.

After the game, Harbaugh said “the key there was to save the timeouts for the red zone,” but the plan was derailed by the holding penalty.

“The idea was, we want to keep those timeouts to throw the ball,” he said. “So we try to pop a run there [with Hill], we’re gonna call a timeout after that. Then we still have the run-pass option. We wanted to score [without] giving the ball back.

“We think we’re gonna be in the red zone. We think it’s gonna be a certain number of plays and work right down to the end of the game, rather than you score with 30, 35 seconds left and you give them a chance to go kick a field goal at the end. I think we played it right. It didn’t work out in the end.”

Harbaugh has been one of the most analytically-inclined coaches in the league in recent seasons, often going for it on fourth down and even electing to go for the win on a late 2-point conversion. That plan backfired in one-point losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers last season as Baltimore lost six straight to the end the season and fall short of the playoffs for just the fifth time in Harbaugh’s tenure.

In regards to Sunday’s game, Harbaugh said he felt confident in how he managed the final minutes.

“After that, we had incomplete passes so you’re not gonna get a chance to call [timeout]. You complete the passes, you get the ball back in the red zone, you call a timeout. From an elementary level, you could say, ‘Ah, you should have called the timeouts.’ But we had the timeouts worked out right.”

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